On Stephen King Rarities #4 (with Epilogue)

Oh, you thought I was done? Psych!

It never really ends, you guys.

Actually, it has ended, for now. But not without a denouement of sorts, involving suspense, trepidation, and finally, joy.

So remember I talked about this publishing house called Dragon Unbound, which did these funky cast iron and asbestos covered rebindings of first edition Stephen King books? The owner is a gentleman named Paul Suntup, a collector and entrepreneur, who apparently had bigger ideas. One of these ideas was a different publishing house, one dedicated to producing the highest quality handcrafted items possible. I know, it’s sort of a vague commitment –– how exactly does one even measure that kind of quality anyway? The mission statement of the company is simple and profound.

(Our) books (are) created with care and grace by craftspeople such as letterpress printers, hand bookbinders, paper makers, typographers and artists, using some of the finest bookmaking materials…they are handbound, one at time, and we go to great expense to utilize only the finest materials available. Most of our editions are printed letterpress, which is the printing method perfected by Gutenberg, who used it to produce the first book printed from moveable type in the West, the now-famous Gutenberg Bible.

Suntup Editions began in 2017 by publishing an art portfolio of David Paladini’s illustrations to Eyes of the Dragon, a book written (obviously) by Stephen King and one that would have fallen squarely into the young adult category, had that term existed in 1984. It was written by King for children, his and his pal Peter Straub’s kids, to be precise. Paladini’s illustrations graced the mass-market paperback, and this was the first time they got their due. Suntup would go on to publish The Covers Collection, a set of high-quality prints of Stephen King book covers, done with the original artists’ blessing. That project is still ongoing.

But in the beginning of 2018, a video on the Suntup Editions website announced that they were going to release their first specialty book. The promise was bold –– 200 signed copies, out of which 185 would be for sale at $525 each, plus 26 lettered copies at a staggering $3950, and a small number of unsigned “gift” edition copies for a mere $110. Renowned artists Rick Berry and Dave Christensen were picked to contribute artwork –– Berry produced 8 paintings, and Christensen, known for the original 70s covers to Salem’s Lot and The Shining, did a set of black-and-white illustrations. The descriptions of the books bordered on pornographic.

The Limited Edition is a smyth-sewn quarter leather binding, with Japanese cloth front and back boards and a gold stamped spine. The edition is printed letterpress on Cranes Lettra Pearl White cotton paper, and housed in a custom clamshell box with a leather spine label.

The Lettered edition is limited to 26 copies for sale lettered A-Z, and is signed by Stephen King, Rick Berry and Dave Christensen. It is printed letterpress on moldmade Arches wove paper with a deckled fore edge, and handbound in full crimson goatskin leather. Endpapers are marbled, and made exclusively for this edition. The binding is sewn and rounded with a hollow back designed to prevent sagging fo the page block.
The title is made using six original Royal glass typewriter keys which are inset into the cover, and the letter designation is a Royal key inset into the lower back cover.
The book is housed in a custom walnut wood box designed to resemble an original royal Model 10 packing crate, and features a black velvet-lined book bed. The box is laser engraved and handcrafted by Dick Olson at his workshop in Farmington, new Mexico.

The book that Suntup chose to inaugurate this ambitious project was, in a word, perfect. After all, what Number One Fan can resist the siren song of Misery?

Annie Wilkes by Rick Berry

Collector forums went haywire. I was following the Dark Tower boards, and there was no doubt that people were about to throw the contents of their wallets at the altar of Suntup. I was one of them, obviously. Except I had a sinking feeling that I would be severely disappointed by the proceedings. Years of experience dealing with Mondo poster drops had deadened me to the devastating pain of adding an item to a shopping cart and clicking on check-out, only to see the message “the item is no longer available”. Add to it the fact that not all the limiteds were going to be on sale, a chunk of them were made available to customers who had bought the portfolio and prints from Suntup before. The lettered editions were already snapped up. Things were looking bleak, but I was going to try, no question about it.

I woke early the day of the drop. Did everything with an eye on the clock –– I have had experiences when I missed a drop because I was distracted at the last minute. Created my account, logged in to said account, made sure I was logged into Paypal. Alarms were set to 15 minutes, 5 minutes, and 30 seconds to the release time. The sale was to go live at 8 AM on a Monday morning, and the next few minutes would decide if my week would be in tatters, or if I would be walking on air the next few days.

