• Streetcar and Salesman

  • Gatsby Gala

  • Pulitzer Row

  • McCarthy's Poetic Violence

  • Pynchonian Paranoia

  • The Kid and the Judge

  • Holly Tiffany

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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09 April, 2019

Loot of the Month April 2019

This month's loot comprises the usual signed first edition club selections: Powell Indiespensable's Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, and A Capella's Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken.

And then there are the two British first editions and Booker prize winners. The first is Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings that was the 2015 Booker, beating Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread, Tom McCarthy's Satin Island, Chigozie Obioma's The Fishermen, and Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways. It was also a National Book Critics' Circle Award (NBCCA) finalist, losing to Marilynne Robinson's Lila. The second is Anna Burns' Milkman, the critically acclaimed novel of 2018 that won both the Booker and NBCCA.

The great things about these books are that they are signed, and that the authors also inscribed the first or last phrases of their respective work. Pretty cool. Only let down is Seven Killings' price-clipped dust jacket.    
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04 April, 2019

1938 Pulitzer Winner and Finalists

2019's Pulitzer winners will be announced in just over a week. As a build-up, we have the first editions of the 1938 Pulitzer Fiction winner and finalists.

The winner is John P. Marquand's "The Late George Apley". Marquand is pretty much forgotten today, and his books are rarely, if ever, seen in today's bookstores. But in his days, Marquand was a best-selling author, of formulaic and facile stories like the "Mr Moto" series, and of literary novels like Apley, who graced the covers of Life and Times magazine, and received a honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Harvard. Apley is a satirical novel written in epistolary form, ostensibly to eulogized a Bostonian scion but really to poke fun at anachronistic values and traits. The Pulitzer juries, who unanimously recommended this book for the prize, wrote that it highlighted "those traits of the subject's character which a contemporary would have admired but which appear in a different light to a later generation". Upton Sinclair said that "it is very subtle and clever, and I am not sure that Boston will get it". I was lucky to have gotten a copy of this book with NF dust jacket, covering the age.

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19 March, 2019

Loot of the month March 2019

The Loot of the Week series is now renamed Loot of the Month to better reflect the purchase frequency. I'll like to think of this as a sort of maturity in my collection program: the books worth adding to the program diminishes was the collection size increases, and the pernicious inclination to do impulsive purchase mellows.

This month, we have 4 books. Tessa Hadley's "Late in the Day" is Powell's 78 Indiespensable selection, and "The Snakes"is a free ARC that came along with it. I also subscribed to a new signed first edition club with A Cappella Books, and the first book I received is Marlon James' "Black Leopard, Red Wolf", the first of his planned trilogy that earned a rather interesting review from Michiko Kakutani. The book is signed, and the store throws in an autographed photo of the author as well.

Then there are two beautiful first editions of Saul Bellow's later work, both in paperbacks. I'm a fan of Bellow, and these books were offered at such ridiculously low prices that I just had to buy them. I also bought an exciting Pulitzer winner from the recently concluded Heritage auction, and am still waiting for its arrival. Soon.
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18 February, 2019

Signed Cormac McCarthys at March 2019 Heritage Auction

Cormac McCarthy is a regular feature at Heritage’s rare book auctions, the next one happening in March 2019.

There’ll almost always be at least one Blood Meridian, sometimes two or three, some (unfortunately) remaindered and some (desirably) signed.

Suttree and The Orchard Keeper also make healthy appearances, as do Child of Son and Outer Dark, if slightly less frequently.

All the Pretty Horses appears less often because circulation is high, and one can pick up a very good copy at eBay on very reasonable budget. But a signed copy is considerably rarer, and commands a significant premium. This time, there are two signed Horses, one standalone that is quite lovely, and one as a signed trilogy series. The standalone signed copy sold for $1,500. See below.

But wait, there’s more: an up-to-now rarely-seen signed copy of The Road. (This lot is now withdrawn without any explanation).

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20 January, 2019

Some Booker Prize Loots

I'm still in the business of collecting first editions despite, clearly, a visibly decline in my posts attributable to a hectic schedule and a laptop with increasingly erratic keyboard. 

Late last year, I chanced upon an eBay seller with some first edition Bookers. While my collection is largely American, I'm also actively looking for Bookers mainly to track and be reminded of the performance of preeminent prize winners over time. It seems that most - especially early accolades in the prize's infant and adolescent years - don't do that well and are subjected to severe time decay that sees them relegated to the public's peripheral memory, rarely, if ever, studied by academics to any meaningful depth.

But enough of those ramblings. Let's get to the books. First up is Paul Scott's "Staying On", published by Heinemann in 1977 when it won the Booker that included the finalists Paul Bailey's "Peter Smart's Confessions", Caroline Blackwood's "Great Granny Webster", Jennifer Johnston's "Shadows on our Skin", Penelope Lively's "The Road to Lichfield", and Barbara Pym's "Quartet in Autumn". Scott is probably better remembered today for his Raj Quartet, and even that's likely limited to undergraduates specializing in post-colonial literature. 

Next up is Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac (not in the picture above; due to year-end holidays, the books arrived separately, and Brookner was the last). Hotel du Lac was the surprised, and much criticized, 1984 Booker, having pipped out hot favorite and critically acclaimed Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard. Brookner was apologetic of the win and remarked that it might have been better if Empire won.

