Monday, 3 November 2008

Book of the Week - Peter Grimsdale, Perfect Night

Perfect Night is a debut thriller by Peter Grimsdale which has received good reviews. After joining the BBC in 1980, Grimsdale became editor of Crimewatch and produced documentaries on a range of subjects including the Tamil uprising in Sri Lanka. In 1994 he became Channel 4's Commissioning Editor for Features and Religion, winning Royal Television Society Awards in both genres, before returning to the BBC in 1999 as Head of the Independent Commissioning Group, responsible for all of the BBC's independent programming. In 2000 He was back commissioning at Channel 4 where among other things he took charge of Big Brother. In 2004 he moved to the internet as Editorial Director for Yahoo Europe, where he overhauled all that portal's content operations, and then returned to television a year later as Controller for Science for Channel Five.

When ambitious young documentary film-maker Nick witnesses the death of a notorious arms dealer in Sri Lanka, he's lucky to escape with his own life. He was on his way to interview him on his yacht when it was blown to smithereens. But the head injuries he receives destroy his memory - and his burgeoning career. Years later, working as a film archivist, he uncovers an image in a forgotten reel of film that seems to totally rewrite the incident that derailed his life. But as he starts to search for the other pieces of the puzzle, he quickly realizes that this single, explosive piece of film could destroy him all over again. Soon he's on the run from people who want the lid put very firmly back on the past. His only option is to restore his memory - however painful it turns out to be - and find the whole truth before it kills him.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Man Booker Prize - the most difficult novels

As announced earlier in the week, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga won the man Booker Prize. The announcement seems to have been greeted mainly with surprise. Nonetheless, as I noted back in May, first novels set in India have done very well in the prize in recent years. The White Tiger is widely available as a first edition. Prices are currently rather high, but if you are prepared to wait for a while they will undoubtedly fall again once the initial excitement is over, as this is not an uncommon book.

The Clothes on their Backs looks destined to join the list of the most difficult to obtain Booker novels from a collector’s perspective. I have assembled over quite a few years a full collection of the winners and shortlisted books. The ones I found most difficult to obtain in the UK first edition were the following:

1) Gordon M.Williams, Scenes like these. Secker and Warburg, 1968. An exceptionally uncommon book - none available online at the moment. Paradoxically, may be cheap if encountered. I have two copies, each of which cost under ten pounds. However, many collectors would pay much more.
2) TH Wheeler, The Conjunction, Angus and Robertson, 1969. Again, exceptionally uncommon in the original first edition, with no copies available online at present.
3) JL Carr, A month in the country, The Harvester Press, 1980. The first edition is currently unavailable online, although reprrints are relatively common.
4) Stanley Middleton, Holiday, Hutchinson, 1974. The 1974 winner eluded me for several years. However, there are now several copies available via ABEBooks, albeit at a minimum cost of £1000!
5) Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Duckworth, 1978. Shortlisted in 1978, a small print run went mainly to libraries. Again available via ABEBooks, at £300 or ablve.
6) Keri Hulme, The Bone People, 1985. Probably the most surprising winner over the years, and complicated from a bibliographical perspective. The true First British Edition of this Booker Prize winning novel is distinguished on the title page by the statement: 'Spiral in association with Hodder and Stoughton Auckland, London, Sydney, Toronto'. Typeset in Christchurch, New Zealand; printed and bound in Singapore. In format it is slightly larger and thicker than the later Spiral/ Hodder impression which appears to be a first edition but unlike the true first edition also has the “Shortlisted for the Booker Prize” on the dustjacket.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Book of the week and bibliography - Zoe Heller, The Believers

The Believers is the third novel from Zoe Heller - it seems likely to feature in prize lists later in the year. Heller was born in London in 1965 and educated at Oxford University and Columbia University, New York. She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent. She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times for four years, and subsequently wrote for the Daily Telegraph, winning the title 'Columnist of the Year' in 2002. She is the author of two novels: Everything You Know (2000), a dark comedy about misanthropic writer Willy Miller, and Notes on a Scandal (2003) which tells the story of an affair between a high school teacher and her student through the eyes of the teacher's supposed friend, Barbara Covett. It was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for fiction, and subsequently released as a feature film, starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench. Zoe Heller lives in New York.

When New York radical lawyer Joel Litvinoff falls gravely ill, his wife Audrey uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine both her belief in him and her commitment to their forty-year marriage. Meanwhile, her adopted son Lenny is back on drugs again and her daughters, Karla and Rosa, are grappling with their own catastrophes and dilemmas. Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary socialist, has found herself increasingly beguiled by the world of Orthodox Judaism; now she is being pressed to make a commitment and must decide if she is really ready to forsake all her cherished secular values for a Torah-observant life. Karla, an unhappily married hospital social worker and union activist, falls into a tumultuous affair with a conservative shop-keeper: can she really love a man whose politics she reviles? And how to choose between a life of duty and principle and her own happiness?


Everything you know (Viking, 2000)

Notes on a scandal (Viking, 2003)

The Believers (Fig Tree, 2008)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Man Booker prize shortlist - an update

This week will see the announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize. The favourite (with UK bookmakers) is either Sea of Poppies or The Secret Scripture. As an Irishman, my sympathies lie with the latter, which is certainly a fine book. All of the novels are fairly readily available ahead of the shortlisting, with the exception of The Clothes on Their Backs (as previously noted). The only copy I can currently find for sale is a signed copy from Ben Sheddling books at £225. A number of other copies have disappeared at prices from £100 to £150 in the last couple of weeks. It is probable that dealers will get some more signed copies this week, but if Linda Grant wins these will be at a premium, and The Clothes of Their Backs is likely to joint the select group of Booker Prize novels which are most difficult to obtain - a topic to which I will return in the next few days!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Book of the week and bibliography - Julian Stockwin, Treachery

Treachery is the ninth novel in the Kydd series by Julian Stockwin, and the tenth and eleventh books in the series are already well advanced. This series is increasingly collectible, but still looks good value. The books are full of period detail, and are also informed by the author’s nautical background. The author has an excellent website, and in recent years has sold special editions of the books directly, although they can also be picked up from the major dealers.

1. Kydd (2001, Hodder and Stoughton)
2. Artemis (2002, Hodder and Stoughton)
3. Seaflower (2003, Hodder and Stoughton)
4. Mutiny (2004, Hodder and Stoughton)
5. Quarterdeck (2005, Hodder and Stoughton)
6. Tenacious (2005, Hodder and Stoughton)
7. Command (2006, Hodder and Stoughton)
8. Kydd: The Admiral's Daughter (2007, Hodder and Stoughton)
9. Treachery (2008, Hodder and Stoughton)
10. Invasion (2009, Hodder and Stoughton)

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Some light holiday reading - Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

I have just returned from travelling to various far-flung corners of the world, and am delighted to be back in computer contact. I managed to read a number of books while I am away, and am just finishing the last of the Booker Prize shortlisted novels, "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz. It is an exuberant and very funny first novel, which has at times had me laughing out loud. The humour is dark, and the plot has many unexpected twists and turns......

Jasper, having inadvertently been the cause of the death by suicide of one of his teachers, is asked to read a Psalm at the funeral. Instead, he reads the following from "The City of Dreadful Night" by James Thomson:

Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?
I think myself; yet I would rather be
My miserable self than He, than He
Who formed such creatures to His own disgrace.

The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou
From whom it had its being, God and Lord!
Creator of all woe and sin! abhorred
Malignant and implacable! I vow

That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,
For all the temples to Thy glory built,
Would I assume the ignominious guilt
Of having made such men in such a world.

