Thursday, 31 January 2008

Book of the week - Sadie Jones, The Outcast

Interesting debut novel, which has attracted early positive reviews.
The tale of Lewis, a young boy growing up in Surrey in the 1950s, who in childhood witnesses his mother's accidental drowning. Mishandled first by his emotionally rigid father and then by his immature young stepmother, the early trauma hardens and Lewis' sweet nature is warped; he becomes self-harming, an occasional runaway, an arsonist and, eventually, goes to jail. His return triggers a series of events with the potential to lead to disaster. Pick up a signed copy now for £12.99 – good value for the sort of novel which often does well in the literary prizes later in the year.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Haruki Murakami - a bibliography

Haruki Murakami is not only a great writer, but also of considerable interest from the perspective of a collector. I will focus here on his books published in English, in particular in Japan, the USA (where he is currently based) and the UK. His early novels were first published in English in Japan, mainly for the benefit of Japanese readers learning English as a second language. As he became better known in the West, his books were in general first published in the USA. However, in recent years the UK versions have often been published in signed limited editions as well as trade editions, and these represent some of the most attractive of Murkami's books to the collector. This is particularly the case because his signature (in English or Japanese) is relatively difficult to obtain. Murakami has been widely tipped to win the Nobel prize for Literature in recent years. Although this has not yet happened he has won many other major literary prizes.

Pinball, 1973 (1980) - novel, Kodansha English Library 1985 (translated by Alfred Birnbaum). The first English language edition of Murakami's second book and the second book in the "Trilogy of the Rat," following Hear the Wind Sing (see below)and preceding The Wild Sheep Chase. A small, pocket-sized paperback in a series intended to allow Japanese readers to read Japanese books in English; the notes in the back -- themselves an unusual feature in a book of fiction -- translate English colloquialisms into Japanese characters. The later Californian University Press fascimile is relatively cheap, but an original copy with its wraparound belly band will be difficult to find.

Hear the Wind Sing (1979) - Tokyo, Kodansha English Library 1987 (translated by Alfred Birnbaum). Murakami's first novel and first volume of the "Trilogy of the Rat", but the second to be published published in English. The true first printing of this book is extremely uncommon, and has the following points: "First edition, 1987" stated on copyright page and no further printings indicated, the numbers 62, 2, 20 and 1 on the last page (indicating year - the 62th year in the reign of Hirohito - month, day and printing), price 450 yen on back, yellow color on back, ISBN number 4-06-186026-7. It is very easy to find recent printings of this book at a low price on the Net, but genuine first printings are few and far between. Some copies on sale as first editions do not meet all of these issue points, so caution is required as a purchaser.

A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) - Kodansha America, 1989. UK edition, Hamish Hamilton, 1990. Both hardcovers in dustwrapper. The final volume of the "Trilogy of the Rat", again translated by Alfred Birnbaum. The narrator, identified only by a pronoun, is an ordinary man. Thirty years old, he has no ambition and little purpose. Enter into his lackluster life a young woman, apparently ordinary as well but with ears so gorgeous that all conversation stops when they are unveiled; a right-wing Mr.Big with a golfball-sized blood cyst in his brain who's unaccountably been spared standing trial as a Class A war criminal; a sinister, all-efficient lieutenant with beautiful hands and a degree from Stanford; and a brilliant professor permanently sidetracked by an animal experience that in forty-two years has not dimmed in significance. Inexorably, all are impelled into the bizarre pursuit of a dream-induced sheep. But this is no ordinary sheep -with a star on its back, eyes as clear as spring water, and a near-irresistible spiritual allure, the sheep embodies a perverse Nietzchean will to absolute power.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985) - Kodansha International, New York, 1991. UK edition, Hamish Hamilton, 1991. Both hardcovers in dustwrapper. Translated by Alfred Birnbaum. A fnatasy about a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters--not to mention Bob Dylan and Lauren Bacall. Chapters alternate between two separate worlds, which it eventually becomes clear are inexorably linked.

Norwegian Wood (1987) - a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality, and the novel which catapulted Murakami to stardom in Japan. Published in two volumes, a red volume and a green volume. Initially translated by Alfred Birnbaum and published by the Kodansha English Library in Japan (1989). Subsequently translated by Jay Rubin (2000) and published by Vintage International as a single paperback in the USA. The UK version was published by the Harvill Press as two volumes (red and green) in a gold box. In addition, there was a Harvill Press limited edition of 500 copies (red and green - the same as the unlimited edition) in a metal box with a card numbered and signed by Murakami. There is another edition easily confused with the Harvill unlimited edition - two volumes, red and green, in a gold box published by Ted Smart (a UK based book club).

