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"

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ralph Steadman's "Teddy! Where Are You?" (a children's book, signed with chocolate sauce)

At least I think it's chocolate sauce. Let's take a look:

Ralph Steadman, best known for his illustrations to Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Curse of Lono, has a remarkably long bibliography, ranging from books on the Good Doctor himself to strange little children's stories that he both wrote and illustrated. (Many of these have been released in handsome special editions: I remember a version of Fahrenheit 451 that Steadman illustrated that was bound in smokey paper made from recycled paper ashes that looked completely gorgeous.)

Teddy! Where Are You?, published in 1994 by Andersen Press, is one of a handful of twisted little children's books that Steadman wrote in the late 80s/early 90s. It's as inappropriate as you'd imagine from Steadman's demented pen, and the strangest part is that the book means so well. Illustrated by someone else, and the book would be relatively sweet, but it turns into a wonderfully bizarre little piece left entirely in Steadman's hands.

This copy is personalized with a drawing of a beloved stuffed cat or bear, drawn in messy, sticky splatter. Looking at the way the drawing soaks in and stains the page in some areas and feels raised and gummy in others, I suspect it to be some kind of unconventional medium, something like chocolate sauce or an ink-and-sauce mix.

Currently reading:
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

Currently listening to:
Jordan de la Sierra, "Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

William T. Vollmann, "Last Stories and Other Stories", signed with a drawing from City Lights Bookstore

I was in San Francisco earlier this summer after my brother-in-law's California wedding and had the pleasure of visiting the great City Lights bookstore. While browsing, a saw a flyer by the register for a William T. Vollmann event. I'm a big Vollmann fan and it was amazing to see how City Lights stepped up to his cult following for the reading. His new collection Last Stories and Other Stories is a composed of erotic ghost stories, and in the spirit of the book, guests were instructed to pick up a black envelope the week of the signing with instructions to meet at a 'secret location' offsite (I think some kind of San Francisco crypt). I had to fly out that day and had to miss the event, but the staff helped me get a signed copy and shipped it out to me in New York. This is a first edition, signed with an amazing drawing, and stamped with the City Lights insignia.

Currently reading:
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests

Currently listening to:
A Winged Victory for the Sullen, S/T

Sunday, September 21, 2014

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks (signed and numbered limited edition, personalized with drawing)

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing David Mitchell at a reading during his tour for The Bone Clocks. While I'm still conflicted about the book, I'm still buzzing from his event: I've never seen an author so generous and thoughtful talk about his work. I feel like every writer talks of their novels by saying they've been living with these characters for so long that it's cathartic to get them into the hands of their readers, but Mitchell's version of that sentiment rang far more powerful. In a boldly sweeping statement, I'd say his book is essentially about the reincarnation of ideas, and he does just that with his characters. Much of the cast of The Bone Clocks is made up of tertiary players from his entire oeuvre, and he's given them a second life in The Bone Clocks, a second chance to consume him as an author, and a second opportunity to be released upon a hungry reading public. To listen to Mitchell try to formulate these ideas on stage, and realize he's not only revisiting lost loved ones but continuing to grow with them was a powerful experience. He nailed it, and afterwards graciously waded through the wordy slurry of aspiring writer Q&A, kindly plucking and reshaping questions from his petrified fans. It's wonderful to see that great writers can be great people as well.

I'm working on a review of The Bone Clocks for which I'll probably post here once it's done. For those who have finished the book, I'm curious to know if you think the novel could function with the "Horologist's Labyrinth" entirely excised.

Similar to the limited edition UK release of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a special edition of The Bone Clocks was announced by Sceptre at the beginning of the summer. I quickly placed a pre-order from The Book Depository (with one of their many %-off coupons) and got word that this shipped in early of September.

Slipcased with unique artwork, this edition features an embossed clock in yellow boards and a maze embossed on the back. Not a spectacular as The Thousand Autumns, it's still a lovely piece. The endpapers mirror the jacket of the UK edition. Like his last limited edition, there are only 500 copies of this available.

I asked Mitchell if he wouldn't mind personalizing these for me, despite them being already signed. He was thrilled to and seemed very pleased to see that these were in the hands of fans. He drew me a lovely scribble of clouds and birds (and a boat in my Thousand Autumns), and we talked a moment about his designers. I'm honored to have this in my library.


