Sunday, November 23, 2014

Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti, Hansel and Gretel (deluxe die-cut hardcover, signed by both)

Fans of comics surely know of the Pulitzer-winning Art Spiegelman, but may not be fully aware of Spiegelman's activity past Maus. I've seen Spiegelman at many events in New York and he's always busy promoting some new books he's edited, published, or contributed to, but wonderfully these appearances are for a different sort of audience than me. While I was in line to get a book signed by Charles Burns during the Brooklyn Book Festival, Spiegelman was over at the children's area, meeting kids who love comics and signing copies of his book for first graders, Jack and the Box. He and his wife, Francoise Mouly (art editor of The New Yorker), have made a successful (and arguably very important) side project with their publishing house Toon Books, a company that prints comics for kids.

Toon Graphics, an imprint aimed at older readers (older, in this case, being grades three and higher), was recently launched and is already boasting an impressive list of large-format comics. I remember the excitement I felt when I first discovered Herge and the adventures of Tintin as a kid; while these are substantially less complicated books, I imagine reading Toon Graphics at that age might bring a similar sort of feeling. I also like the wide scope of subject matter: it's exciting to think that a kid who picks up a new spin on Hansel and Gretel might also find themselves wrapped up in a story about Theseus battling the Minotaur.

Last month saw the release of Neil Gaiman's Hansel and Gretel, beautifully illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti. I knew of Mattotti from a few years back when I reviewed his graphic novel Stigmata; he's an excellent illustrator and it's wonderful to see his work paired with someone like Gaiman.

This copy is one of the "deluxe hardcover" editions which features a die-cut cover, and was signed by Gaiman and Mattotti at an event at McNally Jackson books in Soho. 

Collector's, take note: a boxed edition is also available which includes a silkscreen print by Mattotti. Looks very nice to me!

Currently reading:
Superman Comes to the Supermarket by Norman Mailer

Currently listening to:
Lust for Youth, "International"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Marilynne Robinson, Lila (signed first edition)

On November 19th, the winner of the 2014 National Book Award will be announced, and I suspect Marilynne Robinson's Lila will take the prize. She's an exceptional writer and in my opinion should be far more decorated. I've not read Lila yet but have heard rave reviews (just got my copy this week). The book completes a loose trilogy of novels set in the fictional town of Gilead, Ohio, and if 2005's Pulitzer-winning Gilead and Home are any indication, Lila's sure to be an outstanding novel.

Signed first editions are still circulating of Lila at their list price and there'll be a modest spike in cost if she wins. Get one while they're still under $30! While the print run for Lila is probably quite large, it's hard to think of Housekeeping, Robinson's 1980 novel, which is now about $500-$1000 for a signed first.

Currently reading:
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Currently listening to:
Lust for Youth, "International"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hunter S. Thompson, The Curse of Lono (Artist's Proof from TASCHEN's signed and limited edition)

One of my favorite parts about writing this blog are the comments that crop up from posts I've made a while ago. In 2012 I featured my copy of Hunter S. Thompson's ultra-rare book Screwjack and people continue to find the page and chime in with some news about the Cyclops Owl on the book's cover (I learned this week that it was created by Thomas Benton, who did some other work for HST).

In the spirit of that Screwjack post I thought I'd feature another rare Thompson edition: this is German art-book publisher TASCHEN's 2005 edition of The Curse of Lono. This copy is an AP, limited to 150 copies worldwide, and signed by Thompson (full signature) and Ralph Steadman (with a little face).

Firstly, the book is enormous, about 17 1/2 inches tall and 13 inches wide. The book is housed in an orange slipcase, with a internal ribbon for sliding the book free.
The book is bound in beautifully printed linen, which gives Steadman's cover art a magisterial feel -- remember, this book was originally printed as a cheap little paperback original in the early 80s.


Here's a look at the signature page. Again, this is an AP (Artist's Proof), which means in addition to the print run of 1000, 150 were made for a more private distribution between publisher, author and artist.

 As expected, the book is lavishly illustrated with a bunch of double-page, full-bleed spreads. Here are a few for you:

In my opinion, one of the coolest things about this edition is how TASCHEN dealt with the sections of correspondence between Running Magazine and Thompson and between Thompson and Steadman. Instead of 'transcribing' these letters to the page (as they were in the Bantam 1983 edition), the letters are actually printed facsimile and tipped-in to the giant book. Take a look:

I remember trying to find one of my favorite passages and realizing its hidden away at the bottom of a letter here:

It's a queer life, for sure, but right now it's all I have. Last night, around midnight, I heard somebody scratching on the thatch and then a female voice whispered, "You knew it would be like this."

"That's right!" I shouted. "I love you!"

There was no reply. Only the sound of this vast and bottomless sea, which talks to me every night, and makes me smile in my sleep.


I think this is one of the most gorgeous literary collector's editions in my library, and it's one that means a lot to me as I consider Thompson's books as my gateway drug into book collecting. This is also one of the last editions that Thompson formally signed before his suicide. He died in February 2005, just a few months before this hit shelves. Fire in the Nuts also came out in 2004, but if my timeline is correct this was officially released after. The Curse of Lono originally listed for $300 and is now marked as "SOLD OUT" on TASCHEN's website with a price of $2000. Copies on eBay should be around $900-1200, though.
Before I close, a question for collectors and dealers that may have one of these. There are APs out there numbered out of 200: do you think this mean that there were actually 350 APs produced? Or perhaps an additional 50 were made after the 150? TASCHEN can be a little slippery with their editions...

