Why Paperbacks? & Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time

Tey daughter of time green penguin 4f84c02f94104d0dcb8df38c4a166c28I am a great reader of paperbacks.

I love their flexibility and lightness.  I scribble in the margins and put multiple asterisks next to passages without worrying about defacing the book.  (Later, unless you are James Wood, you will wonder why you marked those passages.)  Over the years the pages of paperbacks tan and the spines crack, and if you read them over and over, as I do, you occasionally have to replace them.  What is the lifespan of the average paperback?  Twenty years?  Fifty?

I always think the Beatles song is “Paperback Reader,”  when actually it is “Paperback Writer.”  I suppose that is because I read so many paperbacks I cannot imagine writing them.

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job so I want to be a paperback writer
Paperback writer!

Mysteries should always be read in paperback, don’t you think?

I recently rediscovered the mystery writer Josephine Tey.  Someone commented about her at this blog. Thank you!

I have had to replace my old paperback copies.

My favorite of her novels, The Daughter of Time,  is not just for mystery fans. She wrote her classics during the  Golden Age  of Detective Fiction (1920-1950), a period dominated by the likes of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Michael Innes)  The Daughter of Time appeals equally to historians, scholars,  fans of Shakespeare’s Richard III., and skeptical readers of newspapers.  The detective hero so loathes the adage “There’s no smoke without fire,” that he spends the book proving its preposterousness.

In this historical mystery classic, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, the hero of six of Tey’s books,  is bedridden in the hospital with a broken leg.  Restless and bored, he does not feel like reading.    He dismisses the best-sellers on the nightstand as tripe.

And the books on the nightstand do sound awful.  There are Silas Weekley’s The Sweat and the Furrow, a romance called Bells on Her Toes, and Oscar Oakley’s latest tough-guy novel.

But Alan is especially displeased by a mystery.

“The Case of the Missing Tin Opener, by John James Mark, had three errors of procedure in the first three pages, and had at least provided Grant with a pleasant five minutes while he composed an imaginary letter to its author.

Then his friend Marta Hallard, the actress, brings him a quarto envelope of historical portraits.  He is fsacinated by a portrait of Richard III from the National Gallery by an unknown artist.  Grant, who has seen the faces of many criminals, does not think this is the face of a murderer.

And so he begins to investigate the case of Richard III from his hospital bed.  He borrows a nurse’s school history books, then asks a friend to buy histories and bioraphies at a bookstore, and then finds help from an American researcher at the British Museum.

Everything you have been told turns out to be wrong, as in a game of Telephone.  But you have to read the book.  This is really a case where spoilers will ruin it!

Tey is well-loved by mystery writers as well as fans.  In the mystery writer Robert Barnard’s introductin to my new Touchstone edition of The Daughter of Time, he says that her fans “regard her with love.  They give to their favorite Tey novel what they once gave to their favorite books of childhood, to The Wind in the Willows, Little Women, or whatever:  unconditional enthusiasm.”

True in my case.

Such a remarkable book, and it SHOULD BE READ IN PAPERBACK.  Does anyone want to argue that point?!!!!??????

19 thoughts on “Why Paperbacks? & Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time

  1. Absolutely not. My parents’ paperback was lost during a moving house and I bought back “The Daughter of Time” as another paperback in another edition. I love paperbacks. The hardbacks come from the family heirloom but my own books are mostly paperbacks for the reasons you cite and also because they are far less expensive and I could buy more books with my pocket money. The other point being that when I don’t like the book I have the satisfaction of feeling that I have not thrown money through windows – as we say in French! Ah!
    No comment on “The Daughter of Time”: it is a favourite of mine…

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    • The hardbacks last longer, but the paperbacks are a godsend for those of us who read (and buy) a lot of books! And you’re right: so disappointing when you’ve spent a lot on a book you don’t like. That does happen…

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  2. I love paperbacks because they are light to carry and flexible. The hardback may last longer if it is well-made but you can have a very well-made paperback. You can put just as fine a picture on the cover of a paperback as hardback too. The only argument for the hardback is it’s sturdier and when, as in the Folio Society (very expensive, beyond my pocketbook) books hardbacks are made of a material that is relatively light, and they are so beautifully sewn, the hardback becomes desirable.

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    • There are some beautiful hardback books! Reading those is a different experience. Paperbacks seemed so nifty when I was first starting out as a reader, though. I am very fond of my Penguins and Oxfords!

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  3. I’m listening/watching/reading a MOOC course in the world of Richard III and you make Daughter of Time sound very tempting.

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  4. Paperbacks are portable and lovely and some of the ones I have are beautiful. Having said that, I love a well-made hardback! But murder mysteries of any sort should definitely be softcover. “The Daughter of Time” is a wonderful book – it would be one of my desert island titles I think. So clever, and it really changed the way I thought about Richard III. When they had the reburial in Leicester (where my offspring live) I forced a copy on Middle Child, but I don’t think she’s read it yet…. 🙂

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  5. I love paperbacks, and most of my books are paperbacks, but a good book is a good book, whatever the format – and The Daughter of a Time is a very good book, and I have a hardback edition, bought from a secondhand shop when I was school, and still in pretty good condition!

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    • I love my new paperback, but I must admit my old mass market paperback didn’t last a liftetime, as I’d meant it to. Second-hand hardcovers are even better than new hardcovers somehow.

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  6. I had a high school teacher who had us read A Daughter of Time alongside Richard III. It was a great lesson in the ways of history and storytelling. We also read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead after we read Hamlet. A great teacher, I now realize. I need to explore more of Tey’s writing.

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    • What a brilliant teacher! It would make Shakespeare so vivid. I don’t exactly remember how I found out about Tey, but she is so intelligent. This book is a course in how to think and do research.

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      • I adore Josephine Tey and will read her books in any edition! I am especially fond of this historical mystery. It has been a while since I have read any of her books so thanks for the reminder.

        On another note, Kat, there is a mystery series by Nicola Upson featuring Ms. Tey as the detective. That seems to be a trend. I think there is also a series featuring Beatrix Potter and one with Louisa May Alcott.

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        • Oh, Belle, thank you for telling me! I haven’t heard of Nicola Upson, but my library does have her books as well as Tey’s. I feel more and more like reading mysteries this summer. What a clever idea to make Tey the heroine.

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  7. Pingback: On a Dark November Night: Reading in the Cold – mirabile dictu

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