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Issue 22

1st June 2009

Slightly Foxed Issue 22: From the Editors

The Slightly Foxed office hasn’t changed much over the years, apart from the fact that, as we’ve already mentioned, it’s got more crowded, what with the increasing number of back issues and the new Slightly Foxed Editions. This is of course especially true when we’ve just had a delivery from our printers, Smith Settle, which arrives via their driver, Brian, who sets off from Yorkshire in the dark hours and arrives in London in time for an early cup of tea.
- Gail Pirkis & Hazel Wood
From the editors

Book Crooks

As obsessions go, book collecting ought to be one of the more innocent. I caught the bug as a kid, with the fairly broad-based ambition to collect any book published before 1860, figuring that anything that old must be rare. This first collection mounted to ten or eleven books, two of them Bibles, and starred a spineless tenth printing (1856) of Dream Life by Ik Marvel, which is probably still lying around somewhere. Since then, I’ve gone through several off-and-on phases of bibliophily, sufficient to learn that it isn’t a sport for the impecunious or anyone living in physically confined circumstances. I’ve also learned that, like less innocent obsessions, it can draw you in – seriously.
SF magazine subscribers only
Round and Round and Round

Round and Round and Round

It arrived, as the inscription tells me, two months after my third birthday, a Christmas present from my mother’s brother, Uncle Basil. A large hardback book – to a 3-year-old very large, its fourteen inches height by almost ten width enough to give it immediate status: a book to wield as well as to read. The striking cover, in slightly acidic lemon yellow, had the single word Cocolo in brown, in a bold freehand. Below this was a small outline sketch of a donkey, a rather pot-bellied one with ears protruding from a wide-brimmed straw hat.
SF magazine subscribers only
Mr Pye’s Dilemma

Mr Pye’s Dilemma

Our boat journey from Jersey to Sark passes through a dangerous past. The rocks between the two islands are called in Jersey slang the Pater Nosters, for it is said that if a ship were to get too close to them, then prayer was all the mariners had left to save themselves. We notice how Jersey is well defended from the sea: an Elizabethan castle, another fort and then the grinning mouths of German fire-control towers, cadavers of wartime occupation. Jersey has always judged itself worth the effort to defend.
SF magazine subscribers only

On the Shores of the Mediterranean

If brief enthusiasms can make independent booksellers seem fickle, some redemption may be found in our loyalty to individual authors. We often have longer memories than both chain retailers and publishers, and our customers’ support depends on our taste as much as on our efficiency. Hot news quickly cools, but the favourites abide: Shirley Hazzard, Javier Marías, Robert Edric, William Maxwell, Penelope Fitzgerald. My colleagues, who prefer other writers, gracefully ignore my shop-floor eulogies which they have heard a thousand times.
SF magazine subscribers only
A Taker of Heads

A Taker of Heads

Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), was an early and spectacular part of the flowering of West African literature after independence from colonial rule. It seemed, perhaps especially to a South African like me living under increasingly draconian controls, a wonderful illustration of what liberation might mean. Now, I suspect, it is one of those books which almost everyone knows about but very few people other than students actually read.
SF magazine subscribers only
Gone to Earth

Gone to Earth

There’s a classic type of resourceful, unassuming hero that they just don’t make any more (think Richard Hannay), and the narrator of Geoffrey Household’s novel Rogue Male, a ‘bored and wealthy Englishman’, is far too well bred ever to give his ‘widely known’ name away. The first fifty pages of this sharp little thriller – which I have a particular personal reason for enjoying, as will become apparent – form a self-contained adventure set in the summer of 1938, in which the aforementioned Englishman, after a fortnight’s sport in Poland, finds himself at a loose end in the Bavarian Alps and in possession of a Bond Street rifle complete with telescopic sight.
SF magazine subscribers only
Slow Train to Malgudi

Slow Train to Malgudi

I’m not sure whether it was India that introduced me to R. K. Narayan or R. K. Narayan who introduced me to India. Each superimposed itself on the other so that they became indistinguishable. Travelling round India any time in the 1970s meant reading a Narayan; and reading a Narayan anywhere else meant being transported to India. An Indian train journey was unthinkable without one. In a sense it was one, for the Narayan experience began as soon as you ventured on to railway property. This was his world. His dozen or so novels had been inspired by the vision of a unremarkable town on the main line to Madras with a station nameplate that announced it as MALGUDI. Railway life loomed so large in his fictional Malgudi that attentive readers came to know exactly what to expect and could stroll from ticket barrier to tiffin room as if to the platform born.
Too Much Clevverness

Too Much Clevverness

Hoban started writing Riddley Walker in 1974 and finished it five years later. It is a masterpiece. Those who know it love it, and whole websites are devoted to it, with chapter-by-chapter annotations deciphering the language, and online chat rooms discussing its themes. In 2005 a Russell Hoban Some-Poasyum (a symposium in Riddleyspeak) was held in London, with readings, quizzes and a pilgrimage to Kent to visit locations in the novel. Every 4 February, Russell Hoban’s birthday, die-hard fans leave typed quotations from his novels in random places for strangers to find.
SF magazine subscribers only

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