The Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club
There is a long list of out-of-print books and records that I want to read or hear, and I periodically check amazon.com to see if any have been reprinted. Once in a rare while the search pays off. For instance, I finally have a copy of John Bellairs’ second book, The Pedant and the Shuffly, first printed in 1968 and missing from the Wichita public library for at least ten years. Here are a few items that I would really like to see in affordable editions:
Peter and the Wolf, with Wendy Carlos and Weird Al Yankovic. The lowest price listed at amazon.com is $169.60.
Falling up the Stairs, by James Lileks. Lowest price: $84.
And in particular, The Exploits of Engelbrecht, by Maurice Richardson. Although it’s listed at amazon.com, it’s not available there. (It can be had from British sources, but at an expense beyond my budget.) I learned of its existence in Fantasy: The 100 Best Books by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, who label these stories about a dwarf surrealist boxer “Damon Runyon gothic”:
He was the rough diamond of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club, some of whose clientele could have given your average Thing a nasty turn. His most memorable bouts found him wildly overmatched, in the manner of Popeye but without the spinach. Surrealist Boxers customarily fought against clocks and assorted amusement machines, but the Dwarf took on all comers, from Apparitions to Zombies.
Culture occasionally prevails over muddied oafishness, though Opera and the Drama are attended by perils unkown to patrons of the South Bank. Plant Theatre productions demand, at the very least, endurance. The New Forest’s King Lear, with a cast of oaks, has been on stage for 5,000 years and the curtain is not yet. Some of the more susceptible members of the audience are rooted to the spot.
David Langford reviews Engelbrecht here:
Fifteen sporting episodes explore suitably weird pastimes. The great Witch Shoot at Nightmare Abbey would be all too politically incorrect nowadays. A surrealist golf match around the world ("Par is reckoned at 818181") is enlivened by a most dubious hole-in-one. In the angling championship whose greatest prize is the giant pike that ate the Bishop of Ely in 1448, little Engelbrecht distinguishes himself brilliantly as the bait.
One particularly crazed cricket-match features a literal demon bowler (kept in a well-stoked furnace between overs), against whom Salvador Dali bats, unsuccessfully, with a chest of drawers.
There’s more about Engelbrecht here, including the first chapter.
Soundtrack: Satie, “Embryons desséchés”
Addendum: A friend notes that you can often find out-of-prints books for lower prices than amazon.com's at such sites as AbeBooks, Alibris and BookFinder, and that eBay is also a good place to hunt for obscure items. Still, when you consider how much utter garbage is published today, it’s a scandal that it is often so difficult to find interesting books and music that don’t have WalMart potential.