I’ll admit, most books I pretend to have read are classics. I was “WHAT DO YOU MEAN”-ed enough in high school for not having dates. I didn’t want to be “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU! YOU AREN’T A REAL READER”-ed as a 30 year old woman … I missed a lot of good books while I was in college and during my years as an indie bookseller, and I’m tired of smiling and nodding when people talk about them. I care more about the direction literature is going than where it has been.
The other night we talked about literature’s elimination of the unessential, so that we are given a concentrated “dose” of life. I said, almost indignantly, “That’s the danger of it, it prepares you to live, but at the same time, it exposes you to disappointments because it gives a heightened concept of living, it leaves out the dull or stagnant moments. You, in your books, also have a heightened rhythm, and a sequence of events so packed with excitement that I expected all your life to be delirious, intoxicated.
Literature is an exaggeration, a dramatization, and those who are nourished on it (as I was) are in great danger of trying to approximate an impossible rhythm. Trying to live up to Dostoevskian scenes every day.
I think she just nailed (in her own beautiful way) why there can never be enough books in our lives?
The more I read the more I fought against the assumption that literature is for the minority - of a particular education or class. Books were my birthright too. I will not forget my excitement at discovering that the earliest recorded poem in the English language was composed by a herdsman in Whitby around AD 680 (‘Caedmon’s Hymn’) when St Hilda was the abbess of Whitby Abbey.
Imagine it…a woman in charge and an illiterate cowhand making a poem of such great beauty that educated monks wrote it down and told it to visitors and pilgrims.
Controversial Authors, Non Controversial Books, and the Moral Dilemma
I’ve never read Ender’s Game. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time, but I’ve recently felt that the chance may have passed me by. I found out recently that the author, Orson Scott Card, is outspoken about some beliefs that I find personally horrible and that he puts his money where his mouth is. Now that I know, it’s hard for me to pay money for the book when I know he uses his earnings to fund causes I hate. Moreover, it’s hard to enjoy the book divorced from my awareness of who wrote it.
I can’t help but feel that I’m taking a shortsighted position. Card weaves what I am told is an undeniably exciting and well-crafted tale that has nothing to do with his beliefs. He is justifiably respected as an author for this book, so doesn’t he deserve to be read and compensated for his work? If Ender’s Game is truly the great work of science fiction that people say it is, it would be an unfortunate loss to the world if it wasn’t read. As we finish celebrating banned books week, I can’t help but wonder if I am creating my own personal ban by refusing to read the work of a man I disagree with.
There’s a strong argument that literature should stand on its own, regardless of the authors’ intentions or any background knowledge about the authors’ personal life. Card is the latest in a long line of good-work-bad-people authors that readers must wrestle with. Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot were anti-semites, Norman Mailer tried to kill one of his wives, William S. Burroughs actually did. Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul has said that he’s “a better writer than any woman who ever lived”, and Charles Dickens was extremely cruel to his wife. So. Should we read their work? Yes, we should. Art transcends the humanity of the artist. Of course, most of those authors have the benefit of being dead; I can be sure any money I pay for Eliot’s The Wasteland isn’t going through him into the coffers of the Nazi Party, these days.
Maybe that’s what it comes down to, in the end. At the same time that I have grand ideals about art and the ability to enjoy it regardless of artist, I also believe that I must be a responsible consumer. I’m pulled between two moral positions- the belief that an artist should be rewarded for their work, and the belief that my money shouldn’t (knowingly) go to a cause I despise. It’s hard to concentrate on enjoying a book when I can’t stop thinking of where my money went. It’s a thorny issue, but when it comes to books, there’s a grand compromise: heads to the library, or buy it used!
Today’s teens are buried in books, but what are they reading? Nothing very challenging, worry some adults - including Stephen King.
Where is the bridging of the gap between fun pop fiction (which may well include challenging and universal themes) to more challenging works and critical thinking? “New Adult” is not the stepping stone I so often champion as a bookseller, but rather a stagnant genre that might possibly stifle interest in literature. I quite often wonder why we need a whole new genre to bridge the gap between Young Adult and Adult literature at this point in time? I want a balance and ascension, not a progression of diminishing returns.
Reading is fun. Reading is challenging. Reading is important. Reading is often fun and important because it is challenging.
And where is the discussion about how students are taught to engage with the books they read? Complex text or simple text, theme and content is important too. Give kids a reason and language with which to engage with the books they read, and they will be interested in reading, no? ^KE
Yet today Ravinskij no longer reads serious literature. “Reading for me is not as fascinating as when I would read a forbidden book at 2 a.m. because I have to return it in the morning,” he explained.
