Monday, November 30, 2015

Books of the Year - Brian J Showers

We’ve been asking Wormwood contributors and friends what books they’ve enjoyed this year, old or new. We’ll be posting their replies throughout December. Here’s our first.

Brian J Showers of The Swan River Press, Dublin, writes:

"I wake up on a damp pillow. My dreams must have leaked." One of my most pleasant reading experiences of 2015 is a novel called Eggshells by Caitriona Lally (Liberties Press). Of all the new writing coming out of Ireland, the whimsical and slightly depressed surreality of Eggshells grabbed my attention within the first few pages - probably due to the sheer oddness of the book's main character Vivian.

The story starts in mid-action. Vivian, adrift of mind, is searching for a way to dispose of the ashen remains of her Great-Aunt Maud (three weeks' deceased). Putting a pinch in each envelope, she decides to post them off to people listed in her Great-Aunt's address book. "There are a few 'A's and 'C's, a couple of 'G's, an 'H' and some 'M's, but my great-aunt seems to have stopped making friends when she hit 'N'."

Vivian also likes to make lists, and the book is filled with such poetic litanies of the commonplace. Chapter on chapter the narrative wanders as Vivian reads the streets of Dublin and encounters the awkward social challenges that arise therefrom. And she grafts her Oulipian navigations of the city onto a street map of Dublin with edges frayed, chewed at by mice and silverfish. A neat metaphor for sure.

Lally's novel doesn't reimagine Dublin, as some critics have asserted, but rather views it differently, reading the geographical marginalia while others, less adventurous, are content traversing the main text. I'm looking forward to Lally's next.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Haunted By Books - Mark Valentine

Haunted By Books, just out from Tartarus Press, is a selection of twenty eight of my bookish essays which have mostly only appeared before in fugitive publications.

In my introductory title piece, I explore the ways in which book collectors have sometimes experienced the uncanny when looking for books: for example, knowing a book is there for them, feeling a heightened ability to find rare titles, or being led to a book.

The other pieces discuss the marginal and minor, the eccentric and elusive, the obscure and outré, in my wanderings in the further reaches of English literature.

And there are six new, previously unpublished pieces. These cover:

* The curious case of J C Snaith, the Edwardian-and-after novelist who was always being told he had almost written a masterpiece, but died faded and forgotten

* Four reviews of unwritten books, including Sir Aleister Crowley’s account of the ascent of Everest and Father Frederick Rolfe’s book on his church in the western isles;

* A visit to the lost chapel of the last Johnsonians

* The acclaimed short story writer H.A. Manhood, a recluse who lived in a railway carriage and lived off the land, brewing his own heady cider

* New Zealand poet and wanderer Geoffrey Pollett, who vagabonded around Southern England in the Thirties, selling his poems door to door

* What books the literary connoisseur of the Thirties might choose from the latest London Mercury, and what other temptations were on offer

Many of the essays have grown from glorious discussions with literary friends, in person or by postal or online correspondence, over many years, and from years of assiduous browsing in quest of the rare, the odd and the unobvious.


Update 16 December 2015 - out of print.

More Smart & Mookerdum

Thanks to Wormwood reader Dave Kurzman, who has sent us these pictures of another book with a Smart & Mookerdum marking, this time a rubber stamp imprint on a copy of E F Benson's Spook Stories. This shows a different address for the bookshop, 72 Merchant Street, Rangoon, to the one noted in our earlier post. The book also has a nice Rangoon ownnership signature.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Smart & Mookerdum, Booksellers, Rangoon

It wasn't the content of this book, a political history of India, that first made me take it off the shelf, but the resonant title, The Lost Dominion. However, what made me want to keep it was the elegant label, in royal blue ink, of Smart & Mookerdum, Booksellers and Stationers, of Rangoon (Burma) pasted to the title page.

There are collectors of booksellers' labels, but their quarry must be hard to find: only by looking inside books can you discover them. They often add history and romance to the story of a particular volume, and should always I think be left inside.

This bookseller has a minor literary interest, because their shop is mentioned by George Orwell in his novel Burmese Days (1934), based on his own time there as a colonial policeman. “Oh, the joy of those Rangoon trips!” his doomed protagonist Flory says, “The rush to Smart and Mookerdum’s bookshop for the new novels out from England, the dinner at Anderson’s with beefsteaks and butter that had travelled eight thousand miles on ice, the glorious drinking-bout!”

The name of the book's author, Al. Carthill, was, according to the British Library, a pseudonym for Bennet Christian Huntingdon Calcraft Kennedy, a District Officer in India. He wrote half-a-dozen or so other titles, either of politics or of poetry.

