When squirrels deliver mail, fish will fly

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Garth Williams, Christmas

An illustration by Garth Williams, who created memorable images for Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and made Margery Sharp’s Miss Bianca into the Audrey Hepburn of the mouse world…

Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca, Garth Williams

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Holiday haul

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Summer holiday: all those unnecessary possessions spilling from boxes and cupboards and wardrobes and drawers reduced to camping stuff and a couple of bags of clothes. And nothing is missed, we’re just here in the present. There’s a lesson there I’ve patently failed to notice, because back home I’m shuffling a new hoard around and wishing I could just ingest everything like something from the movie eXistenZ

Mortimer

Beginning with a superb Penguin from 1964: the cover is a still of Anne Bancroft from the film version which I saw a few months ago. A fascinating film, beautifully acted and shot, 50 years old and still relevant. (The write-up on the DVD has the slightly fatuous line ‘Jo Armitage has a breakdown in Harrods and her life begins to crumble’.)

McCullers

Just brilliant typography – and another film from the 1960s I saw recently. Carson McCullers has such evocative titles for her novels (like Tennessee Williams, and some might find it a little melodramatic) but a phrase like this always draws me to a book, which is partly something to do with how they look in print and how designers can work such magic with them. I haven’t read Carson McCullers before but I know I’ll love this. I had to wrestle and choose between this and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe in the same edition. I wish I’d just got both but was physically removed from the bookshop once it was clear I was about to spend the rest of the holiday budget and probably throw the camping gear out of the car to make room for these essentials.

Huxley and Bowen

More 1960s paperbacks. To think there was a time when most books looked like this.

Bowen and Lehmann

Another evocative title that I’ve been looking for: The Weather in the Streets. I’ll just add this poster from the Transport Museum here, because it comes to mind every time I pick up the book…

0924-49

Notable to see Howard Spring recommending this, a bestselling and respected author that never made it to the 21st century. I’m looking forward to the ghostly short stories from Elizabeth Bowen, particularly after The Demon Lover.

Garfield

And lastly, some Leon Garfield. The cover of The Drummer Boy is by Antony Maitland. I was partly drawn to this by a walk to Easby Abbey in Yorkshire, passing a memorial to a drummer lost in the secret passage from Richmond to the abbey in the eighteenth century.

Drummer's stone

Christmas 1952

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A small, understated gem of cover art from 1952. A diamond snowflake…

snowflake

Now she was round and pure as the morning light… able to catch and give back every colour in the world about her… thereafter she mirrored the pale pink of the cherry blossom, then the tint of orange filched from the breast of a robin as he flew by, and the light blue of a spring sky. The grey of a rock, the black of a crow’s glossy wing, the dapple of a young calf, all were hers.

October 1941: Cries of London

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This is almost a film from the forties in book form – I’m thinking of A Canterbury Tale in the sense that it echoes the opening titles. You can hear the peal of bells and the fonts are as crisp as if lit by the silver screen, ancient art and (for the time) modern technology in perfect union.

This isn’t a faux-gothic recreation of Merrie England: the cover is a perfect example of stylised 1930s design, as beautiful a logo as you’d find anywhere – I imagine it happily at home on Broadcasting House. The fabric cover is rich hopsack, a homespun warmth that is cool in its simplicity, breaking from the leather and gilt tradition as beautifully as the Johnathan Cape Florin pocket books of the early thirties.

The bluntness of Eric Gill’s font puts the William Morris-ish dropped capital in the spotlight…

…and there is nothing muted about the colour, which updates as brightly as the splashes of orange on thirties ceramics.

Cries and Criers of Old London was published in October 1941, not long after the city had been blitzed. It might be affirming the familiar to a shell-shocked city, just as A Canterbury Tale would speak to the nation, but there is a darker side. The cuts are bold and roughly medieval, with The Scream or the Black Death coming to mind now and again.

It’s a poignant book: while the bells peal joyously in A Canterbury Tale and Cries and Criers, the folk in the streets knew they would only be ringing to warn them of terror.