SUMMER is the time for casual reading. The flow of new publications has almost ceased, and what with vacations and the long week-ends one can settle down to a literary browsing. I personally have the habit of reading three or four books concurrently; I like the change in taste. But sometimes (happy the day!) a book will take such hold that I can’t let it alone; I’ve got to finish it if I sit up all night.
Such was the case with The Grasshoppers Come by David Garnett (Brewer, Warren, and Putnam), although, since it is a short book, I was able to eat my cake and have my sleep too. Those who remember Lady into Fox and A Man in the Zoo will know what quality of writing Mr. Garnett is able to invoke within a brief compass. I do not mean that The Grasshoppers Come is in any sense a follow-up of what he has written before. It is up to his best, but very different. The story, which I certainly shall not give away, concerns two Englishmen and a woman who set off on a non-stop flight to break a world’s record. If is said that Garnett has seen much of his friend T. E. Lawrence (once of Arabia, now in the R. A. F.), who may have helped with the aviation details. Certainly Garnett’s gift of description, and the ease and economy with which he realizes his characters, make this long-distance flight an extraordinary performance. And il you don’t feel the power of his eloquence when the grasshoppers come, there is no hope in you.
I was sorry not to be quite so excited about Amok, a narrative of about the same length, by Stefan Zweig (Viking Press). A tale about the East, a picture of a German doctor who runs amuck in Java, it seems to me reminiscent of Conrad, without achieving either his depth or bis beauty of words. It is, however, more succinct. One must be aware of how the story increases its tension in the second third, only — at least in my case — to miss its full emotional effect at the climax.
A book that is easy to dip in and out of, and certainly worth more than one sitting, is Magazine Making, by John Bakeless (Viking Press). Complete in its particulars, and entertaining in its telling, here are accounted the various phases of an industry singularly American and singularly individual. It is the personal side of editing which gives the work so much of its fascination. To add to his own accurate knowledge of editing, proof and manuscript reading, promotion, and organization, Mr. Bakeless has garnered the anecdotes, the rules of thumb, and the delightful generalizations of other editors of the past. The book will be of assistance to young writers and aspirants in journalism, and I dare say will interest others who have no more than a casual curiosity about the trade.
Finally, if you like secret codes, spies, footsteps in the dark, and charming ladies who intend to rifle your pockets, there is The American Black Chamber by Herbert O. Yardley (Bobbs-Merrill), which may or may not be true, but which certainly makes Washington appear a more dangerous resort than I had ever supposed it to be. Mr. Yardley’s knowledge of cryptography is arresting. But his book suffers, as do most volumes on espionage, from failing to tell the whole story. Its shortcomings, a tendency to magnify mystery, and the apparently trivial nature of many of the spies’ communications, make one wonder if the villainies of the Secret Agents were quite as deep-dyed as Mr. Yardley would have us believe.