the best book of the year – 2021

‘merging, not with the car, but with the road’

— Brendan C. Byrne. Accelerate. 96 pp. Small 8vo, [Moonachie, New Jersey], 2022 [i.e., 3 November 2021]. Pictorial wrappers, dust jacket with french flaps. From a small edition printed for the author just before the publication of the e-booke by Neotext. The title page verso reads Copyright 2020.

This is a remarkable book. In a future Los Angeles, couriers caged with their autonomous vehicles pound nutritional “sluice” and make deliveries at 198 m.p.h. Joam has refused to let the hardware make all his driving decisions yet lives almost integrated within his armored “beater”. He receives a commission to deliver a packet to New York within 72 hours.  The narrative is all attitude and the lingo is a brilliant street jargon, an immersive account of Joam hurtling across the landscape of American political collapse, seeing off jealous rivals. Some of Byrne’s earlier work, such as “a Stone and a Cloud”, seems to chart the erosion of humanity in the technological future. Accelerate is a gonzo cross-country road-trip — west to east — which tells a moving story of personal loss as, paradoxically,  the machine becomes human. The best book of the year 2021.

recent reading : december 2021

current reading :

— Marcel Proust. À la recherche du temps perdu. [Bibliothèque de la Pléiade]. NRF Gallimard, [2019].
Ongoing project and a source of great pleasure. Am about a third of the way in.

recent reading :

— Julian Symons. The Blackheath Poisonings. A Victorian Murder Mystery. Harper & Row, [1978].

— —. The Kentish Manor Murders. Viking, [1988].

— M. John Harrison. English Heritage. Nightjar Press, [2021]. 1 of 300 signed copies.

— — —

— David R. Godine. Godine at Fifty. A Retrospective of Five Decades in the Life of an Independent Publisher. Godine, [2021].
A gorgeous and fun book, a richly illustrated memoir of people and books and life, a remarkable story well told. I’ve known Godine for half of these years, and it was a delight to see a few familiar books and many titles I hadn’t seen before (it’s also a fabulous and eclectic list of books to read). Design by Sara Eisenman.

— — —

— W. B. Mershon. The Passenger Pigeon. The Outing Publishing Company, 1907.
“The history of the buffalo is repeated in that of the wild pigeon, the extermination of which was inspired by the same motive: the greed of man and the pursuit of the almighty dollar . . . when one thinks of the burning of forest trees which took centuries to grow, merely to clear a piece of land to grow crops, it is not to be wondered at that the wild pigeon, insignificant, and not even classed as a game bird, so soon became extinct.”

— — —

— Avram Davidson. Beer! Beer ! Beer ! [Or All the Seas with Oysters, 2021].
Reviewed here.


— Michael Swanwick. Solstice Veritas or The Christmas Cat and Other Memories. Dragonstairs Press, 2021.

— — —

— Meghan R. Constantinou. The Daniel Press. Pioneer of the Private Press Movement. The Grolier Club, 2021.

— Paul Theroux. Facing Ka‘ena Point. Privately printed [by Jesse Marsolais], 2021. 100 copies, signed by the author.
Distributed by Bull’s Head Rare Books.

— Carl Williams Rare Books, Catalogue 3.1 & 3.2. Sex, Magick, Drugs, Revolution, Rock ’n’ Roll & Death, Selections from the Ludlow Santo Domingo Library. Carl Williams Rare Books, [November 2021].
Massive, two-volume illustrated catalogue of wild and fascinating stuff.

— — —

— Gilbert K. Chesterton. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Harper & Brothers, 1922.

— Dangerous Visions and New Worlds. Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre. PM, [2021].