Currently reading:
The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

Currently listening to:
  The National, "Trouble Will Find Me"

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fall 2014 reading list, recent reviews

I just received a new batch of books from my editor at and thought I'd share what's on deck and link to some of my recent reviews.

I just finished my review of Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things and think it might be one of my favorites of the year. I've got a signed UK first coming my way soon and will do a post devoted to the book once the review goes live. I'm currently finishing up a review of Donal Antrim's The Emerald Light in the Air as well, which is also very good.

Coming up:

J by Howard Jacobson
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

The Dog by Joseph O'Neill
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

I've also got my eye out for Shark by Will Self, How to be Both by Ali Smith and The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson.

Recently, I've reviewed some great novels (and some not-so-great ones). Here are few links if you're interested... click around and let me know what you think. More rare books next week.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Currently reading:
The Dog by Joseph O'Neill

Currently listening to:
Moon Duo, "Live in Ravenna"

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Update: Newly framed! Karen Green, Bough Down (from Siglio Press)

Way back in May 2013 I featured a book called Bough Down by Karen Green, published by Siglio Press. In addition to a wide print-run, this was offered in a wonderful limited edition of only 25 copies where each book came with a small, unique collage by Green. I was lucky enough to get a copy. Those of you who are interested in seeing what another piece from this edition looked like, take a look at this eBay listing.

This collage has been on our "to-frame" list for about a year and half, and as of Thursday this week we finally finished the job. It looks fantastic - I realize now that my pictures from my earlier post hardly do the collage any justice. Here it is, in its complete glory, framed and puzzle-pieced into our new salon-style wall.

Currently reading:
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
Last Stories and Other Stories by William T. Vollmann

Currently listening to:
Mountains, "Choral"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ernest Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea" (First edition with facsimile jacket)

I finally got around to getting a facsimile jacket for my first edition of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. When I was in my early teens and discovered how to tell if a book is a first edition, I naturally went through every book in my parents's house to check if any of them might be worth something. My parents read a lot and I was lucky to grow up in such a book-centric household, and although they were not "collectors" I did find a worn out old copy of The Old Man and the Sea in the basement.

This belonged to my mother. She was surprised we still had it around, and even more surprised to find out it was a first edition. (She was also happy to let it live among my growing library.)

I learned from various websites online that a true first of The Old Man an the Sea needed a capital A in the colophon and the presence of the Scribner seal. This seal sets the book apart from the otherwise nearly-identical book club edition.

The lack of a dust jacket is problematic and ultimately the difference between a value of around $500 and $5000. For a while I thought there was some off-chance I'd find a first-state dust jacket in great shape with a book in terrible condition -- torn pages or something -- but then realized how completely unreasonable that kind of dream is and resigned to have a pretty ugly, very rare book in my collection.


But then, years later, I started looking into facsimile jackets. This is a tricky world of book collecting because it's kind of shady territory: it's essentially making your book look like it's worth a lot more and potentially misleading clients. For instance, there's a bookstore on the Upper East Side in NY that has an impressive collection of rare books and I was eyeing a first edition copy of The Crying of Lot 49 that was priced at remarkably low $300. I saw it in the window, asked the price, and walked off thinking maybe I'd start saving up. It was when I came back to discuss the book with the seller that I read the piece's full information: it was in great shape but had a facsimile jacket. The bookstore was completely open and professional about it, but I can't help but think there was something wrong with putting facsimile jackets in a display window. And what about those dishonest booksellers? Can you really trust a rare book on eBay, when anyone with a high-level Epson could've made the jacket you're buying?

Still, who wants a jacketless book? A faded, grey and silver-spined copy of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winner? Considering the family history of my Old Man and the Sea and the fact that I'd no intentions of selling the book, why not get a facsimile jacket and at least make it look nice on the shelf? This was $20 from The Phantom Bookshop in Ventura, CA, and looks very handsome (it also explicitly says it's a facsimile on the back-flap, which is reassuring). It completes the book and makes it pop on the shelf; it feels odd to say, but only now do I really see that I've had a special book in my library all this time.

Currently reading:
The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
Last Stories and Other Stories by William T. Vollmann

Currently listening to:
Max Richter, "Infra"

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Rage of Poseidon" by Anders Nilsen, signed and personalized with a drawing

Seems I've found myself on a "signed with drawing" spree at The Oxen of the Sun. This week we'll take a look at last year's Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen. I picked this up at the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2013 and had surprisingly good enough timing to coincide that purchase with Nilsen's signing window at the Drawn and Quarterly booth. It's a lovely book and features a rarely-seen accordion binding glued in from the back endpapers. Rage of Poseidon collects a handful of short stories, each with a philosophical, modern twist on Greek and Christian folklore. The tone of the book is reminiscent of Nilsen's Monologues volumes and The End but demonstrates a far more refined text and artistic direction. Each page consists of a single panel of artwork that plays with silhouettes and gives a nod to the ethereal interpretability of myth; we all know of Poseidon and Noah, but hardly anything more than their outlines.

Nilsen signed this book for my wife and me at the Book Fair, sprouting a head, arm, leg, and hunchback from his table of contents.

I suggest everyone take a look at Anders Nilsen's website and check out his "Conversation Gardening" project. In an effort to bridge that widening gap between creators and their audience, he's asked his readers to buy his books from an independent store, send him proof of purchase and a question or idea written on a small sheet of paper: he will then, eventually, draw you an answer and send it back. I'm currently in the queue for an answer myself and will update with results. It's an incredibly generous and remarkably thoughtful idea, reminiscent to me of such question-based art projects like James Lee Byars and the World Question Center.

 Currently reading:
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

Currently listening to:
Kurt Vile, "God Is Saying This To You"