The Brilliant Mind Of Francis Bacon

May 21st, 2015

Francis Bacon Rare BooksFrancis Bacon, Lord High Chancellor of England, wore many hats in his lifetime. While many know him to have been an English statesman and philosopher, he also earned recognition as a scientist, jurist, orator, essayist, and of course, author.

‘I have taken all knowledge to be my province,’ Bacon declared… He held to his course, if not ‘beyond the utmost bound of human thought,’ at least to the uttermost edge discernible in his day – and that, too, in every department of intellectual activity. Bacon’s day was, perhaps, the latest moment in history when anything like omniscience was within the limits of human attainment; even in his day, Bacon’s was, perhaps, the only mind that could achieve it. (Winterich, 205-6)

Born in 1561, young Francis Bacon grew up at York House near the Strand in London, home schooled from a young age due to poor health issues that would follow him throughout his life. Bacon went on to be educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his courses were taught primarily in Latin and followed the medieval curriculum. It was at Cambridge that Bacon met Queen Elizabeth, who took notice in him for his precocious intellect. While studying science and philosophy at university, Bacon developed a distaste for Aristotelian philosophy, thinking it unfruitful and mainly wrong in what it aimed to achieve.

In the summer of 1576, Bacon went abroad with Sir Amias Paulet, the English ambassador at Paris at the time. He learned valuable lessons in government at this time, when Henry III was in power over France. Bacon traveled around, visiting Blois, Poitiers, Tours, Italy, and Spain and all the while studying subjects such as statecraft, language, civil law, and diplomacy.

The Rare Complete Works of Francis Bacon

The Rare Complete Works of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon had three goals in life: to uncover truth, to serve his country, and to serve his church. These goals, with the help of good connections to men in power, led him to service in the Parliament, a position as Attorney General in Middlesex, and eventually as Lord High Chancellor of England. He was even knighted in 1603 during the succession of James I. The Complete Works of Francis Bacon capture his brilliant mind in the form of essays, speeches, letters (many to the Queen), philosophical theories, autobiographical works, and more.

Sadly, Francis Bacon’s time in Parliament ended in disgrace, as he was charged with 23 counts of corruption and sentence to never hold a parliamentary position again. While there was no doubt that he accepted gifts from litigants during his time in office, it was not so much corruption as it was customary of the time. There has been speculation that Bacon confessed to the wrongdoing because of debilitating illness that would soon end his life. Despite his disgrace and resulting debt, Francis Bacon was described as a brilliant and tender-hearted man, one who was never more content to “count spots in the sun than to rejoice in its glorious brightness.” Bacon passed away of illness in April of 1626.

Walt Whitman, The Great American ‘Poet of Democracy’

May 11th, 2015

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass rare second editionOn a list of great American poets, Walt Whitman would surely be in the top three. His enormous influence on humanist values in literature and essays, as well as his style of poetry that earned him the title “the father of free verse” in a time when poetry was transitioning from transcendentalism to realism, makes Walt Whitman a real icon for American values of the century.

Whitman was born in 1819 in Long Island to parents who practiced Quakerism. His family was mostly economically struggling, and he often recollected his childhood as unpleasant and restless. After finishing formal schooling in Brooklyn, Walt sought employment to help contribute to the low income of his family. This led him eventually to an apprenticeship at the Patriot, edited by Samuel E. Clements. At this job, Whitman learned for the first time about typesetting and the printing press. A summer later, he worked for another printer, Erastus Worthington, in Brooklyn. Next Whitman worked his way up to position as editor at the Whig weekly newspaper, a leading publication of Long-Island Star.

While working at the Star, Whitman began to branch out. He became a regular patron of the local library, joined a town debating society, attended theatre performances, and published some of his earliest poetry in the New York Mirror. After a brief time working in New York City as a teacher, Walt moved up to Huntington, NY and founded his own newspaper, the Long Islander. Initially, he served as the publisher, editor, pressman, and distributor, often even making home deliveries. After ten months of this, Whitman sold the newspaper to E. O. Crowell and there are no known surviving copies of issues published by Walt Whitman.

