27 February 2008

Salman Rushdie. Midnight's Children, 1981.

Salman Rushdie. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. Jonathan Cape, London, 1981.

Current Selling Prices
$1500-$3500 /£800-£1800

Winner of the Booker Prize in 1981 and awarded "The Booker of Bookers" in 1993 for the best Booker Prize winning novel in the first twenty five years of the award. The work is regarded by many critics and readers as the great classic of the late twentieth century. Another critic (Jonathan Bate) quoted in a previous entry on Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude wrote: 'Let us hope that [it] will not generate one hundred years of overwritten, overlong, overrated novels. Enough that it has already inspired such excrescences as Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.' With a discernible backlash against magic realism, with which Rushdie is forever associated, the book is no longer rated as highly as it was - except by earnest book dealers trying to shift it. As a great story teller he will always be collected and many people who were underwhelmed by Midnight's Children were delighted by 'Haroun'--but as a prose stylist he is not seen to be in the class of Nabokov or Borges, and falls a long way short of his ingenious contemporary Martin Amis. It is not the most difficult Booker to find, that honour belongs to Middleton's 'Holiday'. However it is possibly the most valuable - a fine copy in jacket (the spine of which tends to fade) can command over £1000 especially if signed.

There are some dealers charging considerably more than this for copies signed with pre Fatwa signatures--one asking a 'dream on' £5K says of his: '...the signature is nothing like the (understandable) scrawl you get today, but strikingly full, long and beautiful and really different from anything we have seen over the years.' It is true that signed Rushdie books in this century are very common and the signature is hasty, if not perfunctory. The king of the 'get lost' signature is old rocker Lou Reed--on some of his books it looks pretty much like two straight lines and would shame a GP -it goes something like this '___ ____'. They are still quite saleable, mainly because he is unapproachable and unpleasant and perhaps because he is one of the supreme songwriters.

The cheapest signed Lou out there is 'Pass Thru Fire : The Collected Lyrics' at $150. You can buy a signed Rushdie--of his rock novel 'Ground Beneath her Feet' for as little as $15. Of this book the 'India Star' critic C. J. S. Wallia wrote '...with its 575 tiresome pages.. it spreads ample new ground beneath his feet to trod while he assails the reader with massive verbiage straining to be comic. In this muddled melodramatic novel, Rushdie comes off as a wannabe Mel Brooks of contemporary literature -- an aspiration he can't achieve for he lacks the wit.' Wallia proposes an exclusive new club for those who have got past 17 of 'Satanic Verses.' He says of Western critics-'...reviewers have, typically, hesitated to criticize Rushdie, ascribing instead their difficulties in understanding his previous works to their unfamiliarity with his Indian settings and contexts...'

The US edition of 'Midnight's Children' actually precedes the London edition- due to a printers strike in the UK the Cape editions were bound from US sheets--however the UK ed is worth more than the American and is harder to find, being issued in a smaller edition. A case of 'Follow the Flag.'

VALUE? The highest record for any Rushdie book is the £1800 paid in 2001 for a limited edition 'Satanic Verses- --one of 12 copies , signed and bound in full morocco leather. This is a book that will rise ineluctably, mostly because of the furore around the book. An interesting inscribed copy of 'Midnight's Children' surfaced in 2003 and made £1000. The cataloguer notes that Rushdie had worked as a freelance copywriter for the advertising agency Charles Barker; one of the accounts that he handled was that of the financial service group M&G, in the course of which he got to know a Roger Jennings who was working for the company. Rushdie would often discuss Midnight's Children (which he was then writing) with Jennings, and promised him an inscribed copy, once it was published.

The highest auction record for 'Midnight's Children' is £1100 inc premium paid in 2004 for a (presumably fine/fine) copy signed by the author on the title page. This year at Bonham's L.A. a signed copy in near fine jacket made $1440. In the short term the prices of his books have been falling off slightly or , at best, they seem to be bumping along with a lot of auction lots being 'bought in' - indicating over-enthusiastic sellers and apathetic, indifferent buyers. However it is likely that this and his more difficult books will rise in value. Possibly something to do with India becoming richer, his large and enthusiastic 'chattering class' fanbase and the great fame and notoriety (see left) of Salman himself and finally the difficult of finding limpid copies. SEE COMMENTS BELOW - palpable signs of a bull market in the book.

