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Donna Tartt’s golden year continues

Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch, reached new heights today after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – one of the top gongs in American literature. Last week, Tartt was shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for women’s fiction and prompted named as the bookie’s favourite.

Signed copies of The Goldfinch are now seriously in demand. As I write, there are just nine remaining on AbeBooks. Published last October, the novel was Tartt’s first in 11 years. It’s an epic sprawling coming-of-age book with a complex, challenging plot.

Apparently, the Columbia University School of Journalism, which announces the Pulitzer awards, initially tweeted that the winning novel was called The Goldfish. I wonder what Tartt thought of that?


Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend dies at 68

Sad news yesterday. The death of author Sue Townsend was announced. Townsend, of course, created Adrian Mole. She was 68 and had been left blind after suffering from diabetes. She suffered a stroke in December 2012. The Guardian describes her success and where the idea for Adrian Mole came from – her own experiences.

Mole was set in the east Midlands and Townsend was herself born in Leicester, the eldest of five sisters. Her father worked in a jet engine factory and became a postman when it closed. Her mother was a housewife who worked in the factory canteen. She could not read until she was eight. It was her mother who taught her with Richmal Crompton’s Just William books – the inspiration behind Adrian.

After failing the 11-plus, she went to a secondary modern, South Wigston high school. She left at 15 but kept reading, devouring Woolworth’s Classics (Jane Eyre, Heidi and co) before moving onto Russian and American literature.

As a chain-smoking teenager, dressed in black, she was fired from a job in a clothes shop for reading Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol in the changing rooms. From the age of 14 she was also writing in secret.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ was published in 1982 and the series totals eight books with Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years being released in 2009. Her books made many people very happy with humour that many suburban families could easily understand.

Mole developed from an angst-ridden adolescence growing up under Margaret Thatcher’s rule to adulthood under Tony Blair. My favourite passage from Adrian Mole is where he paints his room black as a troubled teenager and then goes into deep depression. In many ways, I grew up with Adrian. He was born in 1967 and I was born in 1968. We both lived in the Midlands, he grew up in Leicester.

Full series of Mole books:

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982)

The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1985)

The True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole (1989)

Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years (1993)

Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years (1999)

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (2004)

The Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole, 1999-2001 (2008)

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (2009)

The Daily Telegraph offers the best lines from Adrian Mole, including “Perhaps when I am famous and my diary is discovered people will understand the torment of being a 13 3/4 year old undiscovered intellectual.”


Bailey’s shortlist for women’s fiction

The shortlist for the UK Women’s Prize for Fiction (once called the Orange Prize but now sponsored by Bailey’s) has been revealed. Eimear McBride, Hannah Kent and Audrey Magee are all contenders with their debut novels. Donna Tartt and Jhumpa Lahiri are the big names, while Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie continues to enhance her reputation.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (signed copies)
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (signed copies)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (signed copies)
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (signed copies)
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (signed copies)
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (signed copies)

The Guardian reports that Tartt, that lady with the Louise Brooks-style bob, is the bookies’ favourite even though Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel, has already won America’s National Book Critics Circle award.

Tartt’s bestselling novel – loved by some critics and hated by others – explores a wide variety of themes including antiques, gambling and drug abuse. It took more than 10 years to write.

Helen Fraser, the chair of judges, said that it was possible to almost pair off the books on this year’s shortlist. The Goldfinch and McBride’s book centre on disastrous childhoods; Lahiri and Adichie explore themes of exile and identity; and Magee and Kent’s are historical novels, the first set in wartime Berlin and Stalingrad, and the latter in 19th-century rural Iceland.


Competition: 2014 York Antiquarian Book Seminar

Are you thinking of becoming a rare bookseller? Or have you just started to sell collectable books? The first York Antiquarian Book Seminar is an educational event held over three days in York in September, 2014 for booksellers, librarians and collectors that offers expert discussion about rare books.

This is your opportunity to enter for a chance to win admission to attend the event. There will be two lucky winners. Each prize package is worth £400. Accommodation, transportation to and from the event, and meals are not included.

