Published in November 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
You never know when recognition will come. Last week, I was offered the deputy governorship of the American Biographical Institute, for the new low price of $995. The temptation was not Antonine, but it was succeeded by a despatch from Burke’s Peerage: “Exciting news for you and fellow Raphaels.” Did I read on or what? Yes, yes, I was being offered a copy of The Burke’s Peerage World Book of Raphaels. Thanks to Burke’s, my “old and distinguished” family was at last to be restored to primacy in the social scheme of things. As Constantine Karamanlis said, when resurrected from his 11 year Parisian exile by an appeal to return to Greece, “What kept you?” My joy was dented when I perceived that the advertisement for the book was actually addressed to “Mr and Mrs Stephen M Raphael” who, it was promised, “are listed in it.” My wife and I do have a son called Stephen, but he is not married and his middle initial is not M. Perhaps Burke was mis-spelt; its emended form is, as all East Enders know, rhyming slang for what Jonathan Miller is unrepentant about having called our other son.
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some of you may claim to have known Georges Armoulian, but he will not, I suspect, claim to have known you. Georges transcended his Levantine origins, but he never forgot how many stitches there ought to be to every inch of an Usak prayer mat. The sedentary Georges (a dealer but seldom a wheeler) became one of the world’s great bridge players (ask Omar!) as well as a collector to make Charles Foster Kane (q.v.) seem eclectic. How it happened that Anthony Sadleir’s 180 page manuscript Bibliography of Armoulian’s Secret Library came to be delivered to my door is one of the serendipitous mysteries of the postal service which we in the west are fortunate enough still to enjoy.
The author is here revealed as a spoof bibliographer of-sod it, why not?-genius. Since, on his own facsimiled admission, Sadleir’s early books (nuance: he does not say “publications”) include Let’s Explore Tyneside with T Dan Smith, one understands the force of the old adage: “Is Anthony also among the profits?” He may well, and certainly, should be. Among the priceless volumes in the library (to which not even Jorge Luis Borges had a key) are the following (opened at random, like the Sortes Virgilianae):
“ ‘Fonda, Jane’ (pseudonym of Irving Plotkin). Jane Fonda’s New Vaginal Muscle Contractions Work Out and Total Orgasm Program. Las Vegas Publications, 1987. Demy octavo. 304pp. Printed card covers.
“Plotkin began his sub rosa publishing ventures working for Harry ‘the Hat’ McMahon (Ed’s father) in New York in the early 1950s and it is widely believed that Plotkin’s vivid imagination was behind Grace Kelly’s Sex Tricks for Starlets in Colour and Hedy Lamarr’s Book of Bondage [see John Russell Baker’s ‘Irving Plotkin: an Attempted Bibliography’ in Beaumont and Rosemont, editors, Grime Sourcebook and Bibliography (Mentuchen, 1990), pp. 456-99].
“According to a pencilled note of Armoulian’s, this copy was won in a card game from Woody Allen at Michael’s Pub in 1988.”
“ ‘Hitler, Adolph.’ Selected Poems of Robert Browning translated into German, with notes, and illustrated with watercolours. Oxford: Hitler on File, 1959. Super royal octavo. 168pp. Buckram with matching slip case. Limited to 100 copies only of which this is no. 62. Each volume comes with an official certificate of authentication signed by Hugh Trevor-Roper, who also contributes an introduction.
“…at the end of the 1930s, when the F?hrer found that he had time on his hands, he began translating his favourite poems into German… Das Browning Album lay unknown in a Munich furniture warehouse until 1958 when it was discovered by some history students who were visiting the town for a beer fest. Sir Hugh (as he then was) rushed into print with the result we now have before us, but not before securing a place at Harvard for the student who discovered it-Clifford Irving.
“A pencilled note of Armoulian’s says that he purchased this copy for $40 from an American student at Oxford in 1960 who said: ‘The prof’s been buying up copies of this and putting them in the bursar’s incinerator.'”
I do not, alas, have space to detail the entries listed as “ Ginsberg, Allen. The Book of Fuck: a Sacred Mantra for the Illuminated. Limited to 100 copies all of which have been personally touched by Mr Ginsberg.  Polanski, Roman. Under-age Bitch Goddesses of Hermosa Beach in Living Colour! Ulanov, Selwyn. The Sham Books in Meryl Streep’s Manhattan Apartment.”
Anthony Sadleir (not his real name) has written a masterpiece waiting to be a bestseller. (My unreturnable copy has-recently, and illiterately-been inscribed “Eat your heart out, Jorge Luis, you Argie-bargie dumbo.”) Yet no English or American publishers have had the courage, wit or routine filthy-minded opportunism to snap up the funniest, most original, parody since Dwight MacDonald and Max Beerbohm left the field to the likes of Craig Brown who is alleged to be the most printed man in print and to whom now I say, in all sincerity: look behind you, smartass.