I know, I know, a third post on the same topic seems like a momentous occasion. My previous attempts to serialize any thematic content have crashed and flamed –– search for ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, as an example. But this will be the last post on Stephen King collectibles, I swear. At least for now.
The Third Book
The Shining, Subterranean Press
I believe I have talked about The Shining and all that it led to at least seven times on the blog, so no more of that. Once I began my journey into SK collectible territory, there was no doubt this book had to be part of the collection. But this is where reality and the intricacies of the market come into play.
The limited signed edition was published by Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based specialty press that I have talked about in the past. This edition came with a bit of controversy before and during its publication. The original illustrator (Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame) was replaced by Vincent Chong. Early copies shipped out to buyers had significant issues such as rubbing, spotting, and color transfer problems. The publisher had to issue a dust jacket and send it out to buyers, along with a gift card for a future purchase and replacement tray-cases for copies that had the color transfer issue. (Details here)
The Subterranean limited release has 750 copies, signed by King and Chong. The book and the tray-case are beautiful, high-quality deckle-edged paper and print quality. The cover is minimalist, with beautiful patterns on a background of blue. Chong’s illustrations pop out on the color pages, and there was even an accompanying sketchbook that contained preliminary pencil pieces.
But the lack of any extra material is a disappointment. No preface, no afterword, no essay, or deleted material. What really got my goat is that as part of the Doubleday Years reprints that a different publishing house, Cemetery Dance was bringing out, this book got a different, unsigned deluxe release, one that was more desirable than the SubPress version. Why? An email from CD explains:
We have some AMAZING news to share. As you know, Stephen King has graciously allowed us to restore his long lost, 40 page prologue called “Before the Play” to the beginning of the book. It has never appeared in any edition of THE SHINING anywhere in the world and may never be reprinted again. In the weeks since the book sold out, something even more incredible has happened. A collector named Jon Page contacted us because he had something very special in his collection: an earlier draft of the manuscript, when it was still called THE SHINE, which had been sent around to Hollywood production studios to sell the movie rights before the book was published. This manuscript includes HUNDREDS of sentences, paragraphs, and even scenes not included in the final book we all know and love. Of particular interest is a four page section toward the end known as “After the Play,” which even Stephen King believed had been lost forever because he didn’t have a copy in his archives. Thanks to Jon’s amazing discovery, and Steve’s generous permission, all of this Deleted Material will now be included as Bonus Section in our special edition of THE SHINING, which you already have on order. You do not need to do anything to confirm you are receiving this material, it will be in every copy of our edition. Adding this material will take about two weeks of additional production time, but it means this version of the book will be as definitive as possible, which should make it an even bigger hit with collectors for years to come. A HUGE “thank you” goes out to Jon and Steve for making this addition to the book possible.
This was in addition to a foreword by King, and an afterword by Mick Garris, the director of the TV adaptation of the book. The TV miniseries, by the way, was King’s attempt to outdo Kubrick’s version, which he hated. The Cemetery Dance edition was also illustrated by Don Maitz and Glenn Chadbourne, and all in all, looked just as fancy as the SubPress edition. Except, like I said, it was unsigned. Well, there was an ‘Artist Edition’ signed by the illustrators, but no King signature.
So this is where one needs to make hard choices –– what truly is a ‘definitive’ version? Is it the author’s endorsement? Or is it something that contains all paraphernalia associated with a work? The heart says the former, the head the latter. I did end up buying the Subterranean Press version on eBay. Even got a limited UK edition of Doctor Sleep to go with it, signed by Stephen King with only 200 copies published. But oft in the gentle night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, I find myself looking at Cemetery Dance listings on eBay. To sum it all up in a thousand words:
This is the second part of a series of posts on collecting Stephen King limited editions.
The Second Book
Salem’s Lot, Centipede Press
Every now and then I think about the purpose of this blog, and am assaulted by dark thoughts about vanity and pointlessness. But then an exercise like this makes me realize why it is important to me. A simple thing –– memory. With the inevitability of time, the onset of age, and the realization of my mortality, there is comfort in remembering moments that made me who I am. It is strange to look back and realize that I read a book for the first time when I was nineteen; I will turn forty this year, which means that a literal lifetime has passed by. Until I started writing this post, I didn’t consciously think about Salem’s Lot and my first experience of it. I was trying to think of what the cover of my copy looked like. And when I did, a bunch of surprising memories tumbled out.