Men at Work

Men at Work

A Preliminary Checklist of First Editions of the Books of Nevil Shute

Compiled by Henry Wessells

Marazan

“People still read Nevil Shute, but they do not . . . write
much about him”  — Julian Smith

This checklist provides identifying data for first editions published in London and New York, as well as selected additional information on editions printed in Australia with the Heinemann imprint and on American reprint editions. This information is drawn from my notes while cataloguing the J. C. Boonshaft collection; for items not seen, I have relied upon the descriptions of copies at the Lilly Library or in OCLC as noted. Each entry indicates title and pagination; title pages are not transcribed but dates not printed on the title page are enclosed in square brackets, e.g.: [1928]. The color of the binding is noted (wrappers, cloth, or boards), as well as variants seen. I have not attempted to trace all of the volumes in the Heinemann uniform edition; nor the paperbacks. Corrections and additional information gratefully received. — HWW

First published in the Newsletter of the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation, October 2021. With Revisions, December 2021

1.1 Marazan. 319 pp. London: Cassell, 1926. First edition. Red cloth, pictorial dust jacket.
1.2 Marazan. [viii], 256 pp. [First leaf is a blank]. London: Heinemann, 1951. First Heinemann edition, with a new preface by the author. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. 

2.1 So Disdained. 312 pp. London: Cassell, [1928]. First edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
2.2 The Mysterious Aviator. [viii], 304 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928. First American edition. Blue cloth, dust jacket.
2.3 So Disdained. [x], 233 pp. London: Heinemann, [1952]. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen). Reprinted 1952 (twice)].

3.1 Lonely Road.  xii, 308 pages. London: Cassell, 1932. First edition. Black cloth, lettered in red. Not seen. OCLC: 28557522 (10 locations).
3.2 Lonely Road. [8], 302 pages. New York: William Morrow, 1932. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library). OCLC: 8002451.
3.3.a Lonely Road. xii, 239 pp. London: Heinemann, [1953]. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen). Reprinted twice, 1952 (not seen)]. Reprinted 1953.

4.1 Ruined City. 281,[1] pp. London: Cassell, [1938]. First edition. Black cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
4.2.a Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. First American edition, proof issue. Wrappers from dust jacket.
4.2.b Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. Special Advance Edition. Pink wrappers printed in black, publisher letter on front. One thousand copies printed. The spine announces the release date as late May or early June 1938.
4.2.c Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. First American edition. Oatmeal cloth lettered in red, dust jacket.
4.3.a Ruined City. [iv], 269 pp. London: Heinemann, [1951]. First Heinemann edition, proof copy. Wrappers printed in red (printed on a sheet of printer’s waste, an illustration of a hound from Dog Days by K F Barker).
4.3.b Ruined City. London: Heinemann, [1951]. Blue cloth, dust jacket listing 10 titles. Heinemann uniform edition.

5.1.a What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. Proof Copy. Drab wrappers, title printed in red.
5.1.b What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. One of 1000 copies for special distribution. Printed on laid paper. Decorated boards as issued without dust jacket. Publisher’s compliments slip loosely inserted. Smith: “his British publishers distributed a thousand free copies on publication day in April, 1939, to Air Raid Precaution workers and officials.”
5.1.c What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. First edition. Cloth, dust jacket. Not seen.
5.1.d First edition, second impression. Not seen.
5.1.e What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1943?]. First edition. Light grey cloth, dust jacket with third impression on front flap. March 1943 gift inscription.
5.2.a Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1939. First American edition. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
5.2.b Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1939. First Canadian edition, from American sheets. Navy blue cloth, dust jacket.
5.2.c Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1939. Book of the Month Club edition. Blue cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
5.3 What Happened to the Corbetts. London: Heinemann,[1952]. Blue cloth, dust jacket, listing 10 titles. Heinemann uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen); 1952 (reprinted twice)].

6.1 An Old Captivity. [6], 312 pp. London : William Heinemann, [1940]. First edition. Yellow cloth, map endpapers, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library).
6.2.a An Old Captivity. [4], 333 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1940. First American edition, proof issue, stamped on fly title, Publication date Feb 21 1940 Price $2.50. Wrappers from dust jacket, with priced flaps.
6.2.b An Old Captivity. [4], 333, [2] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1940. First American edition. Tan cloth stamped in blue, map endpapers. Dust jacket not seen.

