My favourite books 31: Travels With My Aunt

Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

The Bodley Head, 1969; this edition Penguin, 1971

This week’s theme is First Books.  Not first books written, or published, but the first work I read by an author.  Travels With My Aunt is the most extreme example.  It was my first visit to Greeneland, aged about 14, and in all honesty, we didn’t click.  Aside from a desultory adolescent canter through Brighton Rock, I turned to other things, and didn’t try Greene again until my 40s.

And (of course), they’re brilliant.  Our Man In Havana, The End Of The Affair, The Heart Of The Matter – sublime grown-up books.  The Confidential Agent, England Made Me – mad 30s tales.  I’ll read a Greene a year, so that there’s still plenty to look forward to.  Now, however, it’s time to have another go at Travels With My Aunt, in which septuagenarian Aunt Augusta takes her retired bank manager nephew on a wild ride around the world’s hotspots.

Travels With My Aunt is published today by Vintage

Afterword:  A few days later, and I’ve now re-read Travels With My Aunt, and it’s been a great ride.  Greene described TWMA as a novel, but surely this is an entertainment?  Indeed, what with Brighton, the Orient Express, Istanbul and Paraguay, it has overtones of Graham Greene’s Greatest Hits, but it really is well-worth a read.  Now, I must go and check my dahlias… 

My favourite books 26: The Mersey Sound

Penguin Modern Poets 10: The Mersey Sound – Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten

Penguin 1967; this edition 1974

After a week of London, I could struggle for relevance with a week of Nigel Williams (The Wimbledon Trilogy, Fortysomething…).  Instead, a week of poets.

The “Mersey Poets” came from an age when poetry ran dangerously close to the mainstream.  School anthologies included the likes of Timothy Winters and Naming of Parts, before pupils moved up into Larkin and Hughes; Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and John Lennon were routinely described as poets, and there was a taste in the air for poetry that spoke the language of the common man (thanks and goodnight, Ezra Pound); a coming together of poetry, performance and pop.  It couldn’t last.

My favourite books 15: Revolt Into Style

Revolt into Style: The Pop Arts in Britain – George Melly

Allen Lane The Penguin Press 1970; this edition Penguin 1972

The intellectual counterpoint to Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, this book is so well-loved that it’s just a pile of loose pages.  Melly is remembered now as a trad jazzer and raconteur; in his day, he was an acute cultural and social critic, and a leading expert on the Surrealist movement.  Revolt into Style covers music, TV, film, theatre and literature, and gives lie to the old “if you were there in the 60s, you won’t remember it” canard.

The cover is a pre-Pepper Peter Blake, acquired by the British Library architect Colin St John Wilson.  Wilson bequeathed his pop art collection to Pallant House in Chichester, which has created a very intense, high-quality 60s room in one of the country’s best regional galleries.  

My favourite books 11: Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome

It’s a bank holiday, nothing too serious today, please.

My favourite books 9: The Life And Times Of Private Eye

The Life and Times of Private Eye, 1961-1971:  edited by Richard Ingrams

Published by Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1971

Last night’s Heath/Wilson documentary on BBC Four was a reminder of a different, half-forgotten world.  The first comprehensive Eye anthology documents that era rather better than Crossman.

My favourite books 6: Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1969; this edition: Paladin 1970

One of the finest books ever written about pop music – vigorous, pithy and highly opinionated.  Like the very best of pop, it is ephemeral and immediate, but has lasting quality.