Tuesday, January 15, 2008


First editions of our dreams

Another foot of snow fell yesterday, so I spent another day at home, reading. Actually re-reading - my first edition of Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin, appropriately enough. It's a terribly beautiful book, though the unfolding of the story is not perhaps as masterful as in his novels from the 1990s. I spent some time in my book room yesterday, during the blizzard, looking at my books and finally deciding upon this one, then I roared through three hundred pages in five hours or so, with breaks to shovel snow. (I also made blueberry muffins.)

I do read all my books, eventually, even the fine first editions, because I'm a careful reader (physically - I don't damage my books while I read), and I firmly believe that even collectible books should be read. Otherwise, why own them. Truly. Besides, I don't consider myself a collector per se, rather I amass books. I don't really work at collecting or completing, but there are several authors - Helprin being one - whose works I want in fine first editions if I can possibly ever find them or afford them. I think this has to do with honoring an author's work by keeping lovely copies on hand, and being careful with them, reading them, loving them. Luckily many of the books I'm interested in are still affordable, in some cases even cheap, because they are largely forgotten. Still, sometimes when I read about big-ticket book auctions, or see fine books at a bookfair or in a bookseller's catalogue, I feel myself wanting.

So here's a question: if you could have any first edition in the world, if price were no object, what would it be? (Feel free to list several, if you can't decide on just one.)

A few of mine, off the top of my head: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. I have the first trade edition (British, two copies). And In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. I have a second U.S. printing, and a first trade paperback, and the Easton Press leatherbound edition, but a true first edition, I'd love. Which naturally leads to Robert Byron's classic, The Road to Oxiana. (If you don't know why, I don't think I'll tell you. Go find out for yourself.) I have a reprint. I could also stand to own a first of Persuasion by Jane Austen, my favorite of her books. And a first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And Johnson's Dictionary. I'll stop there. Though I could continue. And I may continue as the week progresses and more books occur to me. Anyone else?

Here, here, well said on reading collectibles/firsts rather than letting them collect dust in hopes of turning a future profit. Life is too short.

We got about 4" inches of snow last night (looking out the window) near Denver. Another messy, long commute into work. Today it will likely be an hour and a half. Count yourself blessed.

The book fairy grants me one wish for any first? It will have to be Wallace Stegner's The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It was this book, in the early 90's, that crawled under my skin and turned a mid-western boy into a majestic western butte under big, cloudless skies and a scarlet sunset. (with the beautiful call of the western meadowlark on a nearby fence post)

I could not resist: the book fairy said I needed two choices and she would grant one. Then it would have to be a leather bound 1819 first edition in mint condition of The Sketchbook by Washington Irving. (there, now I feel better -and luckier)

I would like a first edition of Samual Johnsons and Noah Websters dictionaries. Also a first edition of Age of Reason by Thomas Paine.
I would also love a first edition of Persuasion(barring that,Mansfield Park)and a first ofThe World According to Garp,one of my all time favorites.
I couldn't even begin to ask for one. As soon as I think of one I think of more. The books that meant the most to me seem to be the books I read during my teens. Some of them would not be considered great literature but something in them changed something in me when I read them. Jane Austin - Pride and Prejudice (I know it is the one most cited by people but it is soooo much fun to read, so snarkey in some bits) and Sense and Sensability. Smokey by Will James. Moon of Three Rings by Andre Norton, the book worked for me on two fronts. First, it created a deep empathy with another species (even if it was an alien one) and second, a women living her own life was one of the two main characters. I read it when I was about 14 and have loved and coveted a first ever since. Gerald Durrell's memoirs of his family - Birds, Beasts, and Relatives and My Family and Other Animals. I was a young adult and it showed me that adult, non-fiction books could be wildly entertaining and informative. It opened up a whole new genre of reading to me. This has gone on long enough. I could jump from book to book for another 10 pages.
I've only ever kept one first edition for future profit, and I still have it after ten years or so, so I have yet to actually *realize* anything on it anyway. Yes, read your first editions!