Dance Dance Dance (1988) - Kodansha International, 1994, as a hardcover. UK edition a paperback original (Hamish Hamilton) from the same year. Translated by Alfred Birnbaum. At thirty something, Murakami's nameless hero lives in a hi-tech, high-rise world where old virtues die fast and success is all that matters. He has shared in the glittering city's spoils, and while he has not sold his soul, he knows that something is lacking in his life. Now, in dreams, a mysterious woman weeps softly -- for him. Yet, even as he tries to understand why, the voice that beckons is not hers. Bizarre dreams that propel him down byways of his life in search of something. A thirteen-year-old girl, distressingly beautiful and clairvoyant, is his constant companion; a classmate, now oozing charm on TV soaps, grapples with murder; a lady of the night becomes his guardian angel; and an eccentric Sheep Man materializes to counsel and cajole.

South of the Border, West of the Sun (1992) - Knopf, USA, 1999, hardcover with dustwrapper, translated by Philip Gabriel. However, the publisher also issued signed copies, reportedly less than 100, and arguabl;y Murakami's first limited edition. Several points distinguish this edition from the regular trade edition, although it also appears to exist in different states: the regular edition has red lettering on the spine & a round blind stamping on the front board, while the signed edition has either light violet or red lettering on the spine & a coloured decal on the front board, but was issued without dustwrapper. The regular edition has no front fly leaf immediately after the front free endpaper, instead the author's backlist follows immediately; the signed edition has the front fly leaf but only at the front and not at the rear. This is due to the publisher sending out the sheets to be signed by the author and subsequently having them bound in during the printing process. The author signed in black ink or blue ink "H. Murakami" (an old style signature). Harvill UK paperback, 1999. Growing up in the suburbs in post-war Japan, it seemed to Hajime that everyone but him had brothers and sisters. His sole companion was Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father's record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch. Now Hajime is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his loving wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears. She is beautiful, intense, enveloped in mystery. Hajime is catapulted into the past, putting at risk all he has in the present.

The Elephant Vanishes - Knopf, New York, 1993 (hardcover). Hamish Hamilton, UK paperback, 1993. The first volume of Murakami's short stories to be published in English. Murakami has always placed considerable value on the short story, and is widely acknowledged as a master of this form. Many of his short stories have been published in English initially in periodicals or newspapers, and may subsequently appear in a collection. However, others have appeared for the first time in the collected form. Translated by Alfred Birnbaum in some cases and Jay Rubin in others.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994) – Knopf, New York, 1997 (hardcover), translated by Jay Rubin; Harvill, London, softcover, 1998. Perhaps Murakami’s masterpiece (so far!). Toru Okada is going through a difficult time. He is without a job, his cat has disappeared and his wife is behaving strangely. Into this unbalanced world, come a variety of curious characters, a young girl sunbathing in a nearby garden, sisters who are very peculiar indeed, an old war veteran with a violent, disturbing story. Okada retreats to a deep well in a nearby house. And the story unfolds.

Underground – The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche (1997/8) – Harvill, London, hardcover, 2000, translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel; Vintage softcover, USA, 2001. An account of the Tokyo subway gas attack in 1995, in which 12 people died, as told to Haruki Murakami by surviving victims and members and ex-members of the doomsday cult responsible.

Sputnik Sweetheart(1999) – Knopf, New York, 2001 (hardcover), translated by Philip Gabriel; Harvill, London, softcover 2001. Twenty two year old Sumire is in love for the first time with a woman seventeen years her senior. But whereas Miu is a glamorous and successful older woman with a taste for classical music and fine wine, Sumire is an aspiring writer who dresses in an oversized second hand coat and heavy boots like a character in a Jack Kerouac novel. Surprised that she might, after all, be a lesbian, Sumire spends hours on the phone talking to her best friend K. about the big questions in life: what is sexual desire and should she ever tell Miu how she feels about her? K, a primary school teacher, is used to answering questions, but what he most wants to say to Sumire is "I love you." He consoles himself by having an affair with the mother of one of his pupils. But when a desperate Miu calls him out of the blue from a sunny Greek island and asks for his help, he soon discovers that all is not as it seems and something very strange has happened to Sumire.