He finished and looked up. The priest was gnashing his teeth, just as it's described in his favourite book.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Book of the Week - Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I am travelling again for the next three weeks, so mainly catching up with books I picked up earlier in the year but haven't had a chance to read yet. At the moment I am reading (and thoroughly enjoying) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Stieg Larsson (1954-2004) was a Swedish writer and journalist, who wrote three detective novels (The Millenium Series) prior to his sudden death from a heart attack in November 2004. "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (2005, UK release in January 2008), "The Girl Who Played With Fire", (2006, UK release in January 2009) and "Castles in the Sky" (working title) (2007, English title not confirmed, UK release in January 2010). Before his career as a writer, Stieg Larsson was mostly known for his struggle against racism and right-wing extremism. In the middle of the 1980’s he helped to start the anti-violence project “Stop the Racism”. This was followed by the founding of the Expo-foundation in 1995, where he later became Chief Executive. From 1999 on, he was appointed the chief editor of Expo, a magazine published by the organization Expo.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has had multiple reprints, and the first edition hardcover by Quercus is now uncommon, but worth picking up if you can find a copy at near cover price (£14.99). "Forty years ago, Harriet Vanger disappeared from a family gathering on the island owned and inhabited by the powerful Vanger clan. Her body was never found, yet her uncle is convinced it was murder. He employs disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander to investigate. When the pair link Harriet's disappearance to a number of grotesque murders from forty years ago, they begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history."

Monday, 8 September 2008

Man Booker prize shortlist 2008

The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize has now been announced, with two of my previous Books of the Week included. For my pre-announcement comments see below! The two favourites failed to make the shortlist, so the prize now seems very open. The Clothes on Their Backs will be the most difficult to find in the hardvcover first edition - the cheapest copies I can see at the moment (Ebay) are now £99 unsigned and £149 signed.

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

My predictions:

The shortlist for this year's Man Booker prize will be announced tomorrow. There seems to be a concensus that this is a strong year for fiction, and there are a number of interesting candidates to choose from. The bookies currently favour Salman Rushdie and Joseph O'Neill, and there is a good chance that both will reach the shortlist. The Enchantress by Rushdie was published in two limited editions as well as the trade edition in the UK, with the 100 signed copy edition published in association with Blackwell's being the most desirable - you could still pick up a copy tonight at £100 if you are very quick on ABEbooks, which will be good value if the book is shortlisted.

Of the other novels, I previously chose The Secret Scripture and The White Tiger as Books of the Week, so I hope they do well. The one which will be most difficult for collectors if shortlisted will be Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs, which was issued in a small hardback run at the same time as a paperback edition. The hardback is now very difficult to find at £30 - 50, with prices likely to rise significantly if it is shortlisted.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Book of the Week - Poppy Adams, The Behaviour of Moths

Nothing new has particularly caught my eye this week, so I thought I would highlight a book from earlier in the year which I am now reading. The Behaviour of Moths is a first novel by Poppy Adams, a documentary filmmaker with a Natural Science degree who has made films for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel. She has three children and lives with her husband in London. The book is clearly informed by a close knowledge of moths, and has a Victorian Gothic mood. It was published in the US under the alternative title of The Sister. Signed first editions are still available at cover price.

From her lookout on the first floor, Ginny watches and waits for her adored younger sister to return to the crumbling mansion that was once their idyllic childhood home. Vivien has not stepped foot in the house since she left, forty seven years ago; Ginny, the reclusive lepidopterist, has rarely ventured outside it. The remembrance of their youth, of loss, and of old rivalries plays across Ginny's mind. Why is Vivi coming home? Ginny has been selling off the family furniture over the years, gradually shutting off each wing of the house and retreating into the precise routines and isolation that define her days. Only the attic remains untouched. There, collected over several generations, are walls lined with pinned and preserved Bordered Beauties and Rusty Waves, Feathered Footmen and Great Brocades, Purple Cloud, Angle Shades, the Gothic and the Stranger ...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Haruki Murakami Bibliography - an update

I have held off updating the Haruki Murakami bibliography until I was certain about the limited edition of What I talk about when I talk about Running. The book was released as a Knopf hardcover in the US in July, and in August as a hardcover by Harvill Secker. I have not seen any signed copies of the trade editions, which is perhaps not surprising given the current rarity of Murakami's signature. However, a signed limited UK edition in a slipcase (only 75 copies) has now been released by Harvill Secker, and this will be in demand by collectors as the smallest run of a Murakami limited edition to date (with the exception of Sleep). There is currently (3/9/08) one copy on ABEbooks and one on Ebay if anyone is interested! The title is apparently derived from Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and is a reflection by Murakami on running, writing and the relationship between the two. Also just released is a Murakami Diary for 2009, published as a paperback in both the UK and US by Vintage.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Aleksander Hemon, The Lazarus Project

The Lazarus Project is the second novel by Aleksandar Hemon. Hemon was born in Sarajevo in 1964 and Graduated from University of Sarajevo in 1990. In 1992, he arrived in Chicago on what was planned to be a short visit, but he was soon stranded in the U.S. as Sarajevo fell under siege. When it became clear that he would be in the U.S. more or less permanently, he gave himself five years to master enough English to write fiction. He has subsequently earned widespread literary acclaim, and has been hailed as a major international writer. Of course, this is still early in his career, but it is probably a good time to seek out signed first editions of all of his books.

On 2 March 1908, nineteen-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a Russian Jewish immigrant to Chicago, tried to deliver a letter to the home of the city's Chief of Police, George Shippy. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Averbuch twice, killing him. Lazarus Averbuch, Shippy claimed, was an anarchist assassin and an agent of foreign operatives who wanted to bring the United States to its knees. His sister, Olga, was left alone and bereft in a city - and country - seething with political and ethnic tensions. In the twenty-first century, Brik, a young Bosnian writer in Chicago, becomes obsessed with finding out the truth of what happened to Lazarus. And so Brik and his friend Rora, a charming and unreliable photographer, set off on a journey back to Lazarus Averbuch's birthplace, through a history of pogroms and poverty and a present of gangsters and prostitutes.


The Question of Bruno (2000, Doubleday, USA ;Picador, UK)
Nowhere Man (2002, Doubleday, USA; 2003, Picador, UK)
The Lazarus Project (2008, Riverhead, USA; Picador, UK)
Love and Obstacles (2009, Riverhead, USA; Picador,UK)

Other books

The Drawer (2004, Lenox Hill Bookshop, New York, USA; 200 copies signed by author)
A Coin (2006, Picador Shots, UK)

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Book of the Week - Tony Black, Paying for it

There is a little of the summer to go yet, so still time to pick up late holiday reading. "Paying for it" is Tartan Noir at its best, a first novel set in Edinburgh by Tony Black. Highly recommended, as the first in a new series set in Edinburgh, in an increasingly popular genre, and with good reviews.

Gus Dury once had a high-flying career as a journalist and a wife he adored. But now he is living on the edge, a drink away from Edinburgh's down-and-outs, drifting from bar to bar, trying not to sign divorce papers. But the road takes an unexpected turn when a friend asks him to investigate the brutal torture and killing of his son, and Gus becomes embroiled in a much bigger story of political corruption and illegal people-trafficking. Seedy doss-houses, bleak wastelands and sudden violence contrast with the cobbled streets and cool bistros of fashionable Edinburgh, as the puzzle unravels to a truly shocking ending.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Jason Goodwin, The Bellini Card

Jason Goodwin's Ottoman Eunuch sleuth, Yashim, made his appearance in the 2007 novel The Janissary Tree, which won the Edgar Award for best mystery. The third book in the series, The Bellini Card, has just appeared. It takes Yashim from the winding alleyways of Istanbul to the decaying grandeur of Venice. Charged by the Sultan to find a stolen painting by Bellini, he enlists the help of his friend Palewski, the Polish Ambassador, and goes undercover. Venice in 1840 is a city of empty palazzos and silent canals, and Palewski starts to mingle with Venetian dealers - self-made men, faded aristocrats and the hedonistic Contessa. But when two bodies turn up in the canal, he realises that art in Venice is a deadly business. These are enjoyable books which are steeped in the history of the Ottoman Empire – a series well worth collecting at this relatively early stage.


Lords of the Horizons – A History of the Ottoman Empire (Chatto and Windus, 1998)
Greenback – The Almighty Dollar and the Invention of America (Hamish Hamilton, 2003)

Yashim the Eunuch

The Janissary Tree (Faber, 2006)
The Snake Stone (Faber, 2007)
The Bellini Card (Faber, 2008)
An Evil Eye (Faber, 2011)

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Richard Morgan, The Steel Remains

So, after my quick world tour I return with another Book of the Week. I have been avidly reading Richard Morgan’s books since Altered Carbon was published in 2002 by Gollancz. A signed copy is now likely to cost £200 plus from a dealer, and he has subsequently kept up the same high standard. The books are exciting, innovative and at times deal with serious issues. The Steel Remains, which has just been published, represents a slight departure into fantasy rather than science fiction – I am currently awaiting my copy, and I suspect it will be just as good a read as his previous books.

