It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


I love the smell of old paper in the morning

Inspired by Pornokitsch’s book porn post earlier today, I have decided to share some of the older, and perhaps less obviously the sort of books I would buy, books in my collection. And here they are…


I bought The Life and Works of Jahiz on abebooks after reading and enjoying Robert Irwin’s The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature, but I’ve, er, never got around to reading it. It was published in 1969, so it’s not especially old – in fact, it’s younger than me. But I suspect very few people I know also possess a copy. (I see there’s a single copy for sale on Amazon… for £129.99.)


I’ve tried my hand at poetry, and a few of my attempts have been published, but I’ve found the poetry that appeals to me most is that of the 1930s and 1940s, such as by the Cairo poets. Here I have three collections by Terence Tiller: Reading a Medal (1957), Poems (1941) and The Inward Animal (1943); Richard Spender’s Collected Poems (1944); and John Jarmain’s Poems (1945). They were bought at antique fairs, on eBay, or from Abebooks.


And here are two poetry anthologies from that period. New Verse (1939) features photographs of the contributors at the end and appears to have been annotated in pencil by a previous owner. Poetry of the Present (1949) has a review slip in it, giving the exact publication date as April 28th 1949 and price as 10/6.


My favourite poet is probably Bernard Spencer, and here are a couple of hard-to-find chapbooks: The Twist in the Plotting (1960) and With Luck Lasting (1963).


I first came across the Cairo poets via the Lawrence Durrell connection. During WWII, there were two groups of poets and writers in Egypt – both serving in the armed forces and civilians. Durrell and Spencer were in the Personal Landscape group, centred around a journal with that title. The other group was called Salamander after its magazine, and later published three collections of poetry by armed forces personnel: Oasis (1943), Return to Oasis (1980) and From Oasis into Italy (1983). (I can’t find any copies of Oasis online to link to, unfortunately.)


Middle East Anthology of Prose and Verse (1946) is, er, exactly that. It includes Lawrence Durrell, John Jarmain, Bernard Spencer, Keith Douglas and Olivia Manning, among others. The book lacking a dustjacket is Personal Landscape (1945), like Oasis above, an anthology drawn from the pages of the magazine of the same name, which includes, er, Lawrence Durrell, John Jarmain, Bernard Spencer, Keith Douglas and Olivia Manning, among others.


From verse to prose – three novels from the 1930s and 1940s. Priddy Barrows (1944) is Jarmain’s only novel – he was killed in WWII. I wrote about it here. Copies of both Priddy Barrows and his poetry collection are, it seems, now impossible to find. At First Sight (1935) is Nicholas Monsarrat’s second novel, and This Is The Schoolroom (1939) is his fourth (but my copy is a 1947 reprint).


Finally, a couple of books about bathyscaphes. Seven Miles Down (1961) is the only book written specifically about the voyage of the Trieste to the floor of Challenger Deep in 1960. I wrote about it here. 2000 Fathoms Down covers descents in a bathyscaphe by the two authors during the 1940s and 1950s.

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Nicholas Monsarrat

I remember reading Monsarrat’s classic novel of Atlantic convoys during WWII, The Cruel Sea, at school, and enjoying it very much. But it wasn’t until a couple of decades later that I came across his Master Mariner series – Running Proud and Darken Ship.

It was when I was living in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. I’d joined the Daly Community Library within a fortnight of arriving – Abu Dhabi was at that time short of good book shops. And over the next eight years, I worked my way through that library. It had a poor science fiction selection, so I ended up reading a lot of mainstream fiction by authors I’d never tried before. I suspect I picked Running Proud because I remembered The Cruel Sea as being good. Running Proud, however, wasn’t good; it was excellent. Sadly, Monsarrat died before he could finish the second book, Darken Ship, and it consists only of the opening chapters and scattered notes. Despite this, the two-book series became a favourite.

So I started buying and reading more of Monsarrat’s fiction. He’s perhaps best described as a solid writer who had moments of excellence. Many of his novels are very much of their time – workmanlike 1950s and 1960s thrillers. But several of them are interesting: such as the science-fictional The Time Before This, in which a man visiting the frozen north of Canada is told of a cave containing artefacts from a civilisation which preceded humanity. Or Smith And Jones, which initially reads as a straightforward spy thriller but becomes something entirely different on the last page.

Anyway, here are the Monsarrat books I own. My collection is not complete – there are about half a dozen titles I don’t have. Most are first editions, and one or two are even signed. My copy of The Cruel Sea is a reprint and a bit tatty – I should imagine first editions of it are really hard to find. But mine is a signed copy.

Castle Garac was, as far as I’m aware, published as a paperback original.

I don’t have this US edition, but I think I prefer the cover art to the Pan paperback. Both look a bit Mills & Boon-ish, but the novel is actually a thriller set in the south of France.

Several of Monsarrat’s books were made into films – The Cruel Sea, of course; but also The Story of Esther Costello (starring Joan Crawford), The Ship That Died of Shame (starring Richard Attenborough), and Something to Hide (starring Peter Finch).

Finally, Monsarrat’s two-volume autobiography.