Friday, 27 November 2009


We are pleased to the point of indignity to have unveiled the second ever Capuchin Classics catalogue.

This thing of beauty (sorry - the Keats effect is lingering) lists all existing and forthcoming Capuchin Classics up to July 2010, and, as was its predecessor, is adorned with the graceful line drawings of Angela Landels, whose work on the Capuchin covers has drawn enthusiastic plaudits from many web and print commentators.

We would be delighted to send you a copy free of charge if you visit the website and click on the catalogue tab.


Thursday, 19 November 2009


I am greatly enjoying Andrew Motion's Keats biography, and reading it has even displaced attempting the Guardian crossword as my commuting activity of choice. Mr. Motion writes with a fluency and skill that, while illuminating and making connections between the aspects of Keat's life, (I'm still in the school and early work period) always makes for pleasurable reading. Some phrases stand out as particularly well-formed and, in the following instance, hilarious (causing one of those rare moments of audible laughter on the Hitchin to London line*):

He (Charles Cowden Clarke) combined a simple and passionate Calvinist faith with a tormented sense that God must always remain elusive, and spent his life pursuing Him as though he were tracking a heavenly yeti.

I can't wait to read the rest of Keats; it may even cure me of my aversion to large books and biography in general.


*audible horror is more usual.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Having advertised my intention to go and see the Keats biopic Bright Star, I thought I'd share my reactions.

I was somewhat apprehensive about the film, having read and heard diversely differing opinions of its quality and worth. Furthermore, because I had organised the outing - although the person accompanying me did so withour duress or protest - I felt perversely responsible for her experience. As it happened, we both thought the film was intensely moving without ever being sentimental, and beautifully shot and scored. The two lead actors were magnificent throughout, and (although this could be due to my seeing too few films) I couldn't identify them with any other major roles, a fact which gave an extra freshness to their performance. There was also an admirable lack of overt explanation in the film, with no clumsy exposition describing exactly who was who or what a Romantic poet was. This gave me the feeling of having been plunged in media res into this compelling story of love, poverty and creativity.

If this doesn't make me read the Andrew Motion biography that's been sitting harvesting dust on my bookshelves for some years (the director acknowledges her debt to this book) then nothing will. I'll just have to gird myself and overcome my deep-seated fear of enormous books.


Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Proof was once again recently furnished that the world is not only small but microscopic, as several strands of my life were woven together by the appearance in our office of a monograph on the poet Ernest Dowson.

Dowson was a late 19th century poet, of a somewhat morbid and sentimental bent, who died young and whose words have left a trail across an intriguingly wide range of areas. Probably his best-known phrase:

the days of wine and roses
from his poem Vitae Summae Brevis, became a song and a well-known phrase or saying, while another verse work, Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, gave us:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion
(which was the direct inspiration for Cole Porter's Kiss me, Kate song Always True to you in my Fashion,) as well as:

Gone with the wind
which needs no introduction. Furthermore, lines from his poems were also used as titles for some of Michael Moorcock's wonderful Dancers at the End of Time books, a series which imagines a few apparently immortal, practically omnipotent human beings left on a future Earth, attempting to reconstruct the artefacts and emotions of earlier ages in order to give meaning and colour to their lives.

Weaving the web of connections into my own career in the book trade, Dowson also features in the splendid anthology The Dedalus Book of Absinthe, a very intelligently edited collection of compelling pieces featuring the drink, focussing on the artistic and literary devotees of the green fairy. In one of my previous jobs, I was a sales rep. selling not only Dedalus titles bit also those of Greenwich Exchange, who publish the Dowson monograph. Finally, I should add that the author of the monograph (Henry Maas) is a friend of Capuchin's founder, Tom Stacey.

I recommend discovering (or rediscovering) Dowson, and would argue that any respectable literary home ought to have at least one copy of the Absinthe anthology.


Tuesday, 3 November 2009


This is a very welcome and interesting guest blog from David Butler, who is active in the Anthony Powell Society.