After years of competing for poetry awards in the 1840s, Walt Whitman was determined to become a poet. He began working on his largest, most famous work, Leaves of Grass, as early as 1850. The collection of poetry was made to be an epic, written in free verse with a cadence similar to that of the Bible. In June of 1955, Walt surprised his brothers with a printed first version of the book, to which his brother George responded that he “didn’t think it worth reading.” Leaves of Grass became a lifelong work for Walt Whitman, something that he would revise and reprint until he died.

The poet paid for the first publication of Leaves of Grass himself, printing only 795 copies with no noticeable author shown on the cover of the book. Instead, the speaker refers to himself as “Walt Whitman” 500 pages into the collection. Within the work, Whitman touches on themes of democracy, including the struggles of the common man, the contemplation of death and meaning, and even opinions on equality and sexuality that were groundbreaking for his time.

Rare Second Edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Rare Second Edition of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Always the champion of the common man, Whitman is both the poet and the prophet of democracy. In a sense, it is America’s second Declaration of Independence: that of 1776 was political, this of 1855 intellectual.

The poetry collection received serious praise in its time, the strongest of which came from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson wrote Whitman a five-page flattering letter, which is available in the second edition of Leaves of Grass, which only printed a thousand copies. Writers Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau also praised the book and made personal visits to Whitman because of it. Available in very good condition, a rarity, Leaves of Grass second edition also contains “Leaves-droppings,” a section of correspondence and reviews, as well as twenty poems that were not found in the first edition of the book.

Walt Whitman died in March of 1892, at the age of 72, and his funeral was made into a public spectacle, during which one thousand people came to visit his body over the course of three hours. Whitman’s legacy continues on as he is commonly referred to as the “poet of democracy” and “America’s poet.”

The Beloved Children’s Tales of E.B. White

May 2nd, 2015

E.B. White Rare Books Signed First EditionElwyn Brooks White, better known as E.B. White, was a well-loved American writer whose children’s stories still resonate with readers of all ages. He was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the son of a Samuel White, the president of a piano firm, and Jessie White, the daughter of a well-known Scottish-American painter. Despite his artistic roots, E.B. White started his life after high school by attending the army for several years. He later graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921.

E.B. White’s involvement in writing came naturally after his time in the army. He was an editor of The Cornell Daily Sun at university with classmate Allison Danzig, who went on to become a sports writer for The New York Times. After college, White worked briefly for the United Press and the American Legion News Service, then went on to work as a reporter for The Seattle Times in 1922 and 1923. He then dabbled in advertising as a copywriter before returning to New York City in 1924.

Not long after The New Yorker was created, White began submitting to it and was quickly noticed by literary editor, Katharine Angell, who pushed to bring White on as full-time staff. It took months to convince editor and founder, Harold Ross, to bring White onto the team, but he eventually agreed to a limited agreement where White worked only with them on Thursdays. A few years later, E.B. White and Katharine Angell got married and had a son, Joel White, a naval architect and boat builder. It was E.B. White’s niece, however, that inspired him to start writing children’s fiction.

E.B. White published his first children’s book, Stuart Little, in 1945 by Harper & Brothers in New York to, at first, a lukewarm reception by the literary community. The book eventually did receive high acclaim from the literary world and has been part of story time and school curriculums for generations since. White was open about his nieces’ inspiration for his stories:

The story had been brewing with White for years as a disconnected series of bedtime tales for his nieces and nephews by the time it came to Harper. There, shepherded by the distinguished editor Ursula Nordstrom and felicitously illustrated [with 87 drawings] by Garth Williams, the book was eventually published-generally to high acclaim.

Signed First Edition rare book Stuart Little by E.B. White

The Signed First Edition of Stuart Little by E.B. White

The plot of Stuart Little involves a little talking mouse born to a human family in New York City. As the family adapts socially to having such a small, non-human son, Stuart also adapts to being a small animal in a big city, his enormous thirst for adventure matched only by the vast city’s endless opportunities for trouble and danger.