after the quake Harvill, UK hardcover, (trans. Jay Rubin, 2002); Vintage softcover, USA, 2002. The economy was booming. People had more money than they knew what to do with. And then the earthquake struck. Komura's wife follows the TV reports from morning to night, without eating or sleeping. The same images appear again and again: flames, smoke, buildings turned to rubble, their inhabitants dead, cracks in the streets, derailments, crashes, collapsed expressways, crushed subways, fires everywhere. Pure hell. Suddenly a city seems a fragile thing. And life too. Tomorrow anything could happen. For the characters in Murakami's latest short story collection, the Kobe earthquake is an echo from a past they buried long ago. Satsuki has spent 30 years hating one man: a lover who destroyed her chances of having children, and who now lives in Kobe. Did her desire for revenge cause the earthquake? Junpei's estranged parents also live in Kobe. Should he contact them? Miyake left his family in Kobe to make midnight bonfires on a beach hundreds of miles away. Four-year-old Sala has nightmares that the Eathquake man is trying to stuff her inside a little box. Katagiri returns home to find a giant frog in his apartment on a mission to save Tokyo from a massive worm burrowing under the Tokyo Security Trust Bank. "When he gets angry, he causes earthquakes" says Frog. "And right now he is very, very angry.

Kafka on the Shore (2002) – translated Philip Gabriel. Knopf, USA, hardcover, 2005. The Harvill Press, London, also published a trade edition in 2005. However, in addition there was a signed limited edition of 1000 copies in a slipcase. The signature is on a attached bookplate – most signatures were in English, with a smaller number in Japanese script. Even more desirable is the 100 copy white leather bound edition with a black inlaid cat design, also housed in a black slipcase. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father's dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. A classic tale of quest, an an exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – short stories, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel. Harvill Secker, London 2006, published a hardcover trade edition, and a 1000 copy signed limited edition in a slipcase. The signature is to a publisher’s bookplate fixed to the half title, most frequently in English with a minority in Japanese. In addition, Blackwells of Oxford issued an 85 copy limited edition of the Harvill trade version, signed on a bookplate in both English and Japanese. Knopf, USA, hardcover 2006. In 2006 this collection won Murakami the world's richest short story prize (The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award). A young man accompanies his cousin to the hospital to check an unusual hearing complaint and recalls a story of a woman put to sleep by tiny flies crawling inside her ear; a mirror appears out of nowhere and a nightwatchman is unnerved as his reflection tries to take control of him; a couple's relationship is unbalanced after dining exclusively on exquisite crab while on holiday; a man follows instructions on the back of a postcard to apply for a job, but an unknown password stands between him and his mysterious employer. In each one of these stories, Murakami sidesteps the real and sprints for the surreal. Everyday events are transcended, leaving the reader dazzled by this master of his craft. An introduction explains the diversity of the author's choice.

After Dark(2004) - novel, translated by Jay Rubin. Knopf, New York, 2007 hardcover. Some copies (perhaps around 500) were issued with an additional tipped in page signed by Murakami (in English) and with one or two of his trademark inked stamps. In the UK, Harvill Secker issued the hardcover trade edition, and also a 100 copy edition bound in black leather with a silver camera motif in a slipcase. Meanwhile, Boarders, a UK book chain, had exclusive rights to an unsigned limited (800 copies) slipcased Edition bound in black with silver titles and graphics in matching slipcase. The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. The musician has plans to rehearse with his jazz band all night, Mari is equally unconcerned and content to read, smoke and drink coffee until dawn. They realize they've been acquainted through Eri, Mari's beautiful sister. The musician soon leaves with a promise to return before dawn. Shortly afterwards Mari will be interrupted a second time by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, the girl has heard Mari speaks fluent Chinese and requests her help. Meanwhile Eri is at home and sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is 'too perfect, too pure' to be normal; pulse and respiration at the lowest required level. She has been in this soporific state for two months; Eri has become the classic myth --- a sleeping beauty. But tonight, as the digital clock displays 00:00, a faint electrical crackle is perceptible, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the televisions plug has been pulled.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008) - a memoir, about running, writing and the relationship between the two. The title derives from Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Initially published as a US hardcover by Knopf, followed by a UK hardcover by Harvill Secker. There was also a signed limited UK edition of only 75 copies in a slipcase.

Murakami Diary 2009 - published in 2008 as a paperback in both the US and UK by Vintage.

IQ84 - Harvill press, London, 2011.  See separate entry for prelimimary details.

Single short stories in book format

Many of Murakami’s short stories have first been published in English translation in periodicals or magazines, and this is outside the scope of the current posting. However, there have been several single short stories published in book format, often as limited editions.