As soon as the buttons became active, my fingers flew on the keyboard. My stomach fluttered. There was a roar in my ears. Even as I clicked “add to cart”, I hit refresh on the backup laptop to make sure at least one of the orders would go through. Browser pages faded to white and status bars inched to completion. Teeth gritted, fingers clenched, I waited for a server crash, or a browser freeze. When “Order complete” message came up, the part of me still hopped up on adrenaline refused to believe in reality. I held my breath and waited for the actual email confirmation to come in. On the second laptop, I hit refresh on the main product screen. It was three minutes past eight, and the limited edition was sold out.

The email came in. I sighed. I remember laughing, and feeling light-headed and jelly-kneed. That whole week, I made for delightful company at work and beyond. It felt like a good start to 2018, a happy foundation for the whole year ahead. Reading the comments on the DT forum after the sale was over also made me realize just how lucky I had been.

Exactly six months later, on August 13, the package landed. Between February and then, I saw one copy of the limited edition (not the lettered) sell for $4000 via public auction, sight unseen. Since I was in Los Angeles, and the company is located in Irvine, I was one of the first recipients of the packages. It’s probably the only item for which I have created an unboxing video. Some day, when I am ready, the video will be put up online. Call me stupid, but holding that book in my hands felt like a quasi-religious experience. It was the first Stephen King book I bought via the primary market. That had to mean something, right?

The Fourth Book

Misery, Suntup Editions


Where do we go from here, how do we carry on

Will I continue to buy more of the King collectibles? Honestly, I do not know. Sometimes I feel like there is a part of me that wants to say “enough”. Comic art takes a lot out of me, and a huge part of my interaction with my primary hobby is to draw imaginary lines in the sand that dictate what I will go after next. It’s easy to give in to the frisson of excitement that follows a ninja purchase, but that is not what I crave any more. I have a handle on the art collecting bug, for sure. But there are enough Stephen King limited editions that make my palms itch, still. The limited edition of The Stand, for example, is bound in goatskin and comes in a wooden “coffin” box, wrapped in glassine paper. The Cycle of the Werewolf comes with a pencil sketch by Bernie Wrightson. And of course, finding a matching set of the Dark Tower Signed Limited books requires a matchless combination of single-minded determination, deep pockets, luck, and the right connections.

My absolute favorite King collectible is for a book that I never even finished reading, and one that does not figure on a top 20-list of his titles. It’s the lettered edition of The Regulators. Here’s the description (emphasis mine):

Hand sewn, hand bound in brown Morocco leather and Winchester 30 caliber bullets. The spine has the title and author’s name blind stamped wet to look like it was branded. The end leaves are of hand made and colored paste paper. The book is housed in a hand made faux-ammunition box covered in wood veneer with gold stamping on the side.

Yeah, the book has real fucking bullets embedded into the cover. But even more interesting are the signatures. Regulators is written by Richard Bachman, King’s pseudonym, and is a “dead man”. So to keep the story straight, the book came with dummy checks signed by the writer, which meant Stephen King signed as Bachman. Each check was made out to familiar names –– #A was to Carrie White ($125, prom dress), #I was to Roland ($50, a six-shooter), and #Q was to Pennywise Party Entertainment($100, balloons). A delightfully kooky presentation, and I have only seen it come for sale once in the last three years.

Books, Childhood, Myself

On Stephen King Rarities #2

This is the second part of a series of posts on collecting Stephen King limited editions.

The Second Book

Salem’s Lot, Centipede Press

Photograph by Jerry Uelsmann

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 DesperationNight ShiftInsomnia, 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.

But boy, does it look great on the shelf.


The Subterranean Option

I love e-books and e-readers.

With that out of the way, I also love physical books. Not in the ‘real books smell awesome!’ kind of buzzfeed-happy hippy activism that seems to be going around nowadays, nope. I would prefer that the physical version of a book be something that brings its personality to life. It would have to be the kind of entity that needs to be on a shelf, as an extension of my own love for the contents of the book itself. A volume that feels good to possess, re-read and show off.  Paperbacks do not quite cut it, and I find that given a choice between an ebook and a paperback, I would prefer the former – just to avoid clutter. But if it is a book I love, and if there is an edition that screams at me to buy it, that’s when the wallet comes out. (he said, taking his pipe out of his mouth and with a sip of his chardonnay)

Subterranean Press is a small-press publisher from Michigan that publishes limited edition printings of (mostly) fantasy and science fiction titles. These are copies that come designed with a lot of care and attention, and the lettered editions in particular set enviable standards. Of course, the prices reflect both the exclusivity and the attention that the publishers lavish upon these books. Which tends to limit my spending quite a bit, not a bad thing at all. They are not the only ones doing this – there’s a whole other bunch of publishers such as Cemetery Dance, Centipede Press, and PS Publishing that do nearly the same thing. Here’s a site where you can read more about these editions. But it is SubPress that I have a special fondness for, and not without good reason.

