Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Today's blog is provided by Tom Stacey, in witty praise of O. Henry, a selection of whose stories we publish later this year, which is the centenary of his death. Details of the book will appear soon on our website.

Having a ringside seat at the Capuchin Classics selection panel's deliberations as to what to bring back into print can sometimes mean that I'm yanked into the ring. It wasn't I who thought of reviving O. Henry, of whom I knew only by name as an American master of the short story. But the Capuchin panel knew me as a writer of short stories and an ardent supporter
of the genre.

"You," said the panel, "are our choice as writer of the Introduction to our Capuchin O. Henry revival. We're bringing out 'The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories' by O. Henry in October, and we want a thoughtful and preferably brilliant introduction by the week after next."

"I've never read an O. Henry story," I protested.

"We said," they said, "'the week after next.' A week to read the
selected stories, a week to write the Introduction."

"What's the fee?" I asked.

"It's an honour to be asked," said the panel.

That night I began to read some of the chosen stories. Gosh, I was captivated by a combination of compact yarning, absolute precision of ear and eye, unflagging compassion for the underdog and an unquenchable and wholly idiosyncratic wit as to the gift of life. His stories lay somewhere between de Maupassant and Runyon, I could see at once. Indeed they do – in chronology, flowing out (at extraordinary pace) at
the turn of the previous century, and in creative wisdom. How did he ever come fall out of print this side of the Pond? I wondered.

The I began to research the fellow. It was a life of sharpest light and shade: love, bereavement, a flight from justice, a spell in jail ... and a brief life too: cirrhosis carried him away before he was 50.

Now I'm a lifelong O. Henry devotee.
Thanks, Capuchin panel.

Tom Stacey

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


I am very grateful for the strenuous efforts that have gone into relaunching the Large Hadron Collider. Once it's up and working properly, I will have the perfect excuse for authors who are clamouring for unwritten marketing plans or unsent review copies; I will simply say that these tasks were carried out, but that they were negated by disruptions to the space-time continuum caused by the particle accelerator, resulting in the reversal of time and the erasue of certain events. This will become the modern equivalent of 'the dog ate it'.

While following the news about the atom-smasher, I've been thinking about the relationship between science and literature, and if and how modern writers weave the technology of our age into their fiction. It's interesting to read the protests of those who write out and out science fiction, that their work is not taken seriously by the literary establishment; one response from the latter having been that not much of this genre is terribly good in terms of literary quality.

My favourite novelist, the late and hugely missed Kurt Vonnegut, was labelled, if not ghettoized, as a science fiction writer during the early part of his career, and observed the battle between the genres with something of the nature of a double agent:
I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file-drawer labeled ''science- fiction'' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station.The way a person gets into this drawer, apparently, is to notice technology. The feeling persists that no one can simultaneously be a respectable writer and understand how a refrigerator works, just as no gentleman wears a brown suit in the city.
While, on the other hand:
the editors and anthologists and publishers who keep the science-fiction field separate and alive: they are uniformly brilliant and sensitive and well-informed. They are among the precious few Americans in whose minds C.P. Snow's two cultures sweetly intertwine. They publish so much bad stuff because good stuff is hard to find, and because they feel it is their duty to encourage any writer, no matter how frightful, who has guts enough to include technology in the human equation. Good for them. They want buxom images of the new reality.
Vonnegut's later novels are peppered with self-knowing references to the embattled positions of science and science fiction in popular culture, and one of his most rumbustious efforts, The Sirens of Titan, is a full-blown, ironic homage to science fiction ideas and mechanisms. In this novel, he invents the wonderful cosmic phenomenon of the chronosynclastic infundibulum, which, against their will, sweeps a man and his dog (Kazak, hound of space) across the universe, and manifests them at particular places and times.

In this context there are also, of course, the wonderful novels of John Wyndham to consider, in which he weaves technological and social, cultural and psychological themes together with great deftness, and the more obviously 'literary' SF novelists such as J.G. Ballard and Iain (M) Banks (as opposed to the M-less iain Banks who writes 'mainstream' novels).

So it goes.


Monday, 29 March 2010


The advance copies of the four March Capuchins arrived at the office recently, to the usual twitters of excitement and joy. This is possibly the most exciting moment of the publishing life cycle, when the considerable efforts of everyone involved in the conception and gestation of a new title are manifested in physical form.

Due to a slight delay in production (I think the printers' boy ran off to sea) the bulk copies won't be released until mid-April, but here's another preview of the Fantastic Four.

Two blistering and hugely influential French novels: Scenes from the Latin Quarter and Knot of Vipers, are beautified by the Capuchin treatment, and, from this side of La Manche, Herbert Read's eerie, mystical fable The Green Child is accompanied by our very own version of Wuthering Heights.