The book sounds a resonant note as Stuart undertakes his quest for the beautiful bird, Margalo. And that quest, as White himself noted, ‘symbolizes the continuing journey that everybody takes – in search of what is perfect and unattainable. This is perhaps too elusive an idea to put into a children’s book, but I put it anyway.’”

In 1952, even years after the publication of Stuart Little, E.B. White published Charlotte’s Web. The most celebrated of E.B. White’s three children’s books, Charlotte’s Web has been deservingly regarded as a “modern classic” since its publication. The story has been well received since its time of publishing, selling more than 45 million copies and translated into 23 languages by 2006, and listed by Publishers Weekly in 2000 as the best-selling children’s book of all time. Many, young and old, have grown up loving the 1973 film adaptation of the book, and continue to love the 2006 film as well. E.B. White died in 1985, but his timeless stories and lessons in children’s fiction will continue for generations to come.

Mystery and Crime Novelist, P.D. James

April 30th, 2015

P.D. James Rare Books AuthorEnglish crime author Phyllis Dorothy James was forced to put making an income before her personal endeavors since a young age. Born and educated in Oxford, she had to leave school at the age of sixteen to work when her family didn’t have enough money, and because her father didn’t believe in higher education for girls. James worked in a tax office like her father for 3 years until she became an assistant stage manager for a theatre group.

James eventually married an army doctor in 1941, who returned home from World War II with serious mental afflictions that forced Phyllis to be her family’s provider until his death in 1964. While her husband was in the psychiatric hospital and his parents cared for her two daughters, James studied hospital administration and worked on a hospital board in London from 1949 to 1968. It was in this time that James began writing.

James’ first novel, Cover Her Face, features investigator and poet, Adam Dalgliesh, named after her teacher at Cambridge High School. The book’s plot delves into the fictional story of a young maid who was possibly murdered by her employer’s family, who appear to have obvious reasons for wanting her dead. The title of the novel is said to come from a passage of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi: “Cover her face. Mine eyes dazzle, she died young.” The book was generally very well received by critics, a precursor to the author’s later success as a crime novelist:

Cover Her Face was, James has said, written simply to try out her powers in fiction as a preliminary to attempting the novel proper. Its immediate success, however-snapped up at once by the prestigious British publishers Faber and Faber, and well reviewed on publication – caused her to try her hand again at the detective story, putting even more of the novel’s concern with the workings of the human mind, and indeed of the soul, into its page. Already present in that first attempt were many of the hallmarks of her subsequent writing. There was the fastidious prose, beautifully accurate and not without complex… plots… Add to these qualities a gift for forward-looking storytelling… and, above all, the creation of a detective you like and want to go on liking in Adam Dalgliesh, policeman and plausible poet.

Cover Her Face by P.D. James Rare and Signed

The Signed First Edition of Cover Her Face by P.D. James

Cover Her Face was published in 1962 and became the first of many mystery novels that she would write involving bureaucracies she had personal experience with it in the United Kingdom, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service. The main character, Adam Dalgliesh continues on solving other mysteries in A Mind to Murder (1963), Unnatural Causes (1967), The Black Tower (1975), and A Certain Justice (1997), all of which were adapted into television series by Anglia Television. In a Kirkus Reviews opinion on Unnatural Causes, one critic writes:

P.D. James scores with understated humor, stately yet unpretentious prose, psychological insights… plus, above all, fundamental warmth and wisdom in every line she writes.

Given her limited access to education due to her upbringing and her family’s dependence on her care and continual income, it is remarkable the success James achieved as a writer later in life. P.D. James’ crime novels were well loved and widely read. In 2008, the author was inducted into the Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

On November 27, 2014, P.D. James died at age 94 in her home, and is now succeeded by her two daughters Clare and Jane, as well as five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

The Fascinating Life of Shel Silverstein

April 20th, 2015

The rare works of Shel SilversteinSheldon Alan “Shel” Silverstein was a poet, cartoonist, and author of children’s books that won the hearts of America with his endlessly playful imagination. From the poignant life lessons of The Giving Tree to the amusing, yet philosophical poems of Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein’s books create a fun world in which children can laugh at and learn about themselves. And yet, outside of his writing, Shel Silverstein lived a very interesting, often difficult life.

