Five Vintage Beach Reads

Words by Alex Rayner

25 June 2020

Want your poolside reading to stand out? Then try picking out a beautiful, valuable classic edition to take away with you this summer.

You can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, though sometimes it’s hard not to evaluate a book’s reader. You may have the right swimsuit, shades, and tan, but pair it with a simple mass-market paperback, and you aren’t carrying the summertime look off completely.

This is easy to fix, of course. Plenty of antique book dealers stock beautiful, vintage editions of perfect holiday reads, many of which don’t cost much more than a new pair of Gucci sunglasses. Angus Robb of Shapero Rare Books in London opens up the display cases to share some of the best finds you can purchase before you jet to the sun.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson - (Random House, 1971), first edition, £650

This wild, druggy classic of mid-century American literature is also great fun to read, and despite the narrator’s prodigious narcotics intake, the book remains both a relatively refined and somewhat level-headed commentary on the American 1960s. Shapero’s copy is a hardback first edition, complete with the original illustrations by British artist Ralph Steadman. There’s fading and some creases on the spine, but Robb says, it’s “otherwise an excellent copy.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (William Blackwood & Son Ltd., 1937) £220

Buchan’s thriller remains a popular choice not only among readers keen to enjoy a man-on-the-run story set in early 20th century Britain; it’s also a film producer’s perennial favourite and has been adapted for the screen on four separate occasions. Shapero’s handsome 1927 edition was “produced for the popular Hitchcock film version starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay,” explains Robb.

The Waves by Virginia Woolf (Hogarth Press, 1931) £1,750

Much of Woolf’s beautiful, challenging novel is set on the English coast, making it a smart choice for a seaside reading. It’s also fairly slim, and so dedicated readers could probably tear through this in a week or two. The first edition might sound expensive, but as Robb explains, it has a fine-art pedigree. “The dust-jacket is designed by the author’s sister Vanessa Bell, very much in keeping stylistically with her other work for Leonard & Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press publications,” he says.

From Russia, with Love by Ian Fleming (Jonathan Cape, 1957) £4,750

Widely regarded as Fleming’s best novel, the book is mainly set in Turkey and continental Europe and evokes the romance of mid-century travel perfectly. Of course, the best part of £5k might sound like a lot to spend on a beach read, but this edition also has a beautiful visual allure. “It is the first Bond novel with a jacket by Richard Chopping, who went on to execute many of the subsequent Bond covers, often in collaboration with Fleming himself,” explains Robb.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (William Heinemann, 1938) £700

The rougher end of seaside life is evoked in this exquisitely executed tale of organised crime and intrigue in this popular British seaside town. Shapero’s first edition is slightly discoloured, and the corners are slightly bumped, but otherwise, “it’s terrific and internally near-fine.”

Photography by Aaron Burden

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