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Imagine owning a copy of Alice in Wonderland signed by the original Alice

The signature of Alice Hargreaves – the original Alice who inspired Lewis Carroll

What’s the ultimate book for fans of Alice in Wonderland? It might be one of the Limited Editions Club editions from 1932 that were signed by Alice Hargreaves, the original Alice who inspired Lewis Carroll to write his fantastic story. AbeBooks sold such a copy for £2,500/$4,000 earlier this week.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is 150 years old this summer and you are going to see a lot of Alice-themed articles in the coming months as the literary world pays tribute to this iconic children’s book.

The LEC edition features the famous original illustrations by John Tenniel. Alice Hargreaves was the married name of Alice Liddell. Carroll was a close friend of the Liddell family and the nature of his relationship with Alice has been much debated. She went on to marry a cricketer called Reginald Hargreaves, and have three sons – two of whom were killed in World War I.

She was forced to sell her personal manuscript of Carroll’s book when she ran into financial problems, but the copy was eventually purchased by the British Library and brought back from America. Alice died in 1934.

The Limited Edition Club edition of Alice in Wonderland from 1932

Stefan Zweig: The Tragic Author Who Inspired The Grand Budapest Hotel


Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was the talk of Sunday’s 2015 Academy Awards. The delightful, unusual film was being nominated for nine Oscars, and won four, in the categories of Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hairstyling. Only Birdman, the best picture-winner, won as many. What few people seem to know is that Anderson’s original, beautiful tale of Gustave H and Zero the lobby boy is loosely based on and inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian novelist whose own story is enough to break your heart.

zweig-goebbelsZweig was Jewish, and at the apex of his career could be counted as one of the world’s most respected and popular authors. Hitler’s increasing followers and rise to power made him fearful and uncomfortable. In this original letter (left), Zweig writes for support and assistance to a Mr. Glaser. The precipitating event? Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for the Third Reich, had publicly quoted Zweig as calling the German people a “horde that needed to be unmasked”, which Stefan Zweig had never said at all. Despite his desperate attempts to clear his name and have the truth brought to light, Zweig’s books began to appear at book burnings along with other Jewish-written works, and Zweig left Austria the following year, in 1934.

Discover more about Stefan Zweig and the whole story behind The Grand Budapest Hotel.

AbeBooks Explains Why Shakespeare’s First Folio is so Important

Our latest video explains why William Shakespeare’s First Folio is so significant. It’s full title is Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies and it was published in 1623. The First Folio is arguably the most important book in the English language.

Top Ten Books About Addiction


This morning’s top 10 books list on The Guardian is a good one – top 10 books about addiction. There are some obvious choices like Irvine Welsh’s darkly funny, tragic and often really gross (that toilet scene…!) novel Trainspotting, and the surreal nightmare that is Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr, but also some more thoughtful interesting choices. For instance. The Shining by Stephen King. Funny how I’ve never considered before that it is a novel about addiction, but of course it is. I was too immersed in the murdery, isolated horror of it to think about the catalytic part that alcohol addiction plays.

The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll is another solid choice. And don’t think if you’ve seen the filmn you needn’t read the book. Both are quality, and nods to Leonardo DiCaprio for his excellent portrayal of Carroll, but the book is strangely beautiful. Carroll’s poetry, longing and ache for beauty really come through eloquently in its pages. It’s a haunting, wistful and very uncomfortable read.

Here are the Guardian’s picks for the top 10 books about addiction – click through to see what they had to say about each title:

1. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon
2. The Shining by Stephen King
3. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
4. Gordon by Edith Templeton
5. Love Junkie: A Memoir by Rachel Resnick
6. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
7. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher
8. Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr
9. The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
10. In My Skin by Kate Holden

Olivia and the Measles: Roald Dahl’s Personal Vaccination Plea

dahlRecently, the subject of vaccination has been at the forefront of the American media, after an unvaccinated person at Disneyland in California precipitated an outbreak last month. Over 100 confirmed cases have now been reported, across 14 states. And immunisation, particularly against Measles, found a new ally in a resurgence of a decades-old, desperately sad letter from beloved British children’s author Roald Dahl .

