Gary Dexter

Surprising literary ventures | 5 November 2008

Ken Follett is a cult in countries such as Japan, Italy and Spain — in Spain, in fact, there is a statue to him, inaugurated in January this year, in the town of Vitoria-Gasteiz in the Basque country. In Britain he is also loved, but perhaps not with the fanatical devotion he deserves. Most people

Surprising literary ventures | 22 October 2008

The Crows of Pearblossom is a rare children’s book by Aldous Huxley, written in 1944 and published posthumously. It originated as a present for his five-year-old niece Olivia de Haulleville, who often visited Huxley and his wife, Maria, at their ranch in Llano in the Mojave Desert (Olivia later moved to the Greek island of

Surprising literary ventures | 8 October 2008

Alexander McCall Smith is best known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels (Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men etc.) as well as the Isabel Dalhousie mysteries and the 44 Scotland Street series. But McCall Smith has a number of other strings to his

Surprising literary ventures | 24 September 2008

Using the Oxford Junior Dictionary (1979), by Philip Pullman Before Lyra, before polar bears and His Dark Materials, and before his first children’s book, Count Karlstein, in 1982, Philip Pullman was a lowly drudge in the very humblest halls of lexicography. Pullman in fact spent his earliest career in teaching, working at various Oxford middle

Surprising literary ventures | 10 September 2008

Ruth Rendell, it turns out, as well as being the queen of ‘adventure sex’, is a furious decentraliser. In this small book of 1989 she argues not only for devolution for Scotland and Wales but autonomy for the English regions and a ‘cantonisation’ of the UK along Swiss lines. Undermining the Central Line is nothing

Surprising literary ventures | 15 December 2007

Who is Cleo Birdwell?’ begins the flyleaf text of this book. ‘The simple answer is that she’s a New York Ranger, a schoolteacher’s daughter from Badger, Ohio, who becomes the hottest thing in hockey.’ Well, not quite. The simplest answer is that she’s Don DeLillo, author of White Noise, Underworld and Falling Man, publishing pseudonymously

Surprising literary ventures | 1 December 2007

A. E. van Vogt was a doyen of the Astounding generation of mid-20th-century science-fiction writers, a group whose senior members included Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. Among van Vogt’s novels are The Voyage of the Space Beagle, Slan and The World of Null-A. He also produced this little book, published in 1992 but conceived much earlier,

Surprising literary ventures | 17 November 2007

The slender book above was the last thing Roald Dahl ever wrote, and was published posthumously by the British Railways Board. It is something of a deathbed conversion. The author spends the whole of it telling children — whom he describes as ‘uncivilised little savages with bad habits and no manners’ — how to behave

Surprising literary ventures | 3 November 2007

The Fixed Period is the most un-Trollopian thing Trollope ever wrote. It is a first-person futuristic narrative set in the state of Britannula, an island somewhere near New Zealand, in the year 1980. The President of Britannula, John Neverbend, decides to institute a fixed term of 67½ years for the life-span of his citizens, after

Surprising literary ventures | 20 October 2007

John Cage was the composer of 4’33”, the piano performance piece that consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of complete silence — except for the mutterings of the audience — and Imaginary Landscape No. 4, in which 12 radios are played at the same time for several hours. He was also the inventor of

Alternative reading | 6 October 2007

A Journey into God is one of four books by Delia Smith on the subject of Christian spirituality, the others being A Journey into Prayer, A Feast for Lent and A Feast for Advent. Delia journeys into God painfully aware of her own lack of recipes. She takes the apophatic approach, describing God as what

Alternative reading | 8 September 2007

Alternative reading Fences and Gates, Walkways, Walls and Drives by E. Annie Proulx E Annie Proulx is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain: she has also won the PEN/Faulkner Award, the O. Henry Award and the Dos Passos Prize, and is thus one of the most lauded of all American

Surprising literary ventures | 9 December 2006

Santa’s Twin (1996) by Dean Koontz Dean Koontz is the author of the schlock-horror novel Demon Seed (later a film) about a woman who is raped by a computer. Further offerings include Watchers, Lightning, The Bad Place, Intensity, Fear Nothing, and False Memory. His talents, however, don’t end there. His publishers explain: ‘At the request

Surprising literary ventures | 25 November 2006

Action Cook Book (1965) by Len Deighton The fact that the cover of this book by Len Deighton shows a chap cooking spaghetti while wearing a gun lends itself to many interpretations. Was spaghetti so expensive in 1965 that it needed an armed guard? Will someone be paying the ultimate price for overcooking it? Is

Surprising literary ventures | 11 November 2006

187 Men to Avoid (1995) by Danielle Brown Danielle Brown … Danielle Brown … isn’t there something familiar about this name? Hold on. If you … remove the ‘ielle’ … it’s … No. Yes. 187 Men to Avoid was written by the author of the Da Vinci Code in 1995, before he was famous and

Surprising literary ventures | 28 October 2006

Jimmy Stewart and His Poems (1989) by Jimmy Stewart The most intriguing thing about this book is its title. Ernest Hemingway and His Novel by Ernest Hemingway would not work. Katherine Mansfield and Her Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield wouldn’t either. Poems by Jimmy Stewart would be ridiculous, as if he were pretending to be

Surprising literary ventures | 14 October 2006

A Time Before Genesis (1986) by Les Dawson The rare book shown above (try getting hold of a copy) is Les Dawson’s only serious work of fiction. It provides a disturbing insight into the mind of the late comedian. Its thesis is that the earth has, for millennia, been controlled by alien forces who have

Surprising literary ventures | 30 September 2006

My Love Affair with Miami Beach (1991) by Isaac Bashevis Singer Isaac Bashevis Singer, the 1978 Nobel laureate, wrote mainly on the Jewish experience in pre-war Poland, the Holocaust, Israel, and the diaspora to the USA, particularly New York, not an awful lot about Miami Beach. But Miami Beach nevertheless held a special place in

Surprising literary ventures | 16 September 2006

The Horror Horn (1974) by E.F. Benson‘Are you ready for the ultimate in sheer horror?’ asks the back cover of this 1970s paperback. ‘Here are stories from the darker reaches of the mind, stories which will cling like mould in your memory because there is something horribly real and convincing about them.’ Well, of course

Alternative reading

The Trailor Murder Mystery (1846) by Abraham Lincoln In 1841 the young Abraham Lincoln was working as an attorney in Illinois. He became the defence counsel for three brothers named Trailor, who were accused of murdering an odd-job man for his money. No corpse had been found: the odd-job man had simply disappeared, and the