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap, is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteren of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives. Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe's petty gods. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world.


Altered Carbon (Gollancz, 2002)
Broken Angels (Gollancz, 2003)
Market Forces (Gollancz, 2004)
Woken Furies (Gollancz, 2005)
Black Man (Gollancz, 2007) – published in the US as Thirteen by Del Rey
The Steel Remains (Gollancz, 2008)

Graphic Novels

Black Widow – Homecoming (Marvel Comics, 2005; 6 parts)
Black Widow – The things they say about her (Marvel Comics, 2006; 6 parts)

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Man Booker Longlist

The longlist for this year’s Mann Booker prize was announced this week. The list of thirteen books is somewhat shorter than in recent years, and includes five first novels and (unusually) a thriller. I was very pleased to see three of my recent “Books of the Week” on the list – The White Tiger (Araving Adiga), The Secret Scripture (Sebastian Barry) and Netherland (Joseph O’Neill). I have also read (and bought) Sea of Poppies, The Northern Clemency and Child 44 this year, so all in all I have done quite well in identifying the candidates.

The book that surprised me most on the list was Child 44, which I think is a very well written and enjoyable thriller, but an unusual Booker choice. It was readily available signed at publication price when released, but quickly went into reprints and is now quite difficult to obtain. In previous years, prices of Booker novels tend to rise significantly at the short listing stage, only to fall back again in the few months after the winner in announced. Now is a reasonable time to buy if you are confident you can spot the books which will be shortlisted.

The longlist in full

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Atlantic)
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (Faber and Faber)
From A to X by John Berger (Verso)
The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser (Chatto & Windus)
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (John Murray)
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant (Virago)
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher (Fourth Estate)
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (Fourth Estate)
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Hamish Hamilton)

Monday, 28 July 2008

Ten things you didn't know about Haruki Murakami

This is taken from The Times - but I thought it was worth reprinting.

Haruki Murakami is quite possibly the most successful and influential cult author in the world today. The 59-year-old sells millions of books in Japan. His fifth novel, Norwegian Wood, sold more than 3.5m copies in its first year and his work has been translated into 40 languages, in which he sells almost as well. Last year’s novella, After Dark, shifted more than 100,000 copies in English in its first three months. His books are like Japanese food — a mix of the delicate, the deliberately bland and the curiously exotic. Dreams, memory and reality swap places, all leavened with dry humour. His translator, Professor Jay Rubin, says reading Murakami changes your brain. His world-view has inspired Sofia Coppola, the author David Mitchell and American bands such as the Flaming Lips. He is a recipient of the Franz Kafka prize, has honorary degrees from Princeton and Li√®ge, and is tipped for the Nobel prize for literature.

In June 2000, the panel members of German television’s literary review show Das Literarische Quartett disagreed so violently about his writing that one of them quit after 12 years on the programme. Opinion is equally divided in Japan. While younger readers adore him and even choose to study at his alma mater, Waseda University, in the hope of living in the dorm he describes in Norwegian Wood, he is viewed as pop, trashy and overly westernised by Japan’s literary establishment, who prefer the formal writing of Mishima, Tanizaki or Kawabata. Born in Kyoto in 1949, he studied theatre arts at Waseda — although the course didn’t interest him hugely and he spent much of his time reading film scripts in the library. He was hugely influenced by the student rebellions in 1968, which find their way into many of his novels. As a result, he’s a typical baby boomer — openly critical of Japan’s obsession with capitalism. He finds Japanese traditions boring. This doesn’t go down very well.

As well as countless Japanese novelists, the plot and style of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation were partly inspired by Murakami’s novels. David Mitchell — twice nominated for the Booker prize — owes a huge debt to him after reading him while teaching in Japan. Indeed, the title of his second novel, Number 9 Dream, is a veiled tribute to Norwegian Wood — both were named after Beatles songs. Among others, the Complicite theatre company adapted The Elephant Vanishes in 2003; Robert Wyatt reads from Murakami’s books on Max Richter’s 2006 album Songs from Before; and the Grateful Dead-style jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9 soundtracked a 2007 film version of the story All God’s Children Can Dance.

Imagine that JD Salinger and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a manga version of The Maltese Falcon. Norwegian Wood is the Japanese equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye — required reading for every troubled adolescent. Curiously, Murakami translated The Catcher in the Rye into Japanese and found it good but incomplete. “The story becomes darker and darker, and Holden Caulfield doesn’t find his way out of the dark world,” he argues. “I think Salinger himself didn’t find it either.” Murakami balances the mundane — intimate descriptions of preparing and eating simple meals feature regularly — with the fantastic. His protagonists are usually ordinary people trying to get by in life, until some type of ethereal male guide steers them into a new direction, sometimes quite literally. In All God’s Children Can Dance, Yoshiya, a young man working at a publishing company, wakes up with a crushing hangover and heads to his office hours later than usual. On the train coming home that night, he sees an older man who has the distinguishing features of his absent father. Yoshiya follows this man on the train, then through darkened, empty streets, to find himself in a deserted baseball diamond at night. The man vanishes, and Yoshiya stands on the pitcher’s mound in the cold wind and simply dances.

Both his parents taught Japanese literature, but he preferred reading second-hand pulp-fiction novels picked up in the port city of Kobe. He is a devoted fan of western music and hates the formalism of Mishima. In 1987, the huge success of Norwegian Wood made him an overnight celebrity, which terrified and annoyed him. In December 1988, he left the country, becoming a writing fellow at Princeton. A Japanese weekly magazine reported his departure under the headline “Haruki Murakami has escaped from Japan”. Published in 1994, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle picked apart the cultural groupthink that led Japan into the second world war, a theme he revisited in his first nonfiction book, Underground (published in 1997), about the Tokyo subway attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult. He worries about Japan’s tendency to forget wartime atrocities. Even so, he says: “Before, I wanted to be an expatriate writer. But I am a Japanese writer. This is my soil and these are my roots. You cannot get away from your country.”

He owned it from the end of his university years until 1981, when he was able to support himself with his writing. The experience may have contributed to the negative role of drinking in his books. He uses alcohol as a signifier of the petty, the negative and the evil. That is not to say he is teetotal. He loves beer, rewarding himself with a cold one for feats of writing or sporting endurance. Perhaps it was the crushed, social blend of booze and crowds that made Murakami uneasy. He once said: “When I had the club, I stood behind the bar, and it was my job to engage in conversation. I did that for seven years, but I’m not a talkative person. I swore to myself, once I’ve finished here, I will only ever talk to those people I really want to talk to.” As a result, he refuses to appear on radio or television.

On April 1, 1978, he was watching a baseball game at the Jingu Stadium, in Tokyo, on a warm, sunny day — the Yakult Swallows against the Hiroshima Carp. An American player for the Swallows, Dave Hilton, stepped up to bat and hit a home run. In that instant, Murakami knew he was going to write a novel. “It was a warm sensation. I can still feel it in my heart,” he told Der Spiegel earlier this year. He started work that night on his debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing. It has many Murakami themes: there are animals; the hero is a young man, rather isolated, laconic, operating on cruise control and jobless; his eventual girlfriend has a twin (Murakami likes doppelg√§ngers); cooking, eating, drinking and listening to western music are described often and in detail; and the plot is both incredibly simple and bafflingly complex. Writing while running a jazz bar proved difficult, however, and it is a fragmented, jumpy read. The unpublished manuscript won first prize in a competition run by the influential Japanese literary magazine Gunzo, but Murakami himself doesn’t like it very much and didn’t want it translated into English.

His jazz bar was called Peter Cat, and cats appear in many of his stories — usually indicating that something very strange is about to happen. It’s a missing cat that starts off the whole surreal chain of events in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, while Kafka on the Shore features a confused and possibly brain-damaged pensioner called Nakata, who, after a mysterious incident involving a strange silver light at the end of the second world war, fell into a coma and woke to find that he had telepathic communication with cats. This, it turns out, is fortunate, as a conversation with an unusually bright member of the species, who is on the run from a strange cat-catcher called Johnnie Walker, ultimately leads to Nakata preventing the living embodiment of pure evil from destroying the planet.
As I said, something very strange.

