Category Archives: Literature

Postcard #13: The case of the dangerous dowager

After something of a hiatus (sorry, dear reader), we’re back with postcard number 13 – lucky for some, but apparently not for this poor disillusioned reviewer, who clearly feels about as thrilled by this novel as a reclusive Scrooge with a headache at the annual office Christmas party.

To be honest, I can see their point. Perry Mason novels are hardly lauded for their depth of character and literary genius. A Booker winner this is not. Wooden dialogue and crude character development are unquestionably the order of the day. 

But isn’t that the point – just a little bit? Crime fiction – that old hard-boiled American detective novel – takes its stylistic heritage from 1920s pulp fiction – which offered mass-produced, cheap and affordable fiction to Britain and the US for the first time. Unrealistic, poorly-written, sexist and stereotypical? Sure.

But a bit of a guilty pleasure? …I’ll leave that up to you.

 

The cover was created by Polish designer Romek Marber. His template for the separation of the cover (horizontal bands at the top) is now known in the industry as the Marber grid. Fact.

 

Gardner takes his reader to a time of gambling, sexism, and boring masculine stereotypes. If you can get over how completely flat and unrealistic the characters are, it’s an easy read with a completely unrealistic plot line to match. I’ll stay away from detective novels from now on.


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POSTCARD #12: AUGUST IS A WICKED MONTH

From the dawn of the sexual revolution comes the story of Ellen, who has left her life in Ireland (Catholic guilt and repression feature heavily) to visit the South of France ‘to be free and young and naked with all the men in the world making love to her, all at once’. I say!

But is it just me? – I can’t help but think that this review, sans the 1960s reference, might just as easily have been written about The Book That Everyone is Talking About – that’s 50 Shades of Grey if you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks. Although it must be said that August comes out of such a comparison pretty well – and that’s even taking into account that it apparently describes, without irony, a man’s… y’know… as ‘a foxglove in a secret glade’. Dear god.

(By the way and for the record, this comparison is all supposition, since I’m far too much of a book snob to read said 50 Shades (yes, yes – so how can I judge it? – but I read an extract, people! A dire, dire extract…). If you agree with me, you might enjoy this little interpretation of the book instead.)

 

All in all, then, another great review. Keep them coming, team!

 

The author, Edna O’Brien, is an Irish novelist born in 1930. She would later describe the Ireland of her childhood as ‘fervid’ and ‘enclosed’. O’Brien continues to write to this day.

 

A very surprising plot to have been written in the 60s! Although the writing style leaves much to be desired, the constantly surprising, eye opening plot keep the reader engaged. A suggested women audience. Shellie

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POSTCARD #11: SEX IN SOCIETY

I’ll be honest: the first line of this review is relatively damning. But it does get a little better. A little.

The book was written in 1964 (the swinging ’60s – of course!) by Alex Comfort, a pacifist, conscientious objector and Cambridge-educated doctor whose subsequent work The Joy of Sex would earn him fame, millions of dollars and the moniker ‘Dr Sex’. This work, it appears, would not. Bypassing the faint amusement of a book about sex written by someone named ‘Comfort’ and its cover designed by ‘Jock’, it turns out that Sex in Society is, well, a bit old hat.

 

Addendum: this is our first review all the way from SOUTH AFRICA! Hoorah!

The cover was designed by Jock Kinneir who, alongside Margaret Calvert, designed the brilliant and distinctive road signs we use today in the UK. FACT.

This book is out of print, and deservedly so. The society described in Dr Comfort’s book is far removed from our current fast-changing information and knowledge society. The abundance of information and ease of conducting studies in present society, along with many new considerations (AIDS, improved contraception, etc) would necessitate a re-write. That being said, the book still provides some fundamental insights into the psychology and attitudes towards sex in ‘modern’ societies. Don’t expect an easy read; heavy going with jargon and verbose prose, it reads quite like a lecture, albeit at times a witty one. ‘We may eventually come to realize that chastity is no more a virtue than malnutrition.’