Birthday stories – an anthology of short stories chosen by Murakami, who contributes an introduction and the first story Harvill, UK 2004 (hardcover); Vintage USA paperback 2006. Each story is a snapshot of life on a single day. Including stories by Russell Banks, Ethan Canin, Raymond Carver, David Foster Wallace, Denis Johnson, Claire Keegan, Andrea Lee, Daniel Lyons, Lynda Sexson, Paul Theroux, William Trevor and Haruki Murakami, this anthology captures a range of emotions evoked by advancing age and the passing of time, from events fondly recalled to the impact of appalling tragedy. Murakami’s contribution is “Birthday Girl”, translated by Jay Rubin.

Tony Takitani - Cloverleaf Press, Los Angeles, 2006. Softcover. Blind-embossed and numbered limited but unsigned edition of 1000 copies. Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, book design by Elinor Nissley, letterpress cover and endpaper illustrations by Michiko Yao, inside illustrations by Anne Faison.

Sleep, Kat Ran Press, Florence, USA, 2004. Undoubtedly the most desirable and expensive of Murakami’s limited editions to date, Sleep comes with multicolour etchings by John Gibson. Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, Sleep tells the story of a woman who ignores conventional wisdom by embracing more than two weeks of sleeplessness (with the aid of Anna Karenina). Composed in Dante types by Michael and Winifred Bixler of Skaneateles, New York, the fifty-six pages of Sleep have been printed at Kat Ran Press on handmade Twinrocker papers. The four etchings by John Gibson, whose paintings may be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum at the Rhode Island School of Design (among others), have been printed by Peter Pettengill and his exemplary staff at Wingate Studio in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. The entire edition has been carefully bound in full leather and boxed by Claudia Cohen at her Seattle, Washington, bindery. There were sixty copies, of which forty-five were for sale, signed by the author, translator and artist. Alas, this title is out of print and effectively unobtainable – unless you want to make me an offer I can't refuse!

Aeroplane - Oundle, England: Oundle Festival of Literature Press, 2007. Hardcover. An exquisite, small press printing of this short-story from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (and originally published in The New Yorker). 120 hand-numbered copies signed by the author on a tipped-in bookplate. Designed and printed by Sebastian Carter at the Rampant Lions Press in Cambridge. Printed by letterpress on mould-made paper and bound in stiff, blue paper-covered boards by the Fine Bindery, Wellingborough. 22 pages.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Book of the week - György Dragomán, The White King

The White King is the first novel by the Hungarian György Dragomán to be published in English. The novel is also the winner of the prestigious Sándor Márai Prize. It is set in an unnamed totalitarian, communist regime, based on the nationalist, Stalinist, poverty-stricken Romania of the 1980s where Dragomán grew up. Reviews this week have been very positive. Signed copies are likely to be uncommon. However, I was able to pick up a signed and dated copy today in Hatchards, Picadilly, for £14.99, and copies are also available from some of the main modern firsts dealers.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Book of the week and Bibliography - Xiaolu Gio, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth

Xiaolu Guo has just released her third book, 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (Chatto &Windus 2008) – signed copies currently available from Goldsboro Books at £12.99. This is the follow-up to the hugely successful A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Chatto & Windus, 2007), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. She has published one previous novel in English, Village of Stone (Chatto &Windus, 2004). All three books explore the modernisation of China from the perspective of a young women, and are highly recommended.


Village of Stone (Chatto & Windus, 2004)
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers (Chatto & Windus, 2007)
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (Chatto & Windus, 2008)
UFO in her Eyes (Chatto & Windus, 2009)
Lovers in the Age of Indifference (short stories; Chatto, 2010)

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Anthony Powell - a bibliography

Anthony Powell has been for many years one of my favourite writers, and also one of my main interests as collector. The following bibliography linked to available first editions will be of use to those interested in Powell or current values for first editions. I have not included for the moment books about Powell or multi-author books with contributions from him. I will post more on him in future, but please feel free to email me with any questions. And don't forget the Anthony Powell Society!


Afternoon Men (Duckworth, 1931). Print run probably around 2000 copies. Very expensive in Misha Black dustwapper!

Venusberg (Duckworth, 1932. Print run probably 3000 or less. Also very expensive in Misha Black dustwrapper.

From a View to a Death (Duckworth, 1933). Print run again probably 3000 or less, and also very expensive in Misha Black dustwrapper. By a strange quirk of collecting fate, I have two copies of this in dustwrappers - clearly one more than I need. However, I am open to offers (including swaps for either of the two above or the one below!).

Agents and Patients (Duckworth, 1936). Print run probably 3000 or less. The last of the pre-war books in Misha Black dustwrappers. Not surprisingly, expensive!