Born and raised in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, Silverstein graduated from Roosevelt High School and enrolled in University of Illinois, but was soon expelled. He then was accepted into the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, but did not attend for very long before he was drafted into the United States Army, where he served in Japan and Korea. Silverstein’s first published work was in the student newspaper at Roosevelt University, where he studied after leaving the Art Institute. In the army in 1955, his cartoons were published in Pacific Stars and Stripes. In his biography, Silverstein said that his time at university was wasted and that it could have been better spent traveling the world and meeting others.

After returning from service, Shel Silverstein began selling hot dogs at ballparks in Chicago while submitting his cartoons to magazines and other publications. His work at that time appeared in Look, Sports Illustrated, and This Week. By 1957, Silverstein was appointed the leading cartoonist in Playboy, during a time when the magazine was also publishing fiction by Bernard Malamud and Kurt Vonnegut. Shel’s career with Playboy led him all around the world to meet with various fascinating individuals and create an illustrated journal about his encounters. Some of the locations he recorded include a nudist colony in New Jersey, the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco, Mexico, Spain, London, Paris, and parts of Africa.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein Rare and Signed

The Signed First Edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein eventually tried his hand at writing children’s books after being nudged by his editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom. His biggest seller in the 1970s was The Giving Tree, a book about a tree and how a man uses it throughout his life, from enjoying it’s fruit and shade to using its stump as a resting spot when he grows old. Others enjoyed quirkier books such as A Giraffe and a Half, a hilarious, illustrated story about what happens to a boy’s giraffe when he stretches it another half. When asked about his books in an interview with Publishers Weekly in 1975, Silverstein says this:

I would hope that people, no matter what age, would find something to identify with in my books, pick up one and experience a personal sense of discovery. That’s great. I think that if you’re a creative person, you should just go about your business, do your work and not care about how it’s received. I never read reviews because if you believe the good ones you have to believe the bad ones too. Not that I don’t care about success, I do, but only because it lets me do what I want.

Many of Silverstein’s first poems for children actually appeared in Playboy. Later, however, Shel was writing whole poetry books, such as Where the Sidewalk Ends. Within the anthology, Silverstein touches on the every day realities of children in fun ways, such as feeling to sick for school until you discover that it’s actually Saturday or erasing a friend with a magic eraser because she didn’t believe the eraser was magic.

The poems, ranging from serious to silly, from philosophical to ridiculous, allow the reader or listener – the rhyme and rhythm of these nonsensical poems makes them perfect for reading aloud – to discover Silverstein’s greatest gift: his ability to understand the fears and wishes and silliness of children.

The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein Signed and Rare

The Signed First Edition of The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein

Beyond just understanding of the world of childhood, Shel Silverstein offered valuable life lessons to children that warmed the hearts of adults as well. In The Missing Piece, a circle with a missing piece from it travels on and on looking for its missing piece. But when the circle finally finds its missing part, it feels sad rather than fulfilled, and realizes that it enjoyed the search for its missing piece more than when that search was over. The book was an instant success for around the world, so much that Silverstein published a sequel, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.  Available signed in its first edition, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O tells the story of the missing piece waiting for someone to come along and take it somewhere, and instead finds solace in its relationship with the Big O.

Shel Silverstein lost his first wife and only daughter separately to illness. Yet despite his own misfortunes, he was able to spread love, silliness, and adventure through his writing. You can honor the rare gift that was Shel Silverstein’s legacy by purchasing any of the signed first editions of Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Giraffe and a Half, and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.