7.1 Landfall. A Channel Story. 269 pages. London : William Heinemann, [1940]. First edition. Not seen.
7.2.a Landfall. A Channel Story. [iv], 284 pages. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1940. Blue green cloth lettered in blue, pictorial dust jacket (jacket not seen).

8.1 Pied Piper. [4], 283 pp. London: Heinemann, [1942]. First edition. Light brown cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
8.2.a Pied Piper. [4], 306 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1942. First American edition, proof issue, stamped on flyleaf, Publication date Jan 5 1942 Price $2.50. Wrappers from dust jacket, with priced flaps.
8.2.b Pied Piper. [4], 306 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1942. First American edition. Light blue cloth, dust jacket.
8.3.a Pied Piper. Garden City: The Sun Dial Press, [1942]. 1942 The Sun Dial Press on verso of title. Blue green cloth, spine title panel in dark blue.
8.4.a Pied Piper. New York: The Book League of America, [n.d.]. Blue cloth, spine title in gilt, dust jacket, back panel: Former Selections Still Available to Members at $1.39 Each, with list of six titles.

9.1 Pastoral. 218 pp. London: Heinemann, [1944]. First edition. Green cloth, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library).
9.2.a Pastoral. [viii], 246 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1944. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “Frances with love from Nevil September 1944”.
9.2.b Pastoral. New York: William Morrow, 1944. Book of the Month Club edition. Tan cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
9.3 Pastoral. [iv], 219, [1] pp. London [i.e., Melbourne]: Heinemann, 1945. First Australian edition. Brown cloth, dust jacket. Title page verso: Wholly set up and printed in Australia for the Oxford University Press, Leighton House, Melbourne, by the Adventure Printing Office, Marlborough House, Adelaide.

10.1 Most Secret. [iv], 275 pp. London: Heinemann, [1945]. First edition. Red cloth, map endsheets. Dust jacket not seen.
10.2.a Most Secret. 310 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1945. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket.
10.2.b Second printing, 1945. Tan cloth.
10.2.c Most Secret. New York: Sun Dial Press, [1946]. Blue cloth, dust jacket
10.3 Most Secret. [iv], 275 pp. London: Heinemann, [1946]. First Australian edition. Not seen. OCLC: 223159949 (State Library of New South Wales).

11.1  Vinland the Good. 143 pp. Narrow London: Heinemann, [1946]. First edition. Black cloth, map endsheets, dust jacket.
11.2 Vinland the Good. Title page and section titles printed in purple and black. 126 pp. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. First edition. Cloth backed boards, dust jacket. 

12.1.a The Chequer Board. 317 pp. London: Heinemann, [1946]. Proof Copy. Tan wrappers, title printed in black (on printer’s waste for Come with Me by Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean).
12.1.b The Chequer Board. [vi], 317 pp. London: Heinemann, [1947]. First edition. Dark red cloth. Dust jacket not seen (Lilly Library). Dust jacket, possible later state with Book Society Choice on front flap, price 9s6d.
12.2.a The Chequer Board. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. First American edition. Red cloth, dust jacket.
12.2.b The Chequer Board. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. Book club edition. Red cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
Note: Anderson reports that The Chequer Board “was a Literary Guild selection and eventually sold over 600,000 copies” (155).

13.1.a No Highway. [vi], 314, [1] pp. London: Heinemann, [1948]. First edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Fourth impression dust jacket, back panel with five blurbs on the Novels of Nevil Shute.
13.2 No Highway. 346 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1948. First American edition. Grey cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “Frances, with love, from Nevil, July 1948”.

14.1.a  A Town Like Alice. 332, [1] pp. London: Heinemann, [1950]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket. Probable priority of jackets: A. Price on inside flap. B. Book Society Choice band added. C. Book Society Choice and price 10s 6d on inside flap.
14.1.b A Town Like Alice. [vii], 332, [1] pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1950]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First Australian edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
14.2 The Legacy. [6], 308 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1950. First American edition. Light green cloth, dust jacket. 