Many of his book titles are musical references: Norwegian Wood after the Beatles song, South of the Border, West of the Sun after a Nat King Cole track and Dance, Dance, Dance after the Beach Boys tune. The three books in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle are named after a Rossini overture, a piano piece by Schumann and a character in Mozart’s Magic Flute respectively. In Kafka on the Shore, the hero’s contact with the spirit of a dead woman who has obsessed him throughout the novel finally comes about when he discovers a cache of vinyl records in a desolate library on the outskirts of a regional city and plays Beethoven’s Archduke Trio. In Pinball, 1973, revolutionary students occupying a university building find a classical-music library and spend every evening listening to records. One beautifully clear November afternoon, riot police force their way into the building while Vivaldi’s L’Estro armonico blares at full volume. One interviewer visited Murakami’s flat and found a room lined with more than 7,000 vinyl records.

His latest book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is the closest thing he’s written to an autobiography (although some fans suspect Norwegian Wood has more than a little of his own life at its core).
In this extended monologue, Murakami reminisces about his life as seen through the prism of the sport.
He began running at the age of 33 to lose weight after giving up smoking. Within a year, he had run his first marathon. He’s also run the original marathon, between Marathon and Athens — albeit in reverse, because he didn’t want to arrive in Athens during the rush hour.
His personal best time for a marathon is 3hr 27min, in New York in 1991. In 1995, he ran in a 100km ultramarathon. It took him more than 11 hours and he nearly collapsed halfway through. He describes his second wind as a religious experience, but decided that he wouldn’t run another one. He believes that “a fortunate author can write maybe 12 novels in his lifetime. I don’t know how many good books I still have in me. I hope there are another four or five. When I am running, I don’t feel that limit. I publish a thick novel every four years, but I run a 10km race, a half-marathon and a marathon every year”. He gets up at 4am, writes for four hours, then runs 10km. On his tombstone, he would like the phrase “at least he never walked”.

His protagonists are usually transformed by exquisitely tender physical unions with unusual, beautiful and often confused or mysterious women. He describes love with delicate wonder, and his hero is driven by passionate need once the woman of his life is revealed. “I have to talk to you,” Norwegian Wood’s Toru Watanabe tells the emotionally troubled Naoko. “I have a million things to talk to you about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning.”
Yet it usually doesn’t work out. Murakami’s women are often spirits or extremely fragile. They write the hero long, rambling letters from afar and either attempt suicide or manage to kill themselves during the course of the novel. In one case, the love interest turns out to be the ghost of the hero’s mother, captured when she was a teenage girl. Murakami himself has been married since 1971 to Yoko, although he has speculated in interviews about whether this was the right thing to do. “Unlike my wife, I don’t like company. I have been married for 37 years and often it is a battle,” he told Der Spiegel. ”I am used to being alone. And I enjoy being alone.”

Book of the week and Bibliography - Harry Sidebottom, Warrior of Rome - Fire in the East

I have a fondness for novels set in Roman times, and this week's book of the week is another first novel (though not a first book) which has attracted good reviews and which will be the first in a series. For more details about Harry Sidebottom, please refer to his website. In this case the novel, is set late in the Roman Empire, a period which has featured relativfely little in fiction. The author is an historian, and the historical accuracy of the detail of the novel has been praised by many reviewers. It has been highlighted by many of the UK modern firsts dealers and is definitely recommended.

AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged throughout the territories and along every border. Yet the most lethal threat lurks far to the east in Persia, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged throughout the territories and along every border. Yet the most lethal threat lurks far to the east in Persia, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. The far-flung and isolated citadel of Arete faces out across the wasteland, awaiting the inevitable invasion. One man is sent to marshall the defences of this lonely city - one man to shore up the crumbling walls of a once indomitable symbol of Roman power - a man whose name itself means war, a man called Ballista. Alone, Ballista is called to muster the forces and the courage to stand first and to stand hard against the greatest enemy ever to confront the Imperium.


Ancient Warfare : A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Warrior or Rome Series
Fire in the East (Michael Joseph, 2008)
King of Kings (Michael Joseph, 2009)
Lion of the Sun (Michael Joseph, scheduled July 2010)

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Various updates

The copy of the Mount edition of Shadowmancer sold on Ebay for £103, close to my predicted value and far off its peak. I expect prices to fall further.

The Best of the Bookers (as voted by the general public and predicted here) was Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. You can currently pick up an unsigned copy in dustwrapper on ABEbooks for £400, which seems good value.

Staying on the topic of the Booker Prize, The Oak Tree Press have issued the sixth volume in their First Chapter Series - The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, with illustrations by Yoko Ono. It is a very attractive production in a good cause, and highly recommended. They have a number of other interesting volumes currently available, and the site is well worth a look.

Seth Hunter is indeed a pseudonym, for "the author of a number of highly acclaimed and prize-winning adult and children's novels. He has written and directed many historical dramas for television, radio and the theatre and adapted and directed films by playwrights such as Arthur Miller and Michael Bulgarov". The writing style reminds me of Jonathan Lunn, author of the Killigrew novels - if anyone has any definite information please let me know!

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Book of the week - Ben Kane, The Forgotten Legion

The Forgotton Legion is the first novel by Ben Kane. I brought it with me on holiday, and having just finished it I can recommend it as an engrossing and fast paced holiday read. It is the first in a proposed trilogy, and there seems a good chance that the sequence will become collectible. Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin but after that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. Now he lives in North Somerset, where he researches, writes and practises as a small animal vet.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman on his way home from a good night out. At 13 years old, they and their mother are sold: Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome, and their mother into obscurity and death in the salt mines.
Tarquinius is an Etruscan, a warrior and soothsayer, born enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion.
Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and of revenge.
The lives of these four characters are bound and interwoven in a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and political enmities, but ends far away, where Romulus, Brennus and Tarquinius find themselves fighting against the Parthians and overwhelming odds.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Book of the week - Anuradha Roy, An Atlas of Impossible Longing

Anuradha Roy is the Publisher of Permanent Black, an imprint in Delhi. She was shortlisted for the British Council International Young Publisher of the Year award in 2006. This is her first novel and reviews have been very positive. This is the sort of book which often features in the Booker Prize list - it has been added to my summer reading list! The story is of three generations of an Indian family, in which a sensitive and intelligent orphan boy who is casteless and without religion and Bakul, the motherless granddaughter of the house, grow up together. The boy, Mukunda, spends his time as a servant in the house or reading the books of Mrs Barnum, an Anglo-Englishwoman whose life was saved long ago by Bakul's grandmother. Mrs Barnum gives Mukunda the run of her house, but as he and Bakul grow, they become aware that their intense closeness is becoming something else, and Bakul's father is warned to separate them. He banishes Mukunda to a school in Calcutta, where in the years after Partition he prospers, and whence in time he will return to rediscover all that he has lost.The novel begins in 1907 with the founding of a factory in Songarh, a small provincial town where narrow attitudes prevail. Amulya and Kananbala have two sons and as their family grows, and the house and their garden too, a microcosm of a society develops.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

The Trajectory of Modern First Edition Prices

A couple of days ago, I noticed a first edition of Shadowmancer by GP Taylor (the privately published Mount edition) on Ebay, starting price of £9.99. Two days later it has reached £21.00, and I will be interested to see the final price. However, this reminded me that I had been meaning to write something about prices of hypermodern first edition fiction. Shadowmancer is a classic example of a book which was initially very cheap, but subsequently achieved very high prices on the secondary market in a short period of time (over £1000, which was extraordinary for a resently published paperback). Since then, prices have plummeted, and now you should not have to pay more than £100 or so if you want a copy. I do not mean to cast any aspersions on the quality of this book (which I haven’t read), but I will be very surprised if it retains any substantial value over the years to come, and it seems to me more likely that prices will continue to fall.

This phenomenon has become very much a trend with modern first edition, and it is easy to name other examples, perhaps less marked, where an initial short-lived surge in prices has not been maintained. This is the case even for well regarded books which will probably be read for many years to come - Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The English Patient fall into this category.