Benoit B. Mandelbrot, Mathematician And Passionate Author

April 4th, 2015

Benoit B. Mandelbrot Rare BooksBenoit B. Mandelbrot was a mathematician who would completely change the way biologists view nature, the way financial advisors see patterns in markets, and eventually, the way computer animators design lively scenes in Pixar movies. But before his famous discovery of the Mandelbrot set in 1979, outlined in Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension, the mathematician was known for more or less shooting in the dark:

According to mathematics scientist Stephen Wolfram, the book was a ‘breakthrough’ for Mandelbrot, who until then would typically ‘apply fairly straightforward mathematics… to areas that had barely seen the light of serious mathematics before.’

So how did the “wandering scientist” become the “father of fractals”? Well, to start, Mandelbrot owed part of his success as a mathematician (and his life) to his parents, who emigrated with their son from Poland before the start of World War II. In Paris, at age 11, Mandelbrot was helped by Rabbi David Feuerwerker to continue his studies during a risky time. In one of his memoirs, Mandelbrot writes:

Our constant fear was that a sufficiently determined foe might report us to an authority and we would be sent to our deaths. This happened to a close friend from Paris, Zina Morhange, a physician in a nearby county seat. Simply to eliminate the competition, another physician denounced her… We escaped this fate. Who knows why?

Mandelbrot went on to achieve his masters in aeronautics at California Institute of Technology and his PhD degree in Mathematical Studies at the University of Paris.

Before coining the term “fractal,” Mandelbrot developed the “theory of roughness.” He began to examine “roughness” in the shapes of mountains, coastlines, and river basins, as well as the structures of plants, blood vessels, and lungs; and even in the clustering of galaxies. He felt that the very root of Geometry’s definition promised the truthful measurement of the untamed Earth. When Mandelbrot wrote The Fractal Geometry of Nature, a few of the mathematical objects he discussed had already been presented by past mathematicians. But unlike in Mandelbrot’s work, those objects were studied only as isolated curiosities with natural properties.

The Fractal of Geometry by Benoit Mandelbrot, Rare and Signed

The Fractal Geometry of Nature by Benoit Mandelbrot, Rare and Signed

The Fractal Geometry of Nature is praised for the author’s informal, yet passionate style of explaining his ideas, often with many illustrations. In his book, Mandelbrot writes, “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” Mandelbrot’s language made his work attractive to those who were not specialists in his field. And later, the Mandelbrot set would improve the lives and work of those outside of his field as well, including financial and computer experts. As described on the website:

In The (Mis)Behavior of Markets, Mandelbrot joins with science journalist and former Wall Street Journal editor Richard L. Hudson to reveal what a fractal view of the world of finance looks like. The result is a revolutionary reevaluation of the standard tools and models of modern financial theory. Markets, we learn, are far riskier are far riskier than we have wanted to believe. From the gyrations of IBM’s stock price and the Dow, to cotton trading, and the dollar-Euro exchange rate– Mandelbrot shows that the world of finance can understand in more accurate, and volatile, terms than the tired theories of yesteryear.

The ability to simplify the complex has made Mandelbrot one of the century’s moth influential mathematicians. With The (Mis)Behavior of Markets, he puts the tools of higher mathematics into the hands of every person involved with markets, from financial to economists to 401(k) holders.

Mandelbrot was considered a maverick in the math, science, financial, and parts of the tech community. Other rare works of his include Computer Experiments with Fractional Gaussian Noises, Parts 1, 2, and 3 and Extended Abstracts: Fractal Aspects of Materials.

Influential and Innovative Writings by David Foster Wallace

March 30th, 2015

David Foster Wallace Essayist Novelist Rare BooksDavid Foster Wallace was born in Ithaca, New York in February of 1962 to parents Sally Foster and James Wallace. He spent his early childhood and adolescent years in Illinois and was regionally ranked as a junior tennis player in his teens. Wallace’s parents were both professors and when it came time to go to college, David attended his father’s alma mater, Amherst College, majoring in English and Philosophy. At college, Wallace took part in a slew of extra-curricular activities and was even known for having a nice singing voice. He went onto graduate summa cum laude, while his thesis in Philosophy won the Gail Kennedy Memorial Prize. His other honors thesis, for English, went on to be his first published book, The Broom of the System.

