Rabbit, Run

BY John Updike
Book Information1/1/0/US/AF/1960/c.10,000  •  210x145x28  •  477 

John Updike was a prolific writer, America's last true man of letter of major style and beautifully-rendered prose, who wrote enduring tales of the American small town middle class. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, his one such creation, now ranks amongst the most important American literary characters like Ishmael, Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, and Nat Zuckerman. Tracing the life of Rabbit Angstrom from his twenties through death, the Rabbit tetralogy, Updike's magnum opus, won two Pulitzers, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a National Book Award, solidifying its claim as a great American novel. The protagonist's name - Rabbit Angstrom - alludes to timidity, a proclivity for flight mentality, an obsession for sex, and a search for the purpose of life in an existentialist's stream of angst (thus "Angstrom").

"Rabbit, Run", the first of the tetralogy published in 1960 by Alfred Knopf, finds Rabbit Angstrom in his twenties. A former high school basketball star, Rabbit is now stuck in a dead-end job and married to Janice, who is pregnant with their second child. Jaded and unhappy with his mundane life style and a marriage that he perceives as corrupt, Rabbit runs away but is lost. He turns to his high school basketball coach who introduces him to Ruth, with whom Rabbit has an affair and eventually moves in with. When Janice gives birth, Rabbit tries to reconcile with her but messes it up when he forces her to have sex despite her postnatal condition. Rabbit leaves the house again when his sexual advance is defeated, and Janice, distraught, accidentally drowns the new born. At the funeral, Rabbit runs away again because he cannot deal with the guilt and pressure. He finds Ruth pregnant with his child but refuses to divorce Janice and abandons Ruth instead. The book ends with Rabbit running.

"Rabbit, Run" is the most sought-after first edition of the tetralogy despite winning no award due to its small print size, generally agreed to be around 10,000 copies. The 1961 Pulitzer jury commented that "William Styron's long-awaited Set This House on Fire and John Updike's Rabbit, Run both lavished major talents on minor themes...", and the award went to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird".

Finally, a bit on the design of the dust jacket. Graphics of disk and color strips are consistently used across the tetralogy's dust jackets but, unfortunately, these designs were neither attributed nor explained. The general use of contrasting color strips could be attributed to the optical art form that was popular in the 1960s. As for the disk, it is possibly a subliminal reference to the disks Rabbit dreamt and understood to be the sun and the moon representing the cycle of life and death. However, these are merely speculations and it'll be nice to know the creator(s) and rationale(s) behind the designs.

This is the first edition first printing with the original dust jacket that is unclipped, reflecting the correct price of $4.00. The first state dust jacket is identified by the 16-line text on the front flap. Later dust jackets have 24-line text by Richard Gilman. The book is bound in grey-blue board with green clothed board at spine, has silver  and gilt lettering, and has grey-blue topstain. The copyright page should state "First Edition". Interestingly, it seems that there are three variants of the dust jackets (see last three pictures), each with a different color combination, with no clear precedence.

This book is not very rare and a VG+ copy can be purchased from eBay or Abebooks from $500 onwards. This is a VG copy with a VG+ dust jacket that suffers from general scuff, stains, closed tears, sunned spine and crease on front flap, and a VG book that is bumped on the top right corner, causing some damage to the front board due to the bookseller's sloppy packaging. Some lazy booksellers think that a partial refund can make up for the damaged book; they should be boycotted out of business. It is worth noting that the dust jacket was printed on very thin paper without protective veneer, and is therefore very prone to rubbing, tears, and, especially, fading spine due to sunning.

There is no official signed first edition for "Rabbit, Run" and a first edition copy that is was flat signed by Updike typically goes for $1,000 and above. Both Franklin and Easton Press published separate limited signed editions of this title that can be gotten around $50-$100. Some booksellers (see eBay seller rare-book-cellar for example)  misleadingly, and hopefully inadvertently, lists these Franklin/Easton editions as first editions; they are not.

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