Of course, the first rule of collecting is only to buy what you like. If your judgement is good, at least some of your purchases will show a sustained long term rise in value. However, from a financial perspective, the key is to buy books as prices start to rise and to aim to sell at the peak. To do this successfully requires paying careful attention to the market, and even then it is easy to make mistakes. But overall, you will win more often than you lose if you aim to follow this strategy.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Book of the week - Seth Hunter, Time of Terror

Time of Terror is apparently the first novel in a trilogy by Seth Hunter, coming from Headline. It features Nathan Peake, British naval officer and spy during the war with Revolutionary France. It is 1793, and Peake, Commander of the brig-sloop Nereus based at Rye in East Sussex, is unhappy with his commission and is desperate for some real action. When revolutionary France declares war on England, he gets his chance. The French have killed their king and are about to embark on that violent period of bloodletting known as the Terror. Peake is entrusted with a vital mission to wreck the French economy by smuggling millions of French banknotes across the Channel and into the heart of Paris. But opposition to the Terror mounts and Peake is soon forced to leave Paris and find the storm-tossed British squadrons in the Atlantic.

The novel is being pushed as potentially collectible by most of the UK modern firsts dealers, and indeed Headline first printings in hardback are often relatively small. I can’t find anything out about Seth Hunter, which makes my wonder whether this might be a pseudonym – time will tell. Goldsboro books have a 100 copy stamped and numbered limited edition (signed and lined) at £25, or a simple signed copy should be available at around half that price. No reviews as yet that I can find, and how well it is written will be crucial!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Book of the week - Diane Wei Liang, Paper Butterfly

Paper Butterfly is the second detective novel from Diane Wei Liang featuring Mei Wang and set in modern China.

Deep in the outback of China, prisoner 3424 is released from camp and seven years of gruelling work in the mines. A young man named Lin, he was imprisoned for activism in the protests at Tiananmen Square. His student ideals were crushed, and now he makes his long way back to Beijing. In the heart of the city, private detective Mei Wang is hired on the case of a missing person by talent magnate Mr Peng, a contact of her glamorous sister Lu. The subject in question is Kaili, a gorgeous young pop star, whose life was not as glittering as it first appeared. As the case rapidly slides into murder, Mr Peng chooses a corporate cover-up over the risk of finding out too much of the messy truth. But Mei is compelled by her instincts to do just that, and is drawn on a trail that takes her from the high rises and boulevards into the old huting district, where superstitions are very much alive. Following a mysterious clue in a beautiful handmade paper butterfly, she uncovers events that take her back to her own memories of the heady days of Tiananmen that ended so brutally. Mei was lucky - Lin not so - but she plunges into the risky game of investigating the truth in a new society still catching up with the secrets of its past.

Diane Wei Liang lives and works in London, but grew up in China and experienced both a Labour Camp and Tiananmen Square. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series - signed copies of Paper Butterfly are available now. Her first book, a memoir, is to be reissued next year.


Lake with no name (Headline, paperback, 2003)
The Eye of Jade (Picador, 2007)
The Paper Butterfly (Picador, 2008)

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Bibliography and Book of the Week – Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture

Sebastian Barry is a successful poet and playwright, and The Secret Scripture makes use of a strong structure and haunting language to maximum effect. Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she's spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates.

Barry was born in Dublin in 1955 and educated at the Catholic University School and Trinity College Dublin. He now lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children. His previous novel, A Long Long Way, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize. The Secret Scripture is a powerful novel, and should be in the running for the Man Booker Prize later in the year. It has been published simultaneously in paperback and hardback – the latter is well worth picking up now.



Macker's Garden (Irish Writer's Cooperative, 1982)
Time Out of Mind/Strappado Square (Dublin, Wolfhound, 1983);
The Engine of Owl-Light (Manchester, Carcanet, 1987);
The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (Picador, 1998)
Annie Dunne (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2002)
A Long Long Way (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2005)
The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber, 2008)


Andersen's English (Faber paperback orginal, 2010) 
Tales of Ballycumber (Faber paperback original, 2010)
The Pride of Parnell Street (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2007)
Fred and Jane / Whistling Psyche (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2004)
Hinterland (Faber and Faber, paperback original, 2002)
Our Lady of Sligo (Methuen paperback, 1998)
Boss Gradys Boys and Prayers of Sherkin (Methuen, 1992);
The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, The Steward of Christendom (Metheun, 1995);
White Woman Street (London, Methuen, 1995)


The Water Colourist (Dublin, Dolmen 1983);
The Rhetorical Town (Dolmen 1985);
Fanny Hawke Goes to the Mainland Forever (Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1987);
The Pinkening Boy (Dublin, New Island Books, 2004) [limited signed edition, Oxford, Joe McCann, 2004; 65 copies numbered 1-65 bound in cloth, in glassine dj, signed by author; 20 number I to XX in Qtr Goatskin to Brown Cloth, signed by the author. Total edition of 85.]


Elsewhere: The Adventures of Belemus (Brogeen Books, 1985)
The Inherited Boundaries: Younger Poets of the Republic of Ireland (editor) Dolmen Press, 1986

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Joseph O'Neill, Netherland

Netherland is the third novel of Joseph O'Neill, who was born in Cork, Ireland in 1964 and grew up in The Netherlands. Signed copies are uncommon of the UK edition, but can be found with a little effort. Reviews in the US have been outstanding, and the novel has topped the best-seller list. UK reviews are rather more mixed, but this book does have the potential to become one of the landmark novels of the decade.

In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans - his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in the Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he'd regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place - the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city's most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriended Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city's first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck's dream and Chuck's sense of American possibility - until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend's activities and ambitions.'Netherland' is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship.

O'Neill is a graduate of Girton College, Cambridge and a barrister (lawyer) at the English Bar, where he practiced for ten years, principally in the field of business law. He now lives in New York with his wife, Vogue editor Sally Singer, and their three sons. He is the author of three novels, a number of short stories and a non-fiction book, Blood-Dark Track: A Family History, which was a New York Times Notable Book for 2002 and a book of the year for the Economist and the Irish Times. He also writes literary and cultural criticism, most regularly for the Atlantic Monthly.


Netherland (Fourth Estate, 2008)
The Breezes (Faber and Faber, 1996)
This Is The Life (Faber and Faber, 1991)


Blood-Dark Track: A Family History (Granta Books, 2001)

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Murakami at auction - an update

The Bloomsbury Book Auction sale featuring the Murakami first editions was held earlier today. All of the Murakami lots sold, though for slightly under the estimated prices. Pinball 1973 went for a very respectible £428 including the premium, along with a later edition of Hear the Wind Sing. In my experience, the true first of Hear the Wind Sing is more difficult to obtain than Pinball, and perhaps would command a higher price in Auction.

Looking through the results, it is striking that the majority of lots were selling for under the lower estimate. It would be wrong to read too much into a single sale, but at least for the medium price lots which dominated the sale, it looks as if demand was relatively low. Given all the news about oil prices and inflation in the UK, and the strength of sterling against the dollar, maybe this is is not a great surprise.

One of the books to sell at well above its upper estimate was "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which went for £228 for s signed first edition. Its still possible pick up an unsigned first edition (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) for around £35, which looks good value given that the author's signature might be picked up at a later date.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Book of the week - Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World

Nick Harkaway's first novel, The Gone-Away World is published in a conventional hardback (Heinemann) and as a limited edition, signed, slipcased edition of around 1000 copies by Waterstones in the UK. Harkaway was born in 1972 in Cornwall. He studied philosophy, sociology and politics at Clare College, Cambridge, and worked in the film industry before becoming an author. He happens to be the son of John le Carre, and consequently there were whispers of nepotism when this debut novel was bought for a reputed £300,000 last year. However, reviews have been very positive. To quote The Independent, "On reading this magnificent, sprawling, epic work, it's clear it was published on its own merits, and is probably worth considerably more than the amount Heinemann paid for it. With the right wind behind it, The Gone-Away World could easily become a modern classic."