“There is no hatred in my love for you, only a sadness I feel all the more strongly for my inability to explain or describe it.” David Foster Wallace writes these words in The Broom of the System, his thesis turned novel about a 24-year-old woman’s life crises as a telephone switchboard operator. The author was also 24 when he published the book and at one point revealed in an interview that the story was semi-autobiographical, stemming from his experience of a mid-life crisis as he switched from math as a focus to literature and fiction. The New York Times describes the novel as “Daring, hilarious… a zany picaresque adventure of contemporary America run amok.”

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace Rare First Edition Signed

Signed First Edition of The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace

The author tackles a similar existential crisis in his book, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity:

Wallace and infinity: wonderful pairing! This is the most exquisitely (and hilariously) original science writing. Wallace embraces the incompatibility of mathematics and prose and makes art from it. And it’s a great story too. (James Gleick)

In Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, the author compares the Mentally Ill Mathematician to the Mad Scientist and Tortured Artist archetypes. As many writers do, Wallace suffered his own mental and emotional ailments throughout his life. After David Foster Wallace’s suicide at age 46 in 2008, his father revealed that he had been struggling with depression for at least 20 years.

As a novelist and essayist, David Foster Wallace was known for his humor, intelligence, and unconventional style of letting a story unfold. In the transcripts of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, he tackles the raw topic of unconventional sexuality. The book won him the Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, awarded to him by the editors of The Paris Review in the late 90s. Throughout the years leading up to 2009, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men has been adapted on the stage and in film, the latter starring Julianne Nicholson as Sara, the interviewer.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace Rare Signed First Edition

Signed First Edition of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

Girl with Curious Hair, another beloved collection of Wallace’s, includes non-related short stories about various quirky characters grappling with modern-day struggles of the 1990s. Though the characters are meant to be fictional, many of them are based on real people, including Lyndon Johnson, David Letterman, and Alex Trebek. The collection altogether is said to be a work of metafiction and postmodernism, and is popular for its many contemporary topics such as drugs, punk rock, sex and sexuality, the media, politics, religion, and fame obsession.

Other available first edition works by David Foster Wallace include: Consider the Lobster: and Other Essays; Prize Stories 1989: The O. Henry Awards; The Missouri Review: Signifying Rappers, Volume XIII, Number 2, and McCain’s Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope.

The Award-Winning Novels and Short Stories of Bernard Malamud

March 19th, 2015

Bernard Malamud Rare BooksBernard Malamud’s story began like many self-made persons in America during his era, as a child born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Malamud came of age during the start of the Great Depression and attended Erasmus Hall High School, a popular public high school at the time while Brooklyn’s population was rapidly growing. It was in high school that young Bernard fell in love with film, particularly the comedies of Charlie Chaplin, and enjoyed relating various plots to his school friends.

As an ambitious high school graduate, Malamud worked for a year as a teacher-in-training, and then attended the City College of New York on a government loan. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1936 and a Masters degree from Columbia University in 1942 after writing a thesis on Thomas Hardy, a personal inspiration of his. Despite being raised Jewish, Malamud identified as an agnostic humanist. His work in writing carried similar themes as Thomas Hardy, though set in a different time period. While themes in Hardy’s novels involved the struggles between social classes living in Victorian England, Malamud focused on social issues of his day, including the conflict between bourgeois and artistic values.

Philip Roth once described Bernard Malamud as “a man of stern morality, [driven by] the need to consider long and seriously every demand of an overtaxed, overtaxing conscience torturously exacerbated by the pathos of human need unabated.”

The Natural by Bernard Malamud Signed Rare First Edition

Signed First Edition of The Natural by Bernard Malamud

Malamud’s writing career took off slowly, as he was often the harshest critic of his own work. He wrote his first novel in 1948, titled The Light Sleeper, but later burned the entire manuscript. Thus his first published novel came four years later, in 1952, and is remembered today as his most symbolic work. The Natural was based off the bizarre shooting and eventual comeback of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball player, Eddie Waitkus. The novel tells the story of a fictional baseball player, Roy Hobbs, who is considered a baseball prodigy playing for the made-up team, the New York Knights. After Hobbs is shot, his health suffers even as he returns to play baseball and in the end is faced with a difficult decision of whether or not to throw the game for a substantial bribe. Available in its signed, first edition copy, The Natural is modeled off the story of The Fisher King, where Roy Hobbs plays the role of the flawed but heroic knight.