In the summer of 1998, important things were happening in my life. I had graduated from Pre-University (or Higher Secondary, a term I personally did not prefer) in Cotton College, Guwahati. The early part of that year was spent appearing for multiple examinations; first came the Higher Secondary exams, the hall-pass required by the powers that be to declare us suitable to appear for various other examinations, each dedicated to a Hallowed Institution. Those included the IITs (did not make it through), Roorkee examinations (the secondary choice, and one I was not interested in), and the Joint Admission Tests, the ones which guided my life. Once the exams were done, it was then time to scramble across the country applying for various disciplines. There wasn’t any time to waste, future careers were at stake. All that we knew, back then, was that we needed to make it into a Good College, somewhere outside Assam. Everything else would fall into place.
In my inner life, however, I was absorbed with other things, primarily a newfound passion for the writings of Stephen King. The Shining had exploded into my consciousness during a trip to Delhi. Suddenly, in this pre-Internet world of coincidental self-curation, this writer’s work clicked with me in that inexplicable way, like a floating jigsaw piece that snaps into place and unlocks a puzzle you’ve been dreaming of completing. The more I looked up this guy’s books (and the most you could do, at that time, was look up Encyclopaedia Brittanica entries, or ask around), they showed promise. They did not seem formulaic, ranging from killer dogs to telepathic children to childhood monsters. Stephen King seemed like the kind of guy who wrote books just for me.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the booksellers of Guwahati were impervious to the charms of Sai King. The only book I saw on display was Cujo, and the number of unsold copies just turned me off, a phenomenon I refer to as the ‘Waiting To Exhale effect’, named after the other book that kept turning up in every single bookshop I visited in India. So while my parents fretted about the upcoming cross-country travel to my new alma mater, the one thing ticking away in my mind was –– how do I maximize the potential to pick up King books on the train ride? We were going to pass through Calcutta, a place whose bibliophilic charms I was familiar with, thanks to summer science camps from the last two years. I convinced my father to stop in Howrah for half a day, also making it clear what my intentions were. Not ashamed to admit that I was blatantly taking advantage of his separation anxiety.
In any case, we ended up in Gol Park, the Used Fiction Central in the city, much like College Street was the Used Textbook Haven. I don’t think I ever saw the actual park that gave the place its name, because every time I was there, hours would pass as I pored over the stacks of books along the street stalls. Not all the shops would be open at the same time, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see a bookseller languidly walk and unshutter a set of wooden planks, and begin that algorithmic Display Dance, where the best-sellers got pride of place, while the real, kooky titles that I was interested in would be relegated to the back, or be lost in a forest of multi-colored spines. It was a great game, maybe The Greatest Game I loved to play while growing up, this act of excavating shiny treasures from amidst dust and age. The byproduct of scarcity, I guess.
That day, I struck metaphorical gold. Not only did I find some great King books, but they were being sold at great prices. There was Desperation, Night Shift, Insomnia, and the non-fiction Danse Macabre, and managed to talk down the bookseller with a combination of flattery and nonchalance that I had perfected in Guwahati. My father was amused by the haggling, I knew he would just have paid the 150 Rs instead of the 100 that we finally agreed on.
As the guy was pocketing the money, he off-handedly pointed me to a different store. “He may have a Stephen King or two”, he said. I wasn’t too convinced, I had given the shop he pointed at a once-over, and was not taken by the gentleman’s collection. There were some Conan The Barbarian paperbacks, and an Agatha Christie or two, but I had been thorough enough, and there was narry a King in sight. But I took a chance, went over, and asked the gentleman directly, which is something you do not do, dear bargain hunters. Because if the seller knows you are looking for a writer, the price does not budge.
“Hmmm, King, King”, the man muttered to himself, casting an eye on the shelves behind him. Just as I was sure it was time to go, he said “Aha, yes, yes, here”, and brought out a book that had no cover, no discernible spine (which explained why I did not see it in the first place), and covered in a layer of dust. I flipped to page one, and caught my breath.