The Jorgmund Pipe is the backbone of the world, and it's on fire. Gonzo Lubitsch, professional hero and troubleshooter, is hired to put it out - but there's more to the fire, and the Pipe itself, than meets the eye. The job will take Gonzo and his best friend, our narrator, back to their own beginnings and into the dark heart of the Jorgmund Company itself. From rural childhood in Cricklewood Cove to military service in a bewildering foreign war; from Jarndice University to the sawdust of the Nameless Bar; their story is the story of the Gone-Away World. It is the history of a friendship stretched beyond its limits; a tale of love and loss; of ninjas, pirates, politics and strange places.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Bibliography and Book of the week - Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a first novel for young adults by Patrick Ness, an American born writer who has been living in the UK for a number of years. The book is the first in a projected fantasy trilogy - a format which is now very common, and does not always indicate quality - but in this case the book has received a considerable amount of attention and very good reviews. It has also been longlisted for the Guardian Childrens' Fiction Prize. The Prize was funded in 1967, and has a tradition of finding new voices in children's fiction before the rest of the world is aware of them. Past winners include Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and Mark Haddon.

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town full of men, a town where everyone can hear your thoughts and Todd finds out he doesn't fit in with the town's plans as he approaches the birthday that will make him a man. The town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run... "The Knife of Never Letting Go" is an unflinching novel about the impossible choices of growing up. Signed, lined and dated copies currently available for £12.99!


The Crash of Hennington (Flamingo, 2003)

Topics About Which I Know Nothing (Flamingo, 2004) - short stories, paperback original

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Walker Books, 2008)
The Ask and the Answer (Walker Books, 2009)
Monsters of Men (Walker Books, 2010)
A Monster Calls (Walker Books, 2011)

Friday, 30 May 2008

Murkami items at auction

I don't often see Haruki Murakami items at auction, but there are several interesting lots in the Bloomsbury Book Auctions sale on 11th June . Details are given below - I will provide an update on prices realised. The estimates are interesting, and the sale should provide a test of interest in Murakami in the UK collectors' market.

358. Murakami (Haruki) Pinball,1973, translated by Alfred Birnbaum, first and only English language edition , original patterned wrappers, dust-jacket, very slight rubbing to edges, otherwise very good, small 8vo, Tokyo, Kodansha English Library, 1985; and a reprint of the first book in the series, Hear the Wind Sing (2)
est. £400 – £600

359. Murakami (Haruki) A Wild Sheep Chase, first English language edition , original cloth-backed boards, dust-jacket, a fine copy, 8vo, Tokyo & New York, 1989.
est. £120 – £180

360. Murakami (Haruki) Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Tokyo & New York, 1991; South of the Border, West of the Sun, New York, 1998; Underground..., 2000; Kafka on the Shore, 2005; Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, 2006, first English language editions , original cloth-backed boards or boards, dust-jackets, fine copies ; and 6 others, including 5 of the Japanese first editions, 8vo (11)
est. £300 – £400
The Japanese titles present include Underground, The Sputnik Sweetheart and Afterdark .

361. Murakami (Haruki) Tony Takitani, first English language edition , limited edition numbered by hand, publisher’s blind-stamp on title, original plain wrappers, dust-jacket, a fine copy, small 8vo, Los Angeles, Cloverleaf Press, 2006.
est. £50 – £75

Auction results now available - results below include 20% premium.
Lot 358 £432
Lot 359 £90
Lot 360 £288
Lot 361 £36

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Adam Foulds, The Broken Word

The Broken Word is an extended poem, or verse-fiction, set against the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. It follows the success of Adam Foulds' first novel, The Truth About These Strange Times (2007), for which he picked up the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. Adam Foulds is thirty-two years old and lives in South London. He read English at St. Catherine's, Oxford, has a Creative Writing MA from the Unversity of East Anglia and received the Harper-Wood fellowship from St. John's College, Cambridge. His poetry has appeared in magazines such as Arete, Stand and Quadrant. Reviews have been very strong both for the poem and the novel, and he looks like a writer with a very bright future.


The Truth about These Strange Times (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007)
The Broken Word (Cape, 2008)
The Quickening Maze (Cape, 2009)

Saturday, 17 May 2008

In honour of Dr Who

A youth goes down into one of the myriad bottomless wells sunk into the surface of Mars. These wells seem to date from tens of thousands of years ago, but the strange thing is every last one was carefully dug to avoid hitting any water veins. No one had any idea why they were dug. And, in fact, the Martians left nothing behind but these wells. Not writing nor dwellings nor pottery, not steel nor graves nor rockets nor streets nor vending machines, not even shells. Only wells. All of which left the earthlings somewhat baffled. Could this indeed be called a civilisation? Although they had to admit the wells were fashioned with consummate skill - not one block was out of place after tens of thousands of years.

Of course, many explorers went down the wells. The shafts were so deep and the side tunnels so long that those who tethered themselves by ropes all had to turn back. Of those who went down without ropes, not one ever returned.

One day, a young space vagabond took the plunge. He was tired of the vastness of space and wanted only to die were no one would ever find him. Yet the further down he went the more light-hearted he began to feel. A wondrous energy gently enveloped his body. Over half a mile down the shaft, he headed off into a side-tunnel and followed its snaking course aimlessly. He lost all track of how long he had walked. His watch had stopped along the way. Perhaps it’d been two hours, perhaps two days. He experienced neither hunger nor fatigue, only that mysterious energy that had engulfed him at first.

Then, at one point, he suddenly felt a ray of sunlight. The tunnel had led into another well shaft. He managed to crawl up the shaft and back out to the surface of the planet. Sitting on the edge of the well, he gazed across the vast, unobstructed expanse of the Martian desert, then up at the sun. Something was different. The scent of the breeze, the sun…. The sun was still high in the sky, yet it shone orange, a giant lump the colour of the setting sun.

"In another at 250,000 years the sun will explode," the breeze whispered to him. "Click….. Off. 250,000 years. Hardly much time now, is it?"

"Oh, don't mind me," the voice continued. "Just the wind. Call me a Martian if you like. Not a bad ring to it, that. Granted, words are less than nothing to me."

"But, you're speaking."

"Me? You're the one speaking. I'm only slipping hints into your mind."

"And the sun? What's happened to the sun?"

"Gotten old. It's dying. Not a thing you or I can do.”

“But why so suddenly….?”

"Not sudden at all. It took you a good 15 billion years to make your way through the wells. Your kind has a saying, I believe: Time flies like an arrow. The well passages you came through where dug to curve occur along the warp of time. You see, we are wanderers through time - from the birth of the universe to its death. The winds we are."

"One question, then, if I might."

"My pleasure."

"Have you learned anything?"

The air stirred briefly, a laugh in the breeze. And once again eternal stillness fell over the Martian landscape. The youth took the pistol out of his pocket, pointed the muzzle and his temple, and pulled the trigger.

- The Wells of Mars, by Derek Heartfield (as told in Hear the Wind Sing, Haruki Murakami)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Best of the Booker

As part of the 40th Anniversary Celebrations, there is an opportunity to vote for the "Best of the Booker" at Six winners have been shortlisted by a panel chaired by Victoria Glendinning. The six shortlisted novels are given below (in alphabetical order) - interestingly, none from this decade. My favourite from these would be Midnight's Children, which is also the bookies' favourite. All of the Booker Prize winners remian in print, with the exception of the first winner (Something to answer for, PH Newby).

Pat Barker's The Ghost Road (1995, Viking)

Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda (1988, Faber & Faber)

JM Coetzee's Disgrace (1999, Secker & Warburg)

JG Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur (1973, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Nadine Gordimer's The Conservationist (1974, Cape)

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981, Cape)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Book of the week - Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger

The White Tiger is a first novel by Aravind Adiga, who was born in India in 1974 and raised partly in Australia. He attended Columbia and Oxford universities, and worked as a journalist for, among others, Time magazine. He lives in Mumbai, India. "Balram Halwai is the White Tiger - the smartest boy in his village. His family is too poor for him to afford for him to finish school and he has to work in a teashop, breaking coals and wiping tables. But Balram gets his break when a rich man hires him as a chauffeur, and takes him to live in Delhi. The White Tiger is as compelling for its subject matter as for the voice of its narrator - amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing." Reviews have been generally positive, some very positive, and first novels set in India have done well in the Booker Prize in several previous years. Signed copies can still be found at cover price if you look around.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Ruth Downie, Ruso and the Demented Doctor

Bank holiday weekend, so I am one day late with my book of the week - apologies to all of my avid readers! An appropriate title this week in the circumstances, Ruso snd the Demented Doctor is the second novel in the Medicus series by Ruth Downie, following 2006's Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls, both from Michael Joseph. Gaius Petreius Ruso is a military Doctor attached to Legion XX in northern Britannia. The locals have a new hero who likes to strap antlers to his head and scare the Romans silly, while Ruso’s slave girl, Tilla, is stubbornly refusing to identify the culprit in a police line-up. But when Ruso is waylaid at the Fort of Coria, where a fellow doctor has confessed to a grisly murder, it’s a case of out of the cauldron and into the fire. With Tilla thrust outside the fort (and into the arms of a former lover), Ruso is landed not only with Doctor Thessalus’s patients but also the tricky task of getting him to retract the confession.