15.1 Round the Bend. 362 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1951]. Cloth, map endpapers, dust jacket by Val Biro. Not seen.
15.2.a Round the Bend. [8],341 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1951. First American edition. Black cloth backed boards, map endsheets, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author, “For Mug(?) from Nevil May 1951”.
15.2.b Round the Bend. New York: William Morrow, 1951. Book club edition. Black cloth backed boards, map endsheets. Dot in blind on lower board.

16.1.a The Far Country. 326 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1952]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
16.1.b The Far Country. 326 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1952]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First Australian edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
16.1.c The Far Country. London: Heinemann,[1953]. New edition. [vi], 239 pp. Burgundy cloth, dust jacket, back panel listing 12 numbered titles of the Uniform Edition.
16.2  The Far Country. [viii], 343 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1952. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket.

17.1.a In the Wet. vi, 304, [1] pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1953]. Printed at The Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro, priced 12s. 6d. net.
17.1.b In the Wet. vi, 350, [1] pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1953]. First Australian edition. Green cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Val Biro. Also seen in grey cloth.
17.2 In the Wet. [viii], 339 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1953. First American edition. Blue cloth titled in yellow, pictorial dust jacket.

18.1.a Slide Rule. The Autobiography of an Engineer. Frontispiece and 8 plates from photographs. [vi], 249 pp. London: Heinemann, 1954. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket priced 18s. Reprinted 1954 (twice), 1955 (three times). Third Impression statement on jacket flap; Fourth Impression statement on jacket flap, back panel stamped Overseas Edition Not for Canada.
18.2 Slide Rule. The Autobiography of an Engineer. With 4 leaves of plates from photographs. [x], 240 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1954. First American edition. Dark grey cloth, dust jacket.

19.1.a Requiem for a Wren. 284 pp. London: Heinemann, [1955]. Proof Copy. Tan wrappers, title printed in black
19.1.b Requiem for a Wren. [8],284 pp. The first leaf is a blank. London: Heinemann, [1955]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
19.1.c Requiem for a Wren. 284 pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1955]. First Australian edition. Red cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “For Frances from Nevil with love April 1955”
19.2.a The Breaking Wave. [vi], 282 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1955. First American edition. Green cloth, dust jacket.
19.2.b The Breaking Wave. New York: William Morrow, 1955. Book Club Edition. Green boards, dust jacket.

20.1.a Beyond the Black Stump. [vi], 297 pp. Melbourne London Toronto [Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey]: Heinemann, [1956]. Red cloth, spine titled in gilt, dust jacket by Val Biro.
20.2.a Beyond the Black Stump. 316 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1956. First American edition. Green cloth, dust jacket.
20.3.a Beyond the Black Stump. [London:] The Book Club, [1956]. Light blue cloth, dust jacket, front flap stating This Edition Issued by the Book Club.

21.1.a On the Beach. [viii], 312 pp. London: Heinemann, [1957]. First edition. Burgundy cloth, dust jacket by John Rowland.
21.1.b On the Beach. 312 pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1957]. First Australian edition. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket.
21.2.a On the Beach. 320 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1957. First American edition. Grey cloth, pictorial dust jacket.

22.1.a The Rainbow and the Rose. [vi], 306 pp. London: Heinemann, [1958]. First edition. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Stein.
22.1.b The Rainbow and the Rose. [vi], 306 pp. London: Heinemann, [1958]. First edition, Australian issue of dust jacket. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Stein.
22.2.a The Rainbow and the Rose. [viii], 310 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1958. First American edition. Yellow cloth spine, blue boards, dust jacket.

23.1.a Trustee from the Toolroom. [vi], 312 pp. London: Heinemann, [1960]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket.
23.1.b Trustee from the Toolroom. The Book Club, [1960]. Book club edition. Grey cloth, dust jacket.
23.2.a Trustee from the Toolroom. 309 pp. New York: William Morrow, [1960]. First American edition. Black cloth backed boards, dust jacket by Charles Geer.
23.2.b Trustee from the Toolroom. Book club edition. Black cloth backed boards, dust jacket. Dot in blind on lower board.