What a literate group you are... Stegner, Irving, Johnson, Paine, more Austen, another Irving, James, even Gerald Durrell - "My Family and Other Animals" is terrific, Jodi, and I read it as a kid too, in fact it was a book that my family read aloud several times, and I still love it dearly (and in fact, I do have a first edition of it). I feel the same way about Bruce Chatwin's book "In Patagonia" for different reasons - this too was a book I first read in my teens, and it still remains a touchstone for me.

Now we all need to go to the next friends-of-the-library sale and keep our eyes peeled. These books are out there, somewhere, waiting for us to find them. This I believe.

The book fairy, goddess, whatever - has decreed that copies of all these books shall be found, somewhere, someday. In fine condition. SIGNED.
I think you just turned me on to Bruce Chatwin and In Patagonia. I had not explored that one yet. Sounds very cool! (no pun intended) I found a 1977 first in NF condition with VG jacket for $35in New York at www.betterbookgetter.com (with bonus newspaper clipping on Chatwin inside, with mylar cover)It's yours unless I dare to order it first. ;-)

Oh Steven, I could easily sit here and order books online all day long, if I had the inclination (and the money!), but I'd rather wait and spot a copy in the wild, so to speak. I've acquired most of my books that way. How about a lovely first edition (Jonathan Cape, London 1977) in a crisp jacket, at a library sale for two dollars? Is that possible? I've found books nearly as great in those exact circumstances, so perhaps...

I see a copy for sale online for $14,000 and change, signed by Chatwin to travel writer Jan Morris. Wow.
As soon as I hit 'Publish Comment' I knew that would be your response -and a wise one at that. A penniless person you might be if they were all purchased for more than basement prices.

Ah, matee! Book pirates we arrrr and book pirates we'll beee...as we make are livn ofen the seeea!

Hee hee. That really had me chuckling - I do feel like a book pirate, no doubt about it. Thanks for the lol, much-needed.

You should think about expanding that into a sea chantey. Melville would have approved. Maybe.
Ah! My new alias 'The Shantyman' I like that lassie!
My wife and I read almost everything that we buy - and leave no evidence that we were even there. I was taught well - by Alida Roochvarg - and when we donate to the local high school library, authors we no longer collect, we donate them as new as that's the condition they're in.

You ask if the book genie would allow us certain titles which would we select?

First would be Alan Paton's "Too Late the Phalarope" which concludes his work begun in "Cry, the Beloved Country; Then the first three books I don't have by the late John Gardner (although I have read them) and also the first three works of E.L. Doctorow. The works of Washington Irving and Mark Twain would be others I would select.

The book genie would go broke - as my wish list is so long - but collecting is in my blood and we love reading and collecting author's first mysteries and thrillers, and contemporary fantasy series (Jordan, Goodkind, Erikson, among others).

Our library is currently in excess of 2600 volumes, having been pared down over the years through moves (expensive moving books) from one city to the next).

And we have most still out on shelves for guests to peruse. We recommend (but rarely loan out) author's works and find that promoting one's library leads to others wanting to expand their reading interests.

I know this has strayed from the subject, but.....
Mikane, never fear, you can't stray too far from the subject here, as long as that subject involves books somehow... I hope you stumble across your Paton and Gardner firsts at the Goodwill for two dollars each (perfect condition, with jackets).

You should write a working-in-a-bookshop memoir about A.R. I'd read it...
"I don't consider myself a collector per se, rather I amass books."

Oh I so agree, fellow amass-er!
I love your blog, I love thinking of you all cozy in your wonderful bookstore, even when it's not that busy and you are painting and ruminating. Spring will be here soon!

Best regards!
Ah, what a fun question! I would dearly love to own the first of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, and EAST OF EDEN by Steinbeck. Those were a couple of the first serious books I read that affected me deeply. I read To Kill three times in a row at age 10, and East of Eden twice in a row at 14. I have re-read them several times since, and plan to read them a few more times. I agree with READING our treasures. Fine books deserved to be cherished, and touched.
Hi Maureen, thanks for the reminder that spring is coming... meanwhile, cozy up to the books to keep warm!

Thanks, anon, great comment - I wish I had read both of those books at age 14, but I think I was heavily into Tom Robbins instead. Sigh. Though I was reading Shakespeare, too. So there you go.
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