Friday, 30 December 2011

Muscle Beach Party

Title: Muscle Beach Party

Author: Elsie Lee

Year of publication: 1964

Back cover blurb: Swinging in the Sun, Twisting Under the Moon, Surfing Up a Storm.  The whole gang is back on Muscle Beach having the BALL of a lifetime.

Quick flick reveals: No sooner did I start this blog, but the Great Unnameable from which I source the books closed for Christmas,  depriving me of the pulpy goodness that flows from its teat.  Consequently, this week I am presenting a book from my collection which I have written about before somewhere else (You know the London Review of Books?  Not there).
Muscle Beach Party was a film in the Beach Party series of the 60s starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.  It is a knockabout comedy, mostly built around sight-gags and musical numbers.  The fact that a novelisation was commissioned is, therefore, slightly odd, reminiscent of the Woody Allen short story about the serious writer who takes a job adapting a Three Stooges film into a book.  Nevertheless, Lee gamely strives to make the material work, and the end result is actually more entertaining than you might expect: i.e., moderately.  In a move that defies all known laws of sensible business practice, this book was republished in 1988.

Random paragraph: 'While there might be a difference of opinion on the better, there was no doubt about the more, and in a split second Candy was pulling Deadhead into the middle of the room.  Next to them were Frankie and Dee Dee, twisting expertly to Dick's rhythm.'


Thursday, 22 December 2011

The JR Joke Book

Title: The JR Joke Book

Author: Max Hodes

Year of publication: 1980

Back cover blurb: 'Who is the most devious, dastardly, cheating chiseller in the whole of Texas?  Who is the man with the most evil, wicked, two-faced leer in the whole world of TV?
   For millions of Dallas fans, the answer is clear: JR Ewing, a character as slimy as the oil he loves so much.  This is the book for everyone who thought JR had as much chance of being funny as the Poison Dwarf had of playing for the Harlem Globetrotters.  And maybe for the first time ever, the laugh's on him!'

Quick flick reveals: A collection of jokes about JR Ewing from Dallas. Except some of them aren't really, and are just existing jokes with JR's name shoved into them.  As joke books go, this one is possibly a bit too fictional oil magnate-specific.  Dedicated to Terry Wogan.

Random jokes: Why did JR join a slimming club?
To try and trim his multi-national corporation.

Why does JR watch the 'South Bank Show' every Sunday?
So he can Bragg about it all week.

Why did JR give up being a window cleaner?
He realised he was in the rung profession.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Boy From Space

Title: The Boy From Space

Author: Friedrich Feld

Year of publication: 1958, English translation 1967.

Back cover blurb: None.

Quick flick reveals: Nothing to do with the serial featured on schools TV programme Look and Read (Run, Peep Peep, run!), this is a charming-looking children's story about a giant child from space who by the look of things ends up moving in with a family by the name of the Sponglebys.  There are some great illustrations, and I wouldn't mind reading it one rainy afternoon.

Random paragraphs: 'The inspector scratched his head.  "Well," he said, "what can we get you to eat?  What do you eat on Baramba?"
   "In the morning the breakfast drink, at mid-day the lunch drink and in the evening the supper drink."'


The Apparition

Title: The Apparition

Author: Ramona Stewart

Year of publication: 1973

Inner cover blurb: 'Ramona Stewart's new novel The Apparition is a compulsively readable story which draws on the supernatural and yet remains firmly grounded in a recognisable human landscape.
   Paul Timberley is an archeologist, 'a seasoned traveller in the land of the dead' who is beginning to be bored by successful academic life.  He has a civilized relationship with a sensible mistress, is devoted to his rheumatic old dog, and is somewhat worried about his son Chris.  Chris is an underground movie-maker who works surrounded by a court of revolutionary runaways who depend on drugs for their drive and frenzy.  He is filming in a vast, crumbling New York mansion, turned into a place of fantasy by his bizarre entourage.  Any ghostly presence appearing there must surely be produced by hallucinogens, and nothing to do with the rather square professor who has come to see his son and drifts diffidently about on the fringes of the exotic goings-on.
   The disturbing thing is that presence - for one does appear - manifest itself far more powerfully to the father than it does to the son.  It - or she - is a tantalizing waif who fills Paul with an intense longing and appears to be connected with the magical cult objects of his trade.
   As he struggles to understand what is happening, we learn more about Paul's past: his miserable childhood, his wife's madness and suicide, the unexplained murder of his brother-in-law.  It begins to appear that the man, and his relationship with his son, are considerably less simple than they seemed at first sight.  Choosing his own way of driving a shaft into his subconscious - or into the past? or into some mysterious region outside the 'real'? - Paul undertakes an experiment as dangerous as any Chris might favour; and he does in fact discover the truth... but only at the moment of his death.
   In The Apparition Miss Stewart explores some of the more bizarre and frightening phenomena of our times with much intelligence.  At the same time she provides a wonderfully good read.'

Quick flick reveals:  The novel is even more pretentiously written than the above summary.

Random paragraph:  'Six months after her death, while he was checking a quote from Dante, he came upon the illustrated copy of the Inferno she had brought with her at their marriage.  The genitals had been colored in with crayon.  In his mental whirlpool, the bright illusion of a fair, flushing girl with milk-white teeth, Sally, trembled and dissolved.  He had not known her, he realized, at all.'


The Father Figures

Title: The Father Figures

Author: William Camp

Year of publication: 1970

Back cover blurb: 'Sally, third wife of Fenton Howard (who's almost past it), is getting dangerously frustrated.  Harriet, spouse of cynical, unfaithful Giles Clare, is rapidly tiring of his drunk, decaying journalist lover Peter Dean.  Melinda, efficient, dependable and with a clockwork bedroom routine, has no idea of the lustful thoughts seething in the head of Edward, her would-be MP husband.  Now read on...'

Quick flick reveals:  I picked this book up because on the first page, Norman Shrapnel (great name) of the Guardian describes it as 'a downbeat comedy about aging hippies'.  This made me think of The Ice Storm by Rick Moody, and hoped it was something similar actually written at the time that book is set.  It isn't.  Instead it's just a bunch of pretty interchangeable and dull middle-class types having affairs (much like The Ice Storm, I hear you cry!).  Contains no hippies.

Random paragraph: 'So Sally's visit to him in Oxford ended in a shopping spree.  She had arrived in her shortest skirt, remained in it for about an hour, while he made her read a selection of his press cuttings, and then had had it removed from her so roughly that the zip had broken.  Jeremy was two people all right.  "Women," he said, as he set about her, "need to be treated very firmly."'


Welcome to the Lost Book Library

For reasons I am not at liberty to divulge, I currently come into contact with many second-hand books.  Most of these are by James Herriot, but every so often, I come across a book which has a certain, shall we say, aura about it.  Just by looking at the cover you can somehow tell that not only has this book been out of print for some time, but that very few, if anybody, has thought to read it for nearly as long.  The Internet will reveal scant information about these books, other than that someone in Jersey will sell you a copy for a reasonable price.

These books have been lost from cultural history, but I aim to document them and give them a chance to live again.  Although I don't have time to read all of them personally, hopefully I will inspire others to track some of them down and give them a chance to come back to life for readers once again.  This is the Lost Book Library.  Let the cataloguing commence!

(Do you own a book that you feel belongs in the Lost Book Library?  All you have to do is send me a jpg of the front cover, the text of the back cover blurb, a random paragraph, and your thoughts on its contents having flicked through it, and I shall put it in!)