Poet’s Pub

Once in a while someone asks a fellow bibliophile (or group of bibliophiles) for a list of novels about books and collecting, and that person is then bombarded with a list. Poet’s Pub, a British novel originally published in 1935, is one that I don’t recall ever coming up in such conversations, so when I read about its recent re-publication by Penguin Classics, I was excited to dive in.

PoetsPub Reprint.jpgPoet’s Pub is the charming story of the Pelican Pub in Downish, England, run by middling poet Saturday Keith. His guests are an interesting group of English and American travelers: a professor and his daughter, a retired colonel and his wife, a businessman, and a “harmless” book collector who turns out to have a sinister side (“a folio-sized wolf in calf’s clothing”). The author provides comic relief at the expense of bibliophiles (but I laughed anyway), particularly in this passage:

Wesson sat a little distance away, still behind his enormous folio. Wesson had talked old books to Sir Philip Betts, who hated reading; to Jean Forbes, who disliked Wesson; to Sigismund Telfer, who believed only in new books; to Jacquetta Telfer, who preferred maps; to Colonel Waterhouse, who wasn’t interested; and to Lady Porlet, who thought it a sin and a shame to pay hundreds of pounds for dusty volumes that nobody read...

The novel evolves into a caper that might well be described as a wittier, less deadly Gosford Park.

PoetsPub.jpgThe new edition features a foreword by librarian and author Nancy Pearl, who felt compelled to revive Eric Linklater’s novel for modern readers. Pearl deserves many thanks for that. For years Poet’s Pub was out of print, even though it was one of the first ten titles used by Allen Lane to successfully launch the Penguin Books line in 1935. Linklater was shelved alongside an eclectic group, including Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Susan Ertz, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols, E.H. Young, Mary Webb, and Compton Mackenzie.
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