There is another book for sale bearing a Smart & Mookerdum label, a copy of D H Lawrence's Women In Love (Secker, 1921), but this one must be a different version, because it includes the bookseller's address, 58 Barr Street, Rangoon. I should imagine this was a most keenly sought-after title by the jaded Burma hands Orwell evokes.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Karl Edward Wagner and Book Collecting

Karl Edward Wagner's lists of best horror novels which appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1983 have been a favourite of book collectors and KEW fans alike.  Browsing through some issues of fan magazines from the late 1970s throws some light on how his lists germinated.

Wagner wrote a column "On Fantasy" in Fantasy Newsletter for a number of years along with Fritz Leiber, and in the September 1980 issue he wrote a fascinating article about a visit to the United Kingdom.  He speaks about visiting friends like Steve Jones, Jo Fletcher, Carl Hines, and Ramsey Campbell amongst others, but also mentions bookhunting visits to book dealers such as John Eggeling's Phantasmagoria Books, Ted Ball and Dave Gibson's Fantasy Centre, the acclaimed Martin Stone, former lead guitarist for Savoy Brown, George Locke's Ferret Fantasy.  He also mentions in-print bookshops Dark They Were and Golden Eyes and Forbidden Planet and he visits collectors such as John Hale and "the infamous" Charles Peltz.

Also revealing is this wants list from the June 1978 issue of the late, great Xenophile, which shows Wagner is looking to acquire R.R. Ryan and Mark Hansom books, some of which which eventually appeared in his favourites lists in 1983.

Wright & Brown - top 20 authors 1934 - 1940

For bibliophiles out there and fans of 1930s popular fiction, here is a list of the 20 most prolific Wright & Brown authors by year between 1934 and 1940, based on British Library data.  The total number of books published is the figure in brackets next to the year, and the figure after the author's name is the number of books they published during the year.

