Wednesday, July 30, 2008

If Wishes Were Horses....

... and surely I don't have to finish that song for you?

Surely, you know how one is never too broke to buy books. That no matter for how many months one has been unemployed, or has spent too much on their credit card repayments, there is always money for books. We all know this. However, because each day teaches me something new, I have learned today that there is indeed such a thing as being too broke for a book. Allow me to show you.

The description reads thus:
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare and Co., 1922. Quarto, original blue-green wrappers. Custom half-leather box.

First edition, one of 750 printed on handmade paper (out of a total edition of 1000). A superb, unrestored copy in original wrappers. Very light soiling to wrappers, slight wear to spine, faint crease on front cover. A spectacular copy, most rare in this condition.
And this piece of history, this gem of literary genius can be yours at a mere $60,000.

I don't know about you but I certainly had the breath squeezed out of me, I assure you. But it isn't all so obscenely unaffordable. For example, you could get a first edition of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience — no, no, not the engraved one. You'll need to first kill the owner to get it put up on sale. This wonderful, wonderful book is valued at $8000 only. It is also possible to get a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, both inscribed by Lewis Carroll at $15000. And if you'll browse the list, there are a good number more to die over. But what's got me really salivating is this:

This is why the book is called The Decisive Moment:
To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.
With a dust jacket specially designed by Henri Matisse, it doesn't cost much, my dears. Only $9000. And I am convinced that at least some of you love me enough for me.

No? I thought not. Sigh... back to the hunt for the sugar daddy... damn!

You should check out the book page - there are some gorgeous photographs you can have a look at. Henri Cartier-Bresson is quite simply the most amazing photographers that I've ever had the privilege of viewing/studying. And to be honest, I don't have the language to describe his photography and the effect it has on me and so I am not even going to try. You should go and check it out here, here, and here. Also, someone has taken the trouble to put The Decisive Moment online - you MUST check it out at least for a bit.


A quick aside but I wonder, you know, what it would be like to work in a niche part of the book trade like The Manhattan Rare Book Company. As a merchandiser for a chain store, I am not likely to ever hold a first edition like one of these in my hands nor am I likely to merchandise for books like these. I cannot imagine the research and the negotiations that would go into procuring each of these for the company catalog.

I've also wondered what it would be to work with a publisher like Taschen, Thames and Hudson, or Phaidon, doing only large format (quite often) high-gloss art and coffee-table books. Working with an author or taking on a series would take on a completely new dimension then. I think I'd end up spending most evenings in discussions with printers about paper and printing. Damn, I think it'd be exciting for a while! Though, to be fair, I'd finally want to get back to working on "regular books". I know I would.


Parth said...

Eventually though, if those authors were alive, they'd value the worth of how many people read their book, not by how much their uniquely positioned book cost. I'd rather spend that money to educate 1000 kids.

Extempore said...

I don't know about that, Parth. Each author is different and each values things differently. I've been to at least two large book events in the last three months and met a number of popular authors at the store. I've always been a little uncomfortable with how the author thanks you for buying when people tell him what big fans they are. I realise that we live in a world that's governed by economics. I also accept that you need to keep yourself detached when you need to be at so many book events, but surely, you can leave it at "Thanks" when a fan is telling you that your writing has changed his life instead of "Thanks for buying"

Having said that, it may be possible that the authors that I've mentioned might be different because they wrote and worked in a different time. Personally, I don't think I'd spend that kind of money on a book. But like I said, if wishes were horses, I'd be a champion show jumper by now! :-)

Plain Jane said...

Let me guess the reason why you dug up these prices and decided to torture us by making us realise that we can not afford these gems...pure sadism? ;-)

Anoc said...

and here i was expecting i had found my sugar mama for a lifetime of free supplies, what with you in the book trade! wishes were horsies, indeed.

Extempore said...

@Plain Jane: Why else, my love? But worry not, I am suffering right along with you!

@Anoc: Regular, NEW books for sure but gems like these? I don't stand a chance. I've got to admit, though, that getting books from publishing reps is nigh impossible! :-)

Rada said...

I know, it's neither here nor there but seriously, have you read Ulysses?

The reason I ask is, I have met only people who have tried to read it, but never really someone who has actually read it! OK, here we have to exclude the ones who have had to study it as part of their post-graduate program or something!


David Abstract said...

@Rada - I'm one of those that tried - I have a friend who got most of the way through, I'm not sure if he finished it, but he gave me this advice;
"The first chapter makes a lot more sense if you know it takes place inside the turret of a fort."

For the first time in a long time, my jaw literally dropped when I saw that picture of Ulysses - I thought you had actually bought one.
The Limited Editions Club of New York printed 1,500 copies of Ulysses illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse - that's one book I would genuinely be prepared to spend $$$$ on.
The rest - I don't think I could spend much money on a single book - if I spent $1000 on a book I would torture myself over the other 99 books I could have bought just buying paperbacks.