A few years ago I embarked on some research into the life and works of Michael Arlen – a novelist of whom I hitherto knew nothing – on behalf of the Anthony Powell Society. The Green Hat makes a brief appearance in the first novel of Powell’s 12-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time. I don’t claim to be an expert now, and am still working my way through the novels and short stories of Arlen as I come across them, but for a Powell devotee, The Green Hat is relevant because it forms the subject of a brief exchange between the narrator, Nick Jenkins, and his fellow Oxford student JG Quiggin, a scene which takes place in the early 1920’s when The Green Hat was newly published and all the rage. Powell obviously knew, even though he was writing in the early 1950’s, that he could use Arlen’s most famous work both to position the scene in time and to highlight aspects of his own characters’ personalities, without needing to do more than reference the work in passing.

Anthony Powell did meet Michael Arlen on one occasion, although not until shortly before Arlen’s death. But the influence of The Green Hat had come early upon Powell: as he related in his memoirs, on coming down from Oxford he first took up residence in Shepherd Market because he was inspired by the seduction sequence which opens that novel in (as Powell describes it) “that small village enclave…so unexpectedly concealed among the then grand residences of Mayfair.” In due course, Powell’s narrator Nick Jenkins would also embark on post-University life from a flat in Shepherd Market.

In later years Powell passed not uncritical judgement on Arlen’s works, as his 1968 Daily Telegraph reviews of The London Venture
and The Green Hat reveal. However, Powell did recognize that they convey “an extraordinarily potent whiff of the period.” Now, lots of books do that and not all remain popular for long, but in my opinion this is one of the most important reasons for a continued reading of Arlen. There are plenty of society novels of the roaring 1920’s still in the public consciousness: Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies and Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay for example; Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell also springs to my mind; sadly that is not in print, but that’s another story. But these all tend to reference the Bright Young People of a very slightly later vintage, whereas Arlen focuses on a generation of people who rather pre-date the BYP’s, a generation who had come out into society prior to 1914 only to find the social and moral certainties of that time ripped apart by the upheaval of war. This gives Arlen’s works a dark side which is not, I think, to be found in quite the same vein elsewhere. Think Nancy Cunard rather than Elizabeth Ponsonby; Gerald March as opposed to Atwater.

Anyway, whatever you make of the books, Arlen’s own importance as a social and literary reference point in the 1920’s is beyond question. The mentions in Anthony Powell’s novels and memoirs are just one example. I found, during the course of my researches, that Michael Arlen touched on so many lives that, to pick up at random any literary or society biography or memoir of the inter-war period gave me a high probability of finding a reference to him, however brief. From Osbert Sitwell to Barbara Skelton, Nancy Cunard to Noel Coward. Quite recently, Arlen got a good airing in The Bolter by Frances Osborne, her biography of Idina Sackville, who was probably a model for Iris Storm.

Even, as I discovered last week to my great delight, PG Wodehouse could not resist slipping an Arlen mention into one of his novels. Not only that, but from the lips of one of his finest comic creations, Madeline Bassett. Let me then give the last word to Bertie Wooster as, in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), he tells of the Bassett thus:

“ ‘Oh, look,’ she said. She was a confirmed Oh-looker. I had noticed this in Cannes, where she had drawn my attention in this manner on various occasions to such diverse objects as a French actress, a Provencal filling station, the sunset over the Estorels, Michael Arlen, a man selling coloured spectacles, the deep velvet blue of the Mediterranean, and the late Mayor of New York in a striped once-piece bathing suit.”

David Butler

Monday, 2 November 2009


I came across an interesting literary site today that was previously unknown to me, called The Millions. At the moment, there is a series of interesting posts on the subject of 'difficult' books, i.e. those canonical titles which deter many readers because of their length, complexity or related qualities.

As always with these lists, reading the posts caused several arrows of literary shame to lodge themselves in my psyche, each one representing a classic it is particularly embarrassing not to have read. Interestingly, among these is Anatomy of Melancholy, which I have just renewed through my local library, having failed to make significant progress with it during the first three week loan period. I also have to admit Tristram Shandy and Clarissa into my Hall of Shame. I was pleased to register full marks, however, for, among others, Moby Dick and As I Lay Dying (not really, I think, a difficult book).

At the risk of boring everybody, let me again extol the virtues of the modern library world, whose features include the ability to renew one's books by telephone. I'm increasingly relying on my local outlet, rather than our bookshop, to lead me to undiscovered and interesting books.