My Book Of The Year

Food comes slightly after sex and just ahead of the music of Purcell in my list of favourite things. I read cookery books like novels and occasionally cook like a novelist. But I suppose I have always regarded food from a sensuous point of view, certainly not from a social, political or economic standpoint. Until that is, I read this book called Technological Eating, by Magnus Pyke. It was published in February, is slim (107pp) and quite expensive (£2.50). But it is truly mind-bending in that it bends the thought into all sorts of directions, not all intimately connected with food.

Dr Pyke is President of the Institute of Food Science and Technology of the United Kingdom, but before pelting him with slings of rehydrated potatoes and spun-protein steaks consider his thesis. His book is really about the way in which technology affects social behaviour and he believes (and most surely demonstrates) that by discussing oven-ready chickens and fish fingers we can learn more about what technology is doing than by thinking about communication satellites or nuclear power-stations. This is one reason why his book is so good, so readable, his examples and subject-matter are everyday things that we all have intimate experience of.

He is saying, quite simply, that the application of technology to food is breaking down all hitherto accepted social structures; food becomes increasingly distanced from man. The only possible provenance for a fish finger is a factory, so where do dietary laws come in? Technology is a divisive influence

in society and he compares the fragmentation of Western industrial communities with the coherence of the extended family system “in which claim to quite distant cousinship is a valid title to food, shelter and support”.

I recommend this book for its facts – did you know that a large American engineering firm had devised a lettuce harvesting machine that picks up four rows at once. It is so efficient that only 600 machines would be needed to harvest all the lettuces in the world. The engineering firm is reluctant to manufacture it.

I recommend this book for its ability to move thought from big, unmanageable concepts towards simple, everyday experience that has a greater effect.

I recommend this book for its humanity, wit, sense and eventual optimism, for its sharp criticism of our consumer-conscious society fixed on acquisition and money value.

Tecs Really Pack A Rod

A QUEER KIND OF DEATH; A PARADE OF COCKEYED CREATURES; I, SAID THE DEMONall written by George Baxt, Jonathan Cape, at £1.05 each.

The above three books are not new publications but I like them so much I feel they are well worth bringing attention to. All are detective novels, the first A Queer Kind Of Death is, strictly speaking, the only gay one of the three. This concerns the departure by electrocution of one Ben Bentley, actor and model, from the world of the living. What a world it is as well, slick, bitchy, homosexual Americana, it positively glitters with decadent (in the best sense) wit.

The main suspect of Ben’s murder is his ‘room mate’ Seth Piro hotly pursued in more ways than one, by the best kind of gay detective, brown and beautiful Pharoh Love. This isn’t cheap humour, this is high glorious camp satire and fun with a surprise ending to beat them all, a gem.

A Parade of Cockeyed Creatures introduces another detective, recently deprived by death of wife and son, Max van Larsen. This one concerns the disappearance of Tippy Blaney a poetic but vigorous seventeen year old with parents of doubtful character. Max is helped in his search for Tippy by one Sylvia Plotkin, twelve stone of cuddly kosher sense and sensibility. As Tippy’s schoolmistress she is everything a teacher ought to be, but never is, and a good portion of the novel is devoted to relationship with Max, which reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Lots of camp characters, a necrophile classmate, ‘The Prince of Darkness’, a dirty old man with a taste for twelve year olds, plus an assortment of thugs, kinks and general exotica. Nice.

I, Said The Demon is the last word in ‘a laugh in every line’ humour. Baxt has in this book refined the style of the earlier two into the most superslick distortion of reality. Pure celluloid fantasy most of it, I literally cried with laughter at the most amazing plot and caricatures of characters that has ever crossed my well-read path.

Max van Larsen again, cross with Sylvia Plotkin, because she has written a book on their previous case together. So had Max, and not even a love as great as Abelard and Heloise, Mark Anthony and Julius Caesar, can remain unscathed when Sylvia becomes a literary celebrity. The case this time concerns the disappearance in 1932 of crooked Judge Kramer, his mistress and forty-thousand dollars.

The craziest characters yet, Lita the Judge’s wife, a prima donna who sings in a soundproof room, Chloe and Romona, two ex-Ziegfield girls approaching ripe old age in the Gothic monstrosity of a Church they live in. Also starring a seeress from Seventh Avenue, Gypsy Marie Rachmaninoff whose son is a hunchbacked peeping Tom called Quasimodo, the divine, divine Madame Vilna ex-star of the Yiddish Theatre who delivers lines that will send you rolling over the floor.

