Next up on the Ramblings is the latest pair of Penguin Moderns from my lovely box set. Numbers 33 and 34 feature two male authors who really couldn’t be more different – yet reading them both was extremely enjoyable and convinced me I should try to pick up books by them sooner rather than later! 😀

Penguin Modern 33 – Piers of the Homeless Night by Jack Kerouac

I am on very familiar ground with Kerouac, as back in my teens I read pretty much everything available by him (and I’ve hoovered up most of what’s been released in the interim). Inevitably, because of the period in which his works were written I have occasional issues with his attitudes to women, but when his prose soars I love him. “Piers…” contains two short sections extracted from “Lonesome Traveler”, his account of his travels around American which was first published in 1960. The title piece is a beautifully written evocation of his encounter with an old buddy in San Pedro, and his failure to ship out as a crew-member on a boat as does his friend.

Kerouac was always drawn to the sea – it’s a recurrent motif in his work, if I recall correctly from my readings all those decades ago – and the prose here is so hypnotic. The second piece is “The Vanishing American Hobo”; it finds Kerouac in philosophical mood, musing on the changes taking place in his country and the modern difficulties of bumming your way around America. It was no longer easy to hop a freight train or sleep under the stars without the authorities moving you on; I imagine it would be nigh on impossible nowadays, and that’s another kind of freedom gone…

I don’t go back to Kerouac often; maybe part of me is worried that I won’t find the magic in his prose that I did before. However, on the evidence of this I obviously should!

Penguin Modern 34 – Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? by Hans Fallada

In contrast to Kerouac, Fallada is an author who’s come to prominence in the English-speaking world relatively recently; his novel, “Alone in Berlin” caused a stir on its release in 2010, and many of his works have now been published widely in translation. I tried (and failed!) to read “Alone…” pre-blog, so I was very interested to see how I would find the three short works collected here. Spoiler alert – I loved them! 😀

There are three short stories featured in the Penguin Modern, all drawn from the collection “Tales from the Underworld” (2014). The title tale is a humorous ‘cry wolf’ story of a watchmaker’s son who seems to find it impossible to hold on to the timepieces given to him by his father; “War Monument or Urinal?” brilliantly captures the range of small town politics in pre-war Germany, and the tensions that existed; and “Fifty Marks and a Merry Christmas” is a touching story of a couple trying to make ends meet at the edge of the poverty line.

I found these stories wonderful and compelling, so I can’t understand, looking back, why I struggled with “Alone…” unless it was simply a case of right book, wrong time. Whatever – Fallada writes wonderfully, brilliantly capturing so much of his times in these short works!


So PMs 33 and 34 were winners! A revisit to a favourite author and an introduction to a new one, both of which I loved. The Penguin Moderns really are proving to be the best way to meet new authors and rediscover old ones – can’t wait to see who comes up next!  ;D