1934 (143)
  1. VERNER, Gerald. (7)
  2. DANIEL, Roland. (7)
  3. Sutcliffe, Halliwell, 1870-1932. (7)
  4. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (5)
  5. EASTWOOD, Helen. (5)
  6. SISCO, J. Samuel. (4)
  7. EVANS, Gwyn. (4)
  8. WEST, Alroy. (3)
  9. BARRE, Jean. (3)
  10. TRENT, Paul, pseud. [i.e. Edward Platt.] (3)
  11. JONES, M. Sheridan. (3)
  12. Swan, Annie S., 1859-1943 (3)
  13. STUART, Donald, Novelist. (3)
  14. HARVEY, Marion. (3) 
  15. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (2)
  16. MACGRATH, Manda. (2)
  17. PICKFORD, Margaret. (2)
  18. BAXTER, Olive, pseud. [i.e. Helen Eastwood.] (2)
  19. KAYE, Louis. (2)
  20. HALES, Alfred Greenwood. (2)
    1935 (200)
  1. Swan, Annie S., 1859-1943 (12)
  2. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (8)
  3. DANIEL, Roland. (7)
  4. TRENT, Paul, pseud. [i.e. Edward Platt.] (6)
  5. VERNER, Gerald. (6)
  6. TREVOR, Ralph, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (6)
  7. Oxenham, John, 1852-1941. (6)
  8. Rees, Rosemary, 1876-1963 (5)
  9. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (4)
  10. MACGRATH, Manda. (4)
  11. CULLUM, Ridgwell. (4)
  12. MILLER, Elizabeth York. (4)
  13. EVANS, Gwyn. (4)
  14. APPLIN, Arthur. (3)
  15. BARRE, Jean. (3)
  16. PICKFORD, Margaret. (3)
  17. STUART, Donald, Novelist. (3)
  18. HARVEY, Marion. (3)
  19. GOULD, Nat, the Elder. (2)
  20. MILTON, Elizabeth, pseud. [i.e. Elizabeth Lusk.] (2)
    1936 (172)
  1. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (8)
  2. VERNER, Gerald. (7)
  3. DANIEL, Roland. (7)
  4. Lowndes, Marie Belloc, 1868-1947. (6)
  5. BRANDON, John Gordon. (6)
  6. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (4)
  7. BARRE, Jean. (4)
  8. CULLUM, Ridgwell. (4)
  9. Swan, Annie S., 1859-1943 (4)
  10. EASTWOOD, Helen. (4)
  11. EVANS, Gwyn. (4)
  12. MILTON, Elizabeth, pseud. [i.e. Elizabeth Lusk.] (4)
  13. CONDÉ, Phillip. (4)
  14. MANN, Jack. (3)
  15. CARLYLE, Anthony, pseud. [i.e. Gladys Alexandra Milton.] (3)
  16. Hocking, Joseph. (3)
  17. HALES, Alfred Greenwood. (3)
  18. JOHNSTON, Frank. (2)
  19. DARK, Rex. (2)
  20. WALLACE, Trevor. (2)
1937 (161)
  1. Snow, Charles H. (Charles Horace), 1877-1967. (9)
  2. APPLIN, Arthur. (7)
  3. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (6)
  4. Marshall, Gary, 1877-1967. (6)
  5. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (6)
  6. HALES, Alfred Greenwood. (6)
  7. VERNER, Gerald. (5)
  8. BRANDON, John Gordon. (5)
  9. DANIEL, Roland. (5)
  10. Ballew, Charles, 1877-1967. (4)
  11. TRENT, Paul, pseud. [i.e. Edward Platt.] (4)
  12. CULLUM, Ridgwell. (4)
  13. WALLACE, Trevor. (4)
  14. CONDÉ, Phillip. (4)
  15. EASTWOOD, Helen. (3)
  16. TREVOR, Ralph, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (3)
  17. EVANS, Gwyn. (3)
  18. DARK, Rex. (3)
  19. WEST, Alroy. (2)
  20. PICKFORD, Margaret. (2)
    1938 (136)
  1. BRANDON, John Gordon. (7)
  2. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (6)
  3. CONDÉ, Phillip. (6)
  4. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (5)
  5. VERNER, Gerald. (5)
  6. TREVOR, Ralph, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (5)
  7. Snow, Charles H. (Charles Horace), 1877-1967. (5)
  8. WALLACE, Trevor. (5)
  9. Marshall, Gary, 1877-1967. (4)
  10. PICKFORD, Margaret. (4)
  11. DANIEL, Roland. (4)
  12. TURK, Frances. (3)
  13. EASTWOOD, Helen. (3)
  14. EVANS, Gwyn. (3)
  15. Manton, Peter, 1908-1973. (2)
  16. WOOD, Eric, Writer of Fiction. (2)
  17. Garnett, Roger, 1905-1986. (2)
  18. BOLTON, John, Novelist. (2)
  19. MILN, Crichton. (2)
  20. FRAZER, Martin. (2)
    1939 (107)
  1. Ballew, Charles, 1877-1967. (5)
  2. DANIEL, Roland. (5)
  3. Marshall, Gary, 1877-1967. (4)
  4. BARRE, Jean. (4)
  5. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (4)
  6. TREVOR, Ralph, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (4)
  7. BRANDON, John Gordon. (4)
  8. Snow, Charles H. (Charles Horace), 1877-1967. (4)
  9. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (3)
  10. Manton, Peter, 1908-1973. (3)
  11. VERNER, Gerald. (3)
  12. WOOD, Eric, Writer of Fiction. (3)
  13. COOK, William Wallace. (3)
  14. EVANS, Gwyn. (3)
  15. BAXTER, Olive, pseud. [i.e. Helen Eastwood.] (3)
  16. WYNNE, Pamela, pseud. [i.e. Winifred Mary Scott.] (2)
  17. DORIAN, Anne. (2)
  18. EASTWOOD, Helen. (2)
  19. DARK, Rex. (2)
  20. KENT, Pete, pseud. [i.e. Gladwell Richardson.] (2)
    1940 (74)
  1. RICHMOND, Mary, pseud. [i.e. Kathleen Lindsay.] (6)
  2. TREVOR, Ralph, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (5)
  3. BRANDON, John Gordon. (5)
  4. VERNER, Gerald. (4)
  5. Snow, Charles H. (Charles Horace), 1877-1967. (4)
  6. BARRE, Jean. (3)
  7. Brame, Charlotte M., 1836-1884. (3)
  8. DESMOND, Hugh. (3) [ie Kathleen Lindsay]
  9. DANIEL, Roland. (3)
  10. Riley, Tex, 1908-1973. (2)
  11. Ballew, Charles, 1877-1967. (2)
  12. WOOD, Eric, Writer of Fiction. (2)
  13. EASTWOOD, Helen. (2)
  14. Westland, Lynn, 1899-1986. (2)
  15. BAXTER, Olive, pseud. [i.e. Helen Eastwood.] (2)
  16. STEWART, Frances, pseud. [i.e. James Reginald Wilmot.] (2)
  17. FRAZER, Martin. (2)
  18. CONDÉ, Phillip. (2)
  19. CROMWELL, A. G. E. (1)
  20. WALKER, Rowland. (1)