This is the best of the bunch, a really slick piece of work, lines like…

“When did you last see your husband?”
“Half way up the Empire State Building swatting aeroplanes.”…

setting the general tone.

A great book which would make a nice present for a friend with a movie camp sense of humour.

The Beardsley Book

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The above is The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors by Aubrey Beardsley. It is taken from Beardsley a well documented biography recently published by Pelican at 5Op.

Fascinating, if academic history of one of the most interesting Decadent artists. At times it is bewildering, especially about Beardsley’s sexuality. But the pictures are nice.

Paper Covered Thrills

ALL IS WELL by Dick Vanden, Olympia Press, 70p.

Another gay goodie from Olympia Press, All Is Well is a much more (dare I use the word) serious book than Frost. It’s the story of a man’s long and tortuous path to reasonable honesty and his inner being. His relationships with his wife and children are vividly portrayed especially with his son Chuck, a 16-year-old sharing his bed with another boy.

Father really begins to come out after he accidentally takes some Mescaline and is saved from the horrors of a bad trip by his son. This turns into the most beautifully described acid trip I have ever read. Vanden slowly and compulsively takes us through a man’s mind as a whole new way of thought hits him with the power of a space rocket.

This is an intricate, beautiful, fantastic, red raw honest novel which at the expense of sounding trite every gay ought to have. Get it, could be good for you.

FROST by Richard Amory. Olympia Press, 70p.

The American way of life in sunny California is the background to this fast (incredibly plotted) gay thriller about a father planning to kill his son told against a landscape of black-white relationships, sexcapades and drugs.

It’s a fast moving but a complicated story. The sexual encounters are unbelievably (wow) exciting and by this I mean the sensually* sexy and not silly unbelievable porn fantasy.

I must say though I enjoyed it much more as an erotic novel than a thriller, but those who like the author’s ‘Loon Trilogy’ will find it well worth reading.

No Sad Tears Or Fantasies

FADEOUT by Joseph Hansen. Published by Harrap, £1.80. (187 pages)

Under various names Joseph Hansen has had published a number of paperbacks, as well as articles and poetry.’Fadeout’ is his first novel to appear in his own name. Hansen and his wife live in Los Angeles, where he is one of the directors of the Homosexual Information Centre and assists in selling their magazine.

The above background information is relevant only to the fact that the subject of homosexuality is treated in this novel in one of the most sensible and realistic ways I can recall reading. None of the worn-out, sad stereo-types, usually served up to represent gays – that heterosexual writers are so fond of – turn up in this story. I strongly recommend any misinformed members of the literary profession to read this book and try to learn something, for slandering gays will not always be legally possible.

‘Fadeout’ is a suspense story, and as such I will not spoil any possible readers’ enjoyment by giving away too many details. The plot involves the inquiries of insurance claims investigator Dave Brandsetter into the non-recovery of Fox Olsen’s body, who is thought drowned after his battered, flattened car is discovered a mile downstream from where it supposedly tumbled off a treacherous road into the river below. With little or no co-operation from the dead man’s relatives or friends, Brandsetter begins to realise that to find the corpse of Olson will not he sufficient. He must also uncover the reasons why he died and exactly how the accident happened. He works hard and relentlessly trying to unravel the mysteries and secrets that stop him from discovering the truth, with an ever-growing personal conviction that the tragedy is less of an accident than the facts first imply. The tale twists and turns, and the final chapters offer the reader one red herring after another before the reality of the situation is revealed.

The hero of the story, Dave Brandsetter, is gay, but his choice of sexuality is purely incidental to the plot. Hansen in no way exploits his character because of his gayness, just intertwines Brandsetter’s personal thoughts and life with the solving of the case he is on. In the first chapters we find him bitter and restless, coping with the emptiness left by the untimely death — through natural causes — of his life partner, Rod. By completely immersing himself in his work he hopes to put to flight the memories of his dead lover that so painfully haunt him. But the loss of a loved one is not used to indulge in romantic, over-sentimentality or trashy artificial melodramatics.

The plot is effective enough for ‘Fadeout’ succeeds well in the suspense novel genre. But because of the general handling of gayness throughout the book, this reviewer finds that the level the book works on is expanded and is socially important to those who know no better than to rely solely on myths and prejudices for their facts. It is a considerable advancement in literature when homosexuals appear as they do here — as people, not tinsel caricatures of human beings.