Of all the so-called “mommy war” topics – cloth vs. disposable diapering, breastmilk vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. cribs and many, many more, the undeniably most heated topic is whether to vaccinate one’s children. It makes sense that it’s the topic about which people feel most passionate and fight most stringently – it’s the only topic whose outcome affects not just the child, or his/her parent, but peers, neighbours, and eventually, potentially everybody. And nobody knew that better than Dahl, whose letter details the heartbreaking death of his seven-year-old daughter Olivia, and acts as a plea to other parents to see common sense and have their children immunised.

Here is the text of his letter:

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.


Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.

Ghost Boy: Martin Pistorius’ Book About Locked-in Syndrome

ghost-boyIt sounds like the stuff of nightmares, like it must be invented by a tortured imagination. But Locked-in Syndrome is a real affliction, a rare neurological disorder. It is characterized by total paralysis of muscles throughout the body, excepting the muscles that allow for eye movement.

South African man Martin Pistorius – whose 2012 book Ghost Boy details the entire journey – was just 12 years old, a normal boy like any other, when his body began its descent into paralysis. What first began as symptoms of a flu soon revealed itself as something far more horrific, and with baffled doctors at a loss (far, far later, doctors eventually diagnosed cryptococcal meningitis), Pistorius was rendered entirely immobile over the course of the next 18 months. In the beginning, he was even unable to think. and was for all intents and purposes unconscious. Pistorius’ parents were informed he was entirely vegetative, with no brainpower remaining, and would likely remain that way until he died, for which they should prepare themselves.

Unbelievably, when Martin was (he thinks) somewhere between 14-16 years old, he “woke up”. That is, he was suddenly conscious and aware of his surroundings. He could see, hear and think, but was unable to alert anyone around him to his new state, or communicate in any way, so the people around them continued as if he were brain-dead. The medical community has thus far been unable to explain what “woke” him.

barneyA more terrifying, isolating and panic-inducing predicament is difficult to conjure, but Pistorius found strength and determination in a very strange place – that polarising big purple television dinosaur, Barney. Being made to watch repeated, seemingly endless episodes of the antics of Barney and his friends made Pistorius focus on a goal – learning to tell time and to count down time without the use of a clock, by the length of each episode.

All in all, the paralysis-coma lasted 14 years, 12 of which he was conscious.

Astonishingly, today, Martin Pistorius now lives in with his wife, and is a freelance web designer/developer. For more about how that came to be, you’ll have to read Ghost Boy.

Rare photo album commemorating The 39 Steps movie sells for £8,250

AbeBooks.co.uk has sold a rare presentation photograph album commemorating the 1935 movie version of John Buchan’s classic thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps. The book – containing more than 200 photographs – sold for £8,250 (approx. $12,500).

Probably one of only a handful produced by Lime Grove Studios as a gift to key people involved in the film’s production, the album chronicles the development of the film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay.

The 39 Steps photo album

The album is a notable piece of British film memorabilia and the sale coincides with several John Buchan landmarks that occur in 2015. The Thirty-Nine Steps novel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year while Hitchcock’s movie version celebrates its 80th anniversary in June. In February, it will be 75 years since Buchan’s death.

It contains images showing the scenes, actors and sets, and 27 behind-the-scenes photos of Hitchcock and his crew at work. The film is ranked by the British Film Institute as the fourth best British film of the 20th century and helped to turn Hitchcock into a major force in the film industry.

Many of today’s thrillers owe much to the film thanks to elements such as an innocent man wrongly accused, suspense on a travelling train, an ordinary man doing extraordinary things, incompetent police and a blonde with a sharp tongue.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an early example of the ‘man on the run’ adventure story. In the fast-paced plot, Hannay becomes embroiled in a spy hunt when a German double-agent is murdered in his apartment. He becomes the prime suspect and goes on the run as he tries to solve the mystery.

Buchan’s novel first appeared as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine before being published as a book. In all, Buchan wrote five novels featuring Hannay. Donat went on to win an Oscar for best actor in Goodbye, Mr Chips in 1939.

Robert Donat as Richard Hannay

Key scenes from the film

Further scenes from the 1935 film

Robert Donat (left) and director Alfred Hitchcock

Joan Didion’s favourite books

The Brainpicker blog has highlighted Joan Didion’s list of her favourite books of all-time. Lots of classics including Henry James, Hemingway, Orwell, Emily Brontë, James Baldwin and the poetry of WH Auden, Robert Lowell and Wallace Stevens.

