Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Tarot by Paul Foster Case

Paperback reprint of The Tarot from 1975
Originally published in 1947 a few years before his death, The Tarot by Paul Foster Case is largely regarded as one of the seminal texts on discerning the Tarot. Born in 1884, Case became an occultist in his teens and developed his lifelong passion for the Tarot in 1901, 46 years before the publication of this book. Case was at times a Freemason, a member of the order of the Golden Dawn, and later founded his own Mystery School called The Ageless Wisdom which is still in existence. Case's text, published and reprinted by the Macoy Publishing Company, discusses and explains in depth the 22 major arcana from the Tarot deck for divination, and is to be used in conjunction with Case's own deck that he developed called the B.O.T.A. deck (for Builders of the Adytum). Case's book was revolutionary for relating each of the keys of the major arcana to their Hebrew letter counterpart from the Qabalah and the Cube of Space/Tree of Life, and especially in a time when few people studied such things. Despite any belief or practice of the Tarot, Case's book is interesting nonetheless and explains to a degree the origins of playing cards. Pictured on the cover is an illustration of The Hermit, which is key number 9 of the major arcana, and is one of many beautiful wood-cut illustrations by an unknown artist that fill Case's book.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

First edition of The Queen's Gambit published by Random House in 1983
Walter Tevis' fifth and second to last novel is about the ascent of female chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon. Orphaned when her mother dies at age 8, Beth spends the next five years in the Methuen home for girls and learns how to play chess covertly with one of the janitors while combating an addiction to tranquilizers. Beth is eventually adopted and steals money to play in a tournament, where she finally becomes recognized as the talent that she is. The Queen's Gambit follows Beth from her humble beginnings to challenging the world champion at 18, and, despite being extremely chess-heavy in detail, is incredibly gripping and fun to read. I have yet to read or even hear of another book that deals with the plight of the female chess player in an almost always male-dominated field. The Queen's Gambit is easily in contention for my favorite of Tevis' novels, and this first edition features great jacket art by Will Barnet.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Bodysurfers by Robert Drewe

Reprinting of The Bodysurfers from 2009 Penguin Australia
First published in 1983, Robert Drewe's The Bodysurfers is a classic of Australian literature. Hailed as a sort of J.D. Salinger from Australia, this short-story collection recounts the ups and downs of the Lang family over multiple decades. The settings for most of the book are the many Australian beaches that members of the Lang family frequent, which Drewe himself grew up going to and clearly loves. For some reason Drewe doesn't have the biggest audience in the U.S., although a lot of his books have been printed here. I've only read The Bodysurfers, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but from what I understand his other books are just as good. This Popular Penguins paperback is an Australian edition with the awesome stock cover used for all overseas paperback editions. It should also be self-evident that this book makes for great summer beach reading.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Army of Shadows by Joseph Kessel

Pocket Francais paperback edition printed in 2007
Known in English as Army of Shadows, the official title of Joseph Kessel's 1943 novel in French is L'armee des ombres. I have read other books by Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour, The Lion, etc.), which have translated copies currently in print, but I have a feeling that they pale in comparison to Army of Shadows—unfortunately, I've been unable to track down a readable copy of the only English translation printed in 1944 by Cresset Press. The main reason why I'm even aware of this book, along with most other English speakers, is because of Jean-Pierre Melville's film adaptation of the same name from 1969. The movie is a pleasantly sprawling tale of the French Resistance and its members as they try to combat oppressive Nazi forces in their homeland. Told on the bleaker side and shot in beautiful blue and gray hues of color, Melville's film adaptation is by far one of his best movies and my favorite. All of these things lead me to believe that Kessel's novel must be equally as amazing, if not more so. Based largely on Kessel's own war-time resistance experiences, as far as I understand it, the movie remains pretty faithful to the text. A year ago I sent an inquiry to NYRB about printing a new English translation but no one ever got back to me. Maybe there are rights issues or other things connected with Kessel's estate that I'm unaware of, but I hope that someday someone releases another English edition of this book so I can finally read it.

Back cover of an older Pocket Francais paperback from 1972 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Corridors of Time by Poul Anderson

Book club edition of The Corridors of Time from 1965
Published by Doubleday Science Fiction, Poul Anderson's The Corridors of Time is about former death-row inmate Malcolm Lockridge's travels through time, guided by Storm Dalloway, who has just broken him out of prison. In one corridor of time Dalloway was a leader of the Wardens, a group warring against the Rangers, who enlist the help of Malcolm Lockridge before he can settle down in a time period of his choosing. Spanning many centuries and different eras, Anderson's novel can be a little hokey at times but still enjoyable enough to read. Anderson belonged to a sect of science fiction writers who were beyond prolific in their lifetime; this book was probably written among four or five other novels in 1964/1965 and sort of shows. I think this book is most important, though, as a relic from a period of publishing and literary history that no longer exists—incredibly imaginative, pulpy science fiction novels with amazing book design by masters of the genre. The Corridors of Time is a great example of all these things, and features beautiful jacket design by Tom Chibbaro.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Movie tie-in paperback edition of Fat City from 1972
Leonard Gardner's first and only novel remains a relatively obscure classic of boxing fiction. Set in the small town of Stockton, California where Gardner grew up, it follows the emerging career of Ernie Munger and the washed-up career of Billy Tully, two semi-professional lower-class boxers. Originally published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 1969, this paperback edition was published by Dell in conjunction with John Huston's film adaptation written by Gardner himself. Fat City is a fairly bleak book but an incredibly gripping one to read, and highlights a particular time and sub-genre of people in rural California as they try to make it to the big time, or "fat city" as it were.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Purgatory Street by Roman McDougald

First edition from 1946, published as an Inner Sanctum Mystery under Simon and Schuster
This beautiful pulp-mystery by Roman McDougald (his third book) tells the story of Mona and her husband Chan, who has just returned home from World War II. Except that Chan is not the same man he was before the war—at all. As Mona falls deeply in love with this impostor, she must come to face the grim reality that he has murdered her husband to claim his inheritance and will invariably have to kill again. This simple story from over half a century ago is fun to read despite being incredibly dated. Published by Simon and Schuster as part of their Inner Sanctum Mystery series, Purgatory Street also features amazing jacket design and illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman.

Rear cover featuring an advertisement for The Widow-Makers by Michael Blankfort