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POSTCARD #10: THE HORIZONTAL MAN

BREAKING NEWS – Acclaim for Helen Eustis’ masterpiece:
‘A good read’
‘Entertaining’
‘A great deal of… wit’
‘This book should be read’


Err… Or perhaps not.

I have to admit, it’s at times like this I feel a pang of guilt for unleashing the burden of the Penguin Postcard Project on its poor discerning victims. And this review started off so promisingly, too. Truth be told, though, I’m quite tempted to read The Horizontal Man anyway. Our reviewer pulls it to pieces… but really rather affectionately. Maybe.

Did you know? This book won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel by An American Author in 1947. I’m willing to bet our reviewer wouldn’t have voted for it…

The Horizontal Man is a good read, simply for how awful it is. It’s best captured by a sentence in the author’s bio: ‘Helen Eustis… attended Smith College, where she won a medal for creative writing, a degree, and her 1st husband…’ Set at a women’s college, the story involves a dead poet, a disturbed student coming close to failing her degree, a geeky student winning her (1st?) boyfriend, and a great deal of forced wit and insipid storyline. The unconvincing banter between the characters, however, is the reason why this book should be read: entertaining for the one-liners as well as the second-order sneer that anyone could honestly write it.

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POSTCARD #9: DANGEROUS CURVES

This is what I call making the most of your postcard.

Over three hundred words, along with the creative use of a highlighter pen and a small-but-perfectly-formed drawing of a car, have conspired to create this little gem of a review. I love the incongruous snowboarder making his way off stage-right, and the fact that we have to improvise the words that have been lost beneath the stamp.

There’s not much more I can, or should, add to this splendid thing, so I’ll let it speak for itself.

Enjoy.

Did you know? Peter Cheyney, not content as just a writer, was also ‘a fencer of repute, a golfer, a crack pistol-shot, and a jiu-jitsu expert.’

[review transcribed from unappreciated curvaceous secretary of Callaghan] In a spare minute between bandies, hailing Berkley Square cabs, cigarette offerings and answering to my alias ‘Slim’, I have a proposition for you. You won’t like […it…] but I assure your it’s better than anythin[g] else you’ll be offered. Just write me [a] cheque for £5,000 and don’t ask questions. If you deduce the nature of t[he] review by the outset I will tear up the cheque, or alternatively dispo[se] of your doped up girlfriend (with the nice fitting clothes). We’ll get […] somehow and who the hell cares how! The motto of my private investigation firm lives up to every word. Smoke? You’ll be lulled into that seems a sterile case, solved from the outset. Last night I was out on the San Pedro, a nice boat, good lines, inspected a murder between the crook Raffano and a young cad, who shot each other through the heart and lungs in a row over dough. Simple wrap up, one day job you say? Throw in Azelda, the sweet faced junkie, Mrs Riverton, an empress in ocelot, old Kells, and a pair of swimming trunks, and you have the makings of hard boiled detective fiction at its best. The tone drives an iciness into your very soul, dislodged only by copious underworld cigars and fixing tough men in shadows with razor blades in your fists. It’s a shame my respect for decent women is occasionally lost in telling them I have more experience in my little finger than they have ‘in the entire area of their nice figures’. But it’s a good thing it’s the forties and they love that sort of thing! Read it, I’ll distract the doorman and get the Jag. The reviewer of this book is a nice sort.
Keira Dickinson www.ragandboneman.org

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POSTCARD #8: ON THE RIGHTS OF MAN

Here at PPPHQ (got to love an acronym), we don’t like to be judgemental. This project is, after all, rooted in creativity – a hundred different takes on a hundred different books from a hundred different places around the world.