It was Salem’s Lot. To my Dracula-worshipping eighteen-year old self, there was no other King title I was more interested in. ‘Vampires in small-town America’ was a phrase that made my nether regions tingle. So I did the logical thing, which was to put the book back on the shelf, with a vague look of nonchalance on my face. “It’s too damaged, dada”, I said. “I would have bought it if it was in a better condition. “
“Condition shondition”, he countered. “You won’t find this anywhere else.”
I knew. But obviously I did not want him to know that I knew.
“Na na, I am headed to Hyderabad, they may have more copies there.”
“Hmm, fine fine. But I would have sold it for….”, he paused, and spat a dollop of paan juice to the side. “Hmm, twenty rupees. Yes, it is yours for twenty.”
I looked at him with awe and disgust. “Dada, I just bought these three pristine-looking books for 25 Rs each, from your friend over there.”
“Did you? Did you? Hmm, how much do you want to pay then?”
“I am not even sure I want it, it’s…”, I picked up the book and grimaced. “It’s so old, I can read it once and then it will fall apart.” Which was sort of true, really.
“All right, it’s bohni time”, he said, and spat again. Bohni, dear readers, is the peculiar belief that the first sale of the day is more important than other sales, and concessions have to be made to facilitate it. “Last offer, 10 rupees.”
I could see my father, a little tired of the rigmarole, edge towards his wallet, and before he could, I blurted out. “Five rupees!”
And regretted it the next second, because of course it was too low, and the guy would be insulted, and he would ask me to get out of town and never come back again.
That did not happen. He shrugged, spat for the third time, and said, “Ok fine, five it is.”
Dear reader, you wouldn’t have believed the shit-eating grin on my face as I walked away. Or maybe you do. It stayed on my face for the bulk of the day, and every now and then, I would open my bag and touch the five new Stephen King books I bought that day, just to make sure I owned them, and that I was still in the real world.
The train stopped at Vijaywada a day later, our last major stop before the journey ended, and a quick trip to the largish bookstore on the Central Platform got me The Dark Half and Four Past Midnight. They were new books, and I paid 50 Rs each for them, which was the limit of my mental allowance for a book at that point of time in my life. My father did not complain, he somehow understood that this was important for me. Plus separation anxiety.
I read all the books in the course of the next year. Back then, it was a bad idea to blaze through reading material, because days of hitting the motherlode would be followed by extended periods of scarcity. In a few years, that would no longer be the case, but I had no idea then. So I paced myself. Salem’s Lot was the last of the lot I read, obviously. I read the short story ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ in Night Shift, and wondered if the book was related. But the story was more Lovecraft than Dracula, and as it turned out, they weren’t connected by anything other than the name of the place where the story and the novel were set. The Lot, with Castle Rock and Derry, form the trinity of fictional Maine towns that King created in his version of the state. It was inspired by small towns, and the story of a specific ghost town.
It is based on a town in upstate Vermont, that I heard about as an undergraduate in college, called Jeremiah’s Lot. I was going through Vermont with a friend and he pointed out the town, just in passing, as we went by in the car. He said, “You know, they say that everybody in that town just simply disappeared in 1098.” I said, “Aw, come on. What are you talking about?” He said, “That’s the story. Haven’t you heard of the Marie Celeste where everybody supposedly disappeared? This is the same thing. One day they were there and then one day a relative came over to look for someone that they hadn’t heard from in awhile; and all of the houses were empty. Some of the houses had dinner set on the table. Some of the stores still had money in them. It was covered in mold from the summer damp and it was starting to rot, but nobody had stolen it. The town was completely emptied out.”
My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot does not have to do with my first read. Of course I enjoyed the book, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I was enthralled by the small-town setting, the moments of tension that King builds slowly, those terrifying sequences when shit really hits the fan in the town. The downbeat ending crushed my heart, but I respected the writer’s choices. They were, as always, great choices.
My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot was convincing my friend Udatta to read the book. My college seniors tolerated my King-lust, but they found the writing too weird or pulpy, and horror is not an emotion people crave. Udatta in general was fond of classic literature, he was my gateway to the likes of Henry Miller and the Beat writers. He picked up Salem’s Lot, I suspect, because it did not have a cover. He took it from me one weekday afternoon, and at about 10 PM in the night, I hear a knock on the door of my hostel room.
“Chetri”, he said. “You’re coming with me.”
“Uh, ok. Where?”
“My room. My roommates are away, and I just read this scene where the children appear at the window in the middle of the night, and now I cannot look at my window. Or be in my room alone.”
