BEFORE the spring freshets begin and while influenza is still with us, I may be doing a service to invalids and their friends by calling attention to Fun in Bed (Simon & Schuster), an entertaining handbook for convalescents who want to make a little effort but not much. Never before have so many fresh ways of diverting the mind been wrapped up in one package. ... A striking example of how far a good title helps to sell a book is to be seen in Life Begins at Forty, by Walter B. Pitkin (Whittlesey House), a collection of good-natured papers demonstrating that the last forty years are the easiest. Just the kind of optimism the doctor has ordered for lean years. . . .
The New Year has already brought some new leaders into the field. Ann Vickers by Sinclair Lewis (Doubleday, Doran), started off with an advance sale of 64,74(5 copies; even such a veteran as H. G. Wells has had his thirty-eighth novel, The Bulpington of Blup (Macmillan), begin with a first push of over 10,000. . . . For some time I have looked forward to reading The Narrow Corner by Somerset Maugham (Doubleday, Doran, $2,50). A short novel by a past master of technique, the book, I confess, left me with an impression of shortcoming. This story of a Malay island drags in its preliminary stages, and although for a brief spell at the climax there is an extraordinary suspense (while Eric sits in reverie and the reader waits for Louise’s shocking betrayal), on the whole this seems to be the work of an expert, keeping his hand in, but only mildly interested in what he is doing. . . . The Last Adam, by James Gould Cozzcns (Harcourt, Brace, $2.50), is a warm-blooded, robust story, easy to like. The author writes about a Connecticut town which he knows from the ground up. He is successful to an uncommon degree in bringing you within the closed corporation of village life. You see these people, especially a telephone girl and a country doctor, in all their casual rounds; you observe their fallibilities, their quarrels, spites, and redeeming kindness, all set down in the most natural, readable fashion. The story passes m a series of rapid-fire ’shots, sustaining the reader’s attention more by variety and surprise than by steady development.
Ever since the Crimea, Russia has exerted a peculiar fascination upon Englishmen. The autobiography which I next want to urge upon you is the life story of a somewhat reckless, altogether candid young Scotsman who fell in love with Russia in the last years of its corrupt majesty, who gave the best part of his own career in an attempt to further the diplomatic understanding between England and Russia, a man who came to know Trotsky and the Bolshevik leaders as well as he had known the Tsarist officials, and who was finally imprisoned by the Soviets, from whose death sentence he escaped by the skin of his teeth. British Agent (Putnam, $3,75) is the title of this remarkable book, and the man himself, R. H. Bruce Lockhart, was in Moscow as an accredited English diplomat and agent continuously from 1911 till 1918. His picture of the days that are gone forever, of the great gypsy parties, of the irreconcilable Russian temperament, is, of course, touched with melancholy. But there is nothing mawkish about this book: it is the most honestly vivid, the most honestly exciting picture of Russia, in wealth and in revolution, I have read.