Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Guardian First Book Award

The shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award 2009 has just been announced, and includes two books which I recommended earlier this year. The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey deals with Alzheimer's Disease; it made the Man Booker longlist and has become relatively uncommon. The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton was for me a more enjoyable book, if perhaps a litle self-consciously clever. It is still readily available in the first edition. Previous winners have included a number of highly collected books, including A Month in the Country by JL Carr (1980) and Kepler by John Banville (1981).

Full shortlist:

•A Swamp Full of Dollars, by Michael Peel (IB Tauris, non-fiction)

•The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton (Granta, novel)

•The Wilderness, by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape, novel)

•The Selected Works of TS Spivet, by Reif Larsen (Harvill Secker, novel)

•An Elegy for Easterly, by Petina Gappah (Faber, short story collection)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Predicting long term literary success

There was an interesting article in today's Guardian, looking at the results of a poll conducted in 1929 which sought to predict which authors would still be read in 100 years. The striking feature of the poll is the absence of most of the authors from that era who we would now consider to be important. This, of course, raises the question of which of today's authors are likely to be considered important in the future........ Comments welcome!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Book of the Week - Liam McIlvenney, All the Colours of the Town

All the Colours of the Town is a first novel by Liam McIlvanney, although he has previously authored or contributed to several academic books. McIlvanney was born in Ayrshire, and is currently Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He won the Saltire First Book Award for Burns the Radical in 2002, and his work has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. He lives in Dunedin with his wife and three sons. All the Colours of the Town is a book set in Glasgow and Belfast, two cities which share close cultural links, not always positive ones. It joins a growing list of novels which address the legacy of “The Troubles”, bit for individuals and society. Reviews have been very positive. The book is published by Faber, as a paperback only, in French wraps.

“When Glasgow journalist Gerry Conway receives a phone call promising unsavoury information about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons, his instinct is that this apparent scoop won't warrant space in the Tribune. But as Conway’s curiosity grows and his leads proliferate, his investigation takes him from Scotland to Belfast. Shocked by the sectarian violence of the past, and by the prejudice and hatred he encounters even now, Conway soon grows obsessed with the story of Lyons and all he represents. And as he digs deeper, he comes to understand that there is indeed a story to be uncovered - and that there are people who will go to great lengths to ensure that it remains hidden. Compelling, vividly written and shocking, All the Colours of the Town is not only the story of an individual and his community, it is also a complex and thrilling enquiry into loyalty, betrayal and duty.”

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Man Booker Prize bibliography - 1972


"G", John Berger, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1972. One of the most uncommon Booker Prize winners. Expect to pay over £150 for a very good copy. Signed £650.

John Peter Berger (born 5 November 1926) is an English art critic, novelist, painter and author, working mainly from a Marxist/Humanist perspective. He was born in London, and educated at the independent St Edward's School in Oxford. Berger served in the British Army from 1944 to 1946; he then enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. He began his career as a painter and exhibited work at a number of London galleries in the late 1940s - Berger has continued to paint throughout his career. While teaching drawing (from 1948 to 1955), Berger became an art critic, publishing many essays and reviews in the New Statesman. His Marxist humanism and his strongly stated opinions on modern art made him a controversial figure early in his career. After a childless first marriage, Berger has three children: Jacob, a film director; Katya, a writer and film critic; and Yves, an artist. His writing has been influential in a number of fields. Of his novels, G is undoubtedly the best known; "From A to Z" was also longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

"In this luminous novel - winner of Britain's prestigious Booker Prize - John Berger relates the story of "G.", a young man forging an energetic sexual career in Europe during the early years of this century. With profound compassion, Berger explores the hearts and minds of both men and women, and what happens during sex, to reveal the conditions of Don Juan's success: his essential loneliness, the quiet culmination in each of his sexual experiences of all those that precede it, the tenderness that infuses even the briefest of his encounters, and the way women experience their own extraordinariness through their moments with him. All of this Berger sets against the turbulent backdrop of Garibaldi and the failed revolution of Milanese workers in 1989, the Boer War, and the first flight across the Alps, making G. a brilliant novel about the search for intimacy in history's private moments."