But we can’t help but feel as though one reviewer might have missed the point. Postcard #8 came tumbling through the letterbox… housed snugly in its own little envelope (as you’ll see, since there’s no stamp or postage mark). It does bear a couple of lines of review, but the main book analysis was on a separate piece of paper inside the envelope. Well, it’s certainly one way to get around that whole pesky ‘fitting a review on the back of a postcard’ issue. And it means we get to see the lovely little penguin strutting his stuff at the top right. So it’s not all bad.

Tempted as we were to omit the paper review from the blogpost on grounds of objection, it seemed rather against the spirit of the thing, so here is review #8 and its addendum in all their glory. It sounds as though HG Wells’ On The Rights of Man is somewhat less riveting than the science fiction he’s best known for – even though such work also clearly expounds his socialist outlook (dystopian worlds flourish in novellas like The Time Machine).

I think I’ll stick to Wells’ sci-fi output for now – but have a little more respect for the man in knowing that he fought hard, and earnestly, for social equality at a time when others did not.

Did you know? HG Wells was diabetic. In fact, he founded the charity Diabetics UK. #pubquiztrivia

‘Possibly the mouldiest book I’ve read!’
A book full of opinions on rights and laws; would benefit from an injection of 1940s humour.
Not for the faint-hearted.

The Rights of Man – HG Wells
This book is part of a series of specials that Penguin produced. Written in 1940, this is a discussion essay looking at the rights of man, what these should be and why.
The book opens with two lectures that HG Wells had submitted during the Second World War. He discusses how man should understand what is being fought for – retaining human rights.
HG Wells outlines a 10-point declaration of rights and the book covers the discussion of these points; what they mean and why they are important.
While the book is quite dry (okay, very dry… 120 pages is tough going!), it does highlight issues then that are still issues we look at now, for example, removing racism and gender inequality.
Would I recommend it? Probably not. Unless you have a particular interest in this area of human rights and laws to coincide with them, you may find this isn’t the ideal read for you.
Jeni McNicoll
April 2012

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POSTCARD #7: LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER

Arguably one of the best known, and certainly one of the most controversial, of our 100 titles, Lady Chatterley’s Lover caused itself a downright furore on publication in 1928. I say ‘publication’, though it was printed privately in Italy, since it was banned in the UK until 1960. And when, in 1960, it was finally published by Penguin – bound by this very cover artwork, indeed – there began the most infamous trial of a publisher in history. The case was made under the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959, which objected to its use of… certain words (I’m far too polite to record them here for dear readers’ tender ears. Use your imagination) and, quite simply, they did not deem it a work of literary merit.

And nor does our reviewer.

So it was illegal 80 years ago, unpalatable 50 years ago – and what of now? Is it simply too graphic, too base, its characters too flawed and too ugly, even for a 21st-century audience? Is it we who are too squeamish, or Lady Chatterley’s Lover which is unnecessarily gratuitous? Is it, indeed, unworthy of literary merit? I’d love to hear what you think – add your voice to the Comments section if you’ve read it. (For the record, I love it.)

Love it, hate it, offended by it, embarrassed by it – wherever you stand on it, everyone stands somewhere on it. Isn’t that a good thing?

Did you know? D.H. Lawrence considered calling this book Tenderness at one point. Curious.

 

Somewhere on the descent from the bitch-goddess to the child-man, this book loses its charm.
One needn’t jump in so much mud to prove it makes one dirty.
TC

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Postcard #6: A BOOK OF SCRIPTS

Postcard #6 reviews one of those subjects that we all feel an affinity with (I’d wager at least half of you have a favourite typeface – mine’s Baskerville, dahlings) without really having the faintest idea about it all. It’s a fact that probably becomes clear pretty quickly when you’re coerced into reading a bloody great tome dedicated to its history, structure and form. That’s not to say it’s not fascinating though, and our reviewer does a great job of showing us how complex and visual this art is – so much more complex than I suspect many of us give it credit for.