Lastly, there is Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. Carey won his first Booker in 1988 with Oscar and Lucinda, and this is his second Booker awarded in 2001. The true first edition for this title is published in Australia by The University of Queensland Press in 2000 in hardcover without dust jacket, and with a Carey-signed card stating "This hardcover edition is from the first Australian print run, published on 14 October 2000".

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12 November, 2018

1950 National Book Award - Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm

BY Nelson Algren
Book Information1/1/1/US/DD/1949/c.10,000  •  219x145x33  •  ?  •  NBA'50 

Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm won the first National Book Award ("NBA") in 1950. Hemingway, who regarded Algren as one of the two best American authors of his days, the other being Faulkner, provided a blurb for the book: "this is a man writing and you should not read if you cannot take a punch... Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful... Mr. Algren, boy, are you good." Hemingway seemed suitably impressed with the book, but the publisher wasn't impressed by the quotation and it was not used for the book promotion.

By Algren's own admission, Golden Arm was the only book he wrote that sold. But that was no matter because the then-booming publishing industry was flush with cash, and he was paid $60 per week for two years to write a war novel that ended up as the Golden Arm. The book was published in 1949 to fortuitous timing as the "book industry announced... plans for honoring annually the most distinguished volumes of fiction... produced by Americans..." (see New York Times archives below). As it turned out, the Golden Arm would be the inaugural NBA fiction winner, confirming Algren's "particular talent in bringing new dimensions of irony and compassion to realistic fiction." In truth, had it not been this award, Algren would have been totally forgotten in the literary waste land. That's not a normative judgment on the merits of his work. Rather, it is a positivist observation on the current state of being: Algren's works are neither read, assigned, or researched in any meaningful measure today, and his legacy distilled into a succinct footnote of NBA history. 

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05 November, 2018

National Book Award - Wright Morris, Forgotten Writer of the Great Plains

I’m always intrigued by the question of how awards model literary legacy.

Consider the counterfactual that Hemingway didn’t win the Nobel literature prize but Thornton Wilder did. Would The Bridge of San Luis Rey and The Eighth Day then replace, or at least rank equal, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms as modern literary canons? After all, Hemingway’s Men Without Women, published in 1927, wasn’t even considered as a shortlist for the Pulitzer that went to San Luis Rey. Neither was The Sun Also Rises, published the year prior and perhaps Hemingway’s best work, considered meritorious enough by the Pulitzer Committee to be on its shortlist.

Or had John O’Hara gotten the 1959 Pulitzer nod for From the Terrace, which the jury committee took “both pride and pleasure in strongly recommending” as its first choice (the prize went to Robert Lewis Taylor’s The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, the jury’s second choice), might O’Hara’s Ten North Frederick be more widely-prescribed as high school reading?

No award-bestowing committee is faultless, and each of them had been, is, and will be circumscribed by the limits of its own strategic agenda and tactical proclivity. But as far as legacy-building is concern, awards always help. Case in point: Faulkner, who, until his Nobel prize in 1949, was neither widely read nor critically acclaimed as far as awards were concerned. It is trite to say that the Nobel prize helped launched Faulkner’s legacy, and helped earned him the Pulitzers and National Book Awards (“NBA”) for lesser work.

So with just over a week into this year’s NBA announcement, I ran statistics on its past winners and finalists since 1950 based on the information provided on the relevant Wikipedia page. Here are some interesting facts:
  • Saul Bellow had the highest win count: he won thrice with The Adventure of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr Sammler's Planet, and was shortlisted thrice more
  • John Updike was shortlisted on 8 occasions, the current NBA record, but won only twice withRabbit is Rich and The Centaur
  • Vladimir Nabokov was the biggest victim: he was shortlisted 7 times, including in 1959 with his most famous work, Lolita, but had never won the NBA
  • Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates were both on the list 6 times; Roth got the nod twice with Gooodbye, Columbus, his debut, and Sabbath's Theatre. Oates won just once with Them
8 writers won the NBA fiction prize twice, most recent of which is Jesmyn Ward. Other include big names like Cheever, Faulkner, Gaddis, Malamud, Roth and Updike, all of whom are recongizable by their last names. The 8th double-winner is Morris. Doesn’t ring a bell? How about Wright Morris?

If Wright Morris is not on your literary radar, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. He is simply not that well-read today, although in the heydays he was compared to Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner and Willa Cather. The problem lies with the fact that he is a writer of the great plains, and not many people are interested in what happens in Nebraska. In the end, Morris “took literature more seriously than it took him”.

Morris was shortlisted for NBA on 5 occasions, winning two of them, first in 1957 with The Field of Vision and then in 1981 with Plains Song: For Female Voices. His first NBA shortlist was in 1955 with The Huge Season (won by Faulkner’s A Fable). He was also shortlisted in 1958 for Love Among the Cannibals (won by Cheever’s The Wapshot Chronicle), and in 1961 for Ceremony in Lone Tree (won by Conrad Richter’s The Waters of Kronos). In addition, The Deep Sleep published in 1953 was also shortlisted by a Pulitzer jury. Taken together, Morris had a very fecund decade or so in the 1950s by award measure.

But unlike McCarthy, whose earlier work – also centered around similar vast landscape like the Appalachian and the Great West – were subsequently popularized by All the Pretty Horses’ NBA award, Morris’ oeuvre was hardly, if ever, roused by his NBA success. Maybe if he had also won a Pulitzer, that might have helped. Or maybe if the Great Plains, somehow, emerged as the economic or intellectual epicentre someday.

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