"The Bird of Night", Susan Hill, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1972. Reasonably common - expect to pay around £20 for a very good or better copy.

Susan Hill is a British author of fiction and non-fiction works. She was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire in 1942. She attended Scarborough Convent School, where she became interested in theatre and literature. Her family left Scarborough in 1958 and moved to Coventry where her father worked in car and aircraft factories. She attended a girls’ grammar school, Barr's Hill, proceeding to an English degree at King's College London. By this time she had already written her first novel, The Enclosure which was published by Hutchinson in her first year at university. The novel was criticised by The Daily Mail for its sexual content, with the suggestion that writing in this style was unsuitable for a "schoolgirl". In 1975 she married Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells and they moved to Stratford upon Avon. Their first daughter, author Jessica Ruston, was born in 1977 and their second daughter, Clemency, was born in 1985. Hill has recently founded her own publishing company, Long Barn Books, which has published one work of fiction per year. Apart from Bird of Night, her novels include the The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror and I'm the King of the Castle for which she received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1971.

"Francis Croft, the greates poet of his age, was mad. His world was a nightmare of internal furies and haunting poetic vision. Harvey Lawson watched and protected him unti his final suicide. From his solitary old age Harvey writes this brief account of their twenty years together and then burns all the papers to shut out an inquisitive world. The tautness and control that characterize Susan Hill's work are abundantly evident in The Bird of Night as she magnificently handles the heights and depths, the splendours and miseries of madness and friendship."

"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith", Thomas Keneally, Angus and Robertson, 1972. Uncommon - expect to pay over £40 for a very good copy. My copy shows the publisher as Angus and Robertson and lists addresses including Sydney, London, Melbourne, Brisbane and Singapore. The book was printed in Australia by Halstead Press, Sydney. So far as I am aware, there is not a UK printed first edition, but I would be very interested if anyone can confirm or correct this.

Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney, in October, 1935, and educated at St Patrick's College, Strathfield, where a writing prize was named after him. He entered St Patrick's Seminary, Manly to train as a Catholic priest but left before his ordination. He worked as a Sydney schoolteacher before his success as a novelist, and he was a lecturer at the University of New England (1968-70). He has also written screenplays, memoirs and non-fiction books. Keneally was known as "Mick" until 1964 but began using the name Thomas when he started publishing, after advice from his publisher to use what was really his first name. He is most famous for his Schindler's Ark (1982) (later republished as Schindler's List), which won the Booker Prize and is the basis of the film Schindler's List. Many of his novels are reworkings of historical material, although modern in their psychology and style. Keneally has also acted in a handful of films. He had a small role in the film of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith and played Father Marshall in the Fred Schepisi movie, The Devil's Playground (1976). He is a strong advocate of the Australian republic, meaning the severing of all ties with the British monarchy, and published a book on the subject Our Republic in 1993. Several of his Republican essays appear on the web site of the Australian Republican Movement. Keneally is a keen supporter of rugby league football, in particular the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles club of the NRL.

"Jimmie Blacksmith is the son of an Aboriginal mother and a white father. A missionary shows him what it means to be white - already he is only too aware of what it means to be black. Exploited by his white employers and betrayed by his white wife Jimmie cannot take any more. He must find a way to express his rage.
"The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith is based on an actual incident that occurred at the turn of the century. Set against the background of a turbulent Australian history, Thomas Keneally records with clarity the chant of one troubled man."

"Pasmore", David Storey, Longman, London, 1972. Readily available at less than £10.

