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Bookseller Q&A: Underground Books

Josh and Megan, owners of Underground Books.

Josh and Megan, owners of Underground Books.

Underground Books is a charming antiquarian, rare, and used bookshop just off of historic Adamson Square in downtown Carrollton, Georgia that aims to be a bibliophile’s destination and a browser’s paradise. With a fascinating and unusual collection of beautiful, uncommon, and thought provoking books, Underground Books is sure to leave the serious book lover dizzy with serendipitous finds. The bookshop is literally underground, and patrons must descend a short staircase to enter the shop. A true community bookstore, the down payment for purchasing the building was raised completely from crowdfunding. Owners Josh Niesse and Megan Bell met just after Josh opened the shop in March of 2011, were married in May of 2014, and now operate their book business together, with Josh manning the shop and Megan cataloging the rare and antiquarian books for online sale. Both Megan and Josh have attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, Josh on a scholarship sponsored by AbeBooks in 2011. Underground Books is committed to creative reuse and upcycling, with journals made from damaged vintage books, magnets and pins made from their illustrations, and the shop’s signature piece, the book arch, made completely from books in poor condition.

We caught up with Megan for a quick Q&A about the world of book selling.

AbeBooks: How did you become a bookseller?

Megan: I was a freshman English major at our local university, when a friend told me a new bookstore had opened on our town square. I walked into Underground Books two weeks after Josh opened the doors and was immediately taken with the shelves and shelves of books, the cozy, quirky aesthetic, and the nerdy proprietor. Courting a bookstore owner ended up looking an awful lot like working in a bookstore—a definite perk! After graduating, I joined the shop full-time as the co-owner and resident cataloger. I love spending my days handling, researching, and playing with rare and antiquarian books!

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Megan: Book people! Kurt Vonnegut once said, “By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.” The book-lover to book-lover relationship is an extension of this and is truly miraculous to us. It’s a joy to talk books all day, and it’s an honor to send a favourite book home with a new friend. I’m also a scholar at heart, and I love learning something new every day, whether it’s discovering the poets of Black Mountain College or learning that Frances E. Willard had a shepherd collie named Prohibition.

Vintage books on display at Underground Books.

Vintage books on display at Underground Books.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

Megan: One of my personal favourites is The Greek Romances of Heliodorus, Longus, and Achilles Tatius. It’s an absolutely stunningly bound collection of these ancient, totally wild romances. Lovers in peril, bandits, nymphs, and the great god Pan—what more do you need? For Josh, it’s this Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works, thoroughly illustrated throughout by Frederick Simpson Coburn. We love the previous owner’s bookplates in this series—it looks like he had a photographer come to his library and take a snapshot of him looking very studious!

A bookplate from Underground Books' Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe's collected works.

A bookplate from Underground Books’ Tamerlane Edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s collected works.

AbeBooks: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?

Megan: Last year, Bernard Quaritch held Frances Currer’s first edition copy of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds, the book Jane Eyre is reading at the beginning of the novel by Charlotte Bronte. Frances Currer was not only a distinguished book collector in a field dominated by men (Seymour de Rici called her “England’s earliest female bibliophile” in his history of collectors), but she patronized the school the Bronte sisters attended, and, though it’s not provable, it seems likely Charlotte chose her pen name, Currer Bell, in honor of Frances. All of the significance, literary history, women’s history, and mystery of this book just captivates me!

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Megan: We have a collection of things we’ve found, and I’m partial to putting even grocery lists in it, but there’s definitely a front runner for weirdness. We recently found a signed pitch card of Tiny Lavonda, “the smallest woman in the world,” a sideshow performer with the Clyde Beatty circus in the ’40s. It shows her with her Chihuahua and has a poem written by her on the verso. It was so unexpected, and I love it so much; I don’t think I can part with it!

Underground Books

A peek inside Underground Books.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

Megan: We both agree it was attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, Josh in 2011 (on a scholarship from AbeBooks!) and Megan in 2014 (on an ABAA scholarship). It’s a challenging week, full of serious instruction from titans of book selling and librarianship, with vigorous learning, frantic note-taking, midnight talks with peers, and all the camaraderie of this trade. It’s a mountaintop experience.

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favourite book?