The Fixer, a fictional novel that channeled deeper into the author’s familial roots, tells the tale of a Jewish handyman wrongfully imprisoned during the anti-Semitic regime of tsarist Russia. First published in 1966, the book was praised for its fashionable prose. Elizabeth Harding wrote in Vogue that the novel is “[b]rilliant and harrowing… Historical reality combined with fictional skill and beauty of a high order make [it] a novel of startling importance.” Available in its signed, first edition, The Fixer won both the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  

The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud Inscribed Rare First Edition

Inscribed First Edition of The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

Malamud’s other award-winning book, The Magic Barrel, was his first collection of short stories. Most of the collection’s stories depict the search for hope and meaning in various desperately poor urban settings. Several of the stories involve the cooperation of two antagonists, whether it is a landlord and tenant or a matchmaker and daughter, learning from each other’s anguish. Famous stories within the collection include “The Last Mohican,” “Angel Levine,” “The First Seven Years,” and “The Mourners.” Available in its inscribed, first edition, The Magic Barrel went on to win the National Book Award.

The Prize-Winning Literature of V.S. Naipaul

March 11th, 2015

V.S. Naipaul Rare BooksSir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, also known as V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in the early 1930s. Naipaul’s father had emigrated from India with his grandparents in the 1880s, who sought work as indentured servants in Trinidad’s sugar plantations. Three years before Naipaul’s birth, his father began contributing to the Trinidad Guardian as an English-language journalist and joined the staff as Chaguanas correspondent in 1932, the year of Naipaul’s birth.  Naipaul’s father’s work and reverence for writers became the spark for his own aspirations as a writer later in life. When he was only 7 years old, Naipaul’s family moved to England and Naipaul himself would later enroll in Oxford for higher education.

In 1954, V.S. Naipaul moved to London and began his career as a presenter on a BBC weekly program called Caribbean Voices. During his time there, he wrote “Bogart,” his first story of Miguel Street that was inspired by a neighbor he knew as a child in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Feeling inspired, Naipaul finished the collection of stories that became Miguel Street in only five weeks. Though the stories were received well by many, his publisher Andre Deutsch, who also published books by famous authors such as Jack Kerouac and Philip Roth, did not think Miguel Street would be profitable for Naipaul, who was still unknown as an author. Deustch encouraged the writer to create a novel, and without enthusiasm Naipaul quickly wrote The Mystic Masseur in 1955. The novel is about a frustrated India-born writer living in an idealized colonial Trinidad, where cultural accomplishment is at the forefront of society. The writer rises from his impoverished background to become a successful politician due to his mystic talent to cure illnesses.

After completing the novel, Naipaul went home to Trinidad for two months, staying with his family. He came back with plans for writing The Suffrage of Elvira, described as a comic novella with slapstick humor surrounding a local election in Trinidad, creating a satire of the democratic process. After the book was published, Naipaul would hand-write his reviews to his mother in Trinidad. One by the New Yorker wrote, “V.S. Naipaul is a young writer who contrives to blend Oxford wit with home-grown rambunctiousness and not to do harm to either.” The New York Review of Books would later review The Suffrage of Elvira in 2001 and describe Naipaul as “ a master of modern English prose.”

