Monday, October 17, 2016

Gallowsongs by Jess (Black Sparrow Press, signed and numbered edition)

Jess Collins, renowned for his irreverent "paste-up" collages, did a few books with Black Sparrow Press in the 60s and 70s. Those readers that are new to Jess should check out O! Tricky Cad! and other Jessoterica from Siglio Press, as it's the best book on Jess out there right now. His paste-ups were these insane text-based collages, often re-appropriating strips of dialogue from comic books like Dick Tracy (hence the "Tricky Cad" anagram) into these compositions that look like equal parts Tristan Tzara and the Zodiac Killer:

In addition to his collages he's also a fantastic painter; I've seen some similarly "layered" pieces that are thick with color and function, formally, in a sort of parallel way to his cacophonous paste-ups.

I was thrilled to find a book of his pen and ink drawings published by Black Sparrow Press in 1970. This is a signed limited edition of Gallowsongs (versions of poems originally in Galgenlieder by Christian Morgenstern).

Very exciting to see a book bound like this, with three brads screwed through the spine. Inside, poems are scattered around the page, integrated beautifully with Jess's illustrations. Here's the title page (with some remnants of creatively-placed prices from other booksellers):

Here are some of my favorite samples from the inside: 

I absolutely adore this "wordless" poem, called "Fish's Nighthymn": 

And here's the limitation page. This book was published in an edition of only 175 hardcover copies, each signed and numbered by the artist. There were 600 paperbacks, and 26 lettered copies bound in full leather.

I don't understand why this signed edition is still on the secondary market for around $150. The lettered copies start at around $500, but this is such a special book, and Jess such a fantastic artist, that I think these 175 signed/numbered hardcovers should also be bumped up into the $350-750 range. If you're intrigued, I suggest you snatch up a copy before people catch on.

Lastly, just for fun, here's the original prospectus (check out that $20 price point!):

Currently reading:
Cheap Novelties by Ben Katchor

Currently listening to:
"A Place Called Bad" by The Scientists

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fall 2016: Recent Book Reviews

It's been a busy Fall season with a lot of great books; compounded with a lot of work responsibilities in my day job, it's been tough to keep up! This week, I'll take a quick look at some recent book reviews that I've published online in the past month or so. All of these have run over at The website has been picking up speed dramatically this fall, with two new fantastic writers joining the team. If you're interested, please check in every so often. We're doing a new post every few days.

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Borders by Roy Jacobsen

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

All That Man Is by David Szalay (shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize)

Take a look! Lots of great stuff here.

Currently reading:
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Currently listening to:
"Compassion" by Lust for Youth

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth (Arkham House first edition, 1945)

This is a first edition of The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth, published in 1945 by Arkham House. Arkham House was founded by Derleth in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1939 and primarily published works by H.P. Lovecraft and related American horror novels. One of my favorite bookstores in Hadley Massachusetts (Grey Matter Books) recently acquired a massive library of old Arkham House first editions; they're kept in a locked room with poor lighting, in my opinion the perfect way to discover bowing shelves of the Cthulhu Mythos.

These are all priced appropriately (expensive!) but I've had the pleasure of picking up a few of the many books there - including this very early Arkham House work. The Lurker at the Threshold is lesser Lovecraft, and in fact more of a Derleth book. Derleth completed the majority of the book after Lovecraft's death in 1937 by using Lovecraft's notes. It was printed in a very small run of around 3,000 copies and is one of the more rare Arkham House editions out there.

The condition isn't so hot (particularly on the jacket spine and hinges) but it's surprisingly tight in its mylar jacket. The cover is still bright for being about 75 years old. Not much in the way of tears to the cover and back cover. Back cover is below, with some previews for forthcoming titles:

Here's the colophon, for those of you interested in the publication info. Love the "In Preparation" section:

Currently reading:
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Borders by Roy Jacobsen

Currently listening to:
Various Artists, "Los Alamos Grind!"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

William T. Vollmann, "Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs (first edition, signed with drawing)

Following my last post on William T. Vollman's An Afghanistan Picture Show, this is a first edition of the author's 1991 collection Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs. Similar to what happened with my copy of An Afghanistan Picture Show I bought this signed first with the intention of replacing the copy I already had. I'm in a particular phase right now trying to collect copies of Vollmann’s books with drawings in them and picked this up sight-unseen from Ken Sanders Rare Books in Utah for $25.

I'm glad I did. This copy has a profile-drawing of a large-featured, zeftig woman who looks sort of like a ghost with her long arm and the curling flourish at the base of the drawing (I think she'd fit in nicely somewhere in the author's Last Stories and Other Stories). I'm absolutely enamored with Vollmann's strange doodles and eventually will make some online photo-album with what I have and what else I've found out there.

Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs is a strange book to read following the genius of Europe Central which I read last month on holiday. It feels like an early work - almost naively so: some stories click but others are kind of duds, to be perfectly honest. I've had a sneaking suspicion that one could connect Vollmann to Jack Kerouac if Kerouac wasn't stuck in the aw-gee 50s -- bring Kerouac through the scummy streets of late-1980s San Francisco, amidst the drugs and prostitutes, and something like Vollmann's story "The Ghost of Magnetism" might come out.

For good measure, here's a photo of the colophon, with some details about Vollmann's artist's books. Check out "The Grave of Lost Stories", illustrated "with the most poisonous inks available":

Currently reading:
Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs by William T. Vollmann

Currently listening to:
Frankie Reyes, "Boleros Valses Y Más"

Monday, September 5, 2016

William T. Vollmann, "An Afghanistan Picture Show" (US first edition, signed with drawing)

I recently saw that Ken Sanders Rare Books out of Salt Lake City had a trove of signed first editions by William T. Vollmann that each had weird little drawings included with their signature. My Vollmann shelf was already complete and bowing, but I took the opportunity to trade up a few of my unsigned editions with some of Sanders' stock. I love An Afghanistan Picture Show, but my copy wasn't signed or decorated, but for $25, I got this copy with a star-eyed face opposite the title page. (Shadows below are from the nearby flowers in the shot). 

Sanders has a few others, and his copy of The Rainbow Stories is very tempting (as it has a multi-colored rainbow in it). I'll feature a few more signed-with-drawing Vollmanns in the next few weeks. (I recently finally read Europe Central on my vacation to Central Europe and am on a bit of a high from that masterpiece of a book.)

Currently reading:
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Currently listening to:
Warfaring Strangers: Darkscortch Canticles

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fourteenth Secessionist Exhibition catalogue, featuring Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze (facsimile edition)

My wife and I were traveling for a good potion of August and had the pleasure of spending three days in Vienna two weeks ago. Vienna is an incredible place, full of some of the finest art, architecture and design I've ever seen in person. One of the highlights was the Secession Building, which featured Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze. The frieze was made for the Secessionist group's fourteenth exhibition; the focus of this show was Max Klinger's statue of Beethoven, which was presented in the center atrium of the building. It's strange to think of the great Klimt in a support role, but his frieze was essentially that, presented in a side foyer of the building with spaces planned throughout the frieze so that viewers could see Klinger's statue.

In the gift shop of the Secessionist Building, I found this incredible facsimile of the XIV Exhibition catalogue - it's full of gorgeous woodcuts and Secessionist designs. Here is the title page and the endpapers:

The book's entirely in German, which unfortunately is lost on me, but the text is set beautifully with illustrated dropcaps:

And here's a great spread of Secessionist members' signatures (it was a blast to see these crop up in paintings throughout the Leopold and Belvedere):

This facsimile was limited to only 300 copies -- at only something like 30 EUR I thought it was a must-buy. A beautiful souvenir from a fantastic city.

Currently reading:
Krazy by Michael Tisserand

Currently listening to:
Frank Ocean, "Blond"

Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016 Man Booker Prize longlist / Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen (signed, first edition)

The 2016 Man Booker Prize longlist was announced last Wednesday. Readers of The Oxen of the Sun might recall that each year I declare it my last year collecting signed first editions and playing the game of predicting the winner for the sake of my library. The Booker going global last year was a big game-changer for me, and not in a good way - as a US-based reader, the Booker was a window into a literary realm that I wouldn't really encounter on my own. Now, the longlist is full of familiar faces (including an old professor of mine from undergrad) and far less eye-opening and horizon-expanding.

I'm underwhelmed by this longlist, and will certainly not be scrambling for a ton of rare UK editions, but I can't help but be intrigued. Paul Beatty made a splash with the New York Times notable book list last year, David Means and Ottessa Moshfegh have been all over the major literary journal circuit for the past five or so years. I quite liked Deborah Levy's Swimming Home, was nonplussed with Black Vodka, but am a little curious about Hot Milk. Elizabeth Strout's The Burgess Boys was not particularly good and makes me suspicious of Lucy Barton, but she did win the Pulitzer. Ian McGuire's The North Water looks like the only other title up my alley. I'll check that out but probably skip the rest.

Here's the full longlist:

Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout
J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) – The Schooldays of Jesus
A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet
Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk
Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project
Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water
David Means (US) – Hystopia
Wyl Menmuir (UK) – The Many
Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen
Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other
Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton
David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is
Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing

I read The Paris Review and am a big fan of all of Ottessa Moshfegh's short stories that have been included in the journal. Her work is terrific and strange and she's a writer that I've been particularly keen on watching over the past few years. I picked up this signed copy of Eileen from the Community Bookstore in Park Slope last year. Even if she doesn't make it to the shortlist (although she should), I hope her inclusion in the longlist tips more people off about her talent.

Currently reading:
Barkskins by Annie Proulx