David Malcolm Storey (born 13 July 1933) is an English playwright, screenwriter, award winning novelist and a former professional Rugby League player. He was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, the son of a miner, and educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Wakefield. After completing his schooling at Wakefield at age 17, Storey signed a 15-year contract with the Leeds Rugby League Club; he also won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. When the conflict between rugby and painting became too great, he paid back three-quarters of his signing-on fee, and Leeds let him go. Storey wrote the screenplay for This Sporting Life (1963), directed by Lindsay Anderson, adapted from Storey's first novel of the same name, originally published in 1960, which won the 1960 Macmillan Fiction Award. The film was the beginning of a long professional association with Anderson,[1] whose film version of Storey's play In Celebration was released as part of the American Film Theatre series in 1975. Home and Early Days (both starred Sir Ralph Richardson) were made into television films. Apart from Pasmore, Storey's novels include Flight into Camden, which won the 1963 Somerset Maugham Award; and the 1961 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize; and Saville, which won the 1976 Booker Prize.
"Colin Pasmore is almost thirty, a lecturer in history at a university college in London. Married, with three young children, settled in his job as well as in his provate life, he is suddenly beset by a dream which, almost without his being aware of it, undermines his entire life. He sees his home, his friends, his work gradually slip away from him; terrified and bewildered, he seems condemned irretrievably to experience the total destruction not only of the life he know but of his own moral and psychic nature."
Not a lot of laughs then!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Book of the Week - Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmmetry is the second novel from Audrey Niffenegger, and is set in London around Highgate Cemetery. The brief biography below is taken from her excellent website, which is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed her first novel (The Time Traveler's Wife), the UK first of which is currently selling for around £70 and upwards. Her current book can also be highly recommended for fans on all things gothic. Given that her first novel was an international bestseller, a high print run wouldhave been anticipated for this book. However, it is already into reprints, suggesting that demand is high.

Audrey Niffenegger was born in 1963 in the idyllic hamlet of South Haven, Michigan. Her family moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was little; she has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life. She began making prints in 1978 under the tutelage of William Wimmer. Miss Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. She has exhibited her artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987. Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.
In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it is very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel, and published The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.
In 1994 a group of book artists, papermakers and designers came together to found a new book arts center, the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Miss Niffenegger was part of this group and taught book arts for many years as a professor in Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She still teaches at Columbia College; currently she is teaching writing courses that specialize in text-image relationships. Miss Niffenegger has also taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft and other institutions of higher learning.
"Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin .but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time."

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bloomsbury Auctions - Alexander McCall Smith

Bloomsbury Auctions autumn sale of Literature, Manuscripts and Modern First Editions was held yesterday, and results are now available online. Prices seem to hold up well for rare and unusual items, but a significant proportion of sales for modern firsts were at or below the lower estimates, and some notable books did not make their reserve.

One of the most striking sales was a paperback first of Alexander McCall Smith's The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. The first printing from Polygon, 1988, was apparently issued in a print run of around 1500 copies, and is distinguished by a picture of Precious Rambotswe on the cover. There must be copies lurking around bookshelves, but many are likely to be tattered by now, and certainly very few appear on the secondary market in collectible condition. The Bloomsbury copy was estimated at £200 -250, and sold for £500 (or £610 including the buyer's premium). This seems an exceptional price for a modern paperback, but the only other copy currently available online is £800. The series is exceptionally popular, but probably too late to assemble now. This is a book whose value could easily be missed by an unwary seller, as it looks unremarkable.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Book of the Week - Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs

Lorrie Moore is best known as a short story writer, and A Gate at the Stairs is her first novel for 15 years. Marie Lorena Moore (nicknamed "Lorrie" by her parents) attended St. Lawrence University and, at 19, she won Seventeen magazine's fiction contest. In 1980, Moore enrolled in Cornell University's M.F.A. program, where she was taught by Alison Lurie. Upon graduation from Cornell, a teacher encouraged her to contact agent Melanie Jackson. Jackson sold her collection, Self-Help, composed almost entirely of stories from her master's thesis, to Knopf in 1983, when she was 26 years old. Subsequently, she has published several volumes of short stories and two previous novels. She won the 1998 O. Henry Award for her short story "People Like That Are the Only People Here," published in The New Yorker on January 27, 1997. In 2004, Moore was selected as winner of the Rea Award for the Short Story, for outstanding achievement in that genre. She is currently a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A Gate at the Stairs has been very positively reviewed both here and in the US – signed UK firsts do not seem to have hit the market as yet, but are worth watching out for. The novel could be a contender for next year’s Orange Prize.

