For John Lennon, happiness was a warm gun. For Charles Schultz, a warm puppy.
For me, it's discovering that one of my favorite authors published a book I somehow missed.
When you find a writer you really like, you must read every sentence in his or her oeuvre, right? Right. But then once you gorge, you're left with a frustrating wait for said author to commune with his or her muse again. And then, of course, as the months pass, the mind begins to wander and you forget to keep checking for a new release. Which makes for a very nice surprise every now and again.
In recent weeks I have discovered two new books (new to me, that is) by authors whose work I thought I had exhausted.
The first is Anthony Hyde's latest offering, A Private House — already in paperback before I came across it. Hyde's debut novel was 1985's The Red Fox, a fast-paced puzzler about a Canadian journalist who tries to track down his ex-girlfriend's missing father. In many ways it's a straightforward thriller, but Hyde's first-rate grasp of political history and his very human insights into the motivations behind early Cold War-era treachery raise it to another level. In the years since The Red Fox became an international bestseller, however, the law of outsized expectations has had its way with Hyde's career. Hyde's sophomore effort, China Lake, is a very good read that somehow didn't get the big-time audience it deserved. Formosa Straits and Double Helix followed — and both showed an author straining too hard to reconnect with his readers. But Hyde can write with the best of them — all he's ever needed is some inspiration. Ever the optimist, I am hopeful A Private House finds him back in top form, even though it came and went from bookstores without causing a ripple.
The second discovery is The Quest for Corbett, a play cowritten by the late Kenneth Tynan (one of my faves) and Harold Lang (no idea who he is). I knew about Corbett from reading The Life of Kenneth Tynan by Kathleen Tynan, but the play wasn't successful and it never occurred to me that it had been published. Tynan was a wonderful critic and essayist — perhaps the best of his generation — but he wasn't much of a playwright. His imagination was too bound up in psychosexual tics, which led to the groundbreaking but crappy sex revue Oh! Calcutta!, followed by a never-produced erotic screenplay called Our Life with Alex and Sophie and — the one gem, thanks to the source material — Roman Polanski's Macbeth. (Tynan was happy to have Polanski turn his Shakespeare adaptation into a movie, but he didn't much like the director. He famously called him "the five-foot Pole you wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.") I don't expect The Quest for Corbett to wow me, but as a Tynan fan, I had to have it. Another bonus: its dust jacket is a beautiful mauve-gold on heavy paper stock, with fancy pre-Raphaelite-like script. Even if it's harder to get through than Oh! Calcutta!, at least it'll look fantastic on the shelf.