Friday, April 30, 2010

Picador Books - Part 11 – Damon Runyon, Salman Rushie, Jose Saramago, Jonathan Schell, Idries Shah, Josef Skvorecky, Lee Smith

This is the second last post on Picadors, as I should be able to knock off the final thirteen books in my next entry.

A good couple of books to start this post are two Damon Runyon collections. As I wrote previously, Runyon was “best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the Brooklyn or Midtown demi-monde.”
His style is very individual and he is very quotable, for instance this one:
“I came to the conclusion long ago that all life is six to five against.”
runyon_firsttolast runyon_onbroadway
Salman Rushdie won the Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children in 1981. If I recall, I never could get into it all that much and failed to finish the book. Perhaps I should give it another chance.


Baltasar and Blimunda by Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago is a magic realist historical novel set in the 18th Century. It is many years since I have it, but I recall being charmed by the story at the time it was purchased.


And now for something completely different, not fiction at all, but Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth – a chilling description of the consequences of nuclear war. The cover is understandably stark and bleak.


On a lighter note The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin and The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin, by Persian writer Idries Shah, are humorous collections of folklore, featuring Nasrudin, “a fictional legendary satirical Sufi figure who is believed by some to have existed during the Middle Ages (around 13th century), in Akşehir, and later in Konya, under the Seljuq rule. Nasreddin was a populist philosopher and wise man, remembered for his funny stories and anecdotes.” - from Wikipedia.

shah_nasrudin1 shah_nasrudin2
From Persia we proceed to Czechoslovakia and Josef Skvorecky’s great novel, Miss Silver’s Past. I recently reread this novel and enjoyed it tremendously. It is a satire on the publishing industry in Soviet controlled Czechoslovakia, a murder mystery and a tale of obsession. The Picador edition has a very evocative cover and a foreword by Graham Greene.


Finally, for this entry, a multi-generational mystery by American writer Lee Smith, Family Linen.

The final Picador post will feature various ‘T’ to ‘Z’ authors including Emma Tennant, D M Thomas, Sigrid Undset and Monique Wittig.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picador Books – Part 10 – Flann O’Brien, Marcel Pagnol, John Cowper Powys & David Profumo

Myles na gCopaleen aka Flann O’Brien aka Brian O’Nolan needs no introduction, being the well known writer of satiric novels The Third Policeman and At Swim Two Birds. I have a pretty good collection of his books, becoming highly enamoured of The Third Policeman back in the 1960s, but they are all in diverse editions. Picador published his The Poor Mouth and The Best of Myles in the 1970s along with the aforementioned books. The cover art is by Ralph Steadman.

obrien_poormouth obrien_bestofmyles

Marcel Pagnol was a French novelist whose books, collectively called The Water of the Hills, became popular in the English speaking parts of the world in the 1980s after they were adapted to film. Below are the Picador edition of the books Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources in one volume.


The Picador edition of A Glastonbury Romance was my first introduction to the novels of John Cowper Powys. Even though it is over thirty years since I have read it, images from the book still resonate in my head – a jug stuffed with bluebells, a drowned girl, an iron bar…. It’s a hefty tome, too big to carry around commuting, but I look forward to rereading it when I retire from work.


I can’t say I remember much about the rest of his books I have in Picador editions, but here they are anyway, and they are all large books.

powys_brazenhead powys_fasion
powys_glendower powys_maidencastle

David Profumo is the son of the infamous former British government minister John Profumo of The Profumo Affair. David Profumo wrote a book about that scandal titled Bringing The House Down, but he did write two novels, one of which is The Weather In Iceland that I recall rather enjoying when I first read it.


More Picadors to follow – Damon Runyon, Salmon Rushdie and others.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Picador Books – Part 9 – Matson, McCabe, McEwan, Melville, Mitchell & Morrison

Before April ends, here’s the continuation of my collection of Picador books.

The first of them tonight is Katinka Matson’s Short lives: Portraits in creativity and self-destruction


The protagonist of Patrick McCabe’s The Butcher Boy is as violent as the title suggests. A chilling, brilliant novel.


Ian McEwan is a well known and highly regarded British writer. Picador published his early novels back in the 1970s.

mcewan_cementgarden mcewan_comfort mcewan_firstlove

Described as an anthology with attitude The New Gothic contains stories by Angela Carter, Martin Amis, Anne Rice among others.


Another unusual collection is Pauline Melville’s, Shape Shifter – short stories dealing with post-colonial life in the Caribbean.


Angela Carter once wrote of Adrian Mitchell that he was "a joyous, acrid and demotic tumbling lyricist Pied Piper, determinedly singing us away from catastrophe'’. A poet, novelist and activist he lived an interesting life and died in 2008.

Wartime was published by Picador in 1975 and the fantastic cover shows a detail from the right panel of the Triptych ‘Le Chariot de Fain’ by Jacques Bissot.


And finally for this entry, Toni Morrison’s, Beloved which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987.