“With America quietly gearing up for war in the Middle East, twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a 'half-Jewish' farmer's daughter from the plains of the Midwest, has come to university - escaping her provincial home to encounter the complex world of culture and politics. When she takes a job as a part-time nanny to a couple who seem at once mysterious and glamorous, Tassie is drawn into the life of their newly-adopted child and increasingly complicated household. As her past becomes increasingly alien to her - her parents seem older when she visits; her disillusioned brother ever more fixed on joining the military - Tassie finds herself becoming a stranger to herself. As the year unfolds, love leads her to new and formative experiences - but it is then that the past and the future burst forth in dramatic and shocking ways. Refracted through the eyes of this memorable narrator, "A Gate at the Stairs" is a lyrical, beguiling and wise novel of our times”.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

An update on various postings

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was the hot favourite of the shortlisted novels for this year's Booker Prize, and she duly won. When I read Wolf Hall earlier this year, I enjoyed its scope and ambition, but did not rate it as highly as most reviewers. Therefore, it would not have been my choice for this year's prize. If you want a signed copy (first edition) from a dealer at present, you would have to pay £300 plus. Next year it will almost certainly be significantly cheaper. Back in June, when I recommended it, my signed, dated and lined copy cost under £20. Such are the vagaries of the book collector's world!

Two of my other recent recommendations are also currently available as limited editions. Rick Gekoski's Outside of a Dog in a limited edition of only 64 copies from Coombe Hill Books, and Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave as a limited slipcased edition of 500 copies directly from Canongate. Canongate have taken the unusual step (in the bookworld, but not the art world) of increasing the price of the books as the edition sells out, so that the book is currently at £120, having started at £80. I will stick with my £16.99 version!

Also just out, The Gates by John Connolly. I happened to meet John in No Alibis bookshop today, and got my signed copy directly from his hand. It was a pleasure to chat to him for a couple of minutes, and he could not have been more friendly. I will provide a bibliography when I get a chance, but I would also recommend The Lineup, a limited edition anthology from The Mysterious Bookshop, in which the "The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives", and which includes the story of how Charlie Parker came about. Twenty one profiles in total, all signed by the respective authors, and likely to be highly sought after in years to come.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Book of the Week - Stieg Larsson, The Girl who kicked the Hornets'Nest

This week I have would like to recommend “The Girl who kicked the Hornets'Nest”, the final book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy. These books have taken the crime fiction world by storm, and have become bestsellers across the globe. Larsson was a revolutionary socialist Swedish Journalist who died before any of these novels were published. There has been considerable coverage of the problems which arose from the absence of a witnessed will – Larsson’s estate went to his father and brother, with nothing going to his long term partner, highlighting a major problem with Swedish inheritance law. There are rumours of a possible fourth novel on Larsson’s laptop, which is in the position of his partner, but it seems likely that these three books will be his complete fictional output.

If you are a fan of crime fiction and haven't yet encountered these books, start with the first (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which I recomended back in September 2008. At that stage a first edition could be found for around £20, but at present, the cheapest on sale on the internet is just under £400, with other copies up to £1000. This is a good example of the very rapid rise in values of some modern first editions, which of course may not be sustained. If your only interest is financial, now might well be a good time to sell, when interest in the series is high with the publication of the third volume. However, it seems likely that the trilogy will be recognised as a highpoint in crime fiction in years to come.

"Salander is plotting her revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and against the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. But it is not going to be a straightforward campaign. After taking a bullet to the head, Salander is under close supervision in Intensive Care, and is set to face trial for three murders and one attempted murder on her eventual release. With the help of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his researchers at Millennium magazine, Salander must not only prove her innocence, but identify and denounce the corrupt politicians that have allowed the vulnerable to become victims of abuse and violence. Once a victim herself, Salander is now ready to fight back. "