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How much would you pay for a book? The charm of rare editions


How much would you spend on a single copy of a book you really want?

I’m not a rare book collector, but I often treat myself to a (relatively) rare first edition copy of a book that’s meaningful to me. The most I have ever spent on a single book is $225 for a signed copy of “Amazons,” a novel about the first woman to play in the National Hockey League, written under the pseudonym Don DeLillo (Cleo Birdwell).

The book has been long out of print and you won’t hear DeLillo talk about it, but it’s a quirky and fun book by a great author about my favorite sport, and I’m happy to have it on my specially kept shelf. He bought the first editions.

The book at the top of my “I just won the lottery or a rich relative I know left me a bunch of money” list is a signed hardcover first edition of Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” that will cost me $12,000. for a copy in very good condition.

My favorite online source for used books is AbeBooks, which has been a subsidiary of Amazon since 2008—a fact I don’t like—but exists primarily to provide a centralized online marketplace for thousands of rare and used bookstores in the United States. Every few months, AbeBooks sends out a newsletter about the most expensive recent sales, and I love getting the chance to see which serious book collectors think are the most valuable.

For the last reported quarter (July to September), the most expensive book sold was Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for $46,875. There are plenty of sellers at AbeBooks who, for $4 plus shipping, will send you a paperback copy of the classic story of what happens when you decide your appearance is more important than your soul, but those copies won’t be one of only 250 deluxe editions. signed by Wilde himself” on the original publisher’s gray parchment-backed panels.

Adjusted for inflation, TS Eliot earned something like $50,000 from the combined first series, UK book and US book publication of “The Waste Land,” published in 1922; While this was enough to buy a US copy, it wasn’t much. The first edition, published by Boni & Liveright, recently sold for $35,000 through AbeBooks. Not bad, considering the 434 lines of poetry that have been confusing students in English classes for a century.

Most of what you’ll see on the priciest listings are rare copies of extremely well-known works—for example, two copies of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) are listed ($25,000 and $15,000) and a first of Orwell’s Thousand The British edition of Nine Eighty-Four is a print edition ($17,750), but lesser-known books with interesting curio links can also be quite valuable.

David Goodis was a popular crime/noir writer of his time, but the primary reason a copy of his novel “The Dark Passage” sold for $16,000 was due to the discovery of a letter he wrote to producer and screenwriter Jerry Wald, who wrote the film adaptation of the novel. Other notable film noirs include “Mildred Pierce” and “Key Largo” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In addition to Goodis’s inscription, the book also includes Wald’s notes reflecting what appears in the film.

If you think about it, every used book has one of these stories next to it. Every book had a life before it hit a used bookstore. In the second-hand book trade, some lives are more valuable than others, but all are interesting.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Requirements.”

Twitter @biblioracle

Book recommendations from Biblioracle

John Warner tells you what you should read, based on the last five books you’ve read.

1. “This Land of Tender” by William Kent Krueger

2. “Judges List” by John Grisham

3. “Last Train to London” by Meg Waite Clayton

4. “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah

5. “The Heron’s Cry” by Ann Cleeves

—Carol M., Lombard

I can’t believe it’s been ten years since this book was published, but it remains a reliable reference for those looking for solid drama with strong story pacing: “Tell the Wolves I’m Home” by Carol Rifka Brunt.

1 “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry

2. “Grandmother” by Georges Simenon

3. “Nora” by Nuala O’Connor

4. “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5. “The Other Paris” by Lucy Sante

— Norm W., Chicago

Norm has a penchant for writers from the (roughly) early to mid-20th century, so I’ll relegate him to a slightly different genre of that time, and to a writer like Fitzgerald who doesn’t get as much attention, but deserves a mention. The author is John Fante, the name of the book is “Wait Until Spring, Bandini.”

1. “The Color of Water” by James McBride

2. “The Winemaker’s Wife” by Kristin Harmel

3. “Sooley” by John Grisham

4. “Our Share of the Night” by Mariana Enriquez

5. “The Fabulous Lives of Marjorie Post” by Allison Pataki

— Colleen S., Manhattan, Illinois

Colleen had a desire for additional reading that she could listen to during her daily walk, so I will keep that in mind when recommending “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” a classic collection by Oliver Sacks. .”

Get a reading from Bibliocle

Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to: biblioracle@gmail.com.


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