Dave Brandsetter will be returning in Hansen’s new suspense novel ‘Death Claims’, that by all accounts should be as worthwhile and compelling reading as ‘Fadeout’. And one can rest assured that the author will not have to resort to bucketsful of sad tears and fantasy titillation as substitutes for talent and awareness.

Land of Dreams

THE WORLD’S DESIRE by H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang. Pan Books paperback, 40p.

This fantasy was written by Haggard and Lang between 1888 and 1890 as a sequel to Homer’s Odyssey. The three main characters are Odysseus the Wanderer, Menamun, the Queen of Egypt, and Helen of Troy. Helen is the title, ‘The World’s Desire’, the symbol of perfect ideal beauty.

I have since schooldays enjoyed Haggard’s other stories with their tales of lost cities, tyrant Queens and immortal life. The World’s Desire, however, seems to be written with a heavier hand, being somewhat dull and over-Classical; it didn’t hold my interest at all. But then I’m one of those social outcasts who never even liked Tolkien.

Bob Fletcher


UNDERWORLD USA by Colin McArthur. Published by Seeker & Warburg. Paperback £1.10

Colin McArthur’s Underworld USA is a study of gangster/thriller films, that have, in his opinion, been seriously neglected by critics and cinema researchers. He argues that they are an important aspect of American cinema and to ignore them would be to miss the significance of directors working in this area.

The book is in two parts. The first is devoted to the genres, and the remainder of the book to some of the directors who have worked with them. They include Don Eiegel, Samuel Fuller, Elia Kazan and Robert Diodmak. Stills illustrating various aspects of these film makers’ work are abundantly included.

Whilst Underworld USA is primarily for the more serious student of the cinema, it certainly doesn’t mean that it is not of interest and value to the general film fan or devotee of gangster movies.

Denis Lemon


EVENOR by George MacDonald. Pan Books paperback, 40p.

MacDonald wrote in the same century as Haggard but has such a simple straightforward style that he might have penned it last week. Three stories make up the volume, the first and longest is The Wise Woman, almost a moral tale about the transformation of two very different but horrible children. It’s compulsive reading once you begin and told with a nice^sly humour. Second is the Caryason, involving fairies, magic, wine, goblin cobblers and all. The last gem is entitled the Golden Key told in such a beautifully visual style it might have been written in technicolor. Interesting to note that MacDonald’s greatest admirer was C. S. Lewis, of Narnia fame. A good book and well worth the money.

Bob Fletcher


The above is ‘Waterfall’ and is taken from The Graphic Work of M. C. Escher. This soft cover edition is one of the first from a new series of ‘Fantastic Art’ books being published by Pan/Ballantine.

The first two titles are the former and Magritte. The colour reproduction of the latter is superb; so good in fact that we didn’t dare attempt to reproduce it in GN.

The generous size of the books and printing on high quality paper, make them very good value at £1.25. It is extremely pleasing that at long last editions of the work of remarkable artists should be available at such a low price and produced to this high standard.

The series is edited by David Larkin and further titles will be appearing in 1973. All of them sound just as fantastic.

ED: Advance apologies to the publishers if our reproduction standard is not what it should be.


The above is one of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations from the new edition of Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass. Published by MacGibbon & Kee at £3.25, it makes an ideal present for lovers of Alice and her adventures.

Throughout the book. Ralph Steadman’s highly original pen and ink drawings add new life and depth to this classic tale that has delighted children and adults alike since its first publication.

This is the first time the text has appeared exactly like this in print. ‘It is basically the 1897 edition, the last which Carroll himself corrected, but it also includes all Carroll’s corrections for the People’s edition of 1887, which were somehow overlooked in the preparation of the final text.’ This Centenary Edition has been prepared by the Committee of the Lewis Carroll Society.

And despite all that, Alice and the looking glass world come again vividly alive with the invaluable assistance of Mr Steadman.

ED: Apologies to the publishers and Ralph Steadman if our reproduction of the drawing is not up to the same high standard as the book.

Penguins On The March

Penguin Education Specials:
A LAST RESORT? CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SCHOOLS. Editor: Peter Newell. 60p.
THE PAINT HOUSE: Words from an East End Gang. The Collinwood Gang and Susie Daniel and Pete McGuire. 30p.

A Penguin Special:
THALIDOMIDE AND THE POWER OF THE DRUG COMPANIES. Henning Sjostrom and Robert Nilsson 40p.

Three books, each important, each original, each an attack on common assumptions, and all written well without propagandising.

