Shelflife. The books you keep tell the story of your own life.
Clearing out boxes of books and personal belongings of lives once lived, I unpacked a whole bookshelf’s worth of Pan paperbacks neatly stored by their author and genre. I could recall the where and when of each book’s purchase and first reading, and of the best could well remember their stories back to front. There were a few of the books I read before age thirteen or so when I had a passion for picking up movie tie-in books and novels that had made thrilling and sometimes controversial films. These were bought new, most secondhand. Some were chosen solely because a favorite actor had starred in the film and was featured on the cover (the usual suspects of Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Sean Connery, and Michael Caine), or because they were dark tales of nightmarish horror or strange speculative science-fiction. No matter the reason, these books were keys to new worlds and passions.
Everyone knows Penguin. They publish classic lit and high-end middle-class novels about those things people discuss over lattes. Pan books were thrillers, pulp novels, movie and TV tie-ins, romances, some classics (Bronte, Trollope, Dickens), and best of all the dare to read alone horrors. Everyone read Pan. Because Pan books were always a guaranteed great read.
After Enid Blyton, Capt. W. E. Johns and Geoffrey Willans, the author I probably read most, until I got hip to Ian Fleming, Ted Lewis, and Algernon Blackwood, was probably John Burke. He was the guy who wrote all the big movie tie-ins like A Hard Day’s Night, The System, and the fine set of stories that started me off seeking out his books The Hammer Horror Omnibus with its tales of The Gorgon, The Revenge of Frankenstein and The Curse from the Mummy’s Tomb.
Pan Books was started by a former World War One flying ace, Alan Bott in 1944. Bott believed in enjoyable reads available for all. He focussed on paperback books the public would enjoy which might bring them back to the brand for more. Pan had an impressive roster of authors. It ranged from Agatha Christie to Leslie Charteris, Edgar Wallace to Jack Kerouac, Anthony Burgess to Nell Dunn, and so on. If it was a good and entertaining read then any author could end up inside of a Pan cover—which is not a bad quality control.
There are too many classic Pan covers to share, so I stuck with the ones from the box I had opened, which will probably tell you enough about me…