I confess I cackled more unkindly than I should have, but I did end up spending the night giving him company as he finished the book. After which he threw it at me and said, “Great book. But I am not reading any more of your King stuff ever again.”
That copy did not fall apart as I had claimed. Books are more resilient than the rest of us.
Some years later, I was in Waldenbooks in Hyderabad, when I saw an incredible copy of Salem’s Lot for sale. It was the illustrated edition, and it had an insane price tag, something like 500 Rs. I didn’t buy it, and for many years, had a twinge of regret every time I thought about not buying it.
Searching for this book later on eBay, however, led me to realize that it was the mass-market edition of an extremely limited release of Salem’s Lot, by a publishing house called Centipede Press. How limited? Here’s the description:
When I bought it –– oh yeah, I knew I had to buy it, once the collectible lust was on me –– I was astounded by the sheer heft of the thing. It looks comparable to one of the Taschen XL books, and weighs six kilos (13 lbs). The all-black cloth binding, embossed sparsely with the name of the book and its author, is austere and classy at the same time. Jerry Uelsmann’s pre-digital era photomontages are somber works of art that complement the tone of the book perfectly. The cloth covering does make it sort of a dust magnet, but that does not bother me much. It does bother me, however, that the weight of the book makes it impossible to read normally.
I have been a Stephen King fan since a memorable train ride . My teenage years were spent writhing and giggling to his stories, until one fine day, I blinked, and realized that that crusty, fireside voice of his seemed a little too familiar, a tad too self-absorbed by the idea of the legions of Constant Readers hanging on to his every word. His writings seemed to have taken on a rambling, don’t-give-a-fuck quality that did not sit well with my tastes at the time. Like he was dusting off unedited, half-written manuscripts from his early years and hurling them at his editors. Specifically, his brush with death made it feel like he wanted all the unwritten material that bubbled in him—good, bad and ugly—to spout a spray of pages, taking his self-proclaimed ‘diarrhea of the word processor’ to its logical extreme. There were books that I did not finish because they were too self-indulgent. Cell, Dreamcatcher, From a Buick 8.
But times changed, and I read Joe Hill, who reminded me how good his dad had been. Once I took a hit of King Sr’s newer stuff, it was hard to ignore the fact that the guy still had it. The Bill Hodges trilogy was fantastic, as was Revival. I began to keep track of Stephen King releases all over again, and began a reread of the older books. Turns out they still held up, yay.
And one fine day—because Marie Kondo or not, I am still a covetous creature at heart—I found myself wondering about how fruitful it would be to own signed copies the King books that I loved.
Background: Finding Signed Stephen King Novels
It’s easy to find signed Stephen King books for sale. If you want, I could give you two that I have lying around, or fourteen, if you give me a minute with that pen. What I mean is that it is illogical to buy a book that says “signed by Stephen King” unless you are very sure of the provenance. Counterfeit signatures abound so much that California recently passed a law to discourage fakes. This happens to be a terrible piece of legislation that, though well-intended, threatens small booksellers, some of whom are taking legal action against it. The only way of legitimately getting an authentic signed book is to attend a King talk or signing; but that depends on how lucky you are—a limited number of books are randomly signed by the author and then distributed with the tickets. Add to it the fact that he does not really travel to California, limiting himself to his Maine/East Coast haunts.
It therefore did not make sense to run after any signed book, then – the only alternative for me was an “official” limited edition. Most authors with dedicated fan followings are courted by small presses, like Subterranean Press, Cemetery Dance, Centipede Press, to name a few. These books are solicited in limited numbers, with lettered editions (usually 26 copies only, numbered from A-Z, and sometimes AA-ZZ, with a total of 52 copies) being the creme de la creme of the lot. Numbered signed editions come next, with print runs of a few hundred. Then come the “trade” or “gift” editions, which are usually unsigned. These books have small runs, have high-quality paper and binding, come in slipcases that prevent shelf-wear, and are often illustrated by big-name illustrators. They also feature additional material, if the publishing house is working in collaboration with the writer, and the signatures come on pages that are part of the binding.