The first two, A Last Resort and The Paint House, are about two different aspects of violence. And instead of laying the blame where it is usually put (on the children in schools or the toughs’ in the skinhead gangs), they place it squarely where it belongs; on the shoulders of the people who made them that way, and on the society which sanctions and uses violence as the quick and easy way of getting what it wants.

A Last Resort was compiled from material collected by the Society of Teachers Opposed to Physical Punishment (STOPP), and is the first shot in their campaign to abolish corporal punishment in schools. They are doing this along with the National Council for Civil Liberties. The book demonstrates how educationally and socially destructive the threat and actual use of physical punishment in schools is, and how a school can work better, both for the teachers and the pupils, when it is removed. Unfortunately, abolishing it also means that the traditional teaching methods and attitudes have to be questioned and modified or scrapped, and the book includes examples of schools where this has been done

One example will show how destructive caning and the threat of it is. Caning is often used as a punishment for truancy. This makes the school an even more unpleasant place to be, so the child is more likely to play truant again, and less likely to want to go back – after all, the first thing he will face is a caning. Eventually he will lose interest in being at school and want to be away from it as soon as possible. It may take longer to talk to and understand a child, but isn’t that better for him and everyone else (since it avoids building violence into him as a means of getting his own way), than the easy way out with a cane?

The Paint House is about East End boys whose background (including their schools) leaves them no means of self-expression except violence, and no importance except in the eyes of one another — hence the gang, and the violence they can get away with as a gang, become the most important things for them.

Who can blame them for using violence for getting their own way? After all, police, parents, government, teachers, even doctors use violence in one form or another to get their way. Some of us have a recourse against this in our social status – they have no such comfortable bolster.

The words are the words of the gang members themselves, with a thread supplied by the two ‘outsiders’, and occasional comments (highlighting the misunderstanding and ignorance) from people in authority, whether in school, work, pub or whatever.

It is a committed book, about change and about class differences, but it restrains its preaching and puts a cogent case. That we are all people, but you wouldn’t think so from the way we treat one another. Most of us are subtle about it. Skinheads are not.

The third book I want to talk about is about one of the worst cases of disregarding people in order to profit — the thalidomide story. Thalidomide and the Power of the Drug Companies. Time after time, so calmly you almost don’t notice, the book details how Chemie Grunenthal ignored mounting evidence about the various permanent side effects of thalidomide, until the sudden incidence of ‘thalidomide babies’ gave them no option. Even years later, when on trial, the contended that there was no proof that thalidomide caused the damage. Profit, in other words, was a higher consideration than people. The amazing thing is that, with the exception of the USA, most countries have done little to tighten their regulations regarding the introduction of new drugs. And that the majority of the population in some countries where thalidomide was sold still do not know about what happened!

Three books then, that attack basic assumptions and structures in our world. If you don’t believe things need changing, read them and see.

Underground Classics

Candy by Terry Southern & Mason Hoffenberg — NEL, 40p
Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me by Richard Farina — NEL 40p
Junkie by William S. Buroughs — NEL, 30p
Opium by Jean Cocteau – NEL, 30p
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac – NEL, 40p
Jail Notes by Timothy Leary – NEL, 50p

The Underground Classics series produced recently by New English Library is a re-publication of some famous and difficult to obtain books, including some works by members of the ‘beat’ and ‘underground’ generations. It is good that many of these are available again, for they allow people who did not read them in the past, or were too young, to read some of the most important ‘new’ writers to emerge in the last twenty or so years.

Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg, often described as one of the greatest sexual satires of our time, is one of the titles. When it was originally published here a few years ago, only an edited version was available. But times have changed and the text of this new edition is complete. The book is a combination of black, black humour and sexual athletics, resulting in a very funny novel, sending up the role-playing and hypocrisy of the heterosexual world.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me is a novel written by the late Richard Farina, who died in a tragic motorcycle accident in California in 1966 — two days after the book’s publication. It is a sadly neglected work, being an important document describing the contemporary ‘hip’ scene in the States (which was later to cross over here) during the early sixties. The film that has been made of the book is hopefully to be released here soon.

Junkie was William S. Burrough’s first novel, and possibly, to many, his most accessible. Originally published under the pen name William Lee, the narrative tells of the author’s own history of escalating drug addiction, ending in his cure, apparently partly due to Burrough’s discovery of hallucinogens. A frightening but important book.