24.1.a Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. Uncorrected Proof Copy. Pale green wrappers, title printed in black. With publisher’s compliments slip loosely inserted.
24.1.b Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. First edition. Blue cloth, dust jacket. Back flap lists 14 titles in uniform edition.
24.1.c Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. First edition, Australian issue dust jacket. Blue cloth, dust jacket.
24.2.a Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1961. First American edition, advance reading copy. Blue cloth backed boards, illustrated dust jacket. With publisher’s slip announcing publication date as 11 September 1961. 

25 The Seafarers. Kerhonkson, N.Y.: Paper Tiger, 2002. Written 1946, published “with minor rewrites by the Nevil Shute Foundation” (Anderson, 172). Not seen.

Stray notes on uniform editions

A. Morrow, [after 1945]. Cloth, back panel of dust jacket listing Five Beloved Novels
A.1 An Old Captivity. Beige cloth, spine titled and stamped in blue. Dust jacket in blue.
A.2 Landfall. Beige cloth, spine titled and stamped in brown. Dust jacket in brown.
A.3 Pied Piper. Not seen.
A.4 Pastoral. Not seen.
A.5 Most Secret. Not seen.

B. Heinemann, [1951 onward]. Blue cloth, dust jackets.
Marazan (see 1.2).
So Ordained (see 2.3).
Lonely Road (see 3.3.a).
Ruined City (see 4.3.a, 4.3.b). Dust jacket, listing 10 titles.
What Happened to the Corbetts (see 5.3). Dust jacket, listing 12 numbered titles:
1. Marazan
2. So Disdained
3. Lonely Road
4. Ruined City
5. What Happened to the Corbetts
6. An Old Captivity
7. Landfall
8. Pied Piper
9. Pastoral
10. Most Secret
11. The Chequer Board
12. No Highway
N.B.: Heinemann edition of Stephen Morris (see 24.1.b), dust jacket back flap lists 14 numbered titles, adding:
13. In the Wet
14. The Far Country

C. Complete Works. London: Distributed by Heron Books, [n.d., 1968-1969]. 22 vols., uniformly bound in red rexine, without dust jacket. Not seen. OCLC: 221640306 (State Library of New South Wales).

On Shute:

— Julian Smith. Nevil Shute. 166 pp. Boston: Twayne Publishers, [1976]. Red cloth. Twayne’s English Author Series 190.
— Corbin S. Carnell. “Nevil Shute”, pp. 213-217 in: British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960, edited by Darren Harris-Fain. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 255. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.
— John Anderson. Parallel Motion A Biography of Nevil Shute. xii, 308, [1] pp. Kerhonkson, N.Y.: Paper Tiger, 2011. Boards.
— John Clute. “Nevil Shute”, in: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition. http://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/shute_nevil : “Some of his earlier fiction, by taking advantage of his intense and very up-to-date knowledge of aeronautics (and of boffins or back-room boys), verges very closely on sf.”

— — —

Afterword

I had read some Nevil Shute: not as much as I thought. My father, an engineer, had copies of Slide Rule and Trustee from the Toolroom, which I read as a teenager, along with On the Beach and one or two others. I read Marazan and Lonely Road while working on the collection, as well as the Smith monograph and Anderson’s engaging biography. [HWW]

— — —

merry christmas from 1887

merry christmas from 1887

from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 22 December 1887

Eliza (my great-aunt) writes on behalf of herself and her younger brother Henry (my grandfather); their father was a cavalry officer:

Jefferson Barracks, December 2

Dear Sandy Clause

Will you bring me a doll and a pair of fleece gloves, a bed and a pair of slippers , a burro [or bureau], and a baby carriage. Goodbye. And a train for my brother Henry. And a hat a horse a GG saddle and a GG bridle and a streetcar a book a saber and a gun.

