Always Reading Books, Sir

Marvelous Mary alerted us to the Christian Aid book fair and, swallowing my disapproval of anything with the word “Christian” in it, we went along. Last year I got a super-rare book of Gerald Kersh short stories (get into Kersh — a must!) and Ray Milland’s autobiography and a number of other things still lying unread. It was time to enlarge that pile.

(Milland’s book tells us of his screen near-debut in Scotland. He was cast in a small role, shipped north, and spent a week in a hotel looking at the rain hitting the windows. Never made it in front of a camera. Got paid. Went back south. Pretty good training for the movies.)

This time I got no film books (film & TV section was a depressing load of TV spin-offs) but the stuff I came back with has several filmic connections and also would form a pretty good plan of the inside of my head ~

Three Men and a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome

The Complete Books of Charles Fort

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, Len Deighton

Bill the Conqueror, PG Wodehouse

I Chose Caviar, Art Buchwald

The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges

Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol.2, Ben Bova, ed.

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories, Michael Cox & R.A. Gilbert, eds

Random passages. You’re welcome to try to assign them to their source tomes. I was going to colour-code them so you could at least tell where one ended and the next began, but then it seemed more entertaining not to.

Mr. Mankowitz pulled me to one side. “Do you know why all those fellows are standing around Miss Lollobrigida?”


“Because there is a rumour that if a virgin flea bites Miss Lollobrigida, and then bites another person, that person will inherit the Colosseum in Rome.”

“Is that the truth?”

“Yes, but it has to be a virgin flea. There was one flea that bit Miss Lollobrigida and then went out of his head and started to bite other fleas. We had to kill him.”

The founder and proprietor of the Mammoth Publishing Company, that vast concern which supplies half–the more fat-headed half–of England with its reading matter, hung up the receiver.

I knew the trick of it, I thought. Here was one of those word-padlocks, once so common; only to be opened by getting the rings to spell a certain word, which the dealer confides to you.

Descartes tells us that monkeys could speak if they wished to, but that they prefer to keep silent so that they won’t be made to work.

The desk-telephone emitted a discrete buzzing sound, as if it shrank from raising its voice in the presence of such a man.

“Telephone for Mr. Palmer. Calling Mr. Palmer. Send Mr. Palmer to the telephone.” The operator’s words lacked the usual artificial exactness, and were only a nervous sing-song. It was getting her, and she wasn’t bothered by excess imagination, normally. “Mr. Palmer is wanted on the telephone.”

“Smell that air,” said Major Mann.

I sniffed. “I can’t smell anything,” I said.

“That’s what I mean,” said Mann. He scratched himself and grinned. “Great, isn’t it?”

Early next day he took Mr. Greathead’s body out of the bath, wrapped a thick towel round the head and neck, carried it down to the dairy and laid it out on the slab. And there he cut it up into seventeen pieces.

Rossen was shouting for us to keep quiet. “Have we got enough blood on the set?” he asked the make-up department.

They said there was enough blood.

“Okay, give Alexander a large wound in the leg.”

I lifted my spear to protect him, but somehow the make-up man fought his way through and splashed blood all over Burton’s thigh.

They built forts, or already had forts, on hilltops.

Something poured electricity upon them.

The stones of these forts exist to this day, vitrified, or melted and turned to glass.

The Thing on the floor shrieked, flailed out blindly with tentacles that writhed and withered in the bubbling wrath of the blow-torch.

It was said of demons that they could make large and bulky creatures like the camel, but were incapable of creating anything delicate or frail, and Rabbi Eliezer denied them the ability to produce anything smaller than a barley grain.

A city in the sky of Liverpool. The apparition is said to have been a mirage of the city of Edinburgh. This “identification” seems to have been the product of suggestion: at the time a panorama of Edinburgh was upon exhibition in Liverpool.

I walked into that reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a decrepit wreck.


7 Responses to “Always Reading Books, Sir”

  1. bensondonald Says:

    I’m a sucker for used bookshops, clearance tables, thrift shops with a book shelf, library fundraisers, etc. Most of my bargains are the opposite of literature (old collections of magazine cartoons, joke books, Bennett Cerf, etc.). This was an especially choice $1 find:

    Mine is actually a later edition (1955); they did fresh ones for several years. According to Conrad Hilton’s preface:
    “There are exciting tales of adventure — mostly true adventure — and there is hearty laughter; there is mystery and there is a warm note or two of inspiration.”
    In short, for the Tired Businessman who really IS tired and turning in early. The content skews male, but very respectably so.
    I set it by the sofabed when relatives alight.

  2. Three men in a Boat is one of those necessary classics I really knew nothing about and had a totally false impression of. As an admirer of the film of Jerome K Jerome’s The Passing of the Third Floor Back, I was delighted to find the same strangeness here, as well as riotous comedy.

  3. The blow torch thing writhing on the floor is from S F Hall of Fame volume 2, but I’m cheating. I saw the movie.

  4. Correct! John W Campbell’s Who Goes There? is pretty closely adapted as The Thing. Makes me wonder if any of his other stories are adaptable.

  5. chris schneider Says:

    The Descartes line sounds like THREE MEN IN A BOAT. “In the spirit of,” at least.

    I read THREE MEN for the first time, two or three years ago, and enjoyed it. An episode which sticks with me is the one where they go to a concert of German song and, by deliberately laughing in the wrong spots, convince the rest of the audience that what they’re listening to is comedy. As a singer and an audience member, I empathize.

  6. The German recital is a joke on them: a couple of their friends tell them to expect a deadpan comedy, and they interpret it as such, laughing harder the more serious it gets. The author still doesn’t understand why the musician was offended.

    But the Descartes line, in fact if not in spirit, is from the Borges.

    The last line is JK Jerome’s.

  7. […] nipped back to that nice book fair and was able to pick up two more Len Deightons. I’ve found I like Len when he writes the […]

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