26 December 2015

Ten of the Best: Spanking Good Book Buys of 2015

Early morning on Boxing Day and I'm lying comfortably in bed. My late mother is to thank. She taught that there is something unseemly in leaving family Christmas dinner to wait overnight for the chance at a $9.99 blu-ray player at Best Buy.

Because I'm done with buying books for this year, the time has come to present my ten favourite acquisitions, beginning with the 1907 Routledge edition of The Clockmaker pictured above. Bought for a buck a couple go months back, the series title, "Half-forgotten Books", did attract.

Half-forgotten books are what this blog is all about… the three-quarters-forgotten and entirely forgotten, too. What follow are the nine others:

The British Barbarians
Grant Allen
London: Lane, 1895

A second printing of Allen's second biggest book, this one has slowly risen to the top of the pile on my night table. The oldest addition to my collection this year – our literature is still so very young – I won this for one pound in an ebay auction. Shipping charges tempered the victory.

Kalee's Shrine
Grant Allen
New York: New         Amsterdam, [1897]

Another Allen. One hundred and sixteen years after his death, books by this son of Kingston are becoming scarce, so I was pleased to get this one for just US$4.99. I understand it takes place primarily on the East Anglian coast and features an oculist.

The New Front Line
Hubert Evans
Toronto: Macmillan, 1927

A gift from James Calhoun, with whom I collaborated in writing the Introduction to Peregrine Acland's Great War novel All Else is Folly. I'm embarrassed to reveal – and reveal I must – that I was unaware Evans too had served in the conflict.

Hath Not a Jew…
A.M. Klein
New York: Behrman's         Jewish Book House,         1940

The first edition of the first book by the first great poet of Jewish Montreal, I found this for a dollar.

King of Egypt, King of              Dreams
Gwendolyn MacEwen
Toronto: Macmillan, 1971

The poet's novel of ancient Egypt and Akhenaton, I came across this copy – inscribed by MacEwen – whilst volunteering at our local library's book sale. In the words of the immortal Lou Reed, "you're going to reap just what you sow."

The Three Roads
Kenneth Millar
New York: Dell, [n.d.]

I purchased this first paperback edition at London's Attic Books, a very pleasant walk from the University of Western Ontario, at which Millar studied English literature.

The Damned and the          Destroyed
Kenneth Orvis
London: Dobson, 1962

A second novel from a Montreal writer who seems entirely forgotten. I'd never heard of him, and yet Orvis was published internationally and managed to limp on into the 'eighties. See: Over and Under the Table: The Anatomy of an Alcoholic (Montreal: Optimum, 1985).

A Japanese Nightingale
Onoto Watanna [pseud              Winnifred Eaton]
New York: Harper, 1901

Another second novel, this one written by the most accomplished member of Montreal's remarkable Eaton family. A true joy to hold and behold, I purchased my copy just two months ago at Attic Books.

The Keys of My Prison
Frances Shelley Wees
London: Jenkins, 1956

This Millaresque mystery set amongst the privileged of Toronto is a great read. My pristine first English edition, purchased from a bookseller in Lewes, adds to the delight. Seeing something older than myself in such fine form brings hope for the New Year.

And on that note… A Happy New Year to one and all!

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  1. It makes me happy, Brian, that you are keeping these books alive. They are only "alive" if someone is reading them or remembering that they exist.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Stephen. I think we're both doing our best.

  2. I am in accord with your mother. Shopping on Boxing Day - what a dreadful concept! We are still in stay-at-home holiday mode, snacking on leftovers from the previous days' feasting, and reading our newly acquired books in the glow of the Christmas tree lights. It's snowing outside, and perhaps a bit of shovelling may figure in our day, but shopping - nope. Your new-to-you books look like bargains, indeed. Most intriguing. I wish you Happy New Year and much interesting reading in 2016. Cheers!

    1. A very Happy New Year to you, too. May it bring plenty of new discoveries… and more 10/10s!

  3. I've read a few of Grant Allen's short stories - and I've been quite impressed. A writer who doesn't deserve to be forgotten.

    1. Indeed. Of those working in late Victorian London, Allen is one of the most intriguing, I think. He rarely disappoints - even when he does, his stories entertain.

    2. I first discovered Grant Allen in one of Hugh Greene's wonderful RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES anthologies published in the 60s. They included a number of "colonial" authors like Guy Boothby (a very underrated Australian writer). I'm not sure if there were any other Canadians. I'll have to check.

    3. I believe Greene included Robert Barr (born in Glasgow, but raised in Toronto). I've read quite a bit by the man, but not one of his mystery stories, Must get to it this year.

  4. Boxing Day is for visiting in my world. And a traditional walk somewhere in or around Kingston (this year Fort Henry).

    Thanks for sharing your books, and I hope you find many more in 2016.

    1. How true! It should be for visiting - much more rewarding than getting deals on boots and books (yes, even books). The very best to you in the New Year, Susan.