On Collecting Books

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Literary Los Angeles

By Brad Johnson

Literary Los Angeles: A Legacy as Diverse as the City Itself The Hollywood sign looms large over Los Angeles. However, despite its close association with the motion picture industry, the enduring promise and dark undercurrents of America's first postmodern city are best understood through its prose and poetry. This literary legacy will be on display in February when the world's leading antiquarian booksellers gather in Los Angeles for the 43rd ILAB Congress, which will lead into the 51st California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena. The following list of 20 defining works of Los Angeles literature is presented in anticipation of these prestigious events: Reminiscences of a Ranger: Early Times in Southern California (1881) by Major Horace Bell Horace Bell (1830-1918) was an incendiary attorney who was fond of the seamier side of life. This true account of his service with the Los Angeles Rangers, a sort of border police, rivals any dime-store western. The first book printed and bound in Los Angeles, it is particularly scarce because the type from the first half of the book was reportedly cannibalized for use in the second. Ramona (1884) by Helen Hunt Jackson Despite its romantic excess, Ramona is perhaps the most significant Southern California novel. In much the same way that Uncle Tom's Cabin helped to arouse public sentiment against slavery, the abuse of California Indians depicted in Ramona brought about reforms in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. At the same ti... [more]

Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita is one of the most-celebrated and most-notorious novels of the twentieth century. Its path to publication did not run smooth, and there are many different editions and translations worthy of the collector's attention. 1955: The Olympia Press Two-Volume First Edition The multi-lingual Nabokov (he grew up speaking Russian, English and French at home) finished Lolita in 1953, but it was rejected by all the major American publishers for fear that its subject matter would prove too controversial. He turned to the Olympia Press in Paris, then notorious for essentially publishing pornography, for the first publication of his famous novel. Lolita (First Edition) Paris: Olympia Press. Very Good. FIRST EDITION of one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. WITH IMPORTANT PROVENANCE: From the Bureau Littéraire Clairouin, Nabokov's literary agency who was instrumental in its publication. "Vladimir Nabokov is an artist of the first rank, a writer in the great tradition ... Lolita is probably the best fiction to come out of this country (so to speak) since Faulkner's burst in the thirties. He may be the most important writer now going in this country. He is already, God help him, a classic" (Critic Conrad Brenner, in 1958). Controversial since its conception, Lolita was rejected by American publishing houses until finally accepted by the avant-garde Olympia Press in Paris and published in a fragile two-volume format. First issue, with 900 Francs on... [more]

A deluxe copy of a children's classic is a favorite gift at almost any point in childhood. As the child grows older and better able to appreciate a care for their books, some seek to introduce the book-collecting bug with a signed copy, a meaningful first edition, or a particularly beautiful volume. We've collected a few beautiful, rare, or signed editions below for inspiration. You can search Children's Books by category here... A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger Natick, MA: Picture Book Studio USA/Neugebauer Press, 1988. Modern illustrated edition of the quintessential Christmas classic. Written in a mere six weeks at a low point in Charles Dickens's career, and published at his own expense in time for Christmas 1843, A Christmas Carol revived Dickens's fortunes, establishing a robust market for holiday gift books that survives to this day. "When this strain of music sounded, all the things that Ghost had shown came upon his mind; he softened more and more." In 1990, illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger won the Hans Christian Andersen medal in recognition of her "lasting contribution to children's literature." A near-fine copy. Tall narrow folio, measuring 13.5 x 8.25 inches, black linen spine, original glossy color pictorial boards, pale yellow endpapers, original unclipped color pictorial dust jacket. Illustrated in color throughout text. Light edgewear to jacket. (Offered by Honey & Wax Booksellers.) Search for other copies of A Christmas Carol..... [more]

