One of the things that I say that amazes people most—after “tapioca meatloaf”—is my claim that I still turn up books I’ve never seen before at this Book Fair. It surprises me a bit, but ti’s more surprising that this should surprise anybody. I figure I’ve handled two or three million books at this point, but, after all, this is a tiny percentage of the number of books printed in human history.
A collection of books in French included Pierre Mac Orlan’s “Venus Internationale”. Two collections of extremely collectible novels of a naughty nature have convinced me to doublecheck just about any book with “Venus” in the title unless it obviously deals with the planet. I find that Pierre Mac Orlan (1882-1970) was a busy, busy man, writing songs and novels. His real name, it says here, was Pierre Dumarchey, but to tick off an uncle of his, he used that name only on pornographic novels. (Wikipedia does not list all of these, but it does list six other names he used for his porn fiction, including Sadie Blackeyes. I still don’t know what “Venus Internationale” is about, but since he used his REAL pseudonym for it, I shall assume it is simply a work of art.
Something I’ve noticed over the last couple of years is that a number of Continental publishers distinguish books “Translated from English” from books “Translated from American”. A nice copy of a hardbouiled novel “translated from American” by Boris Vian came in: Vernon Sullivan’s “J’Irai Cracher Sur Vos Tombes”. (I Spit On Your Graves.) The French appreciated noir long before we did (that’s why we call it noir) so I was not overly surprised to find dozens of copies of the translation listed online and only a very few in American. A number of Vernon Sullivan’s other savage novels were also listed, all of them translated from the American by Boris Vian.
This, I was told, is because the great African-American noir novelist Vernon Sullivan didn’t especially exist. Boris Vian (1920-1959), engineer, songwriter, novelist, and poet, wrote them all himself: some say as parodies of American Noir novels, some say as really bad imitations. He enjoyed his fame as Vernon Sullivan’s translator, though he worried that the serious books he wrote under his own name didn’t do nearly as well. Still, he took part in the adaptation of “J’Irai Cracher” into a movie, fighting the director and producer all the way. At the premiere, he snarled a mildly vulgar criticism of the opening scene, and suffered a fatal heart attack.
In the world of books published in the American, I was given a copy of “The Generals Wear Cork Hats”, Ben Lucien Burman’s account of the Free French Army in exile in Africa during World War II. I was amazed to learn in the About The Author section that Mr. Burman was world-famous for his newspaper editorials and articles in Reader’s Digest, while one of his books had been made into a blockbuster movie while another was currently a hit Broadway musical. A series of satirical novels about animals was cementing his fame. And here I was, knowing nothing at all about Ben Lucien Burman.
Well, the movie was Will Rogers’s last and one of John Ford’s early talkies, was Steamboat Round the Bend. “Street of the Laughing Camel” was produced by the Theatre Guild, but I can’t find a lot of information about it. It turns out that Mr. Burman (1896-1984) is remembered not for his scathing editorials or his books on World War II. His posthumous fame lies in that series of satirical novels about animals, which I don’t remember having seen around here, and which is NOT remembered as satire. The Catfish Bend series, published over six decades, seems to be remembered by its fans as a collection of warm, wonderful children’s stories about funny animals.
So we have an author who used his own name only for his cheapest stuff, an African-American author who was really a white French engineer, and a columnist and humorist now remembered as a children’s author. These are the things you bring me every week. And if I’d become a surgeon, all I’d have now is money.