Sunday, 30 May 2010

Book of the Week - Tom Rachman, The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists is a first novel from journalist Tom Rachman, set against the background of a struggling newspaper in Rome. The true first edition was the Australian paperback, but the UK edition (from Quercus) is the first hardcover and was published around the beginning of March. There have been plenty of very positive reviews in Australia, the UK and the USA. Signed copies of the UK edition have not become available yet, and may be worth holding out for. Rachman was born in 1974 in London, but grew up in Vancouver. He studied cinema at the University of Toronto and completed a Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York. From 1998, he worked as an editor at the foreign desk of The Associated Press in New York, then did a stint as a reporter in India and Sri Lanka, before returning to New York. In 2002, he was sent to Rome as an AP correspondent, with assignments taking him to Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Egypt. Beginning in 2006, he worked part-time as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris to support himself while writing fiction. He now lives in Rome, where he is working on his second novel.

“The English-language newspaper was founded in Rome in the 1950s, a product of passion and a multi-millionaire s fancy. Over fifty years, its eccentricities earned a place in readers hearts around the globe. But now, circulation is down, the paper lacks a website, and the future looks bleak.
Still, those involved in the publication seem to barely notice. The obituary writer is too busy avoiding work. The editor-in-chief is pondering sleeping with an old flame. The obsessive reader is intent on finishing every old edition, leaving her trapped in the past. And the dog-crazy publisher seems less interested in his struggling newspaper than in his magnificent basset hound, Schopenhauer.
The Imperfectionists interweaves the stories of eleven unusual and endearing characters who depend on the paper. Often at odds, they are united when the focus of their lives begins to fall apart. Funny and moving, the novel is about endings the end of life, the end of sexual desire, the end of the era of newspapers and about what might rise afterward.”

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Andrew O'Hagan, The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe is the fourth novel from Andrew O’Hagan, and is the 'memoir' of the Maltese terrier given for Christmas 1960 by Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe. In terms of theme and comedic intent, there are some similarities to Me Cheetah, the surprise of last year’s Booker Longlist. However, Maf the Dog is a more intellectual creature than Cheetah, and his memoir provides a much more ambitious tour of twentieth century culture. This is a simultaneous hardback/paperback release, with the former relatively uncommon and the print run limited. O’Hagan has a strong record in literary prizes, and is likely to be a long term stalwart of English literary fiction. Reviews of his current novel have been very mixed – some excellent, and some not liking it at all. However, on balance likely to be worth picking up.

Andrew O'Hagan was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1968 and read English at the University of Strathclyde. He is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and Granta magazine. In his acclaimed first book, The Missing (1995), O'Hagan wrote about his own childhood and told the stories of parents whose children had disappeared. The book was shortlisted for the Esquire Award, the Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award, and the McVities Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year award. Our Fathers (1999), his first novel, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. The book tells the story of young Scot Jamie Bawn and a visit to his dying grandfather that leads him to uncover the truth about his family's past. Personality (2003), is about a 13-year-old girl with a beautiful singing voice growing up above a chip shop on the Scottish island of Bute and making ready to realise her family's dream of fame. It won the 2003 James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction).

“In November 1960, Frank Sinatra gave Marilyn Monroe a dog. His name was Maf. He had an instinct for the twentieth century. For politics. For psychoanalysis. For literature. For interior decoration. This is his story. Maf the dog was with Marilyn for the last two years of her life. Not only a picaresque hero himself, he was also a scholar of the adventuring rogue in literature and art, witnessing the rise of America's new liberalism, civil rights, the space race, the New York critics, and was Marilyn Monroe's constant companion. The story of Maf the dog is a hilarious and highly original peek into the life of a complex canine hero - he was very much a real historical figure, with his license and photographs sold at auction along with Marilyn's other person affects. Through the eyes of Maf we're provided with an insight into the life of Monroe herself, and a fascinating take on one of the most extraordinary periods of the twentieth century.”

Bibliography and current values:

The Missing Picador, 1995 - £10 in dustwrapper.

Our Fathers Faber and Faber, 1999 - £10 in dustwrapper

The End of British Farming Profile Books, 2001 - £15 as a paperback

The Weekenders: Travels in the Heart of Africa (contributor) Ebury Press, 2001 - £10 as paperback

Personality Faber and Faber, 2003 - £10-15 in dustwrapper

The Weekenders: Adventures in Calcutta (editor) Ebury Press, 2004 - £10 as paperback, though less common than the earlier Weekenders title

Be Near Me Faber and Faber, 2006 - £10 in dustwrapper

A Night Out with Robert Burns (editor) Canongate, 2008 – £10 -20 in dustwrapper, though currently uncommon

The Atlantic Ocean Faber and Faber, 2008 – £10 -15, though less common than O’Hagan’s earlier books

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe Faber and Faber 2010 – new at cost

Monday, 17 May 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Jonathan Coe, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim

Jonathan Coe is a well respected and critically acclaimed writer, born in Birmingham in 1961. He has a solid reputation and his early books have become very collectible, but he has not yet quite reached the top ranks of literary fiction in terms of the major prizes. “The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim” is his ninth novel. The book is issued simultaneously as a hardcover and paperback, with the print run of the former relatively small (1200 copies, some going to libraries). I have read only one review so far (The Times), which was encouraging. I have ordered a signed copy, since I have enjoyed several of his previous books. If he maintains his current trajectory he is likely to have a major success sooner or later, in which case this book will be relatively scarce and prices will rise. The tendency towards small first print runs, especially when books are issued simultaneously in paperback, is increasing, and has resulted in some very high prices for books recently shortlisted for major prizes (see, for instance, Wolf Hall and The Glass Room from last year). This trend seems likely to be maintained, and will increase the challenge for collectors in this area.

“Maxwell Sim seems to have hit rock bottom. Estranged from his father, newly divorced, unable to communicate with his only daughter, he realizes that while he may have seventy-four friends on Facebook, there is nobody in the world with whom he can actually share his problems. Then a business proposition comes his way – a strange exercise in corporate PR that will require him to spend a week driving from London to a remote retail outlet on the Shetland Isles. Setting out with an open mind, good intentions and a friendly voice on his SatNav for company, Maxwell finds that this journey soon takes a more serious turn, and carries him not only to the furthest point of the United Kingdom, but into some of the deepest and darkest corners of his own past. In his sparkling and hugely enjoyable new book Jonathan Coe reinvents the picaresque novel for our time.”


The Accidental Woman, Duckworth, 1987. Reasonably common, at around £100.

A Touch of Love, Duckworth, 1989. Extremely rare, probably £100+.

The Dwarves of Death Fourth Estate, 1990. Readily available, £15.

Humphrey Bogart: Take It and Like It Bloomsbury, 1991. Biography, readily available, £15.

James Stewart: Leading Man Bloomsbury, 1994. Less common than the Bogart biography, £20.

What a Carve Up! Viking, 1994. Simultaneous paperback and hardcover. The hardcover now very scarce. I can only find one non-library copy at present, on sale at £400. Published by Knopf in the US as The Winshaw Legacy, which is much more common.

The House of Sleep Viking, 1997. Readily available in acetate dustjacket, at around £15.

The Rotters' Club, Viking, 2001. Very common, at around £10.

Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B. S. Johnson, Picador, 2004. Biography, common, around £10.

The Closed Circle, Viking, 2004. Very common, at around £10.

9th and 13th, Penguin, 2005. Four short stories, paperback. Common around £5.

The Rain Before It Falls, Viking, 2007. Very common, at around £10.

The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Viking, 2010. £18.99.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Nicola Barker, Burley Cross Postbox Theft

Over the course of the year, I buy one book per week. I have looked at several new books from established writers this week, none of which have seemed entirely convincing, but in the end have opted for Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker. Barker is an important and original writer who pushes the boundaries of conventional structure and plot. Therefore she is not for everyone, and her books tend to divide opinion quite strongly. However, most of her books have been published to considerable critical acclaim and she has picked up a number of significant literary awards, including the IMPAC award for Wide Open. Her previous novel, Darkmans, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was a huge, dark, complex, sprawling piece of fiction which was a challenging but rewarding read. The Burley Cross Postbox Theft seems to have taken many reviewers by surprise, as it is (at least superficially) a much lighter work of fiction, focussing on life in a small Yorkshire village and exploring the lives of the inhabitants and pre-occupations of the inhabitants through a series of letters written by them. It is a much more obviously comic novel than much of her previous work, but confirms her position as a significant writer.

Nicola Barker was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, in 1966. She spent part of her life in South Africa but returned to England when she was 14. She was educated at King's College, Cambridge. In 2003 Nicola Barker was nominated by Granta magazine as one of 20 'Best of Young British Novelists'. Looking back at her previous books, Barker shares a number of frustrating characteristics which will be recognised by any collector of modern fiction. A number of her books were published only in paperback, and are therefore fragile. There is little doubt that a collection of novels in dustwrappers is much more attractive than a mixed bag of hardcovers and softcovers, even if some of the latter were published in French wraps. Some of her early books are uncommon, but none are particularly costly. Darkmans is currently the most expensive (due presumably to demand from Booker Prize collectors), but is readily available. A comprehensive collection could be established at present relatively easily for a little over £100.

“From the award-winning author of Clear comes a comic epistolary novel of startling originality and wit. Reading other people’s letters always provides a guilty pleasure. There’s no such joy for two west Yorkshire policemen. They contemplate twenty-seven letters with the task of solving a crime: the shocking attack, just before Christmas, on a post box in the village of Burley Cross. Exhausted, Sergeant Laurence Everill gives up the task and hands the case over to PC Roger Topping. Topping is submerged into examining the curtain-twitching lives of Jeremy Baverstock, Baxter Thorndyke, the Jonty Weiss-Quinns, Mrs Tirzana Parry, widow, and a splendid array of more weird, wonderful characters, inhabiting a world where everyone’s secrets are worn on their sleeves. Pettiness becomes epic, little is writ large.

