Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just announced: Puffin Designer Classics

Very exciting news! Penguin has announced the follow-up to their sold-out run of limited edition Designer Classics they issued for their 65th anniversary (I featured FUEL's Crime and Punishment here); for their 70th birthday the series has been passed on to their Puffin imprint of children's books. Once again, these are limited to 1,000 numbered copies worldwide and are each selected and designed by an exciting artist/architect/designer. Thanks to some photos from the puffin site, I've got some details I can share with you here.

The Secret Garden, designed by Lauren Child
(Love the key on the end of the book's ribbon!)

Oliver Twist, designed by Sir Peter Blake

Little Women, designed by Orla Kiely

James and the Giant Peach, designed by Antony Gormley

Around the World in Eighty Days, by David Adjaye

Treasure Island, designed by Frank Gehry

These each retail for 100GBP, but if you run to you can grab some with a pretty outstanding discount. I'd highly recommend heading over there if any of these look of interest to you. The Penguin Series sold out quickly and are really quite collectible now-- Paul Smith's Lady Chatterly's Lover is around $750 these days! That Frank Gehry Treasure Island might be headed that way too...

Currently reading:
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman)
A Study in Scarlet (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Currently listening to:
Gorillaz, live in Damascus

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 2010 Man Booker Prize Longlist announced

Earlier today, the 2010 Man Booker Prize Longlist was announced. Each year, I try my best to follow the list and place a little "collector's bet" on certain titles that I think would make the shortlist or win the prize. For those of you who are uninitiated: the Man Booker Prize is essentially the European equivalent of the US Pulitzer. Each year, around mid-summer, the judge's panel announces a "longlist" of what they believe to be the fifteen-or-so best books of the year. The prize is open to writers from the Commonwealth and Ireland, and an incredible way for US readers to stay informed of titles overseas. September 7, this year's 13-title longlist will be narrowed down to a shortlist of six books (this is the time when books get new jackets printed touting their shortlistedness, something collectors like myself grudgingly avoid). Of these six, a winner is selected on October 12 and given 50,000GBP and international publishing acclaim.

Now, what does this mean for us? Lets say you think that the new David Mitchell book is going to surely take the prize. Spectre made 500 of those limited editions that I featured on the blog that listed originally for 50GBP. If it wins this year's prize, the book's value could potentially quadruple in value, proving to be a very sound investment.

So, research these books, and try to track down some signed firsts. Last year I was able to sell a signed, dated, and lined Wolf Hall (the 2009 winner, originally costing me $60.00) for around $350.00. In all, following the Booker is a great way to read some amazing books you've probably never heard of and possibly cushion your collector's allowance with a couple hundred dollars.

On to the longlist:

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

by Emma Donoghue

The Betrayal
by Helen Dunmore

In A Strange Room
by Damon Galgut

The Finkler
by Howard Jacobson

The Long Song
by Andrea Levy

by Tom McCarthy

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
by David Mitchell

by Lisa Moore

Skippy Dies
by Paul Murray

by Rose Tremain

The Slap
by Christos Tsiolkas

The Stars in the Bright Sky
by Alan Warner

While many of these authors are new to me, there are a few names here that have been perpetually longlisted and haven't seen a spot on the shortlist since I've been following. While perfectly excellent writers, I'm not holding my breath for Peter Carey or Howard Jacobson (sorry guys!).

There's one author here that I'm so incredibly thrilled to see, and that's Tom McCarthy. He wrote a stunning little book a few years back called Remainder, and I'm very excited to get C. when it arrives from in a few a weeks. I hope that McCarthy's inclusion here leads more people to his excellent oeuvre.

Finally, there's Skippy Dies. I can't wait for this one and I think that I finally tracked down a 1st edition from a bookstore in Australia (more on that if/when it gets here). If these books were judged based on art direction alone, Skippy Dies would be neck-and-neck with the slipcased Jacob De Zoet. Similar to FSG's 2666, Skippy Dies was published originally as three slipcased paperbacks, each with a different title. Take a look:

My initial thoughts are that Paul Murray, Tom McCarthy, and David Mitchell will all have a spot on the shortlist... and if not, they'll have a proud spot on my bookshelves. Happy reading.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (Arion Press facsimile edition)

Tuesday morning concluded what I believe was my first real vacation in about four years--I spent a little over a week on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts with my family. My parents have a house in Madaket (a small village on the Western tip of the island) and we've been visiting fairly regularly since I was young. As with any time off, I always try to make the best of my open schedule and get through a massive book that's been on my bookshelf for ages. No matter how many classics were reaching out to me, only one made sense for this trip: Melville's Moby-Dick.