From Eliza Wesssells

 

 

Beer! Beer! Beer! by Avram Davidson

— Avram Davidson. Beer! Beer! Beer! [Novato, California : Or All the Seas with Oysters Publishing, 2021]. [xiv], 218 pp. Pictorial wrappers with a cover drawing by Avi Katz. https://avramdavidson.com/avram-davidson-beer-beer-beer/

Beer! Beer! Beer! is the first printed book by Avram Davidson to be issued by Seth Davis and Or All the Seas with Oysters Publishing: last year he began commissioning audio versions of Davidson’s works and producing the monthly series of interview podcasts, The Avram Davidson Universe.
Beer! is a tale of the intrusion of bootlegging into the Hudson river town of Yokums, New Jersey, a looking glass idealization of Yonkers, where Avram was born and where, incidentally, gangster and prince of bootleggers Dutch Schultz was based. If you want a brisk account of the facts, you may read “Beer Like Water” in Crimes and Chaos (1962). Beer! gives a broad cross section of daily life in the riverside town during the late phase of Prohibition, with some recognizable Davidsonian types: newspaperman Bill Bomberg has something of the questing energy of Bob Rosen in “The Sources of the Nile”, and Captain Clack of the packet boat Sadie Howell is stamped from several Avramish patterns. Beer! includes a wealth of digression — on Dutch settlements in the Hudson, newspaper publishing, and a catalogue of urban life in Depression America through the eyes of a young boy — and numerous interesting minor characters (always one of the charms of Davidson’s work). The corruption generated by the beer trade pervades the town, and the narrative ambles from City Hall to the office of the Fourth Ward Glagolitic-Slovatchko-Ukrainian Improvement Association, from the sewers to the packet boat wharf on the Hudson waterfront, and from to the National Cereal Company to the mansions along Upper Bluffs Avenue. There are some fine comic moments and the book progresses to a choreographed and convulsive ending.

It is, however, in looking at the principal clues to the dating of the manuscript that the real significance of this book emerges. Among the town’s principal ethnic minorities are the “Slovatchkos, whose homeland, sundered by the break-up of the Scythian-Pannonian-Transbalkanian Empire, was now divided between two other — and larger — nations” (32). This allusion to the setting of The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy (1975) clearly situates the composition of the manuscript in the late 1970s and points to one of the great themes of Davidson’s work, immigrant life in America (and what Michael Swanwick has identified as “the loss of ethnicity”).

The source of this previously unpublished novel is a typescript of some 240 pages, known variously as Beer  . . . That Makes You Want to Cheer or The Day Beer Flowed like Water (one copy of this typescript is preserved in the Avram Davidson Collection at Texas A&M University). Beer! Beer! Beer! is Davidson’s preferred title and comes from his correspondence. The text is manifestly an early or even first draft manuscript, presented here with a very light edit and not altering the invented phonetics with which Davidson sought to capture the hard, distinctive Yonkers accent of his childhood. As with the selective use of profanity to create a heightened reality rather than the bludgeoning repetition of real life, it is a question of balance. Davidson would later write in “El Vilvoy de las Islas”, “In the opinion of some people (in fact, lots), a little of such style goes a long way.” And at the same time he ensured that “some more of the original from time to time seeps through.” This is a print on demand book (your correspondent saw an uncorrected proof printed in Columbia, South Carolina, on 2 November 2021).

