Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household- Penguin No 695- 1949

     I picked this book off my shelf most likely because it wasn’t 400 pages long. I had two library books to get through quickly but didn’t want to lose momentum on a Penguin read.
Had I known how suspenseful this book was going to be I would have read it the day I brought it home even if it had turned out to be 800 pages long.  This is a really exciting read.

     The story unfolds like a set of Russian dolls. One opens the book and by the end of the third page so much has happened that the reader must keep taking more dolls out of the stack.  The opening sentence is very enticing.

“I cannot blame them. After all, one doesn’t need a telescopic sight to shoot boar and bear; so that when they came on me watching the terrace at a range of 550 yards, it was natural enough that they should jump to conclusions. “

     The reader has no idea who this man is for some time. He is immediately caught stalking another man who we later find out is a dictator in a Central European country. We don’t know the country.  We know he is an Englishman writing in the first person. We know he had the ‘target’ in his sights. We don’t know why.  The moral dilemma is whether,  if not interrupted,  would he have shot the man or not.   He is captured by the guards and we learn that he was tortured just before being left hanging over a cliff to fall to his death.  By the third page he comes to at the bottom of the cliff, his left eye is useless, his fingernails are scratched down to nothing if in fact they exist, he cannot walk. He seems to be missing quite a bit of flesh.

     For people who don’t like graphically told tales there is no worry.  It is not much more graphic than the last paragraph you just read. The narrative focuses on the progression of the story and there are few words that aren't needed for the story.

     By the end of the third page we know what has happened to him but not entirely and we are certainly not privy to the torture and watching him dangling over the cliff face at the hands of his captors.  He is mired in mud and once he realises he is not dead he goes from there to escape. But how on earth does he make his escape from where he is?  Now, please remember .... you are only on the third page!!

     The reader has a head full of questions.  Who is he?  Who was he planning to shoot?  Would he have shot him?  For what reason?  Is it sport? Is is retaliation for something else that has happened?  Why did they torture him?  If he has one damaged eye, very little left of his finger tips and quite a bit of flesh missing from his legs how does he escape?  How did he survive?  What does he do now? We know he can’t walk.

Open up another doll and look for the next one in the stack.  

     It is hard to say much more about this book except to say we do find out he’s an Englishman.  The word Poland is mentioned early on but that doesn’t do much more to enlighten us.  It is necessary to continue to go through the stack of dolls until the very last one is left standing alone by the end of the 200 pages.

     I could not put this book down.  While looking for more information about The Rogue Male on the internet I did find out that in its day it came to rival books such as the Manchurian Candidate and The Day of the Jackal.  There is absolutely no letup in the experiences this man endures.  I felt like I was at the top of an enormous water slide and was pushed racing down a pitch dark tunnel. 

     I had never heard of the author Geoffrey Household.  I asked another couple of people who spend a lot of time with books, old and  new and they had not heard of him either.   After searching Wikpedia, the New York Times and a couple of other web sites I learned he was a prolific British writer who mainly wrote thriller type books.  Evidently this particular one is the one he was most famous for. 

Some interesting trivia is that he was born on the 1 January in 1900 and died exactly 88 years later on the 1 January in 1988.

He was married twice, had children and lived in many places around the world.  He was educated at Clifton College Bristol and Magdalen in Oxford. He had a BA degree in English Literature.  He wrote 37 novels including books for children. 

     He was a banana importer living in Spain and France, a secretary of a bank in Romania, composed children’s plays for radio in the USA.   During WWII he worked as an intelligence agent in Europe, the Mid East and South America. 

     It wasn’t until after the war that he began writing his English gentleman thrillers while living at his country estate.
If someone handed me another of his books this evening I would no doubt finish it by morning if it is as exciting as the one I just finished.

     While lately I have read books of women having cups of coffee whilst discussing complex relationship problems or planning travel,  I was certainly a world away from any such civilization in this book.  I couldn’t put it down.  I certainly recommend this story to someone who desires a fast read full of action and excitement. Wear gloves though as you might not have fingernails left by the end.

