• Streetcar and Salesman

  • Gatsby Gala

  • Pulitzer Row

  • McCarthy's Poetic Violence

  • Pynchonian Paranoia

  • The Kid and the Judge

  • Holly Tiffany

22 August, 2021

The Victim

 BY Saul Bellow

Book Information1/1/0/US/VG/1947/?  •  ?  •  ?

I'm a fan of Saul bellow's prose, and have been trying to get the first editions of his first two, if less acclaim and recognized, novels. I was lucky, and was able to purchase this copy of The Victim at a very reasonable price. That may be a consequence of Bellow's faltering popularity, but that's no matter for a collector. This amazingly well preserved first edition was published by Vanguard in 1947, with still bright green-blue based dustjacket and almost no sunned spine that plague most existing copies. And the dust jacket was not price clipped. The book is also in pristine condition with a top blue stain still very bright. The only small regret is a pasted bookplate from a previous owner.

The Victim is not well read or analyzed today, but it did make it to one Pulitzer Jury's long list at number 8.

6 years after The Victim, Bellow would go on to publish The Adventure of Augie March that marked the beginning of an era of definitive Bellouwian style.
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14 March, 2021

The Broom of the system

BY David Foster Wallace

Book Information1/1/0/US/VP/1987/1,300?  •  ?  •  ?

This is the first edition, hard-cover version of David Foster Wallace's debut, possibly the most scarce of all his first edition publication, with rumored 1,300 copies only. A soft copy version was simultaneously published under the "Contemporary American Fiction" series of unknown copies. And I got this book for the Strand Bookstore quite many years ago, evidence by the rather rigid clear protector, which Strand used (maybe still uses) for its rare books, affixed with a "Rare Book Room" sticker in gold. The latter part was for nostalgia, and the book serves as an objectivist totem of my times spent in New York City, in late 2000s, as a young Quantitative Associate (that's the actual title) working for a then bulge bracket after graduate school in the west coast. Collecting David Foster Wallace then seemed trendy, and intellectual, especially with "The Broom of the System" that deals with philosophy and language. The Wittgenstein influence, especially on philosophical questions as merely linguistic confusion, or not, certainly resonated with my younger self who was earning a philosophy degree part time. 
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03 February, 2021

Loot of the Month Feb 2021


This month, we have 6 interesting first editions, mostly Pulitzer related.

The catch is Saul Bellow's first edition of "The Victim". This was his second novel in 1947, after his debut, "Dangling Man" in 1944, and the last one Bellow published under Vanguard Press before moving on to Viking Press where his enjoyed literary success with "The Adventures of Augie March", "Herzog", and "Humboldt's Gift", amongst others. Bellow called "The Victim" and "Dangling Man" his PhD and MA respectively later in life, written to Flaubertian standards in his early literary apprenticeship. It is now difficult to secure these two titles' first edition in good dust jackets as most are plagued with severe chips and very sunned spine. I'm still searching for a great copy of "Dangling Man" at reasonable price to complete my Bellow collection. 

Below Bellow is E. Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News". I've already got a first edition copy but that one has a minor flaw on its front endpaper, so I'd been on a lookout for a replacement copy. "The Shipping News" was critically acclaimed, winning the Pulitzer in 1994 and the NBA in 1993, and established Proulx as a leading American female writer. Incidentally, I'm as, or more, charmed by Proulx's short stories.

Then there are two Paul Horgans. Horgan was twice Pulitzer winners in History, and made a single appearance for the Fiction prize as unofficial finalist in 1978 with "The Thin Mountain Air". The winner that year was James Alan MacPherson's "Elbow Room". "Memories of the Future" was an earlier Horgan first edition that was sold in a bundle, and it has a very nice dust jacket design.

We also have Ursula Le Guin's short stories collection, "Unlocking the Air" - described by the Jury as "a series of carefully crafted meditations" - that was a 1997 Pulitzer finalist alongside Joanna Scott's "The Manikin", and the winner, Martin Millhauser's "Martin Dressler". 