It is possible that he will get a Nobel prize to add to his knighthood. Nobel Prizes, like movies, are always supposed to turbo-charge prices but it seldom happens. When the great playwright, poet and politico Harold Pinter won the Nobel we sold a few signed editions that had been kicking around for years - but so far it has done little for Doris Lessing values. Outlook? Good, if you can wait.

26 February 2008

Franz Kafka. The Trial, 1925-1937.

“Someone must have slandered Joseph K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

Franz Kafka. THE TRIAL. Victor Gollancz, London, 1937.

Franz Kafka. THE TRIAL. Knopf, New York, 1937.

Franz Kafka. DER PROZESS. Verlag Die Schmiede, Berlin 1925.

Current Selling Prices
$500-$13000 /£250-£6500

Major world classic. When people use the word 'Kafkaesque' they are referring to a kind of powerlessnes in the face of a faceless bureaucracy, with vague suggestions of impending doom- marked by a 'senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity' (Wikiman)-as in a 'Kafkaesque nightmare' or as indeed in Kafka's posthumously published masterpiece 'The Trial' ('Der Prozess.') Everybody can identify with his chilling tale- with its surreal ending and dark humour. 'He sounds like my kind of guy!" said Bill Gates on being told his corporate trials (Microsoft's monopoly) were like the ordeals of Joseph K. Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie 'Brazil' is all Kafka--starting with a Joseph K type arrest. The trial of Stephen Ward, the hounding of the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan for accusing Blair of 'sexing up' the evidence on weapons of mass destruction, the whole phenomenom of 'extraordinary rendition' and 'Gitmo' itself are all 'Kafkaesque.'

Nabokov, sometimes grudging in his praise of other writers, described Kafka as "the greatest German writer of our time. Such poets as Rilke or such novelists as Thomas Mann are dwarfs or plaster saints in comparison to him." W.G. Sebald, in an interesting essay on Kafka's Jewishness (and also his moviegoing habits) states that there are more books about Kafka than any other writer. He is reviewing Hans Zischler's 'Kafka Goes to the Movies'--an interesting piece of forensic Kafka scholarship by the great Wim Wenders ('Kings of the Road') Godard, Chabrol and Spielberg actor. Sebalds's claim is possibly a Germanocentric exaggeration--Kafka must surely be in the top ten, but as a bookseller I have seen more books on Shakespeare, probably more on Joyce. Others in the top ten would be Proust, Byron, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Rilke, Pound, Eliot and maybe the beloved Samuel Beckett.

VALUE? 14 copies of the Schmiede 1925 German first have appeared in terrestrial auctions in the last 2 years making between $400 and $13200. Obviously the book is not scarce but it is hard to find in 'fresh' condition--a pretty decent copy made $1800 in Germany 2006 and at Christie's New York last year $13200 was paid for a copy described thus:
'8vo. Original cloth and printed paper label; original pictorial dust jacket (very minor chipping to ends of spine panel, minor splitting to edges of panel).FIRST EDITION, A FINE COPY of Kafka's unfinished masterpiece, edited by Max Brod and published posthumously. In the original dust jacket designed by Georg Salter.'

The British 1937 edition, first translated from the German by Willa & Edwin Muir, has a five page epilogue by Max Brod. It is scarce in the jacket and less so without. Copies can be found for about £200 and 10 times that or more for examples in the yellow Gollancz jacket. The U.S. Knopf edition seems to go for $500 to $1000 in jacket depending on condition and is also translated by the Muirs--it is easier to find and is less desired than the London edition. First editions are sometimes bound up in leather and sold as fine bindings, possibly to insensitive lawyers. The book is sometimes criticised by lawyers for being poorly researched in the legal department; however Kafka is not John Grisham. Outlook? Kafka is steadily on the rise, his work is just as timely now as 90 years ago + the books are becoming hard to find, especially 'The Castle', "The Trial' and to a lesser extent 'Metamorphosis.'

