Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Literary Tattoos

In many societies the symbolism of tattoos defines a person’s role or status; however, in the developed West most tattoos have personal significance for the recipient as their main function (outside certain subcultures). While a tattoo is personal, paradoxically it also provides a way of making a statement to others. is a website dedicated to the subgenre of literary tattoos, and provides an interesting insight into the uniqueness of personal literary experience, and also the way in which certain quotations capture something which speaks in a similar way to many individuals.

Now, I would imagine that only a small proportion of bibliophiles feel strongly enough about a particular book or quotation to want to make it permanent in the form a tattoo, and those who would want to post a picture of their tattoo on the internet probably represent a small minority of a small minority. Nonetheless, I am impressed by some of these, while being horrified by others (try those filed under Tattoo Misspellings). The typographical tattoos generally seem to work best to me, with the pictorial ones being more hit or miss. Certain authors and quotations seem to have become surprisingly popular - the phrase “so it goes” appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five 116 times, and also appears very popular with lovers of literary tattoos. None submitted for Haruki Murakami yet however......

Monday, 27 December 2010

Never Judge a Book by the Cover

“Never Judge a Book by the Cover” was a show a Stolenspace Gallery in London before Christmas. The show was held in association with Penguin Books (as part of its 75th anniversary), to celebrate the art of book covers. A wide range of contemporary artists were invited to design (or in some cases reproduce) a cover of a favourite book. The covers were available as originals (mostly reasonably priced) and in some cases as small signed print runs. The remaining works can be found on the gallery website, and would represent an unusual present for a book and art lover. I managed to pick up a print of Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Haruki Murakami) by Word to Mother – the original went elsewhere, but there was a very modestly priced print run of ten copies (now all sold), and I was lucky enough to get the last one.  I would certainly recommend a look at the website of what was a very interesting show.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Book of the Week - Philip Pullman, Ancient Civilizations

Most book collectors have a list of books which they would like to own, and I am like everyone else in this respect. In years gone by, searching usually meant trawling through second hand shops, writing to dealers or placing a wanted advertisement in a magazine. This process has been transformed by the internet, something on which many bloggers have written. This has undoubtedly reduced the interest of the chase, but made the process of finding books much more efficient. For a period of time there was a golden age for the astute collector – dealers began to list their stock on a variety of internet sites, and there were bargains to be found, especially for those who knew their way around search engines and sites. Things have now settled down – most dealers have listed their stock online and are careful with pricing when they add to their listings, and most collectors are familiar with the best online sites and search engines. However, it is still just as satisfying to find an uncommon book when the search has been ongoing for some time.

My wanted list is modest nowadays (and I try to operate a one in – one out rule!), and falls into two categories. Firstly, there are books which I can find fairly easily but which cost more than I am willing to pay. There are quite a few of these, mainly older editions (the Ricketts edition of the Sphinx, a Nonesuch Dickens) – I look out for a less expensive copy, or wait for a lottery win. Secondly, there are books which are uncommon but likely to be affordable. I finally managed to obtain one of these books this week, for the modest sum of £25, so my list is reduced by one. I have written previously about Philip Pullman, in whom I have been interested for many years. I have an almost complete collection of his books – Ancient Civilizations fills one of the missing gaps. It is a rather odd volume, a short educational book aimed at older children, with little intrinsic value, but it certainly seems very uncommon. This was the first copy I have seen in about two years of looking – it remains listed on ABEbooks (now twice!), so maybe the seller has come across a small stock of older copies if anyone else is looking. Alternatively it may be a listing mistake. Ancient Civilizations is only likely to be of interest to a serious Pullman collector (or a dealer), but is worth looking out for. One footnote – a number of online bibliographies list this as a 1978 publication. Having now seen a copy, the publication date for what appears to be the first edition is 1981 (which is the alternate date given by some other sites). I have now amended my bibliography to give the date as 1981, but if anyone has seen a 1978 copy I would be very interested to hear of it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Kate Atkinson, Started Early, Took My Dog

Kate Atkinson made a considerable splash with her first novel, Behind the Scenes in the Museum, which won the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award, and probably remains her best known (and most valuable) book. However, after publishing several more novels best characterised as literary fiction, she has turned to distinctly superior crime novels in recent years, to considerable critical acclaim. Her Jackson Brodie novels will be televised in a BBC series early in 2011, which is likely to bring increased attention to her books. Started Early, Took my Dog is a stand alone crime novel published earlier this year to very positive reviews, and is my current Book of the Week. I have just picked up a signed copy at Hatchards for below cost price, which is a very good deal. It may also be a good time to pick up copies of the Jackson Brodie crime novels.

“A day like any other for security chief Tracy Waterhouse, until she makes a purchase she hadn't bargained for. One moment of madness is all it takes for Tracy's humdrum world to be turned upside down, the tedium of everyday life replaced by fear and danger at every turn. Witnesses to Tracy's Faustian exchange in the Merrion Centre in Leeds are Tilly, an elderly actress teetering on the brink of her own disaster, and Jackson Brodie who has returned to his home county in search of someone else's roots. All three characters learn that the past is never history and that no good deed goes unpunished. Kate Atkinson dovetails and counterpoints her plots with Dickensian brilliance in a tale peopled with unlikely heroes and villains . Started Early, Took My Dog is freighted with wit, wisdom and a fierce moral intelligence. It confirms Kate Atkinson’s position as one of the great writers of our time.”


Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Doubleday, 1995. Currently £100-150 in dustwrapper. Watch out for the very similar Book People/Doubleday edition, which is essentially a book club edition of very little value.

Human Croquet, Doubleday, 1997. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £5-10.

Abandonment, Nick Hern Books, 2000. A play, paperback only. Plenty of copies available, but unclear whether these are firsts or reprints.

Emotionally Weird, Doubleday, 2000. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £5-10.

Not the End of the World, Doubleday, 2002. Short stories; hardcover in dustwrapper for £10-15.

Case Histories, Doubleday, 2004. First of the Jackson Brodie Crime Novels. Hardcover in dustwrapper available at £10-20.

One Good Turn, Doubleday, 2006. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15-25.

When Will There Be Good News? Doubleday, 2008. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15 -20.

Started Early, Took my Dog, Doubleday, 2010. Hardcover in dustwrapper, £15-20.