Once I dipped my toe into the high-end collectible market, what began as a regardez-touche pas strategy online became a mad carousel of heady information:
Who knew that the Doubleday printings of the early King novels were so reviled? Badly printed with cheap glue binding, that’s why. Though first printings command high prices on the market, they were not aesthetically appealing, and King collectors hate them. Cemetery Dance actually republished the first six King books in limited collectible editions recently.
I had no idea that King himself owned a publishing house called Philtrum Press based in Bangor, Maine, where he oversaw the printing of several limited edition signed and numbered books. Philtrum’s output included The Plant, an episodic novel that was meant to be a Christmas gift to close King friends, and were later released as a pay-as-you-like e-book in an experiment to test the online market—that didn’t work out, and King hasn’t finished the book yet. The same press also released the limited edition of Eyes of The Dragon.
A company called Dragon Rebound is releasing its custom rebound editions of Stephen King’s books. Here’s the concept — they take first edition copies of a King book and bind it afresh, and that feels like an understatement after I have typed it out. Their Firestarter release, for example, have covers made of real sycamore wood that has been scorched by fire. Their copy of Itcomes in a fucking cast iron case, one that resembles a sewer grate. While these books are not signed by the writer, they are seriously limited. The first three books in the series have 26 copies each, while the fourth has 52. There apparently is a wait-list of 250 people waiting to jump in.
However, getting hold of those signed limited editions involves either crouching like a tiger and not draggin’ your hide when the books come up on eBay—sorry, couldn’t resist—or waiting for the next King book to be solicited by any of those publishers. The latest one to get the deluxe treatment was Sleeping Beauties, from Cemetery Dance. I was this close to ordering the limited edition for myself but the $475 retail price stopped me at the last minute. Also does not help that the book, solicited in 2016, still hasn’t been published. That hasn’t prevented the secondary market asking price of about $600-750, depending on who you ask.
With King collectibles, in order not to lose focus, I set three major goals for myself. Three of my favorite books and specific editions, and happily, I managed to hit all three of them. Let me talk about the first one, then.
The First Book: IT 25th Anniversary Signed and Limited Edition
The first time I saw this book was in a movie called Stuck in Love. It’s a funny, heartwarming movie, where three of the protagonists—father, daughter and son—are writers at different stages of their lives. Long story short, there is a Stephen King cameo (just not the way you think) and the limited edition of the book makes an appearance. I was struck by the cover art, the hefty size and of course, because of the fact that this was It, goddammit (um, what?). The book that King refers to as his ‘final exam on Famous Monsters’, and writes about thus in his afterword to this edition of the book.
The central conceit of the book came to me one day when I was walking across a wooden bridge over a dry stream. The hollow thud of my bootheels made me remember a story from my childhood: “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” There was a troll in the story, hiding under a bridge very much like the one I was crossing.
“Who is that trip-trapping on my bridge?” the troll would ask, a question that struck me—even as a child—as innocent on top, but very sinister beneath. As my bootheels clomped, I began thinking about the differences between our childhood fears—monsters, abandonment, monsters, mistreatment, monsters, bullies, monsters—and our more mundane adult fears, like whether or not our job’s insurance program covers dental. It seemed to me that we forgot the vividness of those childhood fears as we grew to adults, which might make us uniquely vulnerable to them if they ever came back…not as the shadows of tree-limbs on the wall or an imagined movie-poster monster in the closet, but as real things.
I began to see a structure where I could alternate children battling real monsters with the adults they became twenty-five years later. The monster would be a kind of psychic projector, which would allow me to use all the monsters that frightened me at the Saturday matinees of my youth: the mummy, the Crawling Eye, the werewolf, even that uniquely wonderful Japanese monster, Rodan. That idea delighted me. All the monsters! All the fucking monsters! And what would the central monster be? The one hiding behind all the masks and mirrors? It turned out to be a vast spider (think Tarantula!), but I didn’t know that when I started, and it didn’t matter to me. I understood it would really be the troll. The one hiding under all the bridges we cross on the chancy (but wonderful) journey from childhood to adulthood. The one that finally reaches up and pulls all of us under, which we call “dying.”
Let me point out though, that the gift edition appears in the movie, and this version comes in a slipcase and is unsigned. The limited edition comes in a faux leather tray-case, and is signed by both King and the three(!!) artists: Glen Orbik, Alan Wells and Erin Clark. There are 2750 copies of the gift edition, but only 750 of the signed version.
