Tuesday, March 23, 2010

She Played A Man's Game With A Woman's Weapons

As a young man I read Joseph Conrad’s The Rover, Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Tennyson’s The Coming of Arthur and other worthy literature for my English Lit. exams. I don’t know if I’m better for it.

But I also discovered something else that set this 16 year old’s pulse racing.

Mickey Spillane. His hard-boiled detective, Mike Hammer, I thought was how grown-up men behaved and I tried to put on this hard face in the mirror, like Robert Mitchum. It didn’t work, of course, because I couldn’t keep it up and I looked ridiculous. It took a while to discover it wasn’t who I was.

But I loved them all the same. Those trashy covers always had a vamp, shoulders bared, seducing some tough guy in a tux. In those days you couldn’t read them in public, or in front of your mum.

Now those pulp fiction covers are treated by some as art. And I agree. They sell for a hundred times their original cover price at auction. But some of their authors may surprise you.

For instance, who is this from a novel called You Asked For It?

“If he hadn’t been a tough operator, Jimmy Bond would never have risked a weekend with a woman who used her magnificent body as a weapon to destroy him…

But it was a toughness that landed Jimmy his job with the Secret Service.”

Yes, it’s our own James Bond. The book was re-issued as Casino Royale but Ian Fleming had to take what he could as a new writer in 1955, and the cover art that went with it. He later wrote Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang, his only children’s book.

Now, You Asked For It, sells at $144.99 on Amazon.com

Chitty, Chitty sells from $.22 on the same site to £1,200 as a first edition on Jonkers Rare Books. Here, incidentally, if you have a spare £22,500 you can also buy Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes, 1911 version.

Here’s another. The book is called, Nude Croquet and is a book of short stories.

Authors? W. Somerset Maugham, Alberto Moravia, Leslie A Fielder, William Faulkner, and John Cheever.

The sensational covers don’t reflect the text inside. These were the days of censorship. One publisher, Sanford E. Aday, was sentenced to 25 years under the Obcenity Act for publishing The Sex Life of a Cop, a novel. Now that book’s asking price at auction is $200 and California State University houses a collection of his works.

If you want to know more of these days of State intervention, the man to tell you is the renowned Stephen J. Gertz. His fascinating piece is here.

I guess the moral of this story is to be thankful for your first publisher, however lowly. Who knows what it could lead to?

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