And finally, we have John O'Hara, a three times unofficial Pulitzer finalist who never won it, some say because of his overbearing personality. O'Hara finalist debut was "Ten North Frederick" but he lost out to Mackinlay Kantor's "Andersonville" for the 1956 prize. He was closest in 1959 with "From the Terrace", which was recommended as the strong first choice by the Jury, but the prize went to Robert Lewis Taylor's "The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters", the Jury's second choice and the Board's pick. O'Hara's final appearance was in 1969 with "And Other Stories", but only as the Jury's third choice, and the prize went to N. Scott Momaday's "House Made of Dawn".

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09 January, 2021

More Pulitzer Finalists


I took the opportunity to pick up some more Pulitzer finalists over the holiday season at very reasonable prices.

The oldest finalist is Peter Feibleman's "Strangers and Graves" published in 1966. Officially, Pulitzer Board only started publishing the 2 finalists from 1980, so any finalist prior to that was determined based on my judgement from reading the Jury reports published in the "Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction". For that year, "[a]mong other novels and short stories, there were perhaps a dozen or so seriously considered by the Judges...", including Feibleman's, John Barth's "Giles Goatboy", and Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49". Bernard Malamud's "The Fixer" took the prize.

For the 1999 Pulitzer, Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible" and Russell Banks' "Cloudsplitter" were both finalists to Michael Cunningham's "The Hours". This would be Kingsolver's sole Pulitzer appearance and banks' second and last: he was also finalist for the 1986's prize for "Continental Drift" with Anne Taylor's "The Accidental Tourist", and the winner was William Kennedy's "Ironweed".

Then there is Ha Jin's "War Trash", a 2005 finalist with fellow finalist, Ward Just's "An Unfinished Season" and winner, Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead". This was also Ha Jin's second and final Pulitzer appearance, having been also a finalist in 2000 with "Waiting", a National Book Award winner.

Finally, there is Richard Ford's "Let Me be Frank with You" that graced the 2015 Pulitzer with fellow finalists, Laila Lalami's "the Moor's Account" and Joyce Carol Oates' "Lovely, Dark, Deep", and winner, Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See". Incidentally, this was also Ford's second and final Pulitzer appearance, having won the prize in 1996 with "Independence Day"

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Some Repeated Purchases and a Couple of Bookers


My trusted laptop took a victory lap and then declared eternal solace. A scramble to extract all the pictures ensued and, whilst protracted and painful, they were recovered via dos-prompt. Imagine the laptop as Uranus and the pictures as the descendants he hid, and we have a partial modern re-make of Hesiod's Theogony. 

Here we have five prize winners, all (purportedly) signed. The top row of three I already have in unsigned first editions, but who could resist getting duplicates of reasonably priced signed ones. The bottom two are Bookers, and Kiran Desai's "The Inheritance of Loss", published in 2006, also won the National Book Critics Circle Award, beating out, amongst others, Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" that won the Pulitzer. The copy here is the UK first printing by Hamish Hamilton, and the US first printing by Atlantic Monthly Press has a light dust jacket.

Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up the Bodies" took 2012's Booker, and was the second of her famed Thomas Cromwell trilogy that started from "Wolf Hall", also a Booker, and ended with "The Mirror and the Light".