The Book Seminar provides an opportunity for leading specialists to share their expertise and experience in a comprehensive survey of the rare book market, both antiquarian and modern. Basic procedures and problems are discussed both formally and informally through a series of lectures, discussions, demonstrations and practical hands-on workshops with emphasis on the Internet, computers and Internet bookselling, as well as traditional methods.

Don’t miss out on this chance to win admission to attend the York Antiquarian Book Seminar. To enter for a chance to win this prize package, with a value of £400, simply complete this sentence – “The secret of successful rare bookselling is…” and email it to contests@abebooks.com.

Don’t forget to include your name, address and telephone number in the email, and include “York Antiquarian Book Seminar” in the subject line. The contest ends 30 April, 2014. The two winners will be selected in a random draw (the odds of being drawn are dependent upon the number of eligible entries received).

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Limit one entry per person and e-mail address. This competition is open to legal residents of the United Kingdom, and entrants must be at least 18 years old or older. See Official Rules for more details.


Race Rock to In Paradise – a list of Peter Matthiessen’s books

Peter Matthiessen, one of America’s top writers in the past 60 years, died on Saturday at the age of 86. The Guardian carries an obituary. He had been suffering from Leukemia.

Born in 1927, Matthiessen is remembered for co-founding The Paris Review literary magazine in the 1950s but he also enjoyed a long writing career where he effortlessly switched between fiction and non-fiction. His best known book is The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, but he was also acclaimed for his 2008 novel, Shadow Country, which is a reworking of an earlier trilogy of novels. His writing on nature and conservation, which ranged from birdlife to sharks, has been highly influential on the modern environmental movement.

The Snow Leopard, a landmark book in modern naturalism, details his two-month search for the endangered Snow Leopard with naturalist George Schaller in Tibet. The book also has underlying themes about Zen Buddhism and his thoughts on his wife’s death from cancer.

In an interview with The Paris Review, he described himself as…

I am a fiction writer who also writes nonfiction on behalf of social and environmental causes or journals about expeditions to wild places. I have written more books of nonfiction because my fiction is an exploratory process—not laborious, merely long and slow and getting slower.

The Snow Leopard won for the National Book Award for non-fiction in 1980 and Shadow Country won for Fiction category in 2008. Mattiessen’s latest novel, In Paradise, is published this week. It’s the story of a Zen retreat held on the site of a Nazi concentration camp.

A graduate of Yale, he co-founded The Paris Review with George Plimpton while living in France. On his return to the USA, Matthiessen studied Buddhism, became a Zen priest, and continued to write fiction and non-fiction.

There are hundreds of signed copies of his books for sale on AbeBooks.co.uk. His most collectable works are signed first editions of The Snow Leopard and first editions of his debut novel, Race Rock. There is also a deluxe limited edition of his non-fiction book, Men’s Lives – a tribute to the fishermen of New York’s Long Island where Matthiessen lived.

Peter Matthiessen’s Fiction

Race Rock (1954)

Partisans (1955)

Raditzer (1961)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965)

Far Tortuga (1975)

On the River Styx and Other Stories (1989)

The Watson trilogy

Shadow Country (2008)

In Paradise (2014)

Peter Matthiessen’s Non-Fiction

Wildlife in America (1959)

The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness (1961)

Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone Age (1962)

The Shorebirds of North America (1967)

Oomingmak (1967)

Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution (1969)

Blue Meridian. The Search for the Great White Shark (1971)

The Tree Where Man Was Born (1972)

The Snow Leopard (1978)

Sand Rivers, photographer Hugo van Lawick (1981)

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983)

Indian Country (1984)

Nine-headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969–1982 (1986)

Men’s Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork (1986)

African Silences (1991)

Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia (1992)

East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of the Mustang (1995)

The Peter Matthiessen Reader: Nonfiction, 1959–1961 (2000)

Tigers in the Snow (2000)

The Birds of Heaven: Travels With Cranes (2001)

End of the Earth: Voyage to Antarctica (2003)


The French medieval saga that inspired Game of Thrones

The BBC writes at length about the cult French novel that inspired George RR Martin to write his Game of Thrones series.