From complaints about dog shit to horse-trodden turkeys, from Biblical amateur dramatics and a failing novelist’s fan mail, a chicken that turns out to be a duck and an Auction of Promises that goes staggeringly, horribly wrong a dozen times and more, Nicola Barker’s epistolary novel is one of immense comic range, her characteristic ambition, her shrewd humanity but, above all, about how we laugh at ourselves and fail to see the funny side. It is unlike anything else Britain’s most consistently surprising writer has written: desperately readable, leaving the reader (if not the policemen) shuddering with mirth – Burley Cross Post Box Theft is a Cranford for today, albeit with a decent dose of Tamiflu, some dodgy sex therapy and a whiff of cheap-smelling vodka.”

Bibliography and current values:

Love Your Enemies, Faber and Faber, 1993 (a collection of short stories: £15-30 in dw).
Reversed Forecast, Faber and Faber, 1994 (first novel, paperback only: £10 -20).
Small Holdings, Faber and Faber, 1995 (paperback in French wraps: £20-30).
Heading Inland, Faber and Faber, 1996 (short stories, paperback: £5-15).
Wide Open, Faber and Faber, 1998 (novel: £5-15 in dw).
Five Miles from Outer Hope, Faber and Faber, 2000 (paperback: £5-15).
Behindlings, Flamingo, 2002 (paperback in French wraps: £10-15).
The Three Button Trick, Flamingo, 2003 (short stories, paperback; £10-15).
Clear, Fourth Estate, 2004 (£15-20 in dw).
Darkmans, Fourth Estate, 2007 (£20-40 in dw).
Burley Cross Postbox Theft, Fourth Estate, 2010 (£15–20 in dw)
The Yips, Fourth Estate, 2012.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Excerpts from my blog posts will now be appearing on, which was recently established as a portal for book collectors. The main emphasis on Hyraxia is modern first editions, which also of course represents my main area of interest. There is a considerable amount of relevant material for new and established collectors, and a friendly community of both collectors and dealers who are willing to provide guidance and advice. The site provides a very useful addition to available internet resources for book collectors and is well worth a look if you are not already familiar with it.

Update: Hyraxia has now gone into suspension as of March 2011.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Book of the Week - Carsten Jensen, "We, the drowned"

“We, the drowned” is a novel by Danish author and political columnist Carsten Jensen, who was born on July 24, 1952 in Marstal. He first earned recognition as a literary critic for the Copenhagen daily, Politiken. According to Henning Mankell, “Carsten Jensen is without doubt the most fascinating Nordic writer today. I look forward to his books with great impatience. Jensen is the best storyteller around.”

Jensen’s debut novel I Have Seen the World Begin (1996) was awarded the Golden Laurels prize. In the same year, he published his second novel, Jeg har hørt et stjerneskud (I Have Heard a Shooting Star). In 2006, Jensen published Vi, de druknede (We, the Drowned), a chronicle about the birth of modern Denmark, seen through the history of his hometown Marstal. It quickly became a bestseller, with 120,000 copies sold in Denmark and was acclaimed by the critics and the public. In 2007, Jensen was awarded the most prestigious Danish literary prize, the Danske Banks Litteraturpris. He has also recently received the Swedish Olof Palme Prize. His latest novel, Sidste rejse, was released in 2007.

According to reviewers, “We, the drowned” is destined to become a modern classic. If you hunt around, it is still possible to pick up a signed and dated copy at cost £17.99, which is likely to be an excellent investment.

“This is an epic drama of adventure, courage, ruthlessness and passion by one of Scandinavia’s most acclaimed storytellers. In 1848 a motley crew of Danish sailors sets sail from the small island town of Marstal to fight the Germans. Not all of them return - and those who do will never be the same. Among them is the daredevil Laurids Madsen, who promptly escapes again into the anonymity of the high seas. As soon as he is old enough, his son Albert sets off in search of his missing father on a voyage that will take him to the furthest reaches of the globe and into the clutches of the most nefarious company. Bearing a mysterious shrunken head, and plagued by premonitions of bloodshed, he returns to a town increasingly run by women - among them a widow intent on liberating all men from the tyranny of the sea. From the barren rocks of Newfoundland to the lush plantations of Samoa, from the roughest bars in Tasmania, to the frozen coasts of northern Russia, "We, The Drowned" spans four generations, two world wars and a hundred years. Carsten Jensen conjures a wise, humorous, thrilling story of fathers and sons, of the women they love and leave behind, and of the sea’s murderous promise. This is a novel destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.”