V.S. Naipaul Rare First Edition The Mystic Masseur

First Edition of The Mystic Masseur by V.S. Naipaul, Signed

Meanwhile, with the help of his publisher Andre Deutsch, Naipaul’s collection of stories Miguel Street went on to win the Somerset Maugham Award, while his novel The Mystic Masseur was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

In early 1962, Naipaul made his first visit to the land of his ancestors, India. During his time there, the author for the first time felt faceless, unable to identify with a special ethnic group as he had in England and Trinidad. He was also distraught by the evasive Indian attitude toward poverty and suffering. When Naipaul wrote An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India, it was more of an effort to understand India than it was documentation of his time there. The New York Review of Books wrote about the book in 2001:

V.S. Naipaul An Area of Darkness Rare Signed First Edition

An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India by V.S. Naipaul, Signed

The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all: it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavour… This world of Naipaul’s is in fact charged with what can only be described as a romantic view of reality, an almost unbearable tension between the idea and the physical fact…

Available in its first edition and signed by the author, An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India would go on to win the Booker Prize in 1971 and eventually the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. Other of Naipaul’s worldly novels and stories are available in their first edition, signed or inscribed by the author, including North of South: An African Journey, A Bend in the River, A House for Mr. Biswas, In A Free State, A Way In The World, and Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples.

The Satirical Works of Kurt Vonnegut

February 23rd, 2015

Kurt Vonnegut Rare BooksKurt Vonnegut was an author who found humorous and imaginative ways to write about disconcerting realities that face us every day, from the plagues of war to the looming presence of technology. In his first novel, Player Piano, Vonnegut brings the two themes together in the setting ten years after a third world war, a time in which most American workers are replaced by automated machines. Player Piano is filled with irony, allusions to Marxist theory, and fears of a future dystopia laid out by other science fiction novelists of the period.

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. (Player Piano, 1952)

Described as a pacifist intellectual, Kurt Vonnegut was well loved for exhibiting through satire, gallow humor, and science fiction his humanist beliefs and counterculture ideals that arose from his time spent as a prisoner of war in World War II. As a POW, Vonnegut was held in Dresden in a building the Germans referred to as, Schlachthof Fünf , which translates to “Slaughterhouse Five,” the title of Vonnegut’s most famous novel:

Slaughterhouse-Five, perhaps Vonnegut’s most powerful novel, presents two characters who can see beneath the surface to the tragic realities of human history but make no attempt to bring about change… The central event is the destruction of Dresden by bombs and fire storm – a catastrophe that Vonnegut himself witnessed as a prisoner of war.

Kurt Vonnegut did indeed witness the horrible attack on Dresden, the aftermath of which he described as “utter destruction” to a defenseless city. He survived the attack with other POWs because they were locked in the underground meat locker that was Slaughterhouse Five. After the destruction, he and other POWs were ordered by the German guards to break into basements and bomb shelters to gather bodies for a massive burial. Though Vonnegut explained, “There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Germans sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes,” (Brinkley, Douglas. Rolling Stone, 2006).

Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse Five First Edition Rare Book

Slaughter House Five by Kurt Vonnegut, First Edition, Signed

Though the novel Slaughterhouse-Five­ is only semi-autobiographical, it brings to light many of the real tragedies prisoners of war and their families face during and after battle, tragedies actually lived by the author, in a style that engages readers in brilliantly poignant ways.

Kurt Vonnegut knows all the tricks of the writing game. So he has not even tried to describe the bombing. Instead he has written around it in a highly imaginative, often funny, nearly psychedelic story. The story is sandwiched between an autobiographical introduction and epilogue.

Kurt Vonnegut God Bless You Mr. Rosewater First Edition Rare Book

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut, First Edition, Signed

Though not autobiographical, Vonnegut’s novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater satirically remarks on social issues of the time. In the story, billionaire Eliot Rosewater, a name thought to be created out of those of T.S. Eliot, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Barry Goldwater, develops a social conscience and travels across America visiting poor populations of small towns before landing in Rosewater, Indiana. The book critiques majorly critiques the presence of money and the American Dream as a dehumanizing force in the country. His fifth novel and comic masterpiece, Conrad Aiken describes Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater as “a brilliantly funny satire on almost everything.”

Other available first edition, inscribed copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s works include his anthology, Tomorrow the Stars, his novels Hocus Pocus, Breakfast of Champions, The Sirens of Titan, and his collection of short masterpieces, Welcome to the Monkey House.