A while back on a house call in Norwich I came across yet another critical work on Kafka. The seller told me it was by her ex-husband and that, in the course of writing it, he had tracked down a clutch of Kafka letters. I asked where they were (that old dealer instinct!). The writer had worked out that the daughter of an old love of Kafka's (presumably Dora Diamant) was living in Yorkshire(?) and he had visited her and she had given the letters to him. He had, after his researches, donated them to his college library--generous acts all round as a one page letter to an actor (oddly enough mentioning Dora) sits on ABE now at £17K. It says:-
"Hardt, vielen Dank für das Telegramm; 'im Geistersaal' lesen Sie, heisst es dort, nicht ganz ohne Verstand. Nun so fern ich von Berlin auch bin, so fern doch nicht, dass ich von den Vorträgen nicht auch ohne Telegramm gewusst hätte, nur leider, nur leider, ich kann nicht kommen. Nicht nur, weil ich heute nachmittag übersiedelt bin mit dem ganzen Krimskrams der mächtigen Wirtschaft, die ich führe (die Übersiedlung war noch einfach genug dank der Hilfe der freundlichen Überbringerin dieses Briefes Frl. Recha Fertig) sondern vor allem deshalb weil ich krank bin, fiebrig und die ganzen Berliner 4 Monate abends nicht aus dem Hause war. Aber könnte ich Sie hier in Zehlendorf einmal sehn nach so langer Zeit? Zum morgigen Abend kommt ein Frl. Dora Diamant, um diese Möglichkeit mit Ihnen zu besprechen. Leben Sie wohl und Segen über Ihren Abend. K."
Wikipedia states that all Dora Diamant's letters were seized by the Gestapo in 1933, however, unless this tale is apocryphal, it appears some got away and also never got into the hands of dealers either.

MANUSCRIPTS The manuscript of 'The Trial' sold for $2 million in 1988, which adjusted for inflation is higher than the recent 7 page Potter MS and well in advance of the $2.4 million paid for the Kerouac 'On the Road' scroll sold by Christies in 2005. "I would place Kerouac in the same league as Kafka, Joyce and Proust, and we have sold manuscripts of all of those authors for substantial sums," said Chris Coover, senior specialist in manuscripts at Christie's. Auctions are a world where price confers status --so Kafka, Proust and Joyce are lumped in with a vastly lesser writer like Kerouac. Kerouac is now rated as a world shattering genius because a guy possessed of a football stadium forked over a couple of million dollars. Likewise a laughably bad painter like Bouguereau is rated higher than, say, Max Beckman, Chritian Schaad, Simeon Solomon or Nicholas de Stael because a thick movie star (Stallone) paid two million dollars for one of his kitsch pix of a flock of flying nudes. I prefer the flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker. I append a Bouguereau image below. In New York there is a movement afoot to get him known as the greatest painter who has ever lived (and Ron Paul will be the next president!)

21 February 2008

Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. Harper & Row, New York and Evanston, & Jonathan Cape, London: 1970.

Current Selling Prices
$450-$2000 /£220-£1000

This book has sold over 36 million copies. An epic tale, a long narrative fiction said to metaphorically encompass the history of Marquez's native Colombia even the whole of Latin America. It is considered García Márquez's masterpiece -the New York Times described it as "the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." As I recall the same sort of thing was said about 'Trainspotting' - 'the best book ever written by man or woman.' The novel is the history of the founding, development, and death of a human settlement, Macondo (said to be based on GGM's home town Aracataca) and of the most important family in that town, the Buendias.