Valid social commentary or Russian literary hipsterism?
What is a Rare Book?: Or, How to Tell If You’re Suddenly Rich
Rare books are an amateur passion of mine. I don’t pretend to be an expert (I’m not! People go to school for years to become experts!), but I’ve taught myself a bit over my years working at bookstores, libraries, and special collections departments. I find that people are often fascinated by rare books, and so I would like to offer you a brief primer!
OLD RARE BOOKS
Old does not necessarily mean rare. This is a common misconception. If your book is from the 16th or 17th centuries, you may have something. If it is from the 19th century, then your book will have to pass a lot more tests to be considered rare.
Is it a first printing? It can be hard to tell with older books. Look up what date the book was first published, and see if that date matches the date on the title page. If you’re unsure, you can think about having the book appraised. A first printing by a famous author may be worth a lot, depending on the condition. A very old printing that is absolutely gorgeous but is not a first printing may not be nearly as rare (but just as wonderful to own). A book that is not a first printing but is an important printing (there are various reasons this may be; this rule particularly applies to nonfiction, though) may be worth just as much. You’ll need an expert to tell you.
A first printing by an unknown author is not likely to be valued highly… but look the book up. Sometimes there is a good collectors market for obscure titles.
Rare does not necessarily equal valuable. A rare first printing of a major authors’ book is likely to be very valuable… but the true value will depend on the condition the book is in. If you have something good that’s very beat up, you can consider having it restored! If a book is rare in the sense of scarcity, but it is obscure and there is no market for it, it will not be valuable either.
Sets! Many book collectors have beautiful old sets of popular authors, such as Shakespeare or Dickens. The value of your set will depend on a lot of factors: is it leather bound? Is it bound in a particular style, or by a famous binder? What is its condition? Is it a complete set?
MODERN RARE BOOKS
If it is not a first printing, it’s probably not rare, unless there is some other mitigating factor like an interesting typo or particularly important illustrations. You can tell a modern first printing by the number line on the title page. There should usually be a 1. There are exceptions to this, especially if the book is printed by Random House. (First printings and first editions are not the same thing; edition refers to how many times a book has been revised, printing refers to how many times the same edition has been reprinted. You’re looking for a first printing of the first edition; later reprints such as the paperback or a reissued hardcover may also be first printings of their respective editions, but they are not a true first. This type of first printing is known as a First Printing, Thus.)
A first printing is not automatically worth anything. It has to be a first printing of a very important or famous writer or book, and it must have had a small initial print run. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had a 5000 book print run in its first edition; a copy of this can sell for many thousands of dollars. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had an initial print run of millions of copies and so a first edition isn’t worth much.
A signed first edition (of a popular or important writer or book) is the best. If it’s a signed first edition of a famous authors’ first book, that’s even better. If it is inscribed to someone, the value lowers. If it is a signed later edition the value lowers as well. For example, one of the more rare books we’ve had at Open Books was an uninscribed, signed and dated copy of Christopher Hitchens’ first book Cyprus. Again, a signed first printing must be that of either a very important or famous writer or book to be considered rare in the book-collecting sense of the word.
And of course… for every rule, there’s an exception! Did I miss anything? Got any books you’re curious about? I love to talk rare books and I’d love to talk about yours!
by Lizzy Boden
Essential reading, this. ^KE
Print Is Dead? Not on Tumblr
There’s been talk that the lit world is in crisis. That, as a society, we’re reading less, texting more, without the patience to pick up — let alone stick with — a good book. But oh, that’s all wrong: Reading is alive and well. In fact it’s flourishing, at least if you ask Benjamin Samuel, co-editor of Recommended Reading, the Tumblr lit magazine from the folks at Electric Literature. Each week, Samuel and his team bring the crème de la crème of today’s best fiction to a computer screen near you — via previously unpublished short stories as chosen by popular authors and editors. We asked Samuel what it means to read and write in the digital age.
How is new technology affecting the literary world?
Technology has certainly had a massive influence on the way readers engage with literature, but I’m not sure recent developments have changed literature itself. You can look at the rise of self-publishing, but, again, I’m not sure that’s a change in literature as much as it is a change in publishing. The real change brought on by technology is the way we can now discover and read literature.
What The Dickens?
Ellie Robins ruminates over the sea of criticism aimed at young readers and their unwillingness to read Charles Dickens (or anything) despite his continued relevance in the world.
If children are more interested in watching television than reading a writer who still speaks so much and so valuably to our experiences, isn’t it pertinent to ask why, and what we can do about it, rather than simply railing against the state of affairs?
Amen, Ellie. Amen. (and I don’t particularly like Dickens) ^KE