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Explore New Arrivals

By Rich Rennicks

ABAA members list newly acquired or catalogued books on almost every day of the year. Keep an eager eye on our "New Arrivals" search page to see what's recently been offered for sale and find the books you need to build your collection! Here are a few highlights from this week's crop of newly listed items: Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald London: Grey Walls Press, 1953 First English edition. Publisher's light blue cloth, lettered in gilt to spine, in original pink pictorial dust jacket. Near fine with a slight lean to spine and a touch of wear to spine ends, light offsetting to endpapers, a few tiny spots to top edge; dust jacket with a few tiny nicks to spine ends and corners, spine faded but front panel extremely bright. Overall, a tight and attractive copy. Originally published by Scribner's in the US in 1932, Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by Zelda Fitzgerald, better known as an artist and wife of the renowned author F. Scott Fitzgerald. An extremely autobiographical text, it tells the story of "a young artist to whom success comes very early," and "a Southern girl" who would travel the world, live as an expatriate in Paris, and ultimately "return to the Southern town in which she was born." Similarly, Zelda and F. Scott were married young, lived abroad for several years, and then returned to the American Southeast for health reasons. Increasingly afflicted with mental illness in her adult years, Zelda was admitted to the Sheppard Pratt sanatorium in T... [more]

ABAA-member Charles Roberts (Wonder Book) has published a wonderful meditation on the classic cookbook The Joy of Cooking on his blog at Wonder Books. More than a straight article about the book's creation (although it does cover that) or its critical reception and impact on the wider culture (that, too), Roberts conveys a real bookseller's perspective on the book, both as a cultural artifact and a physical artifact. More interesting still is his consideration of the market forces that affect physical books in unique ways, and how a bookseller can still find utility and value even in old, nondescript cookbooks that are not rare by any stretch of the imagination. Some books tell stories in ways other than their contents. At Wonder Book, we used to rarely get copies of The Joy of Cooking in any condition. It was just a book that people would not give up. Now we are seeing more and more older copies appear in our warehouse. The Joy of Cooking has a sad beginning. Irma Rombauer published it originally in 1931. Her husband had killed himself in 1930. Irma's children convinced her to record her recipes and cooking styles. Why? Maybe they thought it would distract her from her loss and the money problems and personal turmoil it caused. She wrote in the forward, "It was written at the request of my children, who, on leaving home, asked for a record of 'what mother used to cook.'" Somehow she put it all together and published the first Joy privately! She paid for a printer to print an... [more]

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Books of the Week

By Rich Rennicks

Every week ABAA members list their latest acquisitions on abaa.org and issue catalogs of rare books and print ephemera. Here are a few A Pirate Classic From description: The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins Knight, in his Voyage into the South Sea. Anno Domini 1593. Hawkins, Sir Richard. John Jaggard., ( 1622), London (4), 169, (1 errata), (5) pp. Richard Hawkins was an Elizabethan adventurer who saw action against the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1593 he sailed to South America to raid Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast. Years later he produced this account of his privateering venture, which was published in 1622. His “Observations”, aside from being a pirate classic, is the best account of Elizabethan life at sea. It was the first work published by the Hakluyt Society (1848), and has been reprinted several times since. most notably by the Argonaut Press in 1933. This is the copy of famed Americana collector Thomas Streeter, with his distinctive bookplate, and a note on the front blank by his son Henry, indicating that he had purchased it at the auction of his father's library in 1968. This sale of the Streeter collection took place between 1966 and 1969. The catalog of the sale, produced by Parke Bernet Galleries, was issued in seven volumes, which remain an important reference for rare Americana. This book was number 2400 in the sale. It is in exactly the same condition as it was in 1968. Three letters on the title page (the “THE” in the title) are in facsimile... [more]