For one, this company has been publishing the works of Joe Hill, one of my favorite authors at the moment. My first purchases with them were editions of Horns, and the first two volumes of Locke and Key. Horns was a beautifully slip-cased “trade” edition, because the limited eds had sold out by then, and I got it signed by Hill at a Wonder Con 2012, soon after. The two Locke and Key volumes came with the scripts, just the second example I have seen of comic-scripts being bundled with the comics themselves, the other being the first two Absolute volumes of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I have been meaning to get the limited edition of Hill’s first book – Heart-Shaped Box, but the crazy eBay prices deter me. Last year, when NOS4A2, Hill’s vampire opus was due to be released, I kept a close eye on the SubPress release, meaning to buy it as soon as the pre-orders went up. Alas,. I was traveling outside the country, and by the time I was back, all 750 copies were gone. When the books finally shipped, after-market prices went through the roof. I could only gnash my teeth as copies sold for upwards of 300$, on a cover price of 125$. I did keep a close eye on eBay auctions and the occasional sane market-place dealer (Bett’s Books, for example. One of my favorite booksellers because their prices are pretty reasonable, specifically for Stephen King limited eds. But even they did not have a SubPress copy of NOS4A2 under 200$) Nope, nada, zilch.

Until last week, when I happened to check the SubPress newsletter just as it came in. And this is what it said: (under the heading A Surprise)

Twenty-two Copies of NOS4A2 Up for Grabs

Important Note: We pulled the last copies of NOS4A2 out of our collectors room. If you’ve already purchase a copy, you are not eligible to purchase another. (When the buy button disappears from the NOS4A2 page, it means all the copies are sold out.)


Needless to say, before you could say “SHAZAM!”, I jumped on the page. With the speed of Mercury, I entered my credit card details and clicked on the BUY button with the power of Zeus. It took the courage of Achilles after the transaction failed the first time, to realize that it was not because the 22 copies were sold out, but I had entered the wrong expiration date on my card. The wisdom of Solomon came to my rescue, and I repeated my exercise. Boom, tish!

A few days later, the glorious package landed up on my doorstep. It does require a bit of the strength of Hercules to pick the oversized volume, and I am saving the stamina of Atlas for when I re-read it. I have to, the book has an alternate ending and a novella that comes with it, and by golly, I love it enough to reread it. Also, while the other SubPress Hill books were illustrated by Vincent Chong, the illustrations in NOS4A2 are  by Gabriel Rodriguez, Hill’s collaborator and co-creator of Locke and Key. Rodriguez not only designs the lurid cover, but also a bunch of full-color character illustration bookplates scattered throughout the book, and black-and-white chapter illustrations. Icing on the fucking cake, man.

Books, Myself

The Great Book Transfer

I sold a lot of books before I moved to LA. A ton of reference books, lots of comics that I knew I would be able to buy again or owned multiple copies of, a bunch of books I was pretty sure I won’t read again. There was also a year of minimal book-buying – I think I bought about 5 or 6 books in 2010, just because it was getting out of hand.

It took about a year to move my books here. I was undecided about whether I should cart them off to my parents’ or my sister’s place. Chandru, over in Chennai, offered to put them in cold storage in a room at the office, but I wasn’t sure how I would get them over. A lot of people had conflicting opinions to offer about moving stuff to the US. Some said books in bulk were not allowed to be imported, others reported packages being returned to India after months of sitting in customs. I spoke with second-hand book sellers – none of them had experience taking books into the US, just exporting them out of the States. Thankfully, pal Ajanta had no problems babysitting the books, but time was running out – even she was to move out by end of the year.

I am not sure how I stumbled onto the R2I forums, but that got things moving. Based on the positive experiences people had with movers in some sticky threads, I emailed a couple of the names mentioned there. 21st Century Relocations, based out of New York was the first to respond, and their responses left me pretty confident that they would do a good job. They went to the apartment one weekend, sent me a reasonable quotation and a week later, packing was complete. I did not even have to mail a check, just sending a scan was enough. Had to printout, sign and scan in a boatload of documents, but they did all the running-around for customs clearance. Things got a little complicated because my departure ticket to LA was not a direct flight – I had to stop at Romania for a month, and my ticket was through Delhi, while the books were in Bangalore.

