Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Kremlin Letter by Noel Behn

Fourth edition hardcover from 1966 printed by Simon and Schuster
Noel Behn's first novel and spy thriller was made most famous by John Huston's film adaptation from 1970, several years after The Kremlin Letter was first published. The novel and film both tell the story of several American intelligence officers clandestinely fighting against the Russians at the height of the Cold War to capture this eponymous letter. Filled with intrigue, Behn's book is equally as engaging as the movie and definitely deserves a read. Along with beautiful, simple jacket design by Paul Bacon, this edition is particularly amazing and unique because of the marketing strategy employed by Simon and Schuster. As stated on the front cover and on the inside, "IF you can put this book down without reading it to the end, you may return it to your bookseller with the seal unbroken for a full refund." Below are pictures of the seal (which clearly remains intact—I read a different copy), that begins on page 67 and binds the remaining pages of the book. Simon and Schuster were apparently convinced that readers would love the book so much that they offered this free return option if the reader didn't like the first few chapters. I have never seen another book or publisher employ this technique, and I'm guessing for that reason it didn't work very well and wasn't worth the effort. Still, I think it's amazing that they even tried.

The seal pictured from the front

Side view of the seal showing it "unbroken" 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Henderson The Rain King by Saul Bellow

First edition published in 1959 by Viking Press
Saul Bellow's fifth novel is about a rich, waspish, middle-aged white man who becomes restless with all that he has and sets out to Africa to "find" himself. All sorts of adventures obviously ensue and Henderson finds himself entrenched in the native life of the Arnewi, where he befriends the leaders of the tribe and eventually matures to some degree. I read somewhere once that Bellow thought of Henderson the Rain King as his favorite of his own books (it is my favorite as well), and, ironically, is the only one of his novels without a Jewish protagonist. This first edition cover features a beautiful African "jacket painting" by Bill Preston, and pictured below is Bellow's signature.

Saul Bellow's signature on the front endpaper

Friday, June 8, 2012

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Softcover British edition published by Faber and Faber from 1989
This British edition of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot differs largely from most popular American versions because Edward Gorey didn't do the illustrations; instead, "Nicolas Bentley drew the pictures," according to the front cover. First published in 1939 with Bentley's illustrations, this book of whimsical cat poems is a lot lighter than most of T.S. Eliot's other work as it was written mostly for his godchildren. It also served as the basis for the musical Cats, although whoever adapted it definitely took a lot of creative liberties. This slim volume is entertaining for adults and children alike, and features a nice monogrammatic Faber cover with one of Bentley's illustrations.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Devil's Home On Leave by Derek Raymond

First British paperback edition from 1985 published by Abacus
This is the second book by Derek Raymond, the pen-name of English author Robert Cook, in his Factory Series about an unnamed Detective Sergeant working in the Unexplained Deaths department. The Devil's Home On Leave follows the Detective trying to solve the murder of a body chopped up, boiled, and casually dispersed on the street amongst five plastic shopping bags. Featuring a gritty cast of London underworld characters, known as "Villains," and the Detectives who pursue them, Raymond's novel is filled with intrigue and written mostly using amazingly authentic British slang. Raymond himself was a British gangster at one point, among many other things in his lifetime, before later becoming a novelist, and is considered to be the founder of British Noir with this series. Although this is the second book of five in the Factory Series, The Devil's Home On Leave is the best one in my opinion.

The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov

Doubleday Science Fiction book club edition of The Foundation Trilogy from 1961
Published between 1951 and 1953, Isaac Asimov's three landmark books collected in this single edition recount the story of Hari Seldon and his plan to save the failing Galactic Empire by forming a new colony to preserve their remaining society, known as the Foundation. In an attempt to maintain the Foundation using a branch of mathematics he developed called psychohistory, Seldon can predict the future on a large-scale and, throughout the trilogy, attempts to navigate the new Foundation to safety from the perils of warring civilizations in the universe. These books are considered a pinnacle of Science Fiction, and mark the beginning of a new kind of writing by the master Isaac Asimov. This book club edition has a great, simple cover, although whoever designed it was never properly credited.

Back cover with author photo of Asimov

Friday, June 1, 2012

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

Movie tie-in edition published by Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.
This edition of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin was released sometime after Rainer Werner Fassbinder's adaptation aired in 1980, although the exact year is unspecified. Döblin's novel was originally published in German in 1929 with cover art by George Salter early on in his career. Lauded as a masterpiece of European literature, Berlin Alexanderplatz is the story of criminal Franz Biberkopf upon his release from prison and follows his attempt to lead a crime-free existence—trouble and crime obviously ensue. I read somewhere that Döblin finished his first draft of Berlin Alexanderplatz and then read Ulysses by James Joyce and completely rewrote the entire book, which was subsequently published. The stylistic parallels between the two are thinly-veiled at best. That said, it also isn't an easy book to read, nor is it easy watching Fassbinder's fifteen-plus hour film version, but they both have a fair amount of merit and a solid story. The cover features a still from Fassbinder's film designed by Ted Bernstein.