A great backpacker classic constantly recommended and passed around. Often cited as the greatest of all Latin American novels but forever associated with the now slightly tired Magic Realist school of writing, Marquez (known to his devotees as 'Gabo') and his masterpiece are beginning to be re-evaluated. The Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolano denounced him as a kind of cultivated sellout who was “thrilled to know so many presidents and archbishops" and added that most Nobel Prize winners were 'jerks'. He also famously declared that magic realism 'stinks.' Sadly Bolano left the planet in 2003 aged 50; his great spirit and courage are much missed.

VALUE? You want the American edition, for some reason (probably to do with Americans having more money) it sells for at least twice the price of the London printing. You also want the first state of the U.S. edition to get over $1500. This is generally recognized to be an exclamation point / mark at the end of the first paragraph on the front flap--after the word 'America'. There are copies on ABE as high as $3000 and no fine copies for less than $2000. In auction it has made as much as $3000 (2002) in less than fine first state jacket, 2006/2007 results however see it making $1500 or so, possibly indicative of a softening of prices.

The British edition (above) unless immaculate, faultless and pristine struggles towards £200. A part time UK dealer I knew in the 90s sent his copy to Marquez asking for a signature and the book came back a few months later with a fullsome signature. Even then it was a £1000 book signed, now possibly double or more. By the way sending books to authors for signing is something of a gamble - Thomas Hardy used to keep all the books sent to him neatly shelved in a spare room. The true first 'Cien Anos de Soledad (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1967) makes about $3000. A fragile book, although 5000 were printed most were 'read to ruin'--signed copies can be seen on the web at $10000, although auction records only show a high of $3000 for a signed Buenos Aires first--condition may have had something to do with it ('old tape stains, a few creases, soiling, faint writing impressions to covers, front cover fragile with front joint splitting at bottom, some of spine lettering retouched...')

Outlook? Uncertain, possibly choppy - the book may be the Don Quixote of the future and make magic sums of money or it may have hit a ceilling. The book has pride of place in the mostly predictable selection '1001 Books You Must Read Before You Expire...' (Waterstones' bible--see below) and has been on many other 'greatest ever' lists. There are boxloads of U.S. firsts out there for sale right now and critics are starting to put the boot in to Magic Realism and even Gabo himself. Jonathan Bate in a Sunday Telegraph series ”Which are the most overrated authors, or books, of the past 1,000 years? wrote:-
'...The book is so in love with its own cleverness that it is profoundly unreadable. It is generally credited with inaugurating the genre of "magic realism" novels which combine the matter-of-fact narrative style of conventional realistic fiction with fantastic nonsense such as levitation and alchemy. García Márquez is at his most characteristic when a woman ascends to heaven whilst hanging her washing out on the line. Other ingredients of magic realism include gypsies, tarts with hearts, dwarves, tricksters and a cast so large and confusing that you need a family tree to keep track of the plot. Márquez and his followers are sophisticated urban intellectuals who feign reverence for the simple wisdom of peasants. Myth, fairytale and folklore are wonderful things in themselves, but it is preposterous to imagine that mingling them with domestic mundanity will somehow puncture the bourgeois complacency of our time.
Let us hope that One Hundred Years of Solitude will not generate one hundred years of overwritten, overlong, overrated novels. Enough that it has already inspired such excrescences as Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.'

18 February 2008

Bruce Chatwin. In Patagonia, 1977.

"One never knows how to classify his books...Anthropological and mythological studies in the tradition of Tristes Tropiques , adventure stories looking back to our early childhood reading, collections of facts, dream books, regional novels, examples of lush exoticism, puritanical penance, sweeping baroque vision, self-denial, and personal confession - they are all these things together. It probably does them most justice to see their promiscuity, which breaks the mold of the modernist concept, as a late flowering of those traveler’s tales, going back to Marco Polo, where reality is constantly entering the realm of the metaphysical and miraculous, and the way through the world is taken from the first with an eye fixed on the writer’s own end." W.G. Sebald on Bruce Chatwin.

Bruce Chatwin. IN PATAGONIA. Cape, London, 1977.