As an aside, I always find it difficult to consider the particulars of typography without thinking of the Guardian’s quite spectacular April Fool’s hoax of 1977, in which they created an entirely fictional island nation, Sans Seriffe (an archipelago comprising two islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse), complete with a government (General Pica), harbour (Port Baskerville) and national bird (the kwote). Holiday companies were, for weeks thereafter, inundated with requests for Sans Seriffe travel brochures. Tremendous.

So, without further ado: A Book of Scripts.

Does exactly what it says on the tin

Two interesting facts about the designer of this cover. 1. He was denounced by the Nazi party as a 'cultural Bolshevist' in 1933. 2. He invented the typeface family Sabon. FACT.

Reverting to type

A brief history of calligraphy from the Romans to the Sixties that encapsulates just how much typography and design have changed! I’m not a graphic designer, but I enjoyed the insight into the process of crafting new styles. Half the book consists of facsimiles, which are interesting to flick through but fall a bit flat when grouped together without analysis. It’s a neat little read for graphics geeks though! Lisa Thom, 08/04/2012 lisathom.co.uk


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POSTCARD #5: KEEPING POULTRY AND RABBITS ON SCRAPS

It’s Friday 13th, and nothing says spooky like hens and fluffy little bunny rabbits…

Here is postcard #5 for your viewing pleasure! I love the way our reviewer has placed the book in its context of wartime, and the ‘make do and mend’ mentality that went with it hand-in-hand. In the years spanning then and now, consumerism and globalisation have made everything our hearts desire instantly available for us at the click of a button – brand-new, same-day delivery, buy-one-get-one-free… Can’t help but feel we’re missing a trick somewhere along the way.

Although, come to think of it, the idea of brand-new, same-day delivery, buy-one-get-one-free fluffy little bunny rabbits isn’t such a bad one.

Bunnies, chicks, dancing penguins… animal OVERLOAD

 

I’ve never kept hens or rabbits so I’ve no idea if the advice within is any good. However, I have learnt that hens are ‘humble and slightly ridiculous creatures’ and how to build my own battery cages (?!) It seems fairly comprehensive and there’s much more than just advice on feeding, with tips + information on everything from buying to diseases to killing your animals humanely. I would definitely want to check modern sources too, but I quite like that it’s not been updated since 1941. The book captures, in a useful way, the wartime spirit of doing the very most with the very least, in a (sometimes unintentionally funny) matter-of-fact way.
Debbie Kinsey 08/04/2012

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POSTCARD #4: MY MAN JEEVES

Another day, another postcard – and this time it’s the turn of the wonderful P.G. Wodehouse, and My Man Jeeves.

Wodehouse (known to his friends and family, pleasingly, simply as Plum) is admired and loved today as much as ever he was. While his most famous creations of Jeeves and Wooster were just about as English as one could possibly be, Wodehouse himself became a naturalised (or should that be naturalized…) US citizen way back in 1955 – 20 years before his death. It was only earlier this year that it was revealed that Wodehouse was persistently refused immunity from UK prosecution should he ever return to this sceptred isle, for alleged war crimes after describing the German army as ‘a fine body of men’… Golly. You’d think they had more important things to worry about, really.

And now, not two months after this little revelation, one lonely postcard confirms – as we always knew – that Britain’s loss was truly America’s gain. The man whom Britain shunned remains, as ever, an undisputed national treasure.

Right ho, Jeeves – onwards!

I say – what a spiffing cover we have here

‘I say Jeeves! This book is absolutely ripping! One of our very best efforts.’
‘Sir?’
‘Oh, don’t be so modest, Jeeves. And while you’re there, bring me a whisky and soda?’
‘Certainly, sir. And might I just add, sir, how pleased I am that you have enjoyed our latest – how shall I say – adventure? Sir.’
‘Top stuff, Jeeves. Particularly like the one where you got me out of that ghastly engagement,’ I said, lighting a cigarette.
‘Will that be all, sir?’ said Jeeves. ‘Very good, sir. Thank you, sir.’
– Jenna Eyers, 6 April 2012

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