I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, though my signed and lined copy (securely protected in bubblewrap) will accompany me to the US this week, where it is available under another title. However, I am sure that I will enjoy it if it is anything like its predecessor - highly recommended. Ruth also keeps a blog for those who are interested.


Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls, Michael Joseph, 2006
Ruso and the Demented Doctor, Michael Joseph, 2008
Persona non grata, (US only, 2009)
Ruso and the Root of all Evils (Penguinm 2010, paperback only)

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - CJ Sansom, Revelation

CJ Sansom was born in 1952 and educated at the University of Birmingham, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he decided to retrain as a solicitor. He practised for a while in Sussex as a lawyer for the disadvantaged, then he quit in order to work full-time as a writer. Revelation is the fourth book in his series featuring the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake, and he has written one further book, Winter in Madrid, set in the Spanish Civil War. All of his books are superbly written and researched, with detailed and convincing backgrounds and plots. Kenneth Branagh is to star as Shardlake in a forthcoming BBC adaptation of the first novel, Dissolution, which may well increase the popularlity of the series further.
The bad news is that the early books in the series are now very difficult to obtain cheaply. When the series commenced, it was recommended by a number of dealers, but copies disappeared fairly rapidly. Revelation has been published simultaneously as both paperback and hardcover, and since Sansom has been unwell, signed copies are uncommon.

Matthew Shardlake Novels

Dissolution (MacMillan, 2003)

Dark Fire (MacMillan, 2004)

Sovereign (MacMillan, 2006)

Revelation (MacMillan, 2008)

Heartstone (Macmillan, 2010. The majority of signed copies (perhaps as many as 2000, although could be less) have the author's signature on a tipped-in page with the printed words signed first edition. 100 copies were signed directly by the author and sold via Postmortem Books. This represents a distinct and less common state of the first edition.

Winter in Madrid (MacMillan, 2006)

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Book of the week and bibliography - Nicola Upson, An expert in murder

An Expert in Murder introduces crime writer Jospehine Tey as a protagonist in the first of a series of books to be set in the golden era of crime fiction. It is the first fiction book to be published by Nicola Upson, a freelance journalist, and also introduces a fictional detective in Inspector Archie Penrose. Unusually for a first crime novel, it has been widely (and postively) reviewed, probably reflecting both optimism and confidence on the part of the publisher. It has been serialised in ten parts for BBC Radio 4, beginning on 21st April. I managed to pick up a signed, lined and dated copy for cost price in Heffers in Cambridge, although I don't know whether there are any left now. Nicola Upson has previously published two non-fiction books, details of which are given below.



An Expert in Murder , Faber, London, 2008.
Angel with two faces, Faber, London, 2009.


Mythologies: Sculpture of Helaine Blumenfeld (Elephant's Eye), Overlook Press, USA, 1998.
In Good Company: A Snapshot of Theatre & the Arts. With Mandy Morton. Cambridge Arts Theatre, 2005.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Book of the week - Declan Hughes, The Dying Breed

I am spending some time at assorted airports this week, which provides an opportunity to catch up on some slightly older books. I have had a copy of Declan Hughes' first novel, The Wrong Kind of Blood, for a while now, but had not previously managed to get around to reading it. The Wrong Kind of Blood introduced private detective Ed Loy and was published back in 2006, being followed in 2007 by The Colour of Blood. A third novel in the series, The Dying Breed, has just been published, and is my book of the week. The author is a theatre director, and his first book has a strong visual element and a fast moving plot, and it is certainly an enjoyable read. I will look forward to catching up with the two further books in the near future. All three books are currently available as signed first editions from ABEbooks or dealers at list price, which must be a bargain. A Dying Breed seems to have been published last month in the US as The Price of Blood – the reason for the different title is unclear to me!


Ed Loy novels

The Wrong Kind of Blood (Murray, London, 2006)
The Colour of Blood (Murray, London 2007)
The Dying Breed (Murray, London, 2008)
All the Dead Voices (Murray, London, 2009)
City of Lost Girls (Murray, London, 2010)


Digging for Fire and New Morning (Methuen, 1994)
Plays, volume 1 (Methuen, 1998)
Shiver (Methuen, 2003)

Monday, 7 April 2008

Philip Pullman - a bibliography

Philip Pullman is one of the great living writers. His books not only sell in large numbers to both children and adults, but manage to address at the same time serious themes and issues. The prices of his books in the secondary market have not risen to the dizzy heights of the early Harry Potter novels, but routinely sell for hundreds of pounds, or in the case of Northern Lights over £1000. Pullman has been writing since the earlier 1970's, but really hit the big time in the late 1990s. He is a relatively accessible author, appearing at many literary festivals and generally willing to sign copies of his books. Although his signature is widely available, forgeries have also become paradoxically common. There is a particular problem with relatively high quality bookplates, and the collector needs to be wary in this regard. This bibliography will highlight the key features of Pullman's books and their relative scarcity, and I will be building it up to completion over the next month or so. Comments are welcome in the interim!

1972 The Haunted Storm, London: New English Library. Pullman’s first book was initially published as a hardcover, and two years later in a paperback edition. The hardcover, the true first is very uncommon. The dustwrapper carries an inscription "Joint winner of the New English Library's Young Writers' Award", and also an extract from Lady Antonia Fraser's astute assessment of the author as having "the real makings of a writer". The rear flap has a picture of a very young looking Pullman. The New English library paperback version was published in 1973, and even in this format the book is collectible and difficult to find in good condition. It has not been subsequently republished, so opportunities to read it are limited for those with restricted budgets. However, even in this first novel Pullman was clearly interested in the opposition of good and evil and in the mystical.

1978 Galatea, London, Victor Gollancz Limited, Hardcover. There was also a US edition, but Pullman has indicated in interview that he does not favour republication.

1979 Using the Oxford Junior Dictionary, Oxford University Press. Another small and very rare book, although later editions from the 1990s can be obtained relatively easily.

1981 Ancient Civilisations, Wheaton (a division of Pergamum Press), Hardcover. A rare non-fiction book for young readers, published early in Pullman's writing career. A history of eight ancient civilizations, including Greece, Rome, Egypt and China. Written simply, but never patronising, it deals with everyday life as well as beliefs. profusely illustrated with both b/w and colour photographs, drawings and maps.

1982 Count Karlstein, Chatto & Windus. The original UK hardcover first of this book is very uncommon. An illustrated edition with pictures by Patrick Aggs was published by Doubleday in 1991. However, the most easily obtainable edition is the Doubleday 2002 revised edition. The first US edition was published by Knopf in 1998.

1985 The Ruby in the Smoke,The Ruby in the Smoke, Oxford University Press, hardcover with dustwrapper. The first of the Sally Lockhart novels, recently televised by the BBC starring Billy Piper. A four novel series, set in Victorian times - the first volume is the most difficult to obtain, and the most valuable. The bright red dustwrapper is prone to spine fading, and a very good or better copy in dustwrapper will currently cost several hundred pounds.

1986 The Shadow in the Plate, Oxford University Press, hardcover with dustwrapper. The second of the Sally Lockhart novels, and somewhat easier to obtain in the first edition than the Ruby in the Smoke. Later republished under a different title - The Shadow in the North.

1987 How to be Cool, Heineman. Simultaneously published in boards without a dustwrapper, and as a more common paperback. The former, of course, is more desirable and uncommon! Explains where "cool" is created - and who controls it. As a consequence, this book is "Banned by the National Cool Board."