Current Selling Prices
$550-$800 /£280-£400

Cult travel book that used to be worth more than it is now. It is still highly rated and much collected and the cult of Chatwin shows no signs of settling down. The problem is that there are too many copies around; the print run of the first edition was 3000. It used to be a 'sleeper' high on the lookout list- often found for £2 to £3 in the travel section of provincial second hand book shops that had never heard of the great wanderer. The net has stopped that happening. Some critics have found his books somewhat overrated - he was known to physically attack critics who had given him bad reviews. Other writers known to set about critics include Stephen Berkoff, Richard Ford, Norman Mailer, Craig Raine and Stanley Crouch (who he?).

At a party given by the old Borneo hand Redmond O'Hanlon, Chatwin pushed and shoved a young critic and novelist who had written that 'On the Black Hill' was a lousy book. He was known to have little sense of humour, and is said to have had the slightly sad and spiteful air of one who had been bullied at school. Jan Morris said of him - "...as a person, he was decidedly too much for me. Snobbism, equally camp and genuine; showy connoisseurship of a quirky kind; the deadly energy of a raconteur; the insensitivity of the tuft-hunter; a gift for mimicry; sexual ambiguity of the Strength Through Joy kind (I can see him now, riding his bicycle blond and barebacked through Powys, for all the world like a Hitler Youth) - all these characteristics, distilled into one very clever, exuberant and apparently ageless being, made all too rich a mixture for an unsophisticated provincial." A copy of the book presented to her sits on the web at a considered £7150--at first glance a ridiculous sum but it is not totally unthinkable that it might sell, such is the strength of the Chatwin legend. This same copy went through Bloomsbury Book Auctions at £2600 (in 'creased, stained & sunned d/j') in April 2007. About 4 years ago we had a spectacular copy of 'Patagonia' which we catalogued thus:-
'8vo. pp 204. Map endpapers, frontis map and 8 pages of photos. Signed presentation copy to Prunella Clough. Chatwin has crossed out his printed name and written out his name in sepia toned ink and added ‘for Prunella with love B.C. 5 April ‘78.’ Prunella Clough who died in 1999 was a distinguished British School painter and the niece of the cult designer Eileen Gray. It was Eileen Gray who had given Chatwin the idea to travel to Patagonia at a meeting in Paris 1972 when she was 93. She died in 1976 and it is presumably through her that Chatwin knew Prunella Clough. $2800.'
Oddly enough this book is still to be found for sale at the online book malls (at $8000) but merely sold as a presentation copy to a 'Prunella' without any of our learned banter about Eileen Gray as the original inspiration. A shame, such is the power of Eileen Gray's name we were able to sell prayer books and children's books with her ownership signature. Put her with Chatwin and you have a win double.

VALUE? A copy made about £600, unsigned and in faded jacket last year but copies fine in jacket can usually be picked up at ABE at less than £400. A few years ago it was selling at book fairs for £700+. The spine has a tendency to fading so copies with unfaded, unsunned jackets can go for a premium. Outlook? It is just possible that Chatwin will be seen in the future as some sort of combinaton of Richard Burton and Robert Byron, in which case keep your copy in a closed and curtained cabinet.

16 February 2008

Wanda Gag. Millions of Cats, 1928

Wanda Gag. MILLIONS OF CATS. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. New York, 1928.

Current Selling Prices
$250-$3000 /£120-£1500

One of the great cat books - a popular and desirable item sometimes touted as the first proper illustrated children's book published in America. In England books had been seen in this style and format since Florence Upton and her golliwogs and back to Edward Lear. Wanda Gag (sometimes Gág or Ga'g-a Bohemian/ Czech name) was a highly esteemed artist and illustrator, a friend of Georgia O'Keefe and admired by Rockwell Kent with whom she has a stylistic affinity. The book became a best-seller and it is possible find 36th impressions (sometimes described as first editions by the dark denizens of ebay)--there is even an ebay shop with a 1996 reprint in indifferent condition at a surreal $2997. The story itself is simple, slightly cruel with elements of the fable, the folktale or even the parable--let the Wikiman tell it:-
'...The hand-lettered text tells the story of an elderly couple who realize that they are very lonely. The wife wants a cat to love, so her husband sets off in search of a beautiful one to bring home to her. After traveling far away from home, he finds a hillside covered in "...hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats..." This rhythmic phrase is repeated several other times throughout the story.