Born in 1934, Didion’s literary career began in 1963 with her debut novel, Run, River. In 2005, Didion won a new generation of fans with The Year of Magical Thinking, a non-fiction classic describing the year after the death of her husband. Here’s the list:

Joan Didion’s Favourite Books

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Victory by Joseph Conrad

Guerrillas by V.S. Naipaul

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Speedboat by Renata Adler

The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

The Novels of Henry James  (Washington Square, Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw)

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

Collected Poems by Robert Lowell

Collected Poems by W.H. Auden

The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens

Bails, balls and books: from Wisden collector to Wisden bookseller

Chris Ridler and his WI5DEN number plate

The Wisden Shop in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, sells… well…Wisdens – the bible of the cricket world since 1864. Chris Ridler is the man behind this specialist bookselling venture and I’ll let him tell his story. It’s a tale that goes way beyond books.

“The main oddity may be that I am really just a collector that ended up with a heck of a lot of spare books and things evolved to where we are today,” said Chris.  “Having a shop, an auction site and an information site, wisdens.org, where this all started does sound quite a lot for a collector but it is a great place to be when you love cricket and statistics like I do. I also umpire and I am qualified to ECB level 2.

A 1917 Wisden in hardcover

“I guess it all started as I am very fond of cricket, and I was very good at maths in my youth so the two combined pretty much spells out Wisden. Back in 2005 I had a rather unpleasant experience from a Wisden dealer and ended up paying over the odds for some rather poor condition books.

“I work in IT so I created wisdens.org which is an information site and I started collecting prices and knowledge about Wisdens and also set up a forum (now called wisden.club) where we chat about the good book and other related matters, I can’t believe we are still going nine years later.

“I was asked all the time if I had a copy of Wisden year X and also received emails where people said they had a Wisden and did I want it. I did buy some for myself to increase and upgrade my set.

“Then came a catalogue and finally the WisdenAuction.com site , which was set up a month before the 2008 financial crisis. I created Wisdenshop.com for my books and these are what are also listed on AbeBooks. I have no intention of opening a shop as I work 9-to-5 (or longer) in my day job.

“Although it is a single book there are over 150 Wisdens (1864-2014) and also some in hardback and softback, then there are limited leather editions. Some books have bookmarks, most have pictures but not all. There are so many things to know and learn.

“The special Wisdens are, of course, 1864, the first one , 1875 the rarest, 1896, the first hardback, 1916-1919 in hardback which are very hard to find as are 1940-42 in hardback. Hardbacks are the more sought after hence the 1896 hardback can be priced over £20,000 and 1896 paperback is under £500 yet pretty much the same book.

A 1944 Wisden in linen cloth

“Some signatures appear in Wisden. Many are presentation copies from editors to helpers. Wisden prices have dropped lately. We run an index of prices but the last reading showed an upturn, so hopefully this will continue. A lot of sets are coming to market at the moment which is keeping prices down. The ultra rare books go up and up in price.

“I am lucky enough to have a full set of Wisdens, I still need to upgrade a couple of the early ones and I probably have a second set in spares but if I ever see a book better than mine (and I can afford it) then it’ll end up on my shelf. My car registration is W15DEN. I could go on forever.”

The showpiece offering from Chris’ inventory is an inclusive run of original hardback Wisdens from 1897 to 1948 priced at just under £85,000. This set is special as it includes the hard-to-find wartime editions and the rare editions from the 1890s.

 Browse the Wisden Shop.

The most expensive sales of 2014 – a double helping of David Bailey

Michael Caine from David Bailey’s Box of Pin-ups photography book

Today, we have published our annual list of the most expensive sales of the year. The list for 2014 is remarkable for many reasons. A copy of Das Kapital sold for a staggering sum. There were appearances from legendary books like Dune, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit, Ulysses, and A Farewell to Arms. A signed postcard from Gandhi sat alongside a photograph of the Apollo XI crew.

Two copies of David Bailey’s seminal 1960s photography book, A Box of Pin-ups, appear on the list. The book contains images of just about anyone who was anyone – from Michael Caine to Mick Jagger – in London during that period.

 See the list.