But it all went well, and by end of November, the books were enroute.

They arrived end of January, in a truck whose size made me very nervous about whether all the books would fit in the apartment. But fit they did, though my room looked like a cardboard hurricane hit it.

I had a Minor Adventure while buying bookshelves from Ikea, where the gentlemen with the pick-up truck decided to hijack my items and go make three other deliveries on the way. With me in the truck too, of course. And then proceeded to give me a ride to a movie theater, with a convoluted 20 mile side-track. It was a weird day.

In the course of the week, shelves were assembled, cartons were unpacked, muffled curses echoed through my chambers. It’s not an easy task, arranging 70-odd packages of books on your own, but I managed. Strangely, I managed not to get distracted by the books I hadn’t seen in a year. Though I confess I felt complete when I arranged the Walter Moers volumes on the top shelf, and smiled at the Tom Sharpe collection, putting them aside to reread Riotous Assembly and Indecent Exposure. Srividya Natarajan’s No Onions Nor Garlic joined the maybe-I-will-read-soon pile, as did the Lee Siegel books. Some left me rolling my eyes – what on earth was I thinking when I bought the Clarke Gable biography (called Long Live the King) or the book on Obie award-winning plays. Or the piles of Star Wars novels. Oh well, at least 2004-version of me must have been a happy camper.

And it was done. Almost. The comics and manga were in my room, and the books went to the living room. The DVDs (the manageable pile of originals that I had the nerve to get into the States, the rest being disposed off quite some time ago) were still packed (2 boxes), and about 4 more boxes of comics remained still – I had run out of shelf-space. There was no way I was going back to Ikea any time soon, and so these boxes remained unpacked for a few weeks, affecting my zen calm every time I entered my room. Last weekend, I figured I had had enough – went to Target, bought a non-Ikea shelf and finally, finally, it was done. My preciouses were home! मेरा पिया घर आया! やった!

And now, presenting a bunch of pictures. Whee!


Youth In Revolt

The best book I read last year was Youth in Revolt by CD Payne. I had never heard of CD Payne in my life and I probably never would, had it not been for the US trip. I was bonding with Joel, a colleague who was reading Palahniuk’s Rant during lunchtime and who, when I mentioned I was reading the same book, took me to his cubicle and showed me his current read-list – a huge bunch of novels including Gaiman’s Stardust and King’s Lisey’s Story. We talked about writers we like, and suggested quite a few books to each other, and the name CD Payne came up then. The next day, Joel got me a bunch of Stephen King movie video cassettes, a video cassette player for me to hook up in my hotel room, and Youth in Revolt.

This is how the book begins:

WEDNESDAY, July 18 – My name is Nick. Someday, if I grow up to become a gangster, perhaps I will be known as Nick the Prick. This may cause some embarassment for my family, but when your don gives you your mafia sobriquet you don’t ask questions.

…. My last name, which I loathe, is Twisp. Even John Wayne on a horse would look effeminate pronouncing that name. As soon as I turn 21 I’m going to jettison it for something a bit more macho. Right now, I am leaning toward Dillinger. “Nick Dillinger”. I think that strikes just the right note of hirsute virility.

I was sold, right then and there. Nick Twisp was the nineties, American version of Adrian Mole – and unlike the latter’s exploits, which become exceedingly moribund and forced as the series progressed, Youth in Revolt ups the ante as we go further down the tunnel of horror and rapidly escalating absurdity that is Nick’s life. Every time I turned the page, the thought that came to mind was “Oh dear, he is not about to do that, is he?” and then realise that yes, Nick Twisp just burnt down half of Berkeley, yes, he’s just managed to prolong his virginity by a couple of years; oh yes, it does look like he’s going to bonk his best friend’s mother; oh, no, he’s planning to go back to school like this???

While Nick may be your archetypal geek-hero who’s the self-proclaimed ruler of all that he surveys, he’s as much a survivor ( like his creator, who had to go through a great deal to get the books published), the kind of person who not only refuses to play by the rules, but takes the rulebook, shits on it, and then makes his best friend pay for a peek at the hardened crust. (The scatalogical humour is just metaphor, so chill.) CD Payne makes his characters just the right amount of approachable and unfathomable, there are times when I do not know whether to be exasperated at Nick and his indefatigable attitude or just egg him on mentally. It was a treat reading about characters who, albeit in a fictional world, occupy the same area you do. I finished the book over Caltrain and BART rides ( coincidentally in sections of the book where Nick and Sheena are riding on the BART), deadline-ridden nights, and finally, during a car journey to LA – and then suddenly, deadlines whizzed past ( do deadlines become livelines once they are done with? Ghostlines if they are not met? ) and I had more free time on my hands, and I read one sequel (out of three) and the spinoff Cut to the Twisp in a week, and suddenly it was time to leave the US. Horror of horrors, the books were not available anywhere in the local bookstores, even though CD Payne was a Bay Area writer! Joel told me he had ordered the books directly from the writer’s website and that copies were available on Amazon, but there was no way I could get them in three days, especially when the next two days were Saturday and Sunday. Had to ditch the idea of getting the books, add them to the Wish-list and come back to India.