The man wants to bring home the most beautiful of all the cats, but he's unable to decide. Each seems lovely, so he walks back home with all of the cats following him. His wife is dismayed when he arrives, realizing immediately what her husband overlooked: they won't be able to feed and care for billions and trillions of cats. The wife suggests letting the cats decide which one should stay with them, asking "Which one of you is the prettiest?" This question incites an enormous catfight, frightening the old man and woman so that they ran back into the house. Soon, all is quiet outside. When they venture out, there is no sign of the cats: they'd apparently eaten each other up in their jealous fury. Then, the old man notices one skinny cat hiding in a patch of tall grass. It had survived because it didn't consider itself pretty, so the other cats hadn't attacked it.

The couple take the cat into their home, feed it and bathe it, watching it grow sleek and beautiful as the days pass: exactly the kind of cat they wanted.'
There are many copies around and dealers charging betewwen $100 and $2000 for what appear to be the same book. The true first should have 'PUBLISHED IN NEW YORK by COWARD-McCANN, Inc. IN THE YEAR 1928' on the title page and "Printed in USA by the Jersey City Printing Co." on the copyright page. This printing info is absent from later editions. The d/w comes in 2 states - the back of the dust jacket (yellow) is blank on the first printing and on second state copies the back has a one paragraph biography on Wanda Gag, followed by an endorsement of Millions Of Cats by Rockwell Kent. This is followed by a one paragraph review of the book by Anne Carroll Moore. Thanks to the authoritative Childrens Picturebook Collecting site for this.

VALUE? Auction records show a signed limited edition (250 copies) with an etching and in slip-case (not issued in jacket) making $1650 at Swann in New York April 1999. This would probably make twice that now. As we speak a copy of the 1928 in second state jacket awaits a bid on ebay at a highly ambitious $2899. Surrounded by superlatives it is in fact an ordinary copy lacking the fep (mentioned as if it is no big deal) and the info that 'Collector sites value this wonderful antique collectible children's book in Very Good condition at $4,000+ !!' Meanwhile a copy in a chipped jacket made $800 in Baltimore in 2006 and back in 1983 at Waverly someone paid $65 for a copy inscribed by Wanda who had thoughtfully added a drawing of a cat. A decent but not fine first/first in jacket can be found on ABE at $1750 and another possibly later state at $200. A difficult book, desirable in superior condition- a fresh copy in a sharp first state jacket might be enough to make a cat laugh.

12 February 2008

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner 2003

Khaled Hosseini. THE KITE RUNNER. Riverhead Books, New York/ Bloomsbury, London 2003.
ISBN: 0747566526 (U.K. ed) & 1573222453 (U.S. ed)

Current Selling Prices
$200 + /£100+

Beneath the all important first edition line for this book (it must be 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2) there is a summary, presumably for librarians, of the categories that the book fits into--they give a succinct snapshot of the books content:-
Kabol (Afghanistan)--Fiction. 2. Male Friendship --Fiction. 3. Social Classes --Fiction. 4. Afghanistan --Fiction. 5. Betrayal --Fiction. 6. Boys --Fiction.
It is in fact a world ecompassing epic tale of fathers and sons, of childhood friendship and betrayal, taking the reader from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the Taliban atrocities of the present. The final third of the book (which underwent some serious rewriting) is full of haunting images: a man, desperate to feed his children, trying to sell his artificial leg in the market; an adulterous couple stoned to death in a stadium during the halftime of a football match; a rouged young boy forced into prostitution, dancing 'the sort of steps once performed by an organ grinder's monkey.'

