Come summer, one tires of the high-minded works of spring, the long-haul novels by the latest Wunderkinder, the 900-page biographies, the “game-changing” — how I hate that phrase — works of political or sociological analyses. This is the season for the fizzy and breezy, a time to catch up on that oddball classic you’ve always meant to try, perhaps even a chance to discover a new writer, even a new genre.
Here, in no particular order, are some titles that I’ve put aside for my own pleasure-reading, or rereading, this summer. Many are from small or specialty presses, so you may need to buy them directly from the publisher or ask your favorite bookstore to order them for you. In most instances, these presses issue a variety of books as interesting as those mentioned below.
Edited by Danel Olson
Centipede; paperback. $45
“Here’s . . . Johnny!” While some scary movies usefully encourage a new sweetie to hug you tight in the cinematic darkness, others just leave you, your date and the entire theater audience traumatized. Anyone fascinated by how films are put together, let alone fans of “The Shining” itself, will immediately recognize the sheer value-for-money of this latest installment in Centipede Press’s “Studies in the Horror Film.” In 750 amazing pages, editor Danel Olson has assembled stills from the movie and casual photos from the set, a dozen essays on director Stanley Kubrick’s artistry, an equal number of interviews with the major cast members — Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Joe Turkel, Scatman Crothers and even Lia Beldam, who plays the nude woman in the tub from Room 237 — and, perhaps best of all, reminiscences galore by members of the crew of what it was like to work on the production. A major contribution to film history and scholarship.
By Simon Leys, translated from the French by Simon Leys and Patricia Clancy
New York Review Books; paperback. $14
A distinguished Sinologist and a learnedly charming essayist (“The Hall of Uselessness”), Simon Leys here imagines that Napoleon escaped from St. Helena, leaving a double behind. Pretending to be an ordinary sailor, the former master of Europe eventually makes his way back to Waterloo, which he discovers has become a popular tourist site. Who am I, really? he wonders. Perhaps, as someone once said, Napoleon was only a madman who thought he was Napoleon.
Edited by Georgina Howell
Penguin; paperback. $17
One of the most remarkable figures of the late 19th and early 20th century, Gertrude Bell — to quote the biographical note to this well-chosen selection from her letters and memoirs — was “a renowned traveler, mountaineer, stateswoman, Arabist, linguist, archaeologist, photographer and writer.” After becoming the first woman to gain first-class honors in modern history at Oxford, she spent most of her adult life in the Middle East, often as a political power-broker between the British and the Arabs. In some ways, Bell might be regarded as the much happier, female equivalent of T.E. Lawrence, who knew and admired her. This anthology is scheduled to coincide with a new film about Bell, “Queen of the Desert,” starring Nicole Kidman.
By Jules Verne, translated by Frederick Paul Walter,
edited by Arthur B. Evans
Wesleyan Univ., $35
In recent years, Wesleyan University Press has spearheaded the movement to retranslate the full texts of many of Jules Verne’s scientific romances, what he called his “voyages extraordinaires.” This new edition of his first great adventure story contains everything a reader could desire: an excellent English translation with an enticing introduction, reproductions of the original illustrations, scholarly notes, an extensive Verne bibliography — all brought together in an exceptionally well-designed volume.
By Jacques Futrelle
Coachwhip; two volumes: paperback. $19.95 each
By Victor L. Whitechurch
Coachwhip; paperback, $14.95
Sherlock Holmes has always been the Great Detective, but even he might acknowledge the brilliance of his contemporaries, Professor S.F.X. Van Dusen, a.k.a. The Thinking Machine, and railroad detective Thorpe Hazell. The two Futrelle volumes collect all the cases solved by Van Dusen, of which there are many more besides the anthology standard, “The Problem of Cell 13.” Remarkably similar to the recent escape of two New York state convicts, that story demonstrates how the professor himself managed to break out of a maximum-security prison. As for Victor L.Whitechurch’s ingenious mysteries, let me just note that none other than Benedict Cumberbatch has recorded five of them for BBC and Blackstone audio.