Saturday, 27 March 2010


As from Monday, the flagship Waterstone's store in Gower Street will be hoisting the Capuchin Classics flag. This store, formerly incarnated as Dillon's Mallet Street, combines superb academic stock - serving as it does the bookish needs of the students and staff of UCL - with a very wide range of general trade books, all attractively displayed, and sold by booksellers whose knowledge and enthusiasm for their subjects is a byword in bookselling. The Grade 1 listed building in which all this is housed is very worthy of attention in itself.

Those of you in, near or passing through London should be able to see the main window adorned with large reproductions of some Capuchin covers, and to browse through a comprehensive selection of the titles in the shop. Buying a good number of same is highly recommended.


Thursday, 25 March 2010


A very pleasant evening was had yesterday, launching a book from Capuchin's parent company, Stacey International, at Daunt Bookshop in Marylebone High Street. It is always a delight to return to the original shop - the owners having opened counterparts in four other judiciously selected sites - and to bask in the air of a place whose guiding spirit is a passion for good writing and publishing.

The only disadvantage to visiting what I have long believed to be the best bookshop in London - and possibly the UK - is that I am always tempted to buy so many books, and have to weigh this instinct against the constraints of personal finance and domestic space. This is, however, a pleasant dilemma in which to be caught.

Thanks to Brett, Adam, Lucy and the other Daunt staff, who provided the perfect setting for our event.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010


The blog apologises for the dearth of posts recently, having been walking round Toulouse and discovering the wonderful Japanese garden and vast Catholic cemetery while on holiday in that city.

Strange are the paths that lead us to books. My Sony e-reader arrived with 100 free classics, and I am finally and happily plugging many embarrassing holes in my literary bucket, because - like mountains - the books are there, albeit virtually. Our older readers may have grasped the allusion to an ancient, repetitive, popular ditty involving holes, buckets and other items. They don't write them like that any more.

At the moment, I'm digitally processing Great Expectations, and, as ever with reading Dickens after a long absence, I'm enthralled by the sheer brilliance of his prose, which is often used to such wonderful comic effect. For example:

My sister, Mrs. Joe, throwing the door wide open, and finding an obstruction behind it, immediately divined the cause.....She concluded by throwing me - I often served as a connubial missile - at Joe, who, glad to get hold of me on any terms, passed me into the chimney and quietly fenced me up there with his great leg.

The humour is of course counterpointed with scenes of the grotesque, the squalid, and the emotional or sentimental, all stamped with the same wit and eloquence.

I may even finally get round to watching the film.


Friday, 12 March 2010


Val Hennessy, champion of classic literature in her Daily Mail column, Retro Reads, reviews our edition of Rose Macaulay's Non-Combatants and Others in today's newspaper. The book explores the issues of war, pacifism and social non-conformity through the eyes of its young heroine.

Our book sits just south of Muriel Spark's Memento Mori, reissued by Virago. The Virago website is a treat and a real pleasure to browse through, and Spark is one of those authors of whose works I am always meaning to read more, having enjoyed Miss Jean Brodie and The Ballad of Peckham Rye.


Wednesday, 10 March 2010


In the sprit of the Oscar season, this is to say a huge 'thank you' to everyone (and there have been a great many of you) who has sent us their ideas for new Capuchin titles, which are still arriving daily. It goes to confirm that there has been a wealth of interesting material left behind by the vagaries of literary fashion and circumstance.

One particularly imaginative and resourceful reader, noticing the curious and accidental preponderance of the word 'green' in our book titles, sent us a list of no fewer than 23 suggestions, each containing that shade. Capugreen Classics, indeed.

Keep the ideas coming.


Monday, 8 March 2010


In a typical gesture of marital unselfishness about which my humility almost forbids me to speak, I recently accompanied my wife through a dvd viewing of The Proposal. The film, starring 2010 Razzie (worst film) and Oscar award winner Sandra Bullock, depicts her character as a ruthless, workaholic publishing executive, whose company is lodged in a huge skyscraper and whose working life is defined by glamour and high technology. This reminded me of the publishing environment portrayed in Bridget Jones, which conveyed, although on a smaller scale, a publishing house equally draped in chic, and made me yearn once again for a film set in a small, relatively unknown publishing enterprise, where sometimes stuffing envelopes for an afternoon or finding a working stapler can seem the height of glitzy excitement.

As I recall it - which is very dimly - there is a more credible, somewhat chaotic depiction of our trade in Italo Calvino's If, on a Winter's Night.... and probably in many other books about which I am ignorant or have forgotten.

Contributions welcome.