1989 Spring-Heeled Jack, Doubleday, London. A heavily illustrated story aimed at younger children, issued in boards with no dustwrapper. Pictures by David Mostyn. The tale of three defenceless orphans as they attempt to escape from the Alderman Cawn-Plaster Memorial Orphanage one dark and stormy London night. Closely watched by Mack the Knife and other such villainous villains, they weave their way across the dark and dangerous streets of the city in constant fear of being caught and returned to the care of the rancid Mr Killjoy and his horribly horrid assistant. Enter Spring Heeled Jack, the hooded superhero to beat all hooded superheroes, dressed like the devil and ready for action against the evil-doers and scallywags of the city's dark streets.

1990 The Broken Bridge, MacMillan Children's Books. Originally published in the UK as a paperback, and in 1992 in the US by Knopf as a hardcover with dustwrapper. Over the course of a long summer in /wales, sixteen-year-old Ginny, the mixed- race, artist daughter of an English father and a Haitian mother, learns that she has a half-brother from her father's earlier marriage, and that herown mother may still be alive.

1990 The Tiger in the Well. Third of the Sally Lockhart novels. First appeared in the US (Knopf 1990) before being published in the UK by Viking in 1991. Both hardcovers with dustwrapper.

1992 The White Mercedes, Macmillan. Hardcover with dustwrapper - print run apparently 1250 copies. "Chris Marshall met the girl he was going to kill on a warm night in early June." Reissued as The Butterfly Tattoo in 1998.

1993 The Wonderful Story of Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp, Scholastic, London. An oversized illustrated book for younger children, hardcover in dustwrapper, with pictures by Sophy Williams.

1994 The Tin Princess, Knopf, New York. The fourth and final (to date) Sally Lockhart book was issued originally in the US as a hardcover with dustwrapper, and in the same year in the UK as a Puffin paperback. The US edition is relatively common, and can be easily picked up for £30 - 40. The UK paperback is much less common, but can be picked up for around the same price.

1994 The New Cut Gang - Thunderbolt's Waxwork. Viking UK. Pictorial Boards without dustwrapper. The New Cut Gang is a group of urchins ranging from 6-year-old Sharkey Bob to 13-year-old Bridie Malone. They inhabit the streets around Lambeth Walk and the New Cut. In 1892, it is a place full of gangsters, bookies, pickpockets, swindlers, horse thieves and the occasional tentative policeman. This was the first of two books featuring these characters. Uncommon in the original edition.

1995 TheNew Cut Gang - The Gas Fitters' Ball. Viking UK . Pictorial Boards without dustwrapper. Also uncommon.

1995 The Firework-Maker's Daughter. Doubleday, London. Brightly covered boards, no dustwrapper. Illustrated by Nick Harris. Uncommon.

1995 Nothern Lights, Scholastic, London. The first in the Northern Lights trilogy, which brought Pullman to fame and has subsequently won many prizes. A relatively small print run, with only 1000 copies published in hardback. The true first edition has the following features - no number line on copyright page, states 'first published by Scholastic Publications Ltd , 1995'; dj: 'Point' on spine, the address 7-9 Pratt Street to the rear flap, price £12.99 to front flap. 'Northern Lights' exists with or without a Gold Carnegie Prize medal attached to upper cover. It is NOT a point of Issue. The book was first published in the summer of 1995 and was a slow seller- it was not reprinted until September 1997. Pullman won the 1995 Carnegie Prize, which was awarded in 1996. At that time any current and future bookshop stock was stickered with the Prize medal. There are plenty of copies of this book available, and in reality it is much easier to obtain than many of Pullman's earlier books. However, it remains relatively expensive, although prices have fallen significantly from their peak. There seem to be a large number of ex-library copies, often disguised with signed bookplates to cover the library stamps - these are clearly less desirable. Subsequently published by Knopf, New York as The Golden Compass in 1996.

1996 Clockwork, or, All Wound Up. London, Doubleday. Brightly coloured boards with no dustwrapper, and grey endpapers. Several illustrations throughout the text, all by Peter Bailey. Relatively uncommon in the original edition and currently priced at over £300 by online dealers.

1997 The Subtle Knife, Scholastic, London. The second volume of the Northern Lights trilogy, first printings in dustwrapper from around £100 at present. An anomoly appears to have occurred whereby a later printing (second or third) was published with the following number line: 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1. The true first printing contains a full number line: 2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1. The American edition was published by Knopf, also in 1997.

1998 Mossycoat. Scholastic, London. A small paperback with illustrations by Peter Bailey. A version of the Cinderalla story published for World Book day.

1999 I was a Rat! or The Scarlet Slippers. Doubleday, London. Brightly coloured boards, no dustwrapper. Illustrations by Peter Bailey. Relatively common, but still highly collectable, with dealers currently charging £50 upwards.

2000 Puss in Boots: The Adventures of That Most Enterprising Feline. Doubleday, London. Hardcover with dustwrapper and illustrations by Ian Beck. First editions still available at around £20 or less.

2000 The Amber Spyglass. Scholastic, London, 2000. The final volume in the Northern Lights trilogy was printed in large numbers and is readily available, as are all of Pullman's subsequent novels. The US edition was published by Knopf, also in 2000.

2003 Lyra's Oxford, David Fickling, London. Decorated boards, illustrated by John Lawrence. A short story or novella based in the world of Northern Lights. The first of three short books planned to link the Northern Lights Triology with the more substantial Book of Dust. Includes a fold-out map of Oxford and various "souvenirs" from the past.

2004 The Scarecrow and his Servant. Doubleday, London. Hardcover with dustwrapper andillustrations by Peter Bailey, as for all of the other fairytale books.

2008 Once Upon a Time in the North. David Fickling Books, London, 2008. Slipcase / Cloth. John Lawrence (illustrator). The second of three volumes that will link Philip Pullman's Northern Lights trilogy with the forthcoming Book of Dust. Limited edition of 1500, signed by Philip Pullman and John Lawrence and numbered on a tipped in page. There was also a trade edition without the limitation or signature.

2009 A Outrance, Oak Tree Fine Press. A limited edition of an excerpt from Northern Lights. The book tells the story of how the rightful bear-king Iorek Byrnison regained his throne through a fight to the death with the false usurper Iofur Raknison. It is limited to only two hundred and sixty five copies and features original woodcut illustrations and features original woodcut illustrations by Chris Daunt, Harry Brockway and Andy English. The book is available in three different editions.
a) The Ruscombe letterpress art edition: fifteen individual hand bound copies with unique bindings by some of the world’s leading designers). Each volume has been meticulously printed letterpress by hand on traditional cast iron Heidelberg Press one sheet and one colour at a time on paper handmade at the famous Ruscombe Mill in France. Pullman signed each book and in addition inscribed in longhand a piece of text taken from the original novel. Each volume is encased in its own unique artist designed slip case trimmed and accompanied by a set of six woodcut images used within the book. Each print is signed by the author and artist and is produced in a format suitable for framing.
b) The Somerset letterpress deluxe edition: Fifty numbered copies half-bound by hand in calf with marbled boards. Each volume has been meticulously printed letterpress by hand on traditional cast iron Heidelberg Press one sheet and one colour at a time on mould made Somerset paper. In addition to signing the book, Philip Pullman has inscribed each copy with a line of text. Each volume is encased in its own slip case trimmed in leather and accompanied by a set of six woodcut images used within the book. Each print is signed by the author and artist and is produced in a format suitable for framing.
c) The Mohawk edition: Two hundred numbered copies printed offset on Mohawk paper and half-bound by hand in Colarado blood red cloth with hand marbled boards. Each of these beautifully produced volumes is signed by the author.

2010 The Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ, Canongate, Edinburgh. Hardcover with one of two alternative dustwrappers in black and white. Also two slipcased limited editions (400 copies each at £35), again a black version and a white version. A volume in the Canongate Myths series, to which Pullman earlier wrote an introduction.
In this ingenious, spellbinding and fiercely subversive retelling of the life of Jesus, Philip Pullman reimagines the most influential story ever told. He offers a radical new take on the myths and the mysteries of the Gospel truth and the resulting church that has so shaped the course of the last two millennia. With all the magic for which Pullman's storytelling is famed, this provocative and thoughtful new book from one of Britain's best loved writers promises to be the highest profile yet in Canongate's acclaimed Myths series.