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28 June, 2020

Unboxing first editions - 8 Pulitzer fiction finalists

The Pulitzer Fiction prize is an annual literary award "for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life". The Fiction Jury, usually 3 members but sometimes 2, sieves out all entrants for shortlist finalists presented to the Pulitzer Board who determines the winner. Most years, the awards were given to one of the finalists. Some years, they went to titles that the Jury did not shortlist. Once in a while, no award was given. Official finalists were recognized once from 1980. Prior finalists were discerned from the Jury submissions published in Fischer and Fischer's "Chronicles of the Pulitzer Prizes for Fiction: "Discussions, Decisions and Documents". We unbox 8 first editions of Pulitzer fiction finalists for what to look out for in modern first edition collecting: 1969: Louis Auchincloss' "A World of Profit" 1970: John Cheever's "Bullet Park" 1971: Eudora Welty's "Losing Battles" 1974: John Cheever's "The World of Apples" 1978: Anne Tyler's "Earthly Possessions" and William Maxwell's "Over the River" 1979: James Houston's "Continental Drift" 2000: Annie Proulx's "Close Range: Wyoming Stories"
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25 April, 2020

Pultizer Finalists (mostly) from the 1980s and 1990s

Where better to find solace from the Covid-19 malice than some first printings, especially Pulitzer Finalists, as we await 2020's winner. So we have 10 books delivered this week and 7 were great, 1 flawed but forgivable and 2 just outright disappointing that I've decided to boycott the sellers.

Diane Johnson's Persian Nights has a beautiful dust jacket partly affected by mold-like spots that invaded the book as well. The seller did not declare these flaws in the description, but considering the price and book's age, it is a forgivable misdemeanor. McCann's Apeirogon and McBride's Deacon King Kong were purchased from a professional bookseller who runs a signed first edition program. Apeirogon was all fine, but Deacon King Kong is a signed 3rd printing. Not even a 2nd! Not that it matters because anything other than signed 1st printing is not collectible, and I wouldn't buy a signed copy just to read it but I guess that's what I'll do now. This is the first boycott. 

Thomas Berger's The Feud looks beautiful, which is often too good to be true. So I asked the eBay seller, who, in retrospect, sent me more strategically-taken pictures to affirm the book's condition. Except that he deliberately avoided all signs or mention that this is an ex-library book. That's heinous crime in book business. I wouldn't take an ex-library book for free as a matter of principle, and for bookseller to not disclose, and likely disguise, that his merchandise is one is disgusting. Shame on you, pulplife13 of eBay! I'll never buy another book from you, ever.

Fortunately, everything else's quite perfect with the usual imperfections from age. And the Pulitzer finalists are well worth pursuing. Sometimes, the Fiction Jury's most regarded book didn't end up winning for extraneous reasons. For example, the 1986 Fiction Jury - comprising N. Scott Momaday (who won 1969's Pulitzer for House Made of Dawn), Michiko Kakutani (who was an influential NYT book critic across the millennium), and Philip F O'Connor (who was a writer) - gave Russell Banks' Continental Drift the "very highest recommendation", but Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" took the prize. Despite a rather prodigious and well-regarded literary output, I'm not sure if Banks' work is still well read today, and might that not be the case if Continental Drift or Cloudsplitter, his other Pulitzer finalist in 1999, had won?

For now, I'm just mesmerized by Fred Marcellino's breath-taking jacket design for Persian Nights. He was a prolific illustrator - Berger's The Feud being his other work here - who often won the jacket design prize when American (National) Book Award gave it out for 4 years from 1980 to 1984.

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19 April, 2020

Dust Jacket Art - Bernard Malamud's The Magic Barrel

The Magic Barrel was Bernard Malamud's first short story collection. Interestingly, it was published in 1958 concurrently by Farrar, Straus and Cudahy and also Jewish Publication Society of America. This is the FSC first printing dust jacket, designed by renowned graphic illustrator, Milton Glaser who, I imagine, combined Chagall's palette with Matisse's form into delightful symbolism. The spine suffered from pretty severe sunning that rendered the letterings of the author, title, and publisher almost entirely faded. Still, a beautiful, unrestored dust jacket.

Bernard Malamud was an important American Jewish writer in the 50s and 60s who won two National Book Awards, including this title, and one Pulitzer for The Fixer, neither much sought after, or at least not to the same extent as The Natural, Malamud's debut novel about baseball.
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