RAVEN: THE TURBULENT WORLD OF BARON CORVO
By Robert Scoble
Strange Attractor. £25
THE CORVO CULT: THE HISTORY OF AN OBSESSION
By Robert Scoble
Strange Attractor. £25
With the possible exception of Count Eric Stenbock, no one in the 1890s was more decadent, bizarre and fascinating than another aristocrat of the period (if only self-styled), Baron Corvo. Under this pen name, Frederick Rolfe produced a stream of astonishing books, from an idiosyncratic history of the Borgias to the novel “Hadrian the Seventh,” in which a down-and-out English writer is elected pope. Mendacious, self-pitying, abusive and the possessor of a vocabulary that most of us can only dream of, Rolfe ended up in Venice seducing gondoliers and eventually becoming one himself. As a collector of Corviniana, I can hardly wait for a long, hot weekend to read Robert Scoble’s tandem works of scholarship and research. They are, what’s more, exceptionally handsome books.
By Dave H. Williams
You never know what will turn up at those summer flea markets, but whether you collect baseball cards or bottle caps, it’s always fun to read about the hunt for rare treasures. In this heavily illustrated volume, Wall Street businessman Dave H. Williams recalls how he and his wife, Reba, gradually became obsessed with acquiring graphic works — portraits, still-lifes, landscapes, miniatures — by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Diego Rivera, Andy Warhol and many others. As always, an elegant Godine production.
THE STRANGERS AND OTHER WRITINGS
By Robert Aickman
Edited by Simon Strantzas
Undertow; paperback. $18.99
Over the past couple of years, Tartarus Press has reissued, in a uniform format, all seven volumes of Robert Aickman’s “strange stories,” as well as his comparably strange two-book autobiography. In this supplemental miscellany, the publisher has gathered up eight unpublished stories and 16 essays and reviews, and then included a short DVD about Aickman’s life. Why should you care? To his fervent admirers — there are no other kind — Aickman is one of the most original and endlessly rereadable authors of our time. If you have a taste for his hauntingly enigmatic stories, in which the surreal, the Kafkesque and the undecidable are related in elegant Augustan prose, you will be eager to acquire everything he ever wrote. You should also check out “Aickman’s Heirs,” an anthology of Aickmanesque stories by such notable 21st-century writers as Brian Evenson, Richard Gavin, John Howard, Michael Cisco, John Langan and Lisa Tuttle and many others.
By Lawrence Block
Lawrence Block Books. $24.99
By Martin Edwards
Lawrence Block, the multitalented grand master of the mystery, here collects his essays on Fredric Brown, Raymond Chandler, Evan Hunter, Ross Thomas, Donald E. Westlake and more than a dozen other crime-writing mentors, friends and admired contemporaries. Since Block possesses an almost preternaturally engaging voice on the page, these pieces make for ideal hammock or beach-blanket reading. Much the same could be said of Martin Edwards’s reconsideration of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Anthony Berkeley and the other founding members of the Detection Club. Anyone who loves classic English mysteries from the 1920s through the ’40s will revel in the highly anecdotal “The Golden Age of Murder.”
By Reggie Oliver
Dark Renaissance, $45
By John Howard, Mark Valentine and Ron Weighell
Can I just say that Reggie Oliver is, after William Trevor and Steven Millhauser, my favorite living short-story writer? If you haven’t read him, “The Sea of Blood,” a selection from his sometimes hard-to-come-by collections, makes the perfect introduction. Oliver is also part of a loose school of modern British supernatural fiction, much of it inspired by Arthur Machen. “Romances of the White Day” gathers three long stories written in honor of that Welsh master of the supernatural. If you’re a fan of Machen, or of John Howard, Mark Valentine and Ron Weighell, or of all four (as I am), you’ll want this book.
Michael Dirda reviews books each Thursday in The Washington Post. His new collection of essays, “Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting and Living with Books,” will be published in August.