What's become of Waring (Cassell, 1939). A switch of publisher for Powell, and the last of the pre-war novels. Alegedly 999 copies were sold before the remainder wer destroyed in the blitz. Generally held, presumably for this reason, to be the least common of Powell's novels and perhaps the most valuable.

A Question of Upbringing (Heinemann, 1951). The first novel in the Dance to the Music of Time sequence, on which Powell's reputation as a novelist is chiefly based. First edition 7500 copies at 9s 6d, exisiting in two states. The book has two half titles - it was Powell's intention that the second of these, on the page preceeding the narrative, should be "The Music of Time". However, early in the print run "A Question of Upbringing" was used by mistake, and this is the first state of the first edition. There are also two states of the dustwrapper, priority unclear - the book was a Book Society Recommendation, and this is printed on the bottom of the front flap in some cases. Regardless of state however, any decent copy in a dustwrapper is likely to cost several hundred pounds.

A Buyer's Market (Heinemann, 1952). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 2. First edition 7500 copies at 12 s 6d. There are two states of the dustwrapper - the second state differs from the first issue in that the front flap has been clipped along the edge to remove the original price and has then been printed with ''cheaper edition 6s net''; on some copies seen this price has also been clipped.

The Acceptance World (Heinemann,1955). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 3. First edition 7500 copies at 12s 6d.

At Lady Molly's (Heinemann, 1957). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 4. 10 000 copies at 15s.

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant (Heinemann, 1960). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 5. 12 500 copies at 16s.

The Kindly Ones (Heinemann, 1962). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 6. 12 000 copies at 18s.

The Valley of Bones (Heinemann, 1964). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 7. 10 000 copies at 18s.

The Soldier's Art (Heinemann, 1966). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 8. 12 000 copies at 21s.

The Military Philosophers (Heinemann, 1968). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 9. 12 000 copies at 25s.

Books do Furnish a Room (Heinemann, 1971). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 10. 10 000 copies at £1.75.

Temporary Kings (Heinemann, 1973). Dance to the Music of Time, volume 11. 12 000 copies at £2.25.

Hearing Secret Harmonies (Heinemann, 1975). The twelth and final volume of A Dance to the Music of Time. 13 000 copies at £3.10.

O, How the Wheel Becomes It! (Heinemann, 1983. 10 000 copies at £6.95.

The Fisher King (Heinemann, 1986). 12 500 copies at £9.95.

Other books:

Caledonia (Duckworth, 1934) A humorous poem, lampooning the Scots, illustrated by Edward Burra. Many copies annotated by hand. 100 copies only were printed privately & presented to the author as a wedding present.

John Aubrey and his Friends (Eyre and Spottiswoode, London, 1948) A biography -3000 copies in the first printing. Although the print run was small the book is currently relatively cheap.

Two Plays; The Garden God and The Rest I'll Whistle (Heinemann, 1971). 950 copies at £3.15.

Infants of the Spring (Heinemann, 1976). First volume of autobiography. 6000 copies at £5.00.

Messengers of Day (Heinemann, 1978). Second volume of autobiography. 6000 copies at £6.00.

Faces in my Time (Heinemann, 1980). Third volume of autobiography. 5000 copies at £8.50.

The Strangers are all gone (Heinemann, 1982). Fourth and final volume of autobiography. 5200 copies at £9.50.

Miscellaneous Verdicts (Heinemann, 1990).
Collected criticism. 3000 copies at £25.

Under Review (Heinemann, 1992). Further criticism. 2000 copies at £25.

A Reference for Mellors (Moorhouse & Sorensen, 1994). Powell's only limited edition - a short story originally published in the New Savoy. 26 lettered and signed copies (A-Z), 100 numbered and signed copies and 200 numbered copies.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Book of the week - Caro Peacock, Death at Dawn

Caro Peacock’s novel Death at Dawn (HarperCollins, 2007) is the first in a proposed series of historical crime novels featuring the heroine Liberty Lane. The book is set in 1837 and is a well written historical thriller introducing, among other incidental characters, a young Disraeli. The second book in the series (Death of a Dancer) is scheduled for later this year. The book has been released in both hardback and paperback. The hardback run has been modest, and signed copies are uncommon. Currently the signed hardback is available on ABEbooks from £50 up, but you could still pick up a copy from Goldsboro books for £25 if you are quick. Alternatively an unsigned copy could still be bought from Amazon UK at £20. The Goldsboro option looks good value - if the series takes off this is likely to represent a very good investment.

Caro Peacock is is fact Gillian Linscott, and has published a considerable number of books under her earlier name.

