by Robert Lopresti
While working on my recent column on alternate history I was looking at my collection of science fiction and noticed a book that took me back through the decades. Out of this World, edited by Julius Fast, was published in 1944 which means that, even as old as I am, it was a used book when I got my hands on it, in my father's personal collection. I was probably around ten and it was already an antique. The copy I have now is not the one I had then, by the way. I found it in a used book store a few years ago. (By the way, Fast edited the book while serving during World War II, using material he found in army base libraries. He also won the very first Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel.)
I have fond memories of this collection of fantasy stories. There are stories by Saki, Robert Arthur, H.G. Wells, Lord Dunsany, and Jack London to name a few. But what really knocked me out was my first encounters with the late great John Collier. Collier was one of the great short story authors, a master of a certain kind of fantasy and mystery. His story "Witch's Money" (not in this collection) is on my list of top fifty crime stories of all time. There are no witches in it: it's about the disaster that hits an Italian village when a comparatively wealthy American artist moves in.
Running across that book a few days ago inspired me to go looking for another one I found in my Dad's collection when I was at that same impressionable age. I bought a copy over the web, and the shipping cost more than the book.
I remember reading my father's copy mostly because I recall Rex Stout's parody of Sherlockian scholarship, his famous speech to the Baker Street Irregulars entitled "Watson Was A Woman." It's still funny. So are the essays by P.G. Wodehouse and Stephen Leacock.
This book was my first exposure to Dashiell Hammett and his Continental Op. ("The Farewell Murder," not one of his masterpieces.) In fact, while there are tales by Gardner, Sayers, and Woolrich, the only one I remembered from fifty years ago was "The Price of the Head,"by John Russell, which I recalled as being brilliant. However, I experienced one of the downsides of revisitng a favorite old book: On rereading I discovered it was racist trash. Apparently my memory wrote a completely different story and attached it to Russell's brilliant ending.
I was even younger when I ran across the Arrow Book of Ghost Stories. I thought I read the copy belonging to my sister Diane Chamberlain but she swears she never heard of it. What I can't forget is "The Wonderful Cat of Cobbie Bean," a lovely tale by Barbee Oliver Carleton. Cobbie gets a talking cat, which might not be so disastrous except Cobbie lives in Salem at the time of the witch trials...
This has gone on too long. Maybe next time I will talk about childhood favorites I bought my daughter when she was a kid.
But what books call to you from your childhood? And if you reread them was it a joy or a disappointment?