Wikpedia has a list of all his published works. To see them click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geoffrey_Household 

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Unappreciated 20 Cent Penguin

I think one of the worst things about Penguin book collecting is seeing how non collector Penguin book people react to them.  On one hand of the spectrum is the second hand bookshop seller that sees a particular Penguin they haven't come across much, like a cerise one or they have heard a rumour and they immediately think they can sell if for a very inflated price.  One example were the two unemployed men who work at the Tip Shop Collectables.  They 'heard' that one of the orange Penguins they found should have been a blue Penguin as it was a Travel and Adventure book.  Actually the book they referred to should have been a cerise one (pink) because it was a Travel and Adventure book. Blue Penguins are for biographies. This book was not a biography.  The book was coming apart at the seams, was in a terrible condition, filthy, covered in writing and smelled badly. It was marked at $10.00. Penguins at the tip shop are normally $1.00 or less. 
Number 217,  1940

Some "wisenstein ** " did not know that yes the book was printed with the wrong colour cover but just as many of them were printed as the other numbers on either side of this one so it wasn't rare. It was simply a mistake.  Fortunately it wasn't a book I wanted so I did not argue with them once I told them and they looked at me as if I had no brain or education in the area.  Nothing worse than someone who professes to know everything about a topic but once they open their mouth the wrong words come out.

Last week I completed my weekly rounds of the Op shops (Vinnies and Red Cross) and I found several beautiful old first published Penguins in a pretty good condition, one in particular in the 20 cent bin.

Vinnie's gets wonderful books in but they are sorted by a very dodgy character who hoards books in his own home and having had several rounds of the "Start Playing Fair game and stop putting every first edition known to man in the boot of your car when noone is looking" things have settled down a bit.  I hear the manager has since caged him in the back with a line he is not allowed to walk over.

Vinnies has 5 levels of shelves.  New books go onto the top shelves, each week all books are moved one shelf down. Books at the bottom of the shelf are moved to the 20 cent bin. Books not sold from the 20 cent bin are sent to landfill.

Pelican first A 475 - 1960
The books I 'rescued' last week from the 20 cent bin were all first published Penguin books. So I was pleased with the few I purchased. I may not ever get a chance to read them, some are pretty hard going but at least they won't go into landfill and will be part of my overall Penguin collection of first published titles.

Today I will share those books I found.  Tomorrow I shall have finished the Penguin book I am now reading and will post up a review.  I need to get cracking on the Century of Books Challenge. I laugh every time I think of it but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Happy reading. 

 **Wisenstein- my word for someone who thinks they know everything in a particular area but don't really know the first thing about what they are saying
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
No. L 54- Penguin Classics 1st

No. 2848- 1968
a rather boring cover 
Inscription on inside of book The Imitation of Christ
Number L 27 - first published Penguin Classic 1952
A well travelled book published in England, Nigerian address
 found in Tasmania.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Travellin' Penguin went to the theatre this week.

Last week was such a busy week I could hardly find time to do much of anything. I did get a book read which I have already talked about, the book that James Baldwin wrote. Last week was a theatre week.
On the Friday, a week ago I went with my friend to see The Wharf Revue at the beautiful Theatre Royal. The Theatre Royal is Australia’s oldest theatre and has an extremely interesting history. I have seen many wonderful performances there including Ruth Cracknell, Jackie Weaver, John Waters, Gary McDonald and many others. Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier once performed there years ago.  The beautiful chandelier is from 1830 and is surrounded by photos of composers and poets.

The Wharf Revue is a series of political sketches and touched very much on both current and past political situations in Australia. The first skit featured our Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a Phantom of the Opera scene with Kevin Rudd. Kevin as many would know was originally elected Prime Minister and then Julia challenged him behind closed doors and won and entered Canberra as Prime Minister. Then Kevin just challenged her and lost and has been assigned to the back bench.

Who knows where they will all end up?

Tuesday saw me with a group of fellow “senior” friends at the Playhouse Theatre, also a lovely old Theatre, simpler than the Theatre Royal but nice to be in all the same. We saw The Flint Street School Nativity, a story of several seven year old children (portrayed by adult actors) putting together the Nativity play for their Christmas special at school. Each personality type was featured among the children. The shy girl who was manipulated by the bully, the boy with learning problems and a speech impediment as well as a little boy who knew much more than some of the others and was quite pedantic explaining it all. It was a light comedy and the amateur players did a fairly good job, I thought, though they were quite difficult to understand and the storyline was more boring than not. Oh well, will try again next time.

Chocolate bars are very cheap there too so that made up for the mediocre play.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Fire Next Time - James Baldwin 1964 No. 2237

Slaves picking cotton - 1800's

When I think of great African American writers I generally think of Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. I believe Richard Wright’s Native Son must be the quintessential piece of African American writing.