Megan: Josh’s background is in philosophy, but he’s a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut and other smart funny authors like Tom Robbins. Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael and James Howard Kunstler’s Geography of Nowhere had big impacts on him when he was young, and he still mentions them frequently. I love Margaret Atwood, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf…but it’s the Harry Potter series. I am devoted. I burst into tears when I found out we were going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I wrote an essay comparing CABS to Hogwarts for the Fine Books & Collections blog. I reread them every few years and find myself as immersed and enamored as I was at eight.

Flowers for a bibliophile, at Underground Books.

Flowers for a bibliophile, at Underground Books.


Celebrate UNESCO’s 2016 World Book & Copyright Day with ILAB’s Pop-up Book Fairs

Portland group

AbeBooks’ Jessica Doyle (far right) with the booksellers at the 2015 Portland, Oregon, pop-up rare book fair

April 23 is going to be another special day for booklovers. UNESCO’s 2016 World Book & Copyright Day will feature book-related events on a worldwide scale with ILAB’s contribution being a series of pop-up book fairs displaying rare and collectable books from the four corners of the Earth.

ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) is repeating a successful programme introduced in 2015 on World Book Day that put rare books in front of thousands of people. Last year ILAB activities raised more than 10,000 Euros for UNESCO’s Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), which provides literacy assistance to children in South Sudan.

This year’s series of pop-up book fairs is promising to be even better. They stretch from Australia to the United States and from the United Kingdom to Russia, and numerous other European countries.

Put the date in your diary or on your calendar. Find more details on the ILAB blog.

AUSTRALIA

SYDNEY: The first ILAB pop-up fair on UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day 2016 will be the final event of an international conference (Books: Still So Much to Learn and Discover) for librarians, booksellers and anyone interested in rare books held on 21-22 April at the State Library of New South Wales, and organised by the Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers (ANZAAB). The day after the conference booksellers will offer rare books, maps and ephemera at the NSW library.

DUNKELD & HAMILTON: Three Victoria booksellers in the Australian bush are raising funds in their bookshops in the weeks leading up to World Book and Copyright Day. Roz Greenwood and Marg Phillips of Roz Greenwood Old & Rare Books and Guy Hamilton of Bellcourt Books are leading the fundraising efforts.

TOKYO, JAPAN

The World Antiquarian Book Plaza in Tokyo will host a pop-up fair organised by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of Japan (ABAJ). From Tokyo to Kyoto, Sapporo, Osaka and Kumamoto, Japanese rare book dealers will also decorate windows to raise money for UNESCO.

KOREA

SEOUL, PUSAN & DAEGU: Find rare and fine books with pop-up fairs in these three Korean cities.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA

There will be a free appraisal day at the Moscow State University of the Printing Arts. Bring your books, maps, prints and autographs, and learn their value. There will also be a special exhibition and auction of books about books at bookshops in Moscow.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Antiquarian Auctions and Penguin Random House will host a talk with Susan Buchanan, author of Burchell’s Travels: The Life, Art and Journeys of William John Burchell, and other experts in the field.

SPAIN

BARCELONA: It is a tradition in Barcelona to offer a rose for every book bought on St Jorge’s Day, which coincides with World Book Day. ILAB bookseller Albert Casals and his colleagues will pop up at the famous La Ramblas, to show books and to raise money.

MADRID: April 23 marks the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes. Don Quixote was printed in Madrid by Juan de la Cuesta. At Juan’s former house, Spanish booksellers will pop up and present rare editions of Don Quixote and other books about Spanish book history.

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

At Cabaret Voltaire, where Tristan Tzara, Jean Arp, Hugo Ball, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Marcel Janco and others founded the Dada movement in 1916, Swiss antiquarian booksellers will gather exactly 100 years later for a pop-up book fair. See a Dada performance and a presentation of rare first editions.

MUNICH, GERMANY

“Book Tales & Cocktails” was a major success last year, so Munich’s rare book dealers are repeating the event at Kaufmanns Casino, where 15 antiquarian booksellers from Bavaria will once again show extraordinary books. Enjoy music, drinks, finger food, and a lecture on “Early 20th Century German Publishing” by collector and publisher Klaus G. Saur.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Hungarian booksellers will hold a pop-up book fair at the Institute Cervantes to marks the 400th anniversary of the author’s death. Support literacy, see the Don Quixote exhibition and browse bibliophile treasures.

PARIS, FRANCE

Enjoy free entry to the Salon International du Livre Rare & de l’Autographe in the Grand Palais on 23 April in exchange for a donation to UNESCO’s South Sudan literacy project. Look out for the Miguel de Cervantes exhibition.

NETHERLANDS