• Streetcar and Salesman

  • Gatsby Gala

  • Pulitzer Row

  • McCarthy's Poetic Violence

  • Pynchonian Paranoia

  • The Kid and the Judge

  • Holly Tiffany

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 disclosed, 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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01 December, 2019

Trust Exercise

BY Susan Choi
Book Information1/1/0/US/HH/2019/?  •  242x161x24  •  442+18  •  NBA'19

Susan Choi's "Trust Exercise" won 2019's National Book Award, beating finalists Kali Fajardo-Anstine's "Sabrina and Corina", Marlon James' "Black Leopard, Red Wolf", Laila Lalami's "The Other Americans", and Julia Phillips' "Disappearing Earth". I haven't had the chance to read the book, but I read, continually, Choi's better half's restaurant reviews on the Times. 

I believe what I have is the first printing. Unfortunately I don't have information of the first printing publication size, but based on the recent eBay activities, it is not at all difficult to get a great copy at a decent price. Interestingly, the first printing copies I've seen all seem to suffer from offset binding. Consequently, the spine's letterings are pulled towards the right, and the front board is slightly longer than the back board. See the pictures below.
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Loot of the Month - Nov 2019

This month's purchase mainly comprised acclaimed publications this year, all first printing, some signed,  along with a 98 years old veteran, Booth Tarkington's "Alice Adams", likely a 3rd edition.

Amongst the books are 2019 National Book Award winner, Susan Choi's "Trust Exercise", and finalist, Laila Lalami's "The Other Americans". Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous" was longlisted for NBA as well. Then there are three acclaimed novels: Ben Lerner's "The Topeka School", Ann Pachett's "The Dutch House" and Namwali Serpell's "The Old Drift". One of these books must surely be on the upcoming NBCCA and Pulitzer.

Finally, there's Booth Tarkington's "Alice Adams", published in 1921 by Doubleday. The book came with a very nice dust jacket that says 3rd edition on the spine. The book does not have the usual transposed error of the first printing, but reflects 1921 as the printing year on the title page. Based on my research, I believe this to be the 3rd edition published on the same year as the true first edition. Third editions are generally worth very little, but the dust jacket is so pretty, and the lot, along with two other Tarkington's books, was selling at $50, and I just couldn't resist. 
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10 November, 2019

The Catcher in The Rye

BY JD Salinger
Book Information1/1/0/US/LB/1951/?  •  202x142x30  •  430 (with dj) 

The first post since a long time, and what a great way to return with the first edition, first printing of JD Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye"! Salinger's first and only novel - the other three publications were short story collections - placed Holden Caulfield in the rarified realm of literary icons as Jay Gatsby and Huckleberry Finn. The title is a reference to Robert Burn's sexually-themed poem, "Comin' Thro' the Rye", that Caulfield initially misinterpreted as referring to a guardian of callow innocence. 

This book is one of the few indisputable American classics that never won an important literary prize. It did make the list of ten non-winning NBA finalists in the year when James Jones' "From Here to Eternity" took the prize. Herman Wouk won the Pulitzer with "The Caine Mutiny", and whilst Salinger did not make the shortlist, the book did receive an honorable mention from one of the two juries. How the tides turned.

Shields and Salerno's "Salinger" detailed some well known facts about the book's publishing history, including its rejections first by The New Yorker and then by Harcourt, Brace despite Robert Giroux desire to publish it (he was overruled by the boss, Eugene Reynal. Salinger took the book to Little, Brown, who published it on July 16, 1951 and the rest was history. The book must have sold well for it was the Book-of-the-Month Club's midsummer selection, and was reprinted 11 times in the same year (five times in July, thrice in August and twice in September). Lesser known were the facts that Salinger wrote the flap copy - the short narrative of the book on the front flap - and that Salinger expressly requested Little, Brown to remove his portrait on the back of the dust jacket after the third printing. 

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06 August, 2019

Farewell, Toni Morrison


"Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things
To yield with a grace to reason
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season"
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19 May, 2019

Loot of the Month - May 2019


Three first editions this month. The 2019 Pulitzer was announced in April, and Richard Ford's Overstory won the fiction prize. I've been looking out for a copy but have decided to wait and see for now. So Pulitzers get obscenely cheap over the years, and I'm not sure about Overstory, or 2018's winner Less for that matter.

Chris Rush's The Light Years is a non-fiction selected by the A Capella First Edition club. I don't collect non-fiction first edition, but am willing to tolerate the odd few astrays from a subscription book club, but will bow out if the selection gets annoying. This is not a judgement on the book, which I'm sure is very good (an assumption since I haven't read it). It is more of an indictment against the book club.

Then there is Neil Gaiman's American Gods. This is a deliberate deviation from my literary collection, but when a copy of the limited signed first edition came up at auction, I couldn't help snap up this acclaimed fantasy novel. Gaiman is a British, so the question of which is the true first edition - the UK release by Headline, or US one by William Morrow - comes relevant. I chose to go with the US first edition. After all, it is American Gods. There is a separate slipcased deluxe limited signed edition issued, aka the author's preferred text with 12,000 additional words, by Hill Point in 2003 that should be distinguished from the true first edition.

Finally, a lamentable delight, which is the first edition of Flannery O'Connor's 1972 Complete Stories. O'Connor passed away in 1964, and this posthumous publication won the National Book Award for its gifted author who was sort of overlooked in her lifetime. I bought this from an eBay auction, on which the seller claimed that the book was Near Fine with a sunned spine as the only major problem. The auction was not well received, received 3 bids in total, and I got the book for $27.51, a bargain for 555 pages of crafted stories. Except that when the book arrived, there is a deep closed tear at the joint of the back flap that the seller conveniently omitted in the description and skillfully avoided in the 5 pictures provided. Sure, the book is still a bargain regardless, except that this is not the point for a book collector. I'm perfectly happy to pay a premium for pristine copy of a first edition, and expects book sellers to be accurate in their description. The fact that the price is so low is fortuitous and in no way absolves the seller's mispresentation, whether deliberate or negligent. This is the collector's lament. It is never about refunds. I expressed by displeasure with a bad rating for the seller on eBay.
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