However James Baldwin is also another well known great of this genre. He writes not only from the heart but from the soul of the plight of the African American living in the USA with all of its contradictions.

James Baldwin- author
The Fire Next Time is composed of two essays. One, quite short entitled My Dungeon Shook, Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation and a much longer one, Down At the Cross – Letters from a Region in My Mind.

As a white American/Australian who never spoke to a black person until I was in University as there were none in the mid western cornfields I grew up next to, I will never ever stop shaking my head at the way black Americans were treated and continue to be treated in the USA.

For continually claiming itself to be the “greatest country in the world” society and education have always failed everyone and the minority cultures in its midst moreso. I imagine it will continue to do so. It will always be the African Americans, the Mexicans, the Cubans, the Puerto Ricans , the Asians, the gays, anyone who is not a white middle class American living by the Bible and the gun. Now I also freely admit that not every white person in the USA is part of the extreme racism that reeks throughout this great country, not everyone even has guns. I will always feel America's failings as muchas its successes because it is in my blood.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Penguin Hunting is good in Hobart this week.

Although our Tasmanian summer has finished for the year, our autumn is promising to be lovely.  I thought it was time I took my scooter out for some Penguin hunting.

I have not completed the rounds of charity shops since January before I went to England. I thought perhaps I was all Penguined out but apparently I am not.

First stop was St Vincent de Paul's (Vinnie's).  I found several first published numbered Penguins there.

 I was surprised at how many there were. Obviously no one had snaffled them up while I have been away.

 Am I the only Penguin collector in Hobart??   I wish. More like good  luck.

Then after securing my finds in the top box of the bike off I went to the Red Cross book shop where I found several beautiful old Penguins including a couple of first published Penguin Classics which I normally don't collect but for a dollar each I could not leave them behind.

There were also five in a series of six (I believe) of The Pelican Guide to English Literature. As I do collect boxed sets and series I was immediately drawn to them.  It is sad I was able to find books 2 through 6 but number 1 was nowhere in sight.  Another quest now for No. 1.

As I was raised by quite a superstitious mother and grandmother I know that things come in threes.
I needed to go to one more place because I knew there would be Penguins there.

Riding home I stopped at the South Hobart Tip Shop.  Luck had not been that good there in recent months but I guess now people have done big clean outs I was once again in luck.  I found a first published Penguin Science fiction in good condition (A Case of Conscience by James Blish, 1963 - No. 1809)   There was also a 1967  Penguin Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet that I  normally wouldn't pick up  but the cover has an amazing illustration as well as being a first published.  On the same shelf was a first published Penguin Poets (D83 if you need it Frances) with a beautiful purple geometric designed cover.   I could not leave it behind in that very smelly, dirty old shop.  This place is a tip after all.  In the full meaning of the word.  If the wind blows just right you need a peg on your nose. It is not a good place for Penguins to inhabit for very long.  Last but not least another Penguin book from a series I normally do not collect was present.  Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels in a good condition, first published from the Penguin English Library 1967.  I liked the cover very much.

I guess I can say that Penguin hunting has been very favourable in Hobart.  Even better I didn't pay more than $1.00 for any of these books. I am happy they have all been adopted into such a good home far removed from landfill.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Fairy Tales of New York by J. P. Donleavy

This past week one of the books I had reserved from the library came in after quite a long wait so not wanting to miss out on Michael Connelly’s latest crime novel I chose a Penguin Play by  J.P. Donleavy;  Fairy Tales of New York.  

I told myself if I read something from my own shelf first I can then read the library book.   As it turned out I enjoyed both books this weekend. 

I knew nothing about JP Donleavy or of his works.  The first thing I did was to have a look around the net to see what I could find out about both.  The play Fairy Tales of New York, not to be confused with his novel A Fairy Tale of New York was difficult to search because information about the novel overrides the play.

 I decided to read the play before I looked for information about it. I wanted to approach this story without any conceptions garnered from google.

The play in 4 acts features the main character Cornelius Christian. 

Act I immediately opens with Christian having just disembarked in New York from Ireland on a cruise ship waiting for a funeral home director to arrive as his wife, Helen died unexpectedly on board.  He is described as very well dressed, well mannered and quite grief stricken.  

 As Christian ponders his predicament he seemingly is filled with grief although he doesn’t seem that fond of Helen in his thoughts.  It is more that she has always been there and he is now alone in America.  We have no other information about him. 