Beer! stands between Davidson’s miniature, “The Last Wizard” (published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Mystery Magazine for December 1972) and his long masterpiece “The Slovo Stove” (1985), and one can trace turns of phrase from Beer! to later works. A passage in Beer! where Bill Bomberg reminiscences about his love life (177) is a trial run for a key incident when Jack Limekiller discovers evidence of Bathsheba’s inconstancy in “There beneath the Silky-Trees and Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs Than Me” (published in 1980). By that time Davidson must have understood that Beer! was going nowhere, and so he reused a good phrase to greater effect. Yokums has something of the feel the town of Parlour’s Ferry in “The Slovo Stove”, a story with none of the rosy nostalgia or Depression-era clichés of Beer! The effect is not unlike reading one of the “mainstream” novels Phil Dick wrote in the 1950s in the vain hope of leaving the science fiction treadmill of the paperback original market (think Confessions of a Crap Artist and its parallels to Time out of Joint, for example). Davidson had attempted to do this himself in the 1960s, with Dragons in the Trees, a non-fiction account of his travels in British Honduras, material he would later transmute into the Limekiller stories. Aspects of life in Yonkers rose up again while Davidson composed his zigzag plotted Adventures in Autobiography in the 1990s. In addition to the many pleasures of the story, Davidson’s Beer! is notable as an intermediate station on the road to “The Slovo Stove”.     [HWW]

First published in The Nutmeg Point District Mail,  vol. XX no. 1, for 12 December 2021.

recent reading : november 2021

— Roger Luckhurst. Gothic. An Illustrated History. Princeton University Press, [2021].
Massive full color account of the Gothic, as it has evolved “beyond its origins in architecture and the printed page to become fully transmedial”.  The discussion of architectural gothic makes clear how utterly transgressive the literary Gothic is, right from the get go. Wendy Walker discusses this in her afterword to
Sexual Stealing. In Longsword (1762), the Historical Tale starts with shipwreck, imprisonment, betrayal of trust, and the eponymous earl is reported dead by a scheming rival who seeks to marry the countess. In The Castle of Otranto (December 1764; 2nd ed., April 1765), the giant black iron helmet crashes into Prince Manfred’s orderly world, killing his heir and unfettering his desires.

— Avram Davidson. Beer! Beer! Beer! [Novato, California : Or All the Seas with Oysters Publishing, November 2021]. Pictorial wrappers with a cover drawing by Avi Katz.

— — —

— Paul Theroux. Facing Ka‘ena Point. Privately printed [by Jesse Marsolais], 2021. 100 copies, signed by the author.

— — —

— William Blake. Songs of Innocence and Experience with other poems. Basil Montagu Pickering, 1866

— Gilbert K. Chesterton. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Harper & Brothers, 1922.

— — —

— Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1985. Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre. PM, [2021].

— — —

— Brendan C. Byrne. Accelerate. [Moonachie, New Jersey : for the author, 3 November 2021].
A smart, dazzling book, a hurtling cross-country drive — west to east, for a change — powered by language and attitude.

— — —

— [Walpole, Horace]. The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story. The Second Edition. London: Printed for William Bathoe in the Strand, and Thomas Lownds in Fleet-Street, 1765.

this most important thing

this most important thing

“I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem.”

— Sherlock Holmes

Ever since moving to the yellow house some seventeen years ago, I have thought about the cluster of sweet gum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) along the block, some of which are plainly older than our house (built 1896 and one of the oldest on the street, which dates to when Montclair was still partly an agricultural town). The oldest sweet gums are tall, with boughs spreading in a high canopy and producing an abundance of biomass at each season: flowers; leaves, which fall in mid-November; and the spiky globes of the pods which typically fall at the end of December. I have raked and gathered bushels of the pods, and thought about them: aesthetically, as Christmas-tree ornaments (spray-painted gold), and as sources of literary inspiration (see The Windhill Bequest). I am not, however, anything more than an amateur botanist and sometime alumnus of the San Francisco Weedwalks. So it was only last year that I noticed another aspect of the plant’s cycle. I brought indoors two early fallen pods, still sheathed in a greenish pink husk, and put them in a small bowl. And promptly forgot them for a few days. They dried out, and opened, and at the bottom of the bowl I found hundreds of tiny seeds. Outside, I saw doves scratching amid the fallen pods, I thought of vanished forests, and the passenger pigeon.

And today while raking leaves (that ridiculous suburban dance, a little late this year), I paused for a moment. Off in the distance there was a rumble of a passenger jet taking off from Newark. Looking up, I saw a tiny, almost invisible fall of golden seeds from the gum trees overhead, turning silently until, with a noise of unseen raindrops, they hit the leaves I had raked. The sweet gums cast billions of seeds each season. In all the preceding years I had never noticed this most important thing.