I had been tracking the availability of this book online since I saw it in Stuck in Love, and saw the asking price increase steadily over the years even as copies seemed to become scarcer. Thankfully, my timing was just right — a month or so after I bought my copy, prices started going haywire because of the buzz on the movie. Right now, copies are around the $2800 mark. I paid less than half of that for mine. Pictures below are from an un-numbered PC (Publisher’s Copy) sold at auction. Mine is numbered.
Needless to say, the book looks and feels incredible. The silver embossing on the leather tray-case, hell, the tray-case itself begs to be caressed. The pages have a red color on the edge, like blood seeping into the writing. Seeing the signature on the book (this was the first signed King book I bought) gave me butterflies in my tummy. I will be honest: unlike Frank Darabont, who claims to treat his copies of collectible books as if they were reading copies, I do not have it in me to flip through this book to read it. Which is a contradiction of sorts, I know, but I do most of my reading on the Kindle anyway. I like having this copy on my shelf, as a memory of how far I have come from my teenage days of reading Stephen King via half-torn library paperbacks. Every now and then, I pull it out, read a few pages, and marvel at the turn of events that led me to own a piece of King memorabilia.
Live Talks Los Angeles is one of the few organizations whose mails I am subscribed to, and with good reason. They conduct talks and interviews with interesting people — their site has a huge archive of older events that are well-worth checking out. While I have not attended too many of their events, the one with Neil Gaiman being the only one from recent times, I love watching their videos — Moby interviewing Shepard Fairey was a recent highlight. Their emails tell me about new books that I should be looking out for, like Terry Gilliam’s autobiography from last year, and both Nigella and Madhur Jaffrey’s recent cook-books (yes, I keep track of cookbooks, sue me). Padma Lakshmi is in town on Tuesday talking about her memoir, and I am very tempted to go.
In one of these emails, I found mention of Marie Kondo, a lady who has made a career of the art of tidying. Her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up has literally changed lives, and she is promoting her new book Spark Joy. She was one of Time Magazine’s 100 Influential People from 2015, her surname has nearly become a verb (to do a ‘Kondo’), and the strength of her clean-up strategy apparently led to record number of donations and consignments in the US last year, with people giving away piles and piles of belongings that do not meet the KonMari cleaning criteria. In a consumerist culture, she says, we should only own things that ‘spark joy’.
The eyebrow-raised, skeptical version of myself backed away slowly from what walked, talked and sounded like another brainless minimalism fad that sweeps through the country — actually, the world, considering that Ms. Kondo has been translated into 13 languages. But I flipped through her first book at a Barnes and Noble. Surprisingly, what I read made a lot of sense. I ended up finishing all of it the next day, and my skepticism, I will admit, has been replaced by respect. While there are moments when the book’s instructions border on the ridiculous (“thank your dress and bag at the end of the day” or “hug your clothes to show your appreciation”), the majority of what she says is sane, practical and helpful. Her tone is gentle, and her approach to cleaning an iterative process that she has honed over the years; she takes readers through what did not work, arriving at her conclusions with clear-headed logic and a self-deprecating demeanor that is endearing.
The reason the KonMari method makes sense to me is a function of my personality. You, familiar reader, should be aware of my propensity to indulge in ridiculous consumerism in the name of bibliophilia — in plain words, I buy too many books. Over the years, that has led to a proliferation of bookshelves and a read-queue that is pure Sparta. In the Frank Miller sense of the term, not the ancient Greek sense, thanks.
This is not to say that I am unaware of my failings: my book-buying is no longer as undisciplined as it once was, and I am not shy when it comes to getting rid of books that do not fit my tastes anymore. But there is something deeper at play — this excuse that I, and others, give ourselves; that buying and hoarding books is somewhat nobler than buying clothes, or shoes, or any other form of consumerist activity that results in clogged closets and empty wallets. Really, bibliomania — which makes more sense than the gentler ‘philia’ — is an equally irksome addiction that is somehow bolstered by the reactions of well-meaning people around me. My favorite part of Kondo’s book was her mince-no-words approach to talking about books in one’s possession.