The important point of Act I is the relationship that develops between him and Mr. Vine the owner of the funeral home.  It begins quite well but Mr. Vine is quite insipid in the way he takes over everything about the funeral activities with Christian getting quite swept away and none the happier for it.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Happy Birthday Kenneth Grahame - The Wind in the Willows

As a friend said to me in a letter today, she too is “all Penguined out”.  I feel the same way today so  instead of “penguining” I will acknowledge Kenneth Grahame’s birthday.

As a young child reader my dream was to live in one of the homes that the animal characters lived in. I thought living in a tree hollow with the cozy round mat in front of the fire, a table with a honey pot (yes I know that sounds quite Winnie the Pooish but his house was pretty great too) and all the friends would love each other, and family would care for one another. 

I continue to keep a small collection of books on my shelves that represent home and hearth as a most tranquil  place.

Kenneth Grahame was born in Edinburgh and had several siblings. His mother died in childbirth when Kenneth was 5.  As alcoholism claimed yet another parent, his father not capable of raising the children,  his grandmother took them.   She lived on a large, but dilapidated property near a river which Grahame later used for the setting of Wind in the Willows.

She sent him to school at St Edwards in Oxford, England. He excelled and longed to attend Oxford University but due to lack of funds was sent to work in a bank where he stayed through most of his adult life.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

King Penguin: A BOOK OF TOYS by Gwen White

King Penguin No. K 26 - 1946

 I have been collecting the beautiful little hard covered Penguin books for some time. 

The King Penguin series began in November 1939 and ceased in 1959 after 76 volumes were published.  They were very slim, small hard cover books. They acquired dust jackets in 1949.

They discussed various topics and many of the illustrations in them were simply gorgeous.  The book I am discussing today is A Book of Toys.   It was published in England in 1946.  Although it appears to have been written for children, the narrative is a bit clumsy and extremely brief.  I would find it hard to believe that today’s  more sophisticated children, if that in fact is true, would stay with it too long except for the lovely illustrations which are definitely the highlight of this small volume.

The toys in the book are drawn from real ones found in various museums around the London area.   Several centuries are represented in very brief fashion.  It begins with early toys having been balls of stone then moving on to balls made of rushes, wool, string and wood. These were approximately 5000 years old.
There is a mention of a baby’s rattle from 2000 BC.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Comforters by Muriel Spark

Penguin Book No. 1911- Publ. 1963

Muriel  Spark referred to her writing in the New York Times in the following manner,"People say my novels are cruel because cruel things happen and I keep this even tone, I'm often very deadpan, but there's a moral statement too, and what it's saying is that there's a life beyond this, and these events are not the most important things. They're not important in the long run."

I had not read a Muriel Spark book before I chose The Comforters.  The Comforters was her first novel, originally written in 1957, 3 years after Ms. Spark converted to Catholicism.  

Friday, 2 March 2012

I am going to digress for a moment to answer queries I receive from family and friends about where I will put my new Penguins.  A couple of years ago I received a wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelf from my husband as a birthday gift to house all of my books, Penguin and non Penguin alike.  The bookshelf is beautiful but of course the more space one has, the more one is likely to fill it up.  I have turned the front room into my Tasmanian Penguin museum. The fact it has now spilled into the hallway along with my old dog figurines is neither here nor there.  I am assured I will fill the bookshelves and still have room left over for future finds. Where there is a will, there is a way.

As far as finding a quiet place to read, I have my "Penguin chair" and matching lamp. I found this chair for $20.00 in the City Mission shop and liked its art deco design. I took it immediately to the upholsterer along with a copy of a bright orange Penguin book and told him this is the colour I want. Must also be vinyl and not leather both b/c of cost and authenticity.  He thought I was mad and only told me that once the 'new' chair had been delivered.  He was surprised at the amount of positive comments he received while it was still in the shop and was quite enamoured of it himself once he saw how it fit into the room.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Penguins Flying in from England

I have recently completed a 2 week + trip beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Oxford looking for Penguin Books to send home to Tasmania.  After stops in Newcastle, Chester, Hay on Wye, Bristol, Lyme Regis, London as well I managed to collect approximately 200 books.

As postage is very expensive and excess baggage more,  they were sent via surface mail however a package has since arrived air mail so I am able to start cataloguing them on Library Thing and finding homes for them on shelves.