Keep Calm & Read A Book



Okay, now that we’re all on board for the Trumpseidon Adventure (or the Towering Trumpferno, if you prefer), let’s calm down. How? By reading a good book, of course! Not the lovely ‘Lost Cases of Bryant & May’ now climbing the charts as an e-book in the US for a low, low price and available here as an elegant paperback called ‘London’s Glory’ because you’ll have read that already, end of advert, but something else.

I’ve always loved collecting anthologies, and own some very odd ones. Isaac Asimov gathered together apocalyptic tales under the title ‘Catastrophe!’, with an all-star cast tackling worst-case global scenarios. He didn’t think of Trump, sadly.

One of the oddest anthologies is ‘Poolside’, which unusually does not credit its editor. It’s a standout collection of stories all involving swimming pools. John Cheever’s state-of-the-nation classic ‘The Swimmer’ is here, along with Edna O’Brien’s ‘Paradise’. ‘Poolside’ looks like a normal book but is printed with waterproof paper so that it can be read in a swimming pool.

‘Black Humor’ excerpted examples of that particularly hard-to-define literary technique from Edward Albee, John Rechy, Thomas Pynchon and Terry Southern, edited by  who was following on from André Breton’s more international anthology of the same name. What had changed between the former and the latter was the idea of what constituted black humour; judging from a back-to-back reading of the two anthologies, the world has become a more taboo-busting but more tasteless place.

We often forget that Playboy magazine had a long and illustrious history of publishing original short stories, from writers like Ray Bradbury, Jack Finney and Robert Bloch, and the best ones were published in their own nifty anthology.

It’s not unusual for anthologies to feature excerpts from novels that can stand alone as examples of good fiction. A late chapter from Evelyn Waugh’s ‘A Handful of Dust’ is sometimes collected as a standalone tale, ‘The Man Who Liked Dickens’.

For over forty years, John Julius Norwich sent friends ‘Christmas Crackers’ instead of a Christmas cards. These were quirky literary oddments that simply struck his fancy, and the best were collected in a number of anthologies.

‘Car Sinister’ explored the more alarming aspects of our driving obsession and is not for ‘Top Gear’ addicts. Legendary agent Kirby McCauley put together one of the best-ever collections of intelligent stories of suspense and the supernatural in ‘Dark Forces’ and its sequel.

For world stories, Alberto Manguel’s remarkable ‘Black Water’ and ‘White Fire’ head the list; they’re huge and very well chosen.

Too many anthologies used to under-represent female authors, but a volume called ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ sparked off a two-decade long set of anthologies from the Master of Suspense that proved massively influential, and rebalanced the field by featuring a great many female authors who’d had little previous exposure in the UK. Hitchcock lent his name to a huge number of them, and emerges as the unlikely saviour of many a rare work. These paperback originals are now very collectable, and command good prices.

There’s that should keep you going through the days ahead.

3 comments on “Keep Calm & Read A Book”

  1. Trace Turner says:

    Thanks for the list – I will be housebound next week and so have bought London’s Glory to read. I also found a 1940’s book of short stories from the New Yorker to keep me occupied. Maybe I can get some of these others as e-books.

  2. Wayne Mook says:

    I agree the Dark Forces collections are a real milestone.

    I’ve been reading short stories too, plus just about to watch an old B&W film, The Tower of Terror, Lighthouse, hook handed lighthouse keeper whose wife drowned, what could go wrong.


  3. Helen Martin says:

    A book which fascinated me and many students to whom I showed it was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. The book has 14 monotone illustrations with cut lines, all purporting to be illustrations for a book. Those illustrations have been used as story starters by many teachers and writers have written stories to match them. They are now available with stories by authors like Stephen King, Lois Lowry, and Jon Scieska. An example: drawing of a man holding a chair over his head while staring at a lump under the carpet. The cut line is “Two weeks passed and it happened again.” Or a drawing of a gigantic liner pushing into a Venetian canal with the line saying “Even with her mighty engines in reverse, the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal.” or Cory Doctorow’s entry “Another Place, Another Time” which goes with a drawing of four children on a sort of railway speeder driven by sail with the line “If there was an answer, he’d find it there.” This book could fill many hours, especially if you work out your own story first.

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