Les Rois Maudits (which translated as The Accursed Kings) is a seven-volume series written by Maurice Druon between the 1950s and the 1970s. His novels are set in medieval France and describe the battles for the French throne in the 14th century that led up to the Hundred Years War with England.

Thankfully, modern English translations of The Accursed Kings series are easy to find. Book one is The Iron King, book two is The Strangled Queen and The Poisoned Crown is book three. There are also one or two older translations on the used book market.

“The Accursed Kings has it all,” writes Martin, in an introduction to a recently reissued translation. “Believe me, the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets. It is the original game of thrones.”

The Accursed Kings series  starts in 1314, with Philip IV on the French throne. He has crushed the order of the Knights Templar and seized their wealth. The leader of the order is burned at the stake but curses his enemies as the flames engulf him. Philip dies soon and the struggle for the throne begins.

Druon died in 2009 and is hardly known outside of France. He served as head of the Academie Francaise, an organisation which protects the French language.

The Hundred Years War famously lasted for more than 100 years and ran roughly between 1337 to 1453. The French were essentially defending, or rather recapturing, their homeland with the English, who were unhappy about losing huge swatches of French land and their claim to the French throne. Remember, William the Conquerer had come from Normandy when he took control of Britain in 1066.

There were many battles on French soil but Henry V’s victory at Agincourt on 25 October 1415 is the most famous as far as the English are concerned. The France probably don’t dwell too much on that one.


Art Nouveau posters always in style for collectors

Nothing special about posters, right? Well, consider Les Maîtres de L’Affiche – a French art magazine that reproduced the finest Art Nouveau posters being created at the end of the 19th century. A five-volume set of this magazine, featuring 256 posters from 97 artists, leads our list of expensive sales in March. The artists included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, William Nicholson, Edward Penfield, Albert Guillaume and Maxfield Parrish. The posters promote a wide variety of themes from Harper’s Magazine to events, products, travel and tourism. Art Nouveau spanned the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and it was widely used in advertising. The ornate and elegant style celebrated craftsmanship and beauty.

In fact, art dominates our list. You will see a book from Marc Chagall and one of the defining photography books of the 1960s featuring The Beatles, Mick Jagger and many other celebrities.

See the list.


Nebuchadnezzar’s stone book goes to auction

Fine Books magazine reports that a Babylonian cuneiform cylinder from the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II is going to be auctioned on April 9 in New York. The clay cylinder is also offered for sale on AbeBooks at just over £1 million.

The book/stone details the rebuilding of a temple by Nebuchadnezzar II around 604-562 BC. The cylinder is 8.25 inches in length and comes from Sippar, an area that housed a number of Babylonian temples.

Apparently, it was customary for the kings of Babylon to restore temples in order stay in the good books of the gods. These accomplishments were then written in cuneiform on clay cylinders and buried in the foundations of the temple. A famous example of these stone books is the so-called Cyrus Cylinder, now housed in the British Museum.

Nebuchadnezzar II also created the Tower of Babel, the Stepped Pyramid (also known as the Ziggurat) and The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.


George Orwell’s lasting legacy

George Orwell, real name Eric Blair, occupies a special place in 20th century literature thanks to fiction that forces the reader to think. The author (1903-1950) is best remembered for his six novels but also wrote narrative essays, literary reviews and journalistic articles.

Orwell’s writing was so pervasive that phrases he coined are still used, such as the Thought Police, Doublethink, Big Brother and more. To this day, any overtly controlling regime or power is often referred to as Orwellian.

More than 60 years after his death from Tuberculosis, rare editions of his books are highly desirable. Make your collection a little more Orwellian.

Enjoy our feature on George Orwell.


Forty years of Stephen King books

More than 70 titles to his name. A worldwide following. Adored by Hollywood. Admired by fellow authors. It can only be Stephen King and the master of horror is still going strong after all these years.

And it began on April 5, 1974 with the publication of Carrie and Stephen has been literary royalty ever since. King has released at least one book every year since Carrie – frequently more than one, sometimes as many as three or four in a single year, under both his own name and his pen name, Richard Bachman. He has kept up this pace in spite of threatening to stop or slow down after being struck by a car and seriously injured in 1999. Enjoy our latest feature and see every book published by this prolific author.

See the books.