Don't be misled by that sweeping subtitle--or by a publisher's blurb referring to the ""dozens"" of bestsellers under...


BEST SELLER: A Nostalgic Celebration of the Less-than-Great Books You Have Always Been Afraid to Admit You Loved

Don't be misled by that sweeping subtitle--or by a publisher's blurb referring to the ""dozens"" of bestsellers under discussion. British writer Bocca chats about only 15 novels in this ""romp through the outskirts of the classics of the English language""; all but two are of pre-1925 vintage; and some were top sellers only in Britain. Still, many of the earlier chapters here (Bocca seems to run out of steam about halfway through) are unpretentious literary fun--a half-sarcastic, half-affectionate mixture of plot summaries, quotations, critiques (of the books and their film versions), thumbnail author bios, and autobiographical noodlings. H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, for instance, has characters ""as subtle as hurricanes,"" but its barebreasted women were central to Bocca's adolescence: ""Did Haggard intend or dream that half a century later his description had one small boy bashing his head against the wall in spasms of erotic agony?"" Likewise, Forever Amber (1954) promised prurient interest to 20-year-old Bocca: ""'Kathleen Winsor has got to do better than that,' I recall muttering in my room in Hampstead. 'What about Amber's breasts?'"" And there's both praise and disdain for: Eric, Or Little by Little, a namby-pamby 1858 boys'-school classic over which ""several generations of male readers have upchucked their hot buttered crumpets""; Beau Geste, with its cringe-worthy efforts at American lingo; Under Two Flags by the wretched Ouida, a little of whom ""went a long way""; Tarzan of the Apes, featuring Jane, ""one of the most disagreeable heroines ever created"" (notwithstanding Maureen O'Sullivan's magnificent flesh); and Three Weeks (1907), by the notorious Elinor Glyn, ""a great lady"" who knew how to imply X-rated sex (""Reader, I kid you not! The lady is greeting Paul stretched out on a tiger skin with a rose between her teeth!""). True, this cutesy approach is a bit overdone--but it's better than the more serious tack taken with E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Virginian, Trent's Last Case, and some of the others here. And whenever you think you've just about had it with page upon page of plot summary, Bocca drops in an anecdote from his early years (newspapering with Lord Beaverbrook, WW II action) to juice things up. No real point, then, and more than a little tedium--but a fair measure of browse-worthy amusement for old-book fiends, especially those with an Anglophilic streak.

Pub Date: May 1, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Wyndham/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981