The book is said to have sold way over 500,000 copies without benefit of TV ads, Oprah or other celebrity endorsements. Its success was due to word-of-mouth recommendations of librarians and independent book sellers and especially the strength of local book clubs and community reading programs -where one book is chosen by a city or region. The ordinary reading public bought and read the book and passed on the good news. Gradually the book became a best seller, justifying the $500,000 advance. Khaled Hosseini, whose story is not far removed from the book, came from Afghanistan with his formerly wealthy parents at age 15. They ended up on welfare in Fremont, California--an area close by Silicon Valley known as 'Little Kabul'. Khaled became an M.D. (family doctor) but also began to write, rising at 5 a.m. working at short stories and, later, his novel, before going to work. A half-dozen stories, mainly thrillers or gothic horror tales, were published online or in experimental zines. But submissions to The New Yorker, Harper's, Esquire and other mainstream publications were soundly rejected. After the success of 'Kite Runner' at 40 he became a fulltime writer, enjoying the American Dream - he has met the President and has seen the book made into a highly rated movie.

VALUE? I became aware of this book's collectability at the San Franciso Book Fair last weekend on seeing copies on the stands of dealers in hypermodern fiction. Several had the book in what looked like pristine condition and signed by Hossein in Farsi and English---the prices were between $600 and $1500. There are copies on the web priced at $1000+ with a couple of chancers at $2000+. Meanwhile last week a copy signed in English and Farsi and appearing fine was sold on Ebay at $189 and copies go through at around the $100 mark fairly regularly, possibly twice that signed and a little more with added ephemera like signing tickets etc.,

It is not a rare book, Hosseini has done several signing sessions, the first edition print run of the US first was 50,000. Copies can show up as first editions with a black remainder mark on the edge--these are best avoided or valued at considerably less than unspoilt firsts. By the way - the US precedes the UK edition by about 3 months although there is as yet no great difference in price--the US is marginally favoured. The outlook is good, fiction about this part of the world will probably become increasingly collectable--however the online dealer who referred to the book as 'ultra rare' was either sadly deceived or 'having a laugh.'

07 February 2008

W G Sebald. The Rings of Saturn, 1998

W G Sebald. THE RINGS OF SATURN. Harvill Press, London, 1998. ISBN: 1860463983

Current Selling Prices
$1200-$1600 /£600-£800

Uncommon in hardback and valuable thus. However, you see ambitious prices on the simultaneous softback issue ('becoming increasingly difficult to find'). It even has an auction record with an unfortunate punter paying £190 for it at Bloomsbury in early 2004. It can now be found readily at a third of that price. The true first is, of course, the German 'Die Ringe des Saturn: Eine englische Wallfahrt' which came out in 1995. It appeared there first in a numbered limited edition (999 copies bound in goatskin) published by Eichborn and seems to have completely gone to ground. There are no copies currently for sale although it turns up occasionally at auction in Germany. Locus Solus catalogued one of the 999 (unsigned) at $650 a year or two back -it was described as being in full leather 'as new in publisher’s cardstock slipcase...bound in vegetable-dyed full east-Indian goatskin of deep blue.'

VALUE? I have a feeling that although he wrote in German his books are more admired in Britain and America. At one point his books were making exceptional sums on Ebay and people wanted ephemera, posters, recordings and anything to do with his legendary walk from Lowestoft to Boulge. Inscribed copies of 'Rings of Saturn' are not impossible but are treasured--it is known that he would pore for hours over his translations, making changes and then when inscribing copies of books for friends, he would habitually add some further textual changes by hand.

The hardback is pretty scarce but not in the same league as, say, 'Trainspotting' which went only to libraries. The hardback appeared in bookshops but only a few hundred were printed--they seem to show up in East Anglia more than anywhere else. There are four on the web at the moment priced between £750 and £1300 with only a German first signed by him. A great read--it takes a very special kind of erudition to make Lowestoft fascinating. Sebald died in a car crash near Poringland in Norfolk age 57 - Tim Adams wrote this of him in 'The Guardian':-
'... It has often been said that, in his brief, marvellous career, Sebald, writing from East Anglia, invented a genre all his own. The substance of that originality was a new way of looking at what remains of long-gone objects, people and events. All his books were imaginative exhumations, but they were given a curious urgency by his inspired and restless intelligence. His writing made the dead seem like news.'

