Other than the four pairs of pants at Banana Republic for $105, my main Xmas shopping in Cambridge involved remaindered NYRB Classics editions in the basement of the Harvard Book Store. They must have 30 or so titles down there, mostly for $5.99, some a dollar more. I love these editions and find them very seductive: the packaging’s great, cool introductions by interesting authors, and you feel that you can take a chance and are likely to find something good.
These are the ones I got (on three different trips, I kept adding more):
- The Cost of Living by Mavis Gallant (two copies, one a gift)
- The Diary of a Rapist by Evan S. Connell
- The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (a gift for my aunt)
- The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley
- Monsieur Monde Vanishes by Georges Simenon
- The Strangers in the House by Georges Simenon
- The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
- The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese
- Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
So far of these I’ve read Rogue Male, a 1939 British thriller somewhat along the lines of The 39 Steps, made into a 1941 Fritz Lang film called Man Hunt. It’s pretty great, kind of a cross between Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. The narrator is a British man of honor & means who, for somewhat mysterious reasons, has gone off on his own on a quixotic attempt to assassinate a foreign dictator (presumably Hitler). He’s captured, beaten and left for dead but somehow manages to escape. Back in England, the operatives of the foreign state cannot afford to allow him to live. The ensuing manhunt culminates in our hero hiding like a badger in a secret little den he’s constructed in the woods in Dorset. A minor slip-up puts one of the operatives on his tail and he ends up seemingly trapped in his den. Interesting things going on with animals and animality; he hunts the dictator like a big-game hunter, and then in turn he is like an animal in his lair, he reverts to his animal instincts, of course; his only friend is a feral cat; and, in a bizarre turn of the plot I won’t fully give away, he uses the body of an animal as a weapon in a ingenious way.
At some level I feel this novel has a family resemblance with something like the Wind in the Willows in its romanticizing of a wild rural England and the snugness of a little hideaway where one can hide away from prying eyes…