Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (First Edition)

This is a major one for me: I've finally acquired a first edition of one of my favorite novels, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. While I've been dreaming of getting a copy for quite a long time, this acquisition was fast-tracked last month after my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

I was surprised to find myself so conflicted after my visit to the fair. Every booth was stocked to the gills with treasures, ranging from $500 to the hundreds of thousands. There were signed dedication copies of literary classics, perfect-condition examples of so many coveted titles for any intrigued collector to drool over. But then, I started seeing books that I have in my own library; things that I purchased for a song on eBay or from some small used/rare shops in the Northeast, things I purchased for around $100 that were priced at the fair for $1000. Am I lucky to have bought those titles at those prices? I don't think so. I'm just a discerning, patient collector who knows the price ranges of the titles I'm looking for and one who is happy to wait for a book to appear at a price that really can't be beat.

I imagine the entire Park Avenue Armory was filled with dealers and collectors like this. So, what's going on when you can go on eBay and see a handful of Gravity's Rainbows selling for a couple-hundred dollars, but there are a handful of copies in these booths for $1250, $2500, and more? Sure, these copies are in excellent, excellent condition, but really, who are these priced for? It felt like these titles were offered with a hefty prestige-premium, for wealthy casual collectors to soak in the Manhattan convention experience.

Later, I was floored to see a copy of For Whom The Bell Tolls dedicated to Hemingway's mother. There were many genuine one-of-a-kind treasures at the fair like this -- I was smitten with some Joe Brainard drawings, some signed firsts by Shirley Jackson, and many more, but that corner of my mind that was looking to finally grab a Pynchon first walked away from the fair frustrated and embarrassed for their potential buyers. This is a fair to buy *unique* books, not simply rare ones.

I went home over-confident that I could go home and buy a Gravity's Rainbow myself online for a fraction of the ones I saw at the fair.

...and so I did.  In a polite and professional back-and-forth with a dealer on eBay, I got my hands on this:

It's a true first edition of Gravity's Rainbow, not price clipped or damaged in any way save for one droplet of discoloration on the top edges. The book has a wonderful provenance, too: this was from the COLUMBIA PICTURES STORY DEPARTMENT (and stamped with that on the front endpapers).

Basically, this means that in the 70s, Columbia Pictures had a library of books that they might consider making into films. Gravity's Rainbow is hilariously unfilmable, and the book is bookmarked only about thirty pages in, at the following passage:

"A Chorus line of quite nubile young women naughtily attired in Busbies and jackboots dance around for a bit here while in another quarter Lord Blatherard Osmo proceeds to get assimilated by his own growing Adenoid, some horrible transformation of cell plasma it is quite beyond Edwardian medicine to explain..."

It's as if someone read those lines, asked "what the hell's an Adenoid?" and shelved this until the department shut down or something. Amazing.

Currently reading:
Marshlands by Matthew Olshan

Currently watching:
Game of Thrones


  1. Would the COLUMBIA PICTURES STORY DEPARTMENT stamp increase or decrease its value? It's a very interesting history of the book.

  2. It's difficult to say. Some might consider the stamp to be no different than if I wrote my name in the book, but others would find the history of it to be remarkable enough to consider a selling point. I think of it as somewhat of an "association copy" and revel in its uniqueness; of the 1500 or so hardcover first editions that were printed of GR, there's only one like this.

    Thanks for reading!