More Picadors to follow – Flann O’Brien, John Cowper Powys etc.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Picador Books – Part 8 – Lamming, Lessing, Loos, Lustig, Mackey, Malouf & Marquez

Tonight it’s the L’s and some of the M’s, and to start it all is Caribbean born, George Lamming’s impressive Natives Of My Person, a rare book these days I guess. It is described as a compelling novel of slavery and colonisation and I recall when I first read it, I was very taken with it.


Now you don’t hear much about Doris Lessing these days, but she was a prolific writer and published books in various genres including Science Fiction.

Memoirs of a Survivor is a dystopian novel, which I must admit I can’t remember a thing about, but having rediscovered it in my bookcase will endeavour to reread soon.


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and its sequel But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes by the charming and very talented Anita Loos are also not seen much in the wild these days. Picador published two versions, firstly a sole volume of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, then a back to back edition of the two novels. They are a witty satirical look at the Flapper era of the 1920s and still well worth reading.

loos_gentlemen loos_brunettes

Doubled Up or My Life As The Back End of a Pantomime Horse by T J Lustig is a bizarre novel set in a circus.


Also bizarre is Mary Mackey’s, McCarthy’s List, not set in a circus, but in a Mexican gaol, where the heroine is languishing awaiting execution for a murder she didn’t commit, though she is responsible for many others.


On another note altogether is Australian author David Malouf’s The Great World.


And finally for this post, several Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels in Picador editions.

marquez_colonel marquez_erendira
marquez_leafstorm marquez_patriarch

The rest of the ‘M‘ authors to follow shortly.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Picador Books – Part 7 – Anna Kavan, Ken Kesey, Maxine Hong Kingston, J K Klavans & Richard Klein

Anna Kavan’s novels were rediscovered in the 1970s and Picador published at least two of them, Ice and Sleep Has His House.

Reading her biography on Wikipedia and the website dedicated to her, she sounds like she was a very strange lady.

The Picador editions below have wonderful cover art by Paul Delvaux. I also have copy of her novel Julia and the Bazooka in a 1974 Panther paperback edition.

kavan_ice kavan_sleep

Ken Kesey was well known as one of the Merry Pranksters, the antics of whom are described in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Anyway Kesey very much appealed to the counter culture of the 1960s and 70s. Below is the Picador edition of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.


The Woman Warrior and China Men are memoirs by Maxine Hong Kingston of growing up in a Chinese American family. It is many years since I’ve read these books, but I recall being enthralled by them at the time. Note to self – read them again soon.

kingston_warriorwomen kingston_chinamen

I don’t know much about J K Klavans but I do have her novel God He Was Good in a Picador edition. I remember looking for this book everywhere and finally stumbling across it in a second hand bookshop. Quite frankly, I don’t think it was worth the effort. Anyway, the cover is interesting.


And lastly, for this entry anyway, Cigarettes Are Sublime by Richard Klein, a defence, and cultural history of cigarette smoking. The Picador edition has a very classy cover.


More Picadors to follow…

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Picador Books – Part 6 – Hamsun, Handley, Hedayet, Heller, Herr, Hesse, Hoban & Hrabel

As you see from the title of this blog, I’ll be covering Picadors by authors whose names start with “H”.

First up, Knut Hamsun, a Norwegian author who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920 for his epic novel Growth of the Soil.

I don’t have that book, but I do have Victoria in a Picador edition.


Max Handley is the little known author of Meanwhile and two other novels. Meanwhile is a dystopian novel wherein men and women have been separated from each other for generations and basically forgotten that the other sex exists. Men regenerate through cloning and live in an under water bubble whilst the women reproduce by pathenogenesis and occupy the land. Meanwhile follows the events of them meeting up again, after one of the men, fascinated by the species of being he discovers in girly magazines, crawls to the surface. It’s a crazy novel, very funny as well. Max Handley died in 1993 and is virtually forgotten these days.


The Blind Owl is the best known novel of Sādeq Hedāyat, an Iranian writer of poetry and novels. This is another unusual novel published by Picador. Can you imagine anyone publishing this type of book these days?


Some better known writers – Joseph Heller with Picture This, and Michael Herr’s memoir of the Vietnam War, Dispatches which was influential in the making of the films Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket.

heller_picturethis herr_dispatches

I discovered Herman Hesse in my late teens, early twenties and deeply identified with the novel Steppenwolf which identification I regard as somewhat self indulgent these days. But heck, I was younger then. I still do have my original Penguin paperback edition of that novel,which I’ll get to later. Meanwhile, here’s one of his less famous novels, Rosshalde, in a Picador edition.


Russell Hoban was one of my favourite writers way back when, though I must admit I’ve failed to keep up with his work. I still love his book The Mouse and his Child, which he signed for me when I met him in 1984.

Here is his first novel The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz and Pilgerman, both published in Picador.

hoban_lion hoban_pilgermann

And finally I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal, a Czech writer best known for writing Closely Watched Trains.


Next – more Picadors – Anna Kavan and other writers whose names begin with “K”.