Above is a page from the German edition that was omitted from the UK edition - it has a photo of the house of a Suffolk farmer that Sebald dropped in on. The man had devoted the last twenty years of his life to building a scale model of the Temple of Jerusalem.

03 February 2008

Iris Murdoch. The Flight from the Enchanter, 1956.

Iris Murdoch. THE FLIGHT FROM THE ENCHANTER. Chatto & Windus, London, 1956.

Current Selling Prices
$450-$1000 /£220-£500

The entire text of this book can be found at Google Books, but the blurb (on the inside flap of the Edward Bawden jacket) is not there so I have laboriously typed it out as it sets the book in the time when it first appeared. Perhaps there should be a site that archives blurbs--as they are found almost exclusively on jackets they are not offered to the swarms of scanners beavering away for Google Books. It reads thus:-
Miss Murdoch follows up her extremely successful first novel, Under the Net, with one which is no less captivating. Here again is a large and lively group of characters: the ravishing, absurd young Annette who, after swinging on a chandelier, runs away from her finishing school to enter the School of Life, and learns a good deal more than she bargained for: the fierce and melancholy Rosa, the mistress of two Polish brothers: her brother, editor of a down-at-heel magazine: the scholar, Peter Saward, obsessed by an indecipherable ancient script: Rainborough, a civil servant, struggling in the toils of his determined secretary. Their lives revolve around the mysterious figure of Mischa Fox, a man who is not famous for anything in particular, just famous. Each of them has some person, idea, illusion or object by which he is possessed: each tries to break the spell, to flee the enchanter. The story moves through a series of episodes which are vivid and paradoxical as dreams. There are scenes of broad comedy- the meeting of the shareholders of Artemis is outrageously funny; scenes where comedy balances on the edge of tragedy; scenes where the normal suddenly deviates into the sinister, the beautiful into the grotesque. The Flight from the Enchanter establishes Miss Murdoch as a novelist of imagination, intelligence and vitality.
I have a feeling that in the future they will do some of her novels on T.V. as period pieces, like Mrs. Gaskell, but set in the existential 1950s with black polo necks de rigueur. On a fashion note Iris's memorable pudding bowl haircut was a 1950s thing popular among British female intellectuals (Doris Lessing had one) - the style was transmogrified into the more overtly sexual in the 1970s with Joanna Lumley as Purdy with her blonde pudding bowl haircut in the New Avengers. It is hard to put her novels into a particular genre, she is close to the 'novel of ideas' and puts herself widely in the realistic tradition of the Anglo-Russian novel.

VALUE? Most of Iris's output is very common and about 20 of her novels from 'A Severed Head' onwards can be bought for £10 and even £5 each fine/fine with her Booker winner 'The Sea, The Sea' as the exception at £50. The books were published in large print runs and there are simply too many about. However some of her plays, poetry and polemical works and signed limited editions can get into 3 figures. She is sometimes pushed as an Irish writer and 5 years ago several chancers had fanciful prices on common works but they very seldom sell for fat sums, in fact there has been a discernible flattening of her prices. She may well come back, especially her first 3 novels.

'Flight from the Enchanter' can be bought at between £300 and £500 in sharp condition, if you have a spare £8500 you can buy the copy that Iris gave to her husband, John Bayley, in 1956. The inscription ( 'John from Iris') is contained within a rough heart-shaped design and also says "to the big C from the little c". John Bailey wrote movingly of her in 'Elegy for Iris',(1998) 'She wanted, through her novels, to reach all possible readers, in different ways and by different means: by the excitement of her story, its pace and its comedy, through its ideas and its philosophical implications, through the numinous atmosphere of her own original and created world- the world she must have glimpsed as she considered and planned her first steps in the art of fiction.'