‘The first week of September contains a red-letter day in my literary world, as does the beginning of December, March, and June. Four times a year the new edition of Slightly Foxed drops through the letter box and the rest of that particular day is given over to delving in and out of its 96 luxurious cream pages and making a list of out-of-print books that I never before knew existed but which I now MUST READ.
Issue 47, Autumn 2015, which arrived last week is no exception. It contains the usual mix of essays on books I’m familiar with – in this instance Patrick McGrath’s Asylum,Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and John Updike’s Rabbit novels – alongside a couple I enjoyed reading about but don’t think I actually want to read – Louise Fitzhugh’sHarriet the Spy and Ronald Welch’s Escape from France and Nicholas Carey. But for me, the joy and value in each issue of Slightly Foxed are in those essays that describe and enthuse about books that I wonder how I unwittingly have conspired to overlook. My first discovery in the new issue was The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins, an intriguing tale of two brothers who work on a Scottish estate beside a sea loch during the second world war. The book is lovingly summarized and endorsed by Julian Hoffman, a first-class writer himself and author of a book called The Small Heart of Things which is near the top of my current ‘wants list’. He also has his own web-site/blog: www.julianhoffman.wordpress.com and is, like another writer to be found in this issue – Amy Liptrot, an occasional contributor to the world’s best web-site, Caught By The River.
A copy of The Cone Gatherers, which I had no problem finding at a very reasonable price, has now joined the teetering ‘to be read’ pile in my study. And the dangerously unsteady stack will, I know, continue to grow in the coming weeks as I get deeper into this issue. Brandon Robshaw’s piece on the stories of Robert Aickman looks like it might entice me to investigate further and Anthony Longden’s article on The Diary of William Holland, Somerset Parson is sure to as it concerns itself with an area of ths country that I am becoming increasingly familiar with. And then of course to coincide with every new issue the good people at Slightly Foxed also publish a book, invariably a memoir, that is out of print, hard to find, and deserving of re-evaluation. This quarter the new ‘Slightly Foxed Edition’, and the 31st in a series that has become eminently collectable, is Gavin Maxwell’s The House of Elrig, his account of his childhood in a large house in rural Scotland with his eccentric mother and sisters and the countryside that went on to inspire him as a writer and conservationist. In his introductory essay, titled Mowgli with a Gun, Galen O’Hanlon concludes his testimonial for the book by describing it as “a brief glimpse of a wild childhood that is recognizable even in its strangeness – he has captured the essence of youth, that delicate balance of happiness and misery”. When I have posted this piece I will be attempting to balance my handsome new copy of The House of Elrig upon the leaning tower of books.’