Update: March:  Don't think this ever really took off - plenty of signed firsts available, though starting (optimistically) at £30


Death at Dawn (HarperCollins, 2007)
Death and the Dancer (HarperCollins, 2008)
A Corpse in Shining Armour (HarperCollins, 2009)

Monday, 7 January 2008

John Banville - a bibliography

My previous posting highlights Banville's recent crime fiction novels, written as Benjamin Black. However, he is best known for his literary fiction, and a brief bibliography linked to current first edition prices is given below.

Banville was born in Wexford in 1945, and was educated at a Christian Brothers' school and St Peter's College in Wexford. His first book, Long Lankin (a collection of short stories), was published in 1970. It was followed by the novels Nightspawn (1971) and Birchwood (1973). Banville's fictional portrait of the 15th-century Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1976) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) and was the first in a series of books exploring the lives of eminent scientists and scientific ideas. The second novel in the series was about the 16th-century German astronomer Kepler (1981) and won the Guardian Fiction Prize. The Newton Letter: An Interlude (1982), is the story of an academic writing a book about the mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. It was adapted as a film by Channel 4 Television.

Mefisto (1986), explores the world of numbers in a reworking of Dr Faustus. The Book of Evidence (1989), which won the Guinness Peat Aviation Book Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction, Ghosts (1993) and Athena (1995) form a loose trilogy of novels narrated by Freddie Montgomery, a convicted murderer.

The central character of Banville's 1997 novel, The Untouchable, Victor Maskell, is based on the art historian and spy Anthony Blunt. Eclipse (2000) is narrated by Alexander Cleave, an actor who has withdrawn to the house where he spent his childhood. Shroud (2002), continues the tale begun in Eclipse. Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City (2003), is a personal evocation of the city. The Sea (2005) won the 2005 Man Booker Prize. In The Sea an elderly art historian loses his wife to cancer and feels compelled to revisit the seaside villa where he spent childhood holidays.

Novels and Short Stories

Long Lankin (Secker & Warburg, 1970)
Nightspawn (Secker & Warburg, 1971)
Birchwood (Secker & Warburg, 1971)
Dr Copernicus (Secker & Warburg, 1976)
Kepler (Secker & Warburg, 1981)
The Newton Letter; an Interlude (Secker & Warburg, 1982)
Mefisto (Secker & Warburg, 1986)
The Book of Evidence (Secker & Warburg, 1989)
Ghosts (Secker & Warburg, 1993)
Athena (Secker & Warburg, 1993)
The Untouchable (Picador, 1997)
Eclipse (Picador, 2000)
Shroud (Picador, 2002)
Prague Pictures:Portrait of a City (Bloomsbury, 2003)
The Sea (Picador, 2005)

The Infinities (Picador, 2009). In addition, there was a special signed and limited First Edition published by the London Review Bookshop in association with Picador. The edition comprises 75 copies of which 35 have been quarter-bound in Beech Nut cloth numbered 1 to 35 (plus 3 hors commerce) and 25 quarter bound in Harmatan Toffee Beige leather numbered i to xxv (plus 1 hors commerce). The Blue Willow pattered boards were designed at the Rampant Lions Press. 10 copies have been fully bound in the same Harmatan leather, lettered a to j (plus 1 hors commerce). All copies have blue and white head and tail bands and are housed in a slipcase. The books were bound under the direction of Patrick Roe at the Fine Book Bindery, Wellingborough, Northants.

As Benjamin Black

Christine Falls (Picador, 2006)
The Silver Swan (Pacador, 2007)
The Lemur (Picador, 2008)
Elegy for April (Picador, 2010)

Limited editions:

1) Ghosts (1993) A correspondent has written to say that there was a special limited edition of 'Ghosts' produced by Kenny's of Galway. It was Limited to 50 copies - signed,numbered, slipcased quarter bound Leather over marbled boards with gilded raised bands, twin gilded leather title labels, top edge gilt. Alas, I have never seen a copy - I will watch out, however.

2) Eclipse: Bridgewater Press, London (2000), signed limited edition of 138 copies. The first twelve were in quarter library calf numbered I - XII, 26 lettered A - Z and the remainder (signed and numbered 1 - 100) in quartered cloth and marbled boards.

3) Shroud: Joe McCann, Oxford (2002). Limited issue of 65 numbered copies for sale published by Joe McCann of a total edition of eighty copies. Issued bound in full cloth with a printed label on the front board and spine and signed by Banville on the limitation page. Issued without dustjacket.

