In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys some good bad poetry courtesy of The Joy of Bad Verse
I’ve long been a fan of Nicholas Parsons. No, not that one – although who could fail to appreciate the sharp wit of the Just a Minute host? – but Nicholas T. Parsons, the author of one of the best books of literary trivia out there (The Book of Literary Lists), an enjoyable history of the guidebook (Worth the Detour: A History of the Guidebook), and what I’d consider his Magnificent Octopus, The Joy of Bad Verse. This book was published in 1988, so you can consider this ‘review’ a sort of 30-year retrospective. It’s well worth tracking down.
Parsons’ The Joy of Bad Verse is a scholarly and readable study of the history of ‘bad verse’ down the age. What makes a bad poet? Patriotism, religion, and sexual desire appear to be among the worst culprits for serving as muse to the wellspring of the worst and the most wearisome of versifiers. But what Parsons’ book does, as well as offering some rigorous analysis of what makes a bad poem, is to offer up some of the best – which is to say some of the worst – examples of doggerel ever to have inflicted upon an unsuspecting reading public. Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle returns to the Golden Age of detective fiction with this crime classic
Before Colin Dexter breathed new life into the genre with his Inspector Morse novels published from 1975 onwards, the Oxbridge crime novel was already a sizeable subgenre within detective fiction: there was the Queen of Crime Dorothy L. Sayers, whose Gaudy Night (1935) had helped to blaze a trail for the Oxford crime novel, and in her wake, Bruce Montgomery, under the pen name Edmund Crispin, wrote mystery novels set in Oxford, where he was studying for a degree when he wrote his first, The Case of the Gilded Fly, in 1943. Crispin’s creation, the amateur sleuth Gervase Fen, is also an Oxford don and English Literature professor at the university.
But before these, there was Lois Austen-Leigh’s quartet of Cambridge crime novels, of which the 1931 novel The Incredible Crime (British Library Crime Classics) was the first. Now, the British Library have brought the novel back into print as part of their Crime Classics series. Lois Austen-Leigh (1883-1968), who was the great-great-niece of Jane Austen, has languished forgotten in old libraries and second-hand bookshops for over half a century, her novels known only to aficionados of the Golden Age of British crime fiction, lasting around two decades between the two world wars. Even then, as Robert Davies has noted, even experts in the field often haven’t heard of Austen-Leigh. Read the rest of this entry
In a new series of posts, Dispatches from the Secret Library, our founder-editor Dr Oliver Tearle considers a surprising title from his bookshelves
When the British fantasy author David Gemmell died in summer 2006, he had been hard at work on Fall of Kings, the final volume in his epic trilogy retelling the story of the siege of Troy from Homer’s Iliad. His widow, Stella, heroically took on the task of completing the novel, working from her late husband’s notes. When Troy: Fall of Kings (Trojan War Trilogy): 3 was published the following year, his legions of fans thought it was the last new David Gemmell title we would ever see published.
The announcement last year that a previously unpublished David Gemmell novel, Rhyming Rings, would be published by Gollancz in 2017, prompted both surprise and excitement. A new Gemmell novel? But this would not be a fantasy, the genre in which he had made his name, but a crime novel. Even more surprising. Gemmell had excelled as a writer of heroic fantasy – if you’re a fan of the genre and have never read his work, I recommend getting hold of Legend, Waylander, and Wolf in Shadow right away – but would Rhyming Rings offer the same sort of addictive reading experience as a Druss or Rigante novel? Read the rest of this entry