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Books of the Week

By Rich Rennicks

What leaped off the pages and (figuratively) screamed "Buy Me!" as we thumbed through the most-recent catalogs from ABAA members. Well, these items for starters... THE LAST TYCOON: An Unfinished Novel, Together with The Great Gatsby and Selected Stories Description: New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1941. First edition, first printing with the “A” and the publisher's seal on the copyright page. A roman a clef, following the Hollywood rise to power of Monroe Stahr, modeled after film producer Irving Thalberg, and his conflicts with rival Pat Brady, a character based on studio head Louis B. Mayer. The novel was unfinished and in rough form at the time of Fitzgerald's death at the age of 44. His close friend, literary critic and writer Edmund Wilson, collected the notes for the book and edited it for publication. This copy is inscribed on the front flyleaf by Frances Kroll Ring to Nicholas Patrick Beck, an avid F. Scott Fitzgerald collector and scholar, who was also a journalism professor at California State University, Los Angeles. Ring (1916-2015) was the personal secretary of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood from 1939 and until his death in 1940. She typed the manuscript for The Last Tycoon and settled Fitzgerald's affairs upon his death. This included corresponding with Wilson and advising him on the author's intentions for the book. Octavo. Original blue cloth binding, with gilt titles. An especially crisp and tight, near fine copy in an uncommonly nice example of the ... [more]

You've no doubt heard the great news that Assembly Bill 228 has been introduced by California State Assembly Members Gloria and Chiu. If passed, this bill will provide significant relief from the most troubling and onerous provisions of AB 1570, California's new autograph law. The ABAA, IOBA, PBA Galleries, and The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, The Manuscript Society, The Ephemera Society, The Professional Autograph Dealers Association, Horror Writers Association, The Grolier Club, Biblio and The Easton Press have formally expressed support for this pending legislation in the linked letters. The legislative process is long and complicated. Bills pass through policy committees in each house of the legislature and the process takes many months. What this bill needs to help ensure that it becomes law is your support. We encourage members and interested parties to write a letter of support for AB 228 addressed to the bill's primary author: Assemblymember Todd Gloria P.O. Box 942849 Sacramento, CA 94249-0078 You can also add your name and comments to the change.org petition. We'll keep you updated on progress here. [more]

Bookseller Ed Smith (Ed Smith Books) interviewed Kurt Brokaw, a professor and film critic, who likes to moonlight as a rare bookseller (specializing in noir paperback originals) on the streets of Manhattan. I got to know Kurt Brokaw through a mutual friend. When I was in Manhattan for a movie memorabilia auction at Bonham's that I'd partly consigned, I stopped at his weekend table of 1940s paperbacks and earlier pulp magazines. He often sets up outside Zabars at 80th & Broadway, or further down Broadway in Lincoln Center. He's the only bookman doing high end vintage paper on the street that I've ever met, and he explains an actual New York City book law from the 1890s that gives him the legal right to vend written matter on NYC sidewalks without a license. This 6-minute spontaneous and unrehearsed interview should be of interest to collectors. (Photo by Lynda Bullock/Flickr via cc license) [more]

“The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.” -- from “The Answer” by Robinson Jeffers Within his lifetime, the work of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was at various points revered, deliberately shunned, and generally neglected. In 1932, the poet was featured on the cover of Time magazine; but by 1948 his publisher, Random House, saw fit to add a “Publisher's Note” to his collection The Double Axe in which they expressed their “disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in the volume.” By the time of his death he had already passed into irrelevance, with younger poets such as Kenneth Rexroth attacking him and his work rarely anthologized. Still, his work was read and studied by other poets such as Gary Snyder (who noted his work showed “a profound respect for the non-human”) and his greatest disciple William Everson, and today, despite his continuing marginalization in some circles as a “California poet,” his work continues to reckoned with. Critic and Poet Laureate of California Dana Gioia, a great modern-day champion of Jeffers, has noted, “I consider Jeffers the most important American poet in the western third of the country—the great poet of the West.” Gioia adds, “He's a titanic if singular figure,” and therein lies some of the difficulty in dealing with Jeffers. Jeffers' theory of “inhumanism,” which the poet described as being “based on a ... [more]