I looked up in other trees, and noticed birds, sparrows and doves, moving among the pods and not waiting for the seedcast. When I saw that a layer of the seeds covered parts of the terrace, I put down a sheet of paper at random and after about two hours I collected half a teaspoon of the seeds, each one barely the size of a mustard seed. That amateur conjecture about the passenger pigeon does not now seem so unlikely. The trees here were probably young saplings when the passenger pigeon went extinct.

I suppose I had been thinking about life cycles of plants and their rôle in an interdependent ecosystem after reading an essay by Chris Brown on the industrial agricultural countryside: “what I remember is the paradox that all that vast green countryside was so completely devoid of wild nature”. And having read “Or All the Seas with Oysters” by Avram Davidson, I should of course have been primed to pay more attention to the reproductive abundance of organisms as an inherent aspect of competition in those interdependent systems.

The pods will come down, empty, a month from now (usually around the first snow). By that time, I will have looked in the Journals of Henry David Thoreau to see if he has written on the sweet gum; and I will have read William B. Mershon’s book, The Passenger Pigeon (1907), and possibly something a bit more up-to-date. I wonder if the seeds are edible for humans.

Forget that old saw, from tiny acorns great oaks: when it come to small beginnings, the sweet gum outclasses the oak.

[This essay took half an hour, and seventeen years, to write.]

All this desert

— Charif Majdalani. Dernière oasis. Roman. Actes Sud / L’Orient des livres, [2021].

Dernière oasis is an excellent novel of menace, in which a cosmopolitan art expert describes his descent into uncertain territory (somewhere northeast of Mosul, in the summer of 2014):

Le plaisir de la découverte des objets clandestins, mon déplacement jusqu’aux lieux où on me les dévoile et, après ça, l’aventure que représente leur rocambolesque transport, chaque fois suffisent à mon bonheur.

The setting is exotic, the prose is beautiful and musical, the pacing is deft, and things are just falling apart.

— — —

[A few days later]

Tout ce désert, c’est la faute des hommes qui ont gouverné la région, dit-il. Des irresponsables et des bandits.

And now, having experienced the full arc of the narrative arc of this very present and cosmopolitan novel (which encompasses old Lebanon, the fission of Iraq, the international art market, and the onset of the coronavirus), I remark upon how beautifully and precisely and evocatively Majdalani’s prose turns upon memory and place. There are many sly doublings of image and mood, intense conversations in unusual settings in this contemplative thriller. In his own head and with others, the narrator engages in a recurring discussion of history and its agents. Having since listened to a conversation between Gil Roth and Charif Majdalani when his earlier novel, Caravansérail (2007), appeared in English translation as Moving the Palace (New Vessel, 2017), it is clear that reflection upon historical decline is an important aspect of his work.

À chaque nouvelle catastrophique parvenant d’Irak ou de Syrie durant les années qui suivirent, ou de n’import quel coin de la planète en rapport avec les événements de cette région, j’ai resongé à l’affair du convoi du du général Ghadban et de son changement d’itinéraire, à cet embranchement, et à cette autre voie qui, si le convoi l’avait prise, aurait peut-être conduit non pas seulement Ghadban mais le monde entier ailleurs que là où ils ont été.

The reader shares the narrator’s experience of teetering at the edge of an abyss of time and incident. I am thinking about why, suddenly, in reading the opening passages of this novel, it was the mood of Ernst Jünger’s Auf den Marmor-Klippen (1939) which came up in memory (I am not going to re-read that one just now). Majdalani intimates, subtly and not with a sledge hammer, what we know in our hearts: that to be anywhere in the world — not only during the collapse of order in north Iraq in late summer 2014 — is to sense the increasing entropy of a closed system. And how beautifully the story is told.

I look forward to reading other books by Majdalani.