Opium by Jean Cocteau is another book concerned with drug addiction. This time it is the author’s account of his experiences whilst ‘hooked’ on opium, with details of his extraordinary life and thoughts, along with descriptions of the acute suffering he went through during the ‘weaning off’ treatment. It is a fascinating book, that still has much relevance today. The drawings that illustrate this edition are the same that appeared in the original version.

Jack Kerouac, the author of Big Sur, was the first and most important writer to emerge from the ‘beat generation’ of the fifties. The effect of his novel on a generation still cannot be measured. And the freedom he gave other writers because of his success, is something modern literature will always be in his debt for. After his death a short while ago, many of his works were re-issued, this being the latest. It is a lyrically told story of a searching for meaning in the complexes of America and a tale of spiritual yearning and final awareness. Big Sur was sadly underrated when it first appeared, despite the inclusion of one of Kerouac’s best poems at the end of the book, which also is included in this edition.

Jail Notes by (Dr) Timothy Leary is an account of the author’s prison experiences, after being sentenced to a possible ten-year term for possession of marihuana, and before his escape from jail in September, 1970. Leary is someone you either take seriously or you dismiss completely, there is no middle way. His views on homosexuality (in other works) leave a lot to be desired, but his explorations of the uncharted depths of the human mind have meant Leary has had to make many brave sacrifices.

Soon to be published is Quiet Days in Clichy by Henry Miller, which has recently been made into a feature film, although at present it is without a certificate to be shown in this country.

An American Scream

The Room – by Hubert Selby Jr.
Published by Calder and Boyars £2.50.

Now that the Media has tired somewhat with The Permissive Society, just as they took up and dropped Swinging London, Drugs and Decimal Currency as soon as their mileage as circulation boosters faltered, it is possible for a book like Hubert Selby’s The Room to be quietly assimilated into the English literary scene without outraged shrieks from The People or purple prosed editorials from The Sunday Express.

It is his first novel since Last Exit To Brooklyn brought the world wide controversy over obscenity, censorship, and the arts to a head; and although it has been dismissed in some quarters as one of the most unpleasant books ever written, it has strengthened the right of the writer and his audience to choose for themselves.

Briefly, the book once again examines the Kafka-like horror of life in American cities; how life and love can be transformed to death and hate through the enigmatic powers of the Fascist State.

A nameless man is confined to a prison cell, his crime is vague and insubstantial, his trial apparently endlessly lived out in his mind. There are masturbatory fantasies of his early teenage experiments – guilt-ridden finger-fucking ending in joyless orgasm; and sadistic fantasies involving platoons of policemen forced into impersonating performing dogs — begging, fucking, licking each other’s arses in front of an audience of their families and children.

It is a weary and joyless novel, conceived in concern and despair, but it is impossible to deny that Selby’s work is amongst the most vital now being written. This is the age when the novel is arguably dead, with only Mailer, Nabokov, Fowles, Lord Longford’s team and a handful of others even trying to keep it alive, and although The Room is unpleasant, probably obscene (it is not an erotic work), it is important nonetheless. Read it.

Warts And All

Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto. Abacus paperback – 6Op

Anthony Scaduto’s biography has attempted a portrait of Bob Dylan, warts and all, and what spoils it from being a definitive history of Dylan from childhood until now, is a scarcely hidden veneration approaching idolatory. But between this book and the autobiography that Dylan is reported as writing (will it take as long to reach us as his novel Tarantula, possibly the most famous underground novel of all, until it was finally published), enough material must now be on record to interpret the myths and enigmas which have always surrounded one of the earliest of the Super Stars. Scaduto appears to have interviewed every known Dylan contact — exhaustively.

And the only trouble is that in his effort to appear completely objective (an effort that fails) large chunks of apparently unedited, uninformative interviews roll endlessly on ie: “When I knew him he was in no way being Jewish. That was something he was absolutely not being at all. Even after he knew that I knew he was Bob Zimmerman from up on the Range, he was not being Jewish. He was saying his mother wasn’t…” And this after many pages dealing with Dylan’s early denial of his heritage.

Dylan appears not only as a ruthless, cruel, unhappy manipulator who’s only aim was the pinnacle which he has now found to be so untenable, but as one of Rock ‘n‘ Roll’s few serious claimants for the ‘Genius’ tag.

Rumours that homosexual or bi-sexual episodes in his life have been removed at Dylan’s ‘request’, tie up with Scaduto’s obviously total involvement and admiration.

Nonetheless, an honest enough attempt to present the truth behind the changing face on the LP covers.