The most common reason for not discarding a book is “I might read it again.” Take a moment to count the number of favorite books that you have actually read more than once. How many are there? For some it may be as few as five while for some exceptional readers it may be as many as one hundred. People who reread that many, however, are usually people in specific professions, such as scholars and authors. Very rarely will you find ordinary people like me who read so many books. Let’s face it. In the end, you are going to read very few of your books again. As with clothing, we need to stop and think about what purpose these books serve. Books are essentially paper—sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading. Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember. So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love. That includes this book, too. If you don’t feel any joy when you hold it in your hand, I would rather you discard it. What about books that you have started but not yet finished reading? Or books you bought but have not yet started? What should be done with books like these that you intend to read sometime? The Internet has made it easy to purchase books, but as a consequence, it seems to me that people have far more unread books than they once did, ranging from three to more than forty. It is not uncommon for people to purchase a book and then buy another one not long after, before they have read the first one. Unread books accumulate. The problem with books that we intend to read sometime is that they are far harder to part with than ones we have already read.
If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. There’s no need to finish reading books that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway. So get rid of all those unread books. It will be far better for you to read the book that really grabs you right now than one that you left to gather dust for years.
I am not saying that Marie Kondo changed something fundamental in me. Hey, I finished reading Life Changing last week, and have since bought 3 books — to clarify, lest you think I am a complete idiot, they were used and 50% off, they were parts of series that I am in the middle of, and over the weekend, to make up for it, I donated a crate of books and few bags of non-book stuff. The point though is that the KonMari method looks to me a viable way of approaching my priorities when it comes to buying and owning things – not just books. There are small tactics to tidying up that I began using almost immediately, and I will talk about them in a separate post. Ultimately, what Kondo recommends is no half measures, and for that I need time – maybe a full weekend, maybe more. The struggle is real, people! Watch this space.
While The Last Bookstore is my favorite Los Angeles bookstore, Stuart Ng Books has the better signal-to-noise ratio when it comes to shelf-space. This small bookshop in Torrance specializes in subjects of particular import to me, namely illustration, comics, and animation, and particularly known for having the biggest collection of European graphic novels and sketchbooks in the US.
I spent a glorious few hours there last Saturday, poking through well-arranged shelves of bandes dessinées, pinup art collections, artist’s monographs, and various out-of-print paraphernalia that had me hyperventilating. One corner had a section of signed Hellboy graphic novels from Mike Mignola‘s personal collection – Mignola lives a few miles from the store, after all. It is not everyday that one sees a book signed by Jackie Chan a few paces away from a signed and numbered collection of Moebius graphic novels. Above the shelf are two framed illustrations by Fortunino Matania, and a giant pen-and-ink work by James Montgomery Flagg, and other illustrations that my brain refuses to process because sensory overload. Out in front you see multipleeditions of posters from this year’s Angouleme, drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo; previous years’ posters are around too, what catches my eye is Bill Watterson’s version from last year. Stuart Ng is also known for having a great relationship with animation studios, so you have books like The Art of Inside Out, signed by part of the creative team on the movie, and also Sanjay Patel‘s beautiful books on the Ramayana and his very own animated short Sanjay’s Super Team. Signed, of course.
What I ended up buying that day was an art book by Dean Cornwell, an illustrator from the time when photography had not taken over the fields of advertising and magazine and book illustration yet. Cornwell’s art makes me gasp every single time I see them online, and when I heard of this new edition that collects the best of his work, I had to pick it up. It also helped that I saw a preview of the complete book online, made available by the publisher Illustrated Press, though in low resolution. Their books have extremely limited runs, and I have had my eyes on the volumes of Golden Age Illustration that they keep bringing out. Unfortunately volume 1 has gone out of print, but hey, you never know.
What you hear is the sound of neurons sizzling.
But it was while wading through the print bins at Stuart Ng that Baader-Meinhof played its role again in my life. There it was, a beautiful limited-edition poster from Under The Skin, drawn by (as I found out later) Yorkshire-based artist Tula Lotay, known to me for her work on comics like Supreme: Blue Rose and Swords of Sorrow. I picked it up, marveled at it and put it back, because I am completely out of wall space.
Tula Lotay – Under the Skin, signed and numbered edition
Another connection that amuses me: William got me the DVD of Under The Skin from the Los Angeles Public Library, and I have not been a library person in quite some time now. I keep intending to go visit the Central Branch downtown, and now I have an added impetus to do so. You see, I found out that Dean Cornwell painted a mural in one of the rooms there, and it’s considered one of the finest works of his career.