BUYING paperbacks can easily become a mild form of addiction, like over-spending in the supermarket. The man who would grudge paying for a pound of steak at the butcher's will happily surprise his wife by bringing home an armful of roast pumpkin seeds and sugared bee-stings in garish tins. Paperbacks all look so cheap and expendable, so, ready-to-read and easy-to-finish, that 1 sometimes feel I should buy them by the yard and lay them down for Christmas.
They can be regarded like the film of the play --a cut-price version for those who are un- willing to stump up the cost of a West End ticket. Especially with popular fiction, there is a tremendous audience which simply bides its time, confident that the best of the bunch will eventually be auctioned off at five for the price of one. For admirers of the spy-thriller and the SF adventure,,(like me) a superior, witty, intelli- gent example of each is to be found in Len Deighton's The Iperess File (Panther, 3s. 6d.) and Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan (Corgi, 3s. 6d.).
Paperbacks today, however, are much more than cloth-cap editions of best-sellers. Quite often you are more likely to find the rare book you have been hunting for ages among them than in a library or a second-hand specialist's. Sometimes they reappear there because they have some kind of sudden topicality—like John Cleland's Memoirs of a Coxcomb (Compact, 5s.), which has 'by the renowned author of FANNY HILL! on its. cover in much larger letters than its title. Anyone who wants to test for himself how much nonsense there is in those claims that Cleland was as much interested in Fanny's fashions as in Fanny's fanny can do so• here
where Cleland is writing to please rather than enrich himself.
Unusual and little-known works of scholarship or editions of minor and forgotten authors also appear more often in paperback than might be imagined. The publishers are usually more ad- venturous and outspoken (contrary to the opinion expressed by our law-enforcers) in cheap than in expensive books. A depressing exception appears to be Routledge and Kegan Paul, whose otherwise admirable and welcome reprint of Poems by Rochester (Muses' Library paper- back, 8s. 6d.) omits two of his most enjoyably bawdy pieces ('A Ramble in St. James's Park' and 'The Imperfect Enjoyment') because of 'the risk of prosecution.'
Paperbacks are also, a painless way of collect- ing reference works, especially those peripheral volumes which are not absolutely essential and do not justify a large investment. Colin Wilson and Pat Pitman's Encyclopaedia of Murder (Pan, 7s. 6d.) is now a worthwhile buy at that price —though the authors should have been persuaded to correct the frequent small, but irritating, errors of fact for the new printing.
Ephemera obviously belongs in paperbacks-- warmed-over journalism on current scandals or crises, quick guides, to fads and crazes, potted biographies of the recently dead or the briefly notorious. Harry Bayley's Master Faster Read- ing (Four Square, 3s. 6d.), for instance, would hardly tempt me at twice the price, but it can be easily adapted to make a time-passing train- game on dull journeys. Collections of ingenious, forgettable short stories, such as Nelson Algren's Book of Lonesome Monsters (Panther, 3s. 6d.), can also be swallowed quickly and succulently like a box of chocolates. (Though this does con- tain one brilliant minor purgative—George P. Elliott's 'Among the Dangs.')
Eventually, it is difficult not to award the prize for taste, enterprise and initiative outright to Penguin Books. Whenever public interest seems to be expanding in some new direction, Penguins tend to turn up just ahead of the bandwagon. Their timing is always excellent—Frederick Rolfe's passionate and perverse daydream of spoiled priest Hadrian the Seventh (5s.) follows pat on the election of a new Pope. Add to that an anthology of criticism, Shakespeare's Tragedies (Pelican, 4s. 6d.), by Laurence Lerner, which in- cludes such undonnish outsiders as George Orwell; Eric Bentley and Bernard Shaw, and an anthology of poetry, The Penguin Book of Sick Verse (5s.), by George MacBeth, which rings sonic mad and original music from the themes of mental breakdown, corpse-love, visions of doom and cruelty and who else can match their variety?