Currently reading:
The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Currently listening to:
Oneohtrix Point Never, "Betrayed in the Octagon"

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Charles Bukowski, "The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship" with signed screenprint by R. Crumb

Never intentional, but it seems I've taken another summer off. It's been a life-changing four months; since my last update on Gravity's Rainbow, my wife and I have bought a one bedroom apartment in the gloriously suburban Ditmas Park, an oasis of a Brooklyn neighborhood full of Victorian homes, driveways, trees and cicadas. We also constructed some dreamy built-in bookshelves in our home which I may feature in a future post.

I received this gorgeous Black Sparrow Press edition from my wife for my thirtieth birthday last week. Published in 1998, The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship is a collection of texts from Bukowski's journals from the early 90s. In traditional Black Sparrow Press manner, they've offered the book in a range of collectible formats, but this one is especially interesting considering it was published posthumously. Typically, a lettered edition would have a holograph poem or an original painting or drawing, but since Bukowski died in 1994 something from his hand wasn't an option. The 'special edition' credits instead go to the great R. Crumb, who did illustrations for the book (he also did a few other collaborations while Buk was alive). 426 copies of The Captain include a beautiful screenprint by R. Crumb, bound into the book, and signed below.

Very nice, and interesting to compare this R. Crumb print with the few others that are circulating around from the likes of publishers like TASCHEN. They're currently in the process of a massive reprint of Crumb's sketchbooks; two sets cost $1000 each and come with a signed lithograph each limited to 1,000 copies. Having seen those prints first-hand, I think this Bukowski print is on par, or even nicer.

Curiously, there is another edition of this out there from Black Sparrow that I believe has a portfolio of loose Crumb prints. Would be very nice to see one of those in the flesh!

Despite some IRL distractions, there's plenty more on deck from The Oxen of the Sun this year. If you're reading, please say hi.

Currently reading:
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Currently listening to:
"1970s Algerian Folk and Pop" (Sublime Frequencies)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (First Edition)

This is a major one for me: I've finally acquired a first edition of one of my favorite novels, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. While I've been dreaming of getting a copy for quite a long time, this acquisition was fast-tracked last month after my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

I was surprised to find myself so conflicted after my visit to the fair. Every booth was stocked to the gills with treasures, ranging from $500 to the hundreds of thousands. There were signed dedication copies of literary classics, perfect-condition examples of so many coveted titles for any intrigued collector to drool over. But then, I started seeing books that I have in my own library; things that I purchased for a song on eBay or from some small used/rare shops in the Northeast, things I purchased for around $100 that were priced at the fair for $1000. Am I lucky to have bought those titles at those prices? I don't think so. I'm just a discerning, patient collector who knows the price ranges of the titles I'm looking for and one who is happy to wait for a book to appear at a price that really can't be beat.

I imagine the entire Park Avenue Armory was filled with dealers and collectors like this. So, what's going on when you can go on eBay and see a handful of Gravity's Rainbows selling for a couple-hundred dollars, but there are a handful of copies in these booths for $1250, $2500, and more? Sure, these copies are in excellent, excellent condition, but really, who are these priced for? It felt like these titles were offered with a hefty prestige-premium, for wealthy casual collectors to soak in the Manhattan convention experience.

Later, I was floored to see a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls dedicated to Hemingway's mother. There were many genuine one-of-a-kind treasures at the fair like this -- I was smitten with some Joe Brainard drawings, some signed firsts by Shirley Jackson, and many more, but that corner of my mind that was looking to finally grab a Pynchon first walked away from the fair frustrated and embarrassed for their potential buyers. This is a fair to buy *unique* books, not simply rare ones.

I went home over-confident that I could go home and buy a Gravity's Rainbow myself online for a fraction of the ones I saw at the fair.

...and so I did.  In a polite and professional back-and-forth with a dealer on eBay, I got my hands on this:

It's a true first edition of Gravity's Rainbow, not price clipped or damaged in any way save for one droplet of discoloration on the top edges. The book has a wonderful provenance, too: this was from the COLUMBIA PICTURES STORY DEPARTMENT (and stamped with that on the front endpapers).

Basically, this means that in the 70s, Columbia Pictures had a library of books that they might consider making into films. Gravity's Rainbow is hilariously unfilmable, and the book is bookmarked only about thirty pages in, at the following passage:

"A Chorus line of quite nubile young women naughtily attired in Busbies and jackboots dance around for a bit here while in another quarter Lord Blatherard Osmo proceeds to get assimilated by his own growing Adenoid, some horrible transformation of cell plasma it is quite beyond Edwardian medicine to explain..."

It's as if someone read those lines, asked "what the hell's an Adenoid?" and shelved this until the department shut down or something. Amazing.

Currently reading:
Marshlands by Matthew Olshan

Currently watching:
Game of Thrones