I've had a beautiful paperback copy of Moby-Dick sitting around untouched for about five years. It's a facsimile of a rare edition by the Arion Press from the 1979, designed by Andrew Hoyem with illustrations by Barry Moser.

The trim size, illustrations, and typeface all create a book that is exquisitely balanced; the entire design of this book is so celebratory and passionate that it truly contributes to a more pleasurable read.

Those of you who don't know the actual bulk of Moby-Dick, I'd say about half the book is made up of a crash-course in whaling. Any action of the book is chopped up with short chapters on harpooning, roping, cutting-in, and so on. All at once, you get a classic of American literature and instructions on how to scoop out a whale head.

These whaling lessons are at times a little dry, and Barry Moser's incredible boxwood engravings break up these pages in an exceptionally well-calculated way. Seeing the beauty that Moser was able to extract from what are essentially quite boring chapters really strengthens your appreciation of these historical sidesteps. There's quite a bit of artistry in the history of whaling and the nature that surrounds it, and it's something I fear other editions of Moby-Dick would not be able to show.

I spent two summers on Nantucket with my girlfriend in college. She spent her time at the Nantucket Historical Association while I worked at what I still believe is one of the best bookstores on the planet, Mitchell's Book Corner. During those years, Mitchell's was run by an incredible woman named Mimi Beman. She caught me at the genesis of my book love and helped me grow into who I am today. The passion that is in me now and the desire I have to share books with people all stem from Mimi's store and what she taught me. At the end of my last summer there, Mimi gave me a this copy of Moby-Dick. She didn't expect me to read it right away (as she knew there was always a time for these things) but she thought I should have it. Mimi died last Spring. I'll miss her very much--she is responsible for so much of my love of books, and it's an honor to have shared such wonderful summers with her on Nantucket.

"Sing out for every spout, though he spout ten times a second!"

Currently reading:
Zoetrope: All-Story (edited by PJ Harvey)

Currently listening to:
Woodsman, "Collages"

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dangling in the Tournefortia by Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow limited edition

This installment will feature another limited edition from the Black Sparrow Press: 1982's Dangling in the Tournefortia by Charles Bukowski. For lovers of Bukowski, Black Sparrow fandom goes hand-in-hand. They've published probably close to thirty of Bukowski's books over the years, and each of them were offered in the traditional Black Sparrow limitation format.

All at once, Black Sparrow would publish an open edition of paperbacks, a limited edition of around 500 hardcovers, and then an even tighter limited run of signed and numbered hardcovers, (usually between 100 and 300 copies). On top of all this, there's also a rare "lettered" edition, limited to only 26 copies. These lettered copies were all bound in a much more decorative cloth and each featured something like a drawing or a lithograph.

Cleaning out all my excess credit at, I was able to snag a signed and numbered copy of Dangling in the Tournefortia.

It's my first Black Sparrow Bukowski, and an exciting addition to my still-growing collection of their books. These Bukowski books are still quite difficult to get your hands on at a reasonable price--check eBay sometime and you'll see many titles that start at around $450.


As I mentioned, I found this at Powell's online. I strongly recommend any book lover to get on their "just arrived" rare book email list. In all honesty, I've only purchased a few books since I signed up years ago, but its a fascinating way to keep track of pricing (for instance, Powell's recently got a 1st edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest... who knew that ran for about $3000?). Also, keep in mind that if you see something you like you should probably pull the trigger on it quickly--these emails go out to a lot of people at once and I've seen many intriguing books sell the day they were announced to email subscribers.

Currently reading:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Currently listing to:
I am Kloot, "Sky at Night"
R.E.M., "Fables of the Reconstruction (remastered)"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Neil Gaiman drawing in a leather bound edition of "Seasons of Mists"

Today, we're going to take a big step away from rare novels and take a quick look at a leather-bound first edition of Book IV of Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman comic. Supposedly, there are ten leather-bound first editions (one for each volume of the series) and I've only run into a few in my life. It seems they're quite rare; I was very surprised to find one behind the counter at a used bookstore on Smith Street in Brooklyn.

Seasons of Mists a very striking book, bound in a maroon leather with gold detailing on the spine. There's also a menacing key stamped to the front in gold (it's the key to Hell, if you're curious as to what it unlocks). Now, most exciting for any Sandman fan is that the book is signed by Gaiman with a drawing of the comic's titular character, Dream. Gaiman himself did not illustrate any of the Sandman issues, so it's fascinating to see how the author renders his own creations.

Currently reading:
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
The Paris Review no. 193

Currently listening to:
The Samps 12"
"It All Falls Apart" by The Sight Below
"Paul's Tomb: A Triumph" by Frog Eyes