Fast forward seven months. tandavdancer was in town for the New Year, and one of the entries on his Hyderabad tour guide was to carpet-bomb as many second-hand bookstores as possible with his philanthropic presence. Now let me tell you something about the state of the used-book affairs here in Hyderabad. In a word, depressing. For quite some time, the collection of books has been stagnating – in a given book-sale, I would have to wade through piles of Terry McMillan’s Waiting To Exhale and Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood. Both are books against which I have no personal enmity, but I cannot but help considering them the poster-children of Dead Bestseller Syndrome, trillions of copies of over-stock being shipped from Canada, Australia, the USA and the UK just because exporters there thought us third-worlders would find the books inspirational or something. Add to this the fact that one rarely finds the titles one wants, the ratio of investment to return is pitiably low, hours of browsing miles of Dead Bestsellers often yielding one decent book, or maybe nothing at all. Another important factor probably would be that I am trying very hard to buy`books that I would want to read immediately, not stock them up until I complete a run or until a trilogy finishes or I get the first book someday. ( I did the last with the Illuminatus trilogy, and when I found the first book after a couple of years of owning the second and third books, I realised that maybe I didn’t want to read the series after all).

Having been completely vexed by this turn of events, I chose, sometime in the middle of last year, to stop going to second-hand bookstores here altogether. Maybe an extreme step, but people close to me will tell you how prone I am to indulge in practices that are Spartan. Uh, madness, I mean. I stopped altogether, which meant no visits to the Sunday market, no periodic dropping-in on MR or Best or Frankfurt ( that’s the bookstore, not the city), and even completely ignoring the outlet that had opened up right opposite my office, in ( what I thought was )a somewhat bizarre display of temptation and show-me-your-jalwa-type competition from the United Booksellers Association of Hyderabad.

So, on the first day of the year, when my friend wanted to visit the bookshops here, I accompanied him to the bookstall right opposite the office. It was about fifteen minutes away from where I stay, and from what I’ve heard, had a decent collection. The first thing my eyes focussed on when we entered the place was a pristine copy of Howard Chaykin/Mike Mignola’s adaptation of Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. This Fritz Leiber fantasy series, adapted by the duo sometime in the nineties and was brought back into print by Dark Horse pretty recently in a trade paperback collection, and, you guessed it right, was pretty high on my wish-list. Mignola’s style had just begun to change in this period, it was in that transitional phase between his early superheroic style and the later-day chunky blacks and whites that would define Hellboy. Bookstore: One, Beatzo: Zero ( or -400, which was the sum of money I was out of )

Emboldened a little, we decided to go downtown ( or is that uptown? )where the bulk of the shops were. On an impulse, I eschewed the Abids outlet in favour of the one on Liberty crossroads, it was operated from out of a cellar and was, especially when there was a powercut, scary enough to make a non-claustrophobic individual like me gasp and cry uncle.

While we were going around, I bemoaned the distressing lack of selection among the titles and was just about to suggest leaving when…there it was. Youth in Revolt by CD Payne, piled under a mountain of romance novels, and I swear I saw a Waiting to Exhale in that same pile. A hardcover Doubleday first edition copy, and priced at 50 Rs! tandavdancer bears witness to this – I nearly wept with joy at the miraculous operations of Hyderabad bookstores. My faith was renewed, hallelujah!

Of course, this happy circumstance was followed by my discovery of the second volume of the Myth Adventures compendium by Robert Asprin and a couple of Flashman books, which my friend happily added to his pile. By the time it was evening, I had further widened the rip in my resolve by dropping in on the Drongo Warehouse, and picking up Adrian Tomine’s Summer Blonde, Rick Veitch’s Maximortal and Hellblazer: Rare Cuts, the only Hellblazer TPB I didn’t have.

All this on the first day of the year. Not bad. And Joel didn’t even know there was a hardcover copy of Youth in Revolt, bwahahaha.