Purchased, actually, at the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut (a veritable village of buildings lined with used books for sale) during a whirlwind visit on Feb. 23. That’s what we around here call school vacation.
Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg (paperback). Again, a movie tie-in. I interviewed Terry Southern shortly before his death, and he told me firsthand how he hated the movie they’d made from his breakthrough novel (a new-bohemian social satire inspired by Voltaire’s Candide). To ratchet up the erotic elements and attract an international audience, the producer had cast a Swedish model/actress, Ewa Aulin, as Candy; Southern had hoped for more of an everygirl, specifically Hayley Mills.
Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Abbie Hoffman. Thank Hipness that Paul Krassner’s still around, because the works of Abbie Hoffman, despite the best efforts of several small publishers, seem to have fallen out of style. It’s a literary legacy well worth preserving, from the Steal This Book and Revolution for the Hell of It through a slew of current-events essays to this extraordinary though not entirely believable autobiography, which was published around the same time that Abbie Hoffman emerged from seven years in hiding. He would die, allegedly a suicide, nine years later.
The Black Spiders by John Creasey. When I was younger, the only John Creaseys I read were his Toff books, and I mainly gravitated to those because I’d read all of Leslie Charteris’ Saint books, and the Toff is like a settled-down Simon Templar. In recent years the only Creaseys I pick up are his Department Z thrillers, in which a secret government agency stops villains intent on world domination. The bad guys differ from book to book, yet are strangely similar in their takeover methods—plagues, poisonous gases, never explosives or firearms. In this case, it’s big nasty spiders.
Creasey was cool. Wrote hundreds of books under a couple of dozen different names (though his real name really was John Creasey). The books read fast; there’ve been TV and radio and movie adaptations, but the plots lose something when slowed down and thought over. I saw a whole gallery exhibit devoted to Creasey once in Salisbury, England, and it was the gaudiest, most glorious display of lurid paperback covers, all of them sprung from the same mischievous mind.
Carl Van Vechten and the Twenties by Edward Lueders. A short 1955 study of Van Vechten from when he was still alive and celebrating his 75th anniversary. Once considered serious competition for Fitzgerald as a premiere Jazz Age novelist, this book is already bemoaning that Van Vechten had been out of vogue for decades. It’s fun to read this in the wake of the recent Van Vechten revival that’s sprung from scholars plowing through his erotic scrapbooks and outrageous journals. His papers are housed at Yale’s Beinecke Library, which has devoted several online or glass-case exhibitions to his work. Elsewhere in New Haven, a set of Van Vechten’s photographic portraits of Harlem Renaissance celebrities hangs at the Stetson branch library on Dixwell Avenue. The photos and ephemera are great, but Van Vechten grandest ideas were in his novels (the snarkiest of which is Parties) and in his dance and culture criticism for Vanity Fair and other periodicals. He also was a pioneer of the “cat book” genre with his mewling 1920 overview of felines in literature, law and folklore, Tiger in the House.
A Mencken Chrestomathy, edited and annotated by H.L.M. As a liberal journalist of longstanding, I have been exposed to about as much H.L. Mencken as I can stand. He is still inescapable in antiquarian bookshops, and I barely look up when I see his name on a hardcover jacket. This huge collection of scattered essays, hand-picked by the legend himself won me over due to two sections in particular: The Lesser Arts (including essays on “The Greenwich Village Complex” and “The Libido for the Ugly”) and Buffooneries (which contains a hilariously deadpan 26-point set of rules to follow when visiting the editorial offices of Mencken’s journal The Smart Set). Many of the essays come from Mencken’s series of Prejudices books, which I’m still not ready to start collecting individually. But its nice to have a compendium which is more than his faux-dictionary one-liners (“Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends”; “Criticism is prejudice made plausible”; ad nauseam.) And it’s nice to get a sense of which bits of his vast output Mencken himself actually thought were worth preserving.