4) The Sea: Joe McCann, Oxford (2005). There is a limited state consisting of 56 copies signed by the author, of which only the first 48 were for sale. This was put together by Joe McCann, Oxford, from the Picador first edition sheets (of which there were about 3000 copies published). The limited edition is blue cloth with beige paper labels and no jacket.

5) First Light: Bridgewater Press, London (2006), signed limited edition of 138 copies. The first 12 numbered I - XII, 26 lettered A - Z and the remainder numbered 1 - 100. The first novel of a chapter in progress.

Other works:

The Broken Jug (Gallery Press, 1987) Limited to 240 copies.

The Ark (Gallery Press, 1996) 260 signed by the author and the illustrator, 200 were for sale. Bound by hand at Antiquarian Bookcrafts in Dublin. Oblong 4to., original quarter blue cloth lettered in gilt, with gilt block design by the artist on the upper cover. In matching slipcase. Loughcrew, The Gallery Press for The Ark, Dublin. 1996.

God's Gift (Gallery Press, 2000)

Love in the Wars (Gallery Press, 2005)

Conversation in the Mountains - a play for radio (Gallery Press, 2008). 400 copies numbered and signed by the author. 350 copies only for sale. Printed on Rives Artist and hardbound in linen with blind embossed title and a Pergamenata wraparound.

Black by name and black by nature

Benjamin Black is an alternative name for the Irish writer John Banville, adopted for his relatively recent foray into crime fiction. I have just finished the second of his books, The Silver Swan, in what is intended to be a series featuring the Dublin Pathologist Quirk. Banville is best known as a writer of literary fiction, having won the Mann-Booker Prize for his novel The Sea, and his early novels are rare and valuable in good condition.

Both The Silver Swan and the first book in this alternative genre series, Christine Falls, were issued simultaneously in hardback and paperback, the former as always being the more desirable. Banville does not do a lot of signings, and may sign the crime novels both as Benjamin Black or occasionally using his real name (or both, if you are lucky). Further novels in this series are planned – they are superbly written, with very strong characterisation and a fascinating picture of a Dublin and Ireland which is now a part of history, but which Banville clearly knew very well.

I was lucky enough to pick up two signed copied of Christine Falls in a Belfast bookshop, and have just obtained a signed copy of the second novel from a Dublin bookshop. They are not cheerful books, and Quirk is a depressive character (Black as a pen name is very appropriate!), but now is the best time to pick up copies of the early books before the series becomes better known.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The Greatest British Writers since 1945

The Times has published its list of 50 greatest British writers since 1945, which is inevitably controversial. The sort of thing which all you intellectuals out there can discuss over a glass of fine wine and a good cheese (don't forget to invite me around!).

From a collector's perspective, well regarded writers tend to be more collectible, but only those editions which were published in relatively modest numbers. Once a writer has become famous, subsequent works tend to have very large print runs and therefore are easy to find and have little value. Sometimes, once a writer achieves a certain degree of fame, there may be a limited edition published simultaneously with a trade edition - this has been the case, for instance, for each of Haruki Murakami's recent books published in the UK. Such an edition will tend to be more expensive but also often a good investment if the print run is limited.

Philip Larkin is ranked at number one by the Times, which will come as a surprise to many. In addition, there is no appearance at all by Graham Greene or Dylan Thomas. There is an opportunity to add you comments to the Times website or here.

Friday, 4 January 2008

What is a first edition?

The information provided here is at a basic level, but is essential knowledge to anyone wishing to collect modern books. Unless a book is exceptionally rare or valuable, later editions (or printings) have very little financial value. A collector will only be interested in the first printing of the first edition. Unfortunately, some sellers are not aware of this, or use terminology loosely – a particular problem with inexperienced sellers on Ebay. However, even dealers can make a mistake sometimes!

"An edition" refers to the copies of a book printed from the same setting of type. An edition may go through several press runs, or "printings". The common meaning of the term "first edition” is the first printing of the first edition of a book. Though technically the first edition of a book may go through additional printings, book collectors consider only the first printing of the first edition to be a true first edition.

"Second (or later) edition" refers to a book which has been, revised, updated, or for which the type has been reset from that of the first edition.

You may also encounter some related terms. A books may be described as "First thus", which generally means the first edition published in the present form, and is often used to denote a book that was published previously by a different publisher.

If a book is described as a "Limited edition", the book's publication was limited to a certain number of copies. The statement of how many copies were published usually appears at the beginning or the book, or occasionally at the end. Often each copy of a limited edition will be numbered. Some limited editions are also signed by the author.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

George MacDonald Fraser

The novelist George MacDonald Fraser, author of the Flashman books, has died at the age of 82. Fraser served as an infantryman in Burma and India during the second world war and later worked as a screenwriter and journalist, eventually becoming deputy editor of the Glasgow Herald. But it is for the 12 novels in the Flashman series that he will be best remembered
Launched in 1969, the books reimagined the later life of the bully in Thomas Hughes' Victorian classic Tom Brown's Schooldays. Purportedly based on packages of "rediscovered" documents, the novels depict a vain and cowardly rogue who fights, drinks and womanises his way around the British empire.
The first book was set in Afghanistan, with the eponymous hero emerging from the disastrous retreat from Kabul with his reputation enhanced. The last novel, Flashman on the March, published in 2005, was set during the Abyssinian Campaign of 1868. Fraser was an outspoken critic of recent British foreign policy, calling the invasion of Iraq "the foulest war crime that this country has ever perpetrated".
The series of books is undoubetedly collectable, with the first two in the series routinely selling for three figure sums.

Flashman (Herbert Jenkins, 1969)
Royal Flash (Barrie & Jenkins, 1970)
Flash for Freedom (Barrie & Jenkins, 1971)
Flashman at the Charge (Barrie & Jenkins, 1973)
Flashman in the Great Game (Barrie & Jenkins, 1975)
Flashman’s Lady (Barrie & Jenkins, 1977)
Flashman and the Redskins (Collins, 1982)
Flashman nad the Dragon (Collins, 1986)
Flashman and the Mountain of Light (Collins Harvill, 1990)
Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (Harvill Press, 1994)
Flashman and the Tiger (Harper Collins, 1999)
Flashman on the March (Harper Collins, 2005)

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Book of the week - Catheryn O'Flynn, What was Lost

Catherine O'Flynn's first novel, "What was lost", was published by a small independent Birmingham press (Tindal Street Press) as a paperback only. It received excellent reviews, and was on the longlist for both the Mann-Booker and Orange Prizes, and the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award. Now it has won the Costa first novel prize and is on the shortlist for the Costa book of the year. The first printing is likely to have been relatively small for a paperback, and not many copies are currently available. An unsigned copy can currently be picked up for £17.00 via ABEbooks, though probably not for long. As a first novel by a very promising author this is likely to be a worthwhile investment, with plenty of chances to pick up her signature in the future.

Update: As of January 2009, one copy for sale at £55 on Abebooks.

Update: March 2017.  Readily available.  Unsigned at about £25 and one signed copy at £65.

Where to buy new books

Where can you buy signed first editions of new books? There are a number of options. The first (and probably the best) option is to make contact with a dealer. Introduce yourself and ask for help – they are likely to have a huge amount of knowledge and experience, and will be willing to answer any of your questions. You can trust a reputable dealer to supply signed first editions in pristine condition, usually in a protective cover to conserve the dustwrapper. Often these will be at cover price, or sometimes even cheaper, although some dealers may increase the price a little if they need to make a special journey to get a book signed. Most dealers issue lists of just published or forthcoming books, and usually this information is available on a web site. Ordering books pre-publication is the best way to guarantee a copy at cover price. After publication, prices may rise if copies are scarce.

What other options are available? You can check your local bookshop, although unless an author has paid a visit, signed copies are unlikely to be available. It is relatively common for authors to do signings in major bookshops in London or other UK cities, and sometimes these copies are available online. If ordering in this way, you will need to specify that only a first printing is acceptable. Staff in major bookchains often have little awareness of what constitutes a first edition, so you will need to check the book yourself – sometimes you may find a first printing in the middle of a pile of later editions. Often books in major chains have minor defects, as they are not handled or stored as carefully as they would be by a specialist dealer. In addition, they will not normally come in a protective cover.

The final common option nowadays for signed first editions of new books is ebay. Some real bargains can be obtained, but you need to check book descriptions carefully.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Books - Always buy a first edition

I buy a lot of books - UK fiction mainly, since that's what I'm interested in. Of course, books are everywhere, and most people will just pick up the first copy that they find in their local bookstore. But not all books are equal, and if you have any interest in collecting books, then you should only ever buy a first edition in the best condition that you can find.

For most new books, a perfect first edition (signed if possible) will cost you no more that a later printing if you know what you are looking for and where to look. Your first edition will often hold its value (or even increase in value), while the almost identical later printing with be worth virtually nothing in a year's time. If you are a serious collector, only a true first will do.

An introduction

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by books. First and foremost, of course, by their content, but for the last 15 years or so also by books as objects. During that time, I have accumulated more books than I know what to do with, and I have learnt a huge amount about collecting books as a hobby and an investment. Some of that, I would like to pass on here........