Trea­sures that sur­prise, en­chant

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUMMER BOOKS - BY MICHAEL DIRDA book­world@wash­post.com 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.

Come sum­mer, one tires of the high­minded works of spring, the long­haul nov­els by the latest Wun­derkinder, the 900page bi­ogra­phies, the “gamechang­ing” — 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.

STAN­LEY KUBRICK’S THE SHIN­ING

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.

THE DEATH OF NAPOLEON 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.

A WOMAN IN ARA­BIA: THE WRIT­INGS

OF THE QUEEN OF THE DESERT 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.

FIVE WEEKS IN A BAL­LOON: A JOUR­NEY OF DIS­COV­ERY BY THREE ENGLISH­MEN IN AFRICA 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.

MYS­TERY AND DE­TEC­TION WITH THE THINK­ING MA­CHINE

By Jac­ques Futrelle Coach­whip; two vol­umes: pa­per­back.

$19.95 each

THE THORPE HAZELL MYS­TER­IES AND MORE THRILLING TALES

ON AND OFF THE RAILS

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.

SMALL VIC­TO­RIES: ONE COU­PLE’S SUR­PRIS­ING AD­VEN­TURES BUILD­ING AN UN­RI­VALED COL­LEC­TION

OF AMER­I­CAN PRINTS By Dave H. Wil­liams

Go­dine. $40

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.

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.

THE STRANGERS AND OTHER WRIT­INGS By Robert Aick­man

Tar­tarus. £ 37.50

AICK­MAN’S HEIRS

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.

THE CRIME OF OUR LIVES

By Lawrence Block Lawrence Block Books. $24.99

THE GOLDEN AGE OF MUR­DER

By Martin Ed­wards Harper Collins. $27.99

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 crimewrit­ing 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.”

THE SEA OF BLOOD

By Reg­gie Oliver Dark Re­nais­sance, $45

RO­MANCES OF THE WHITE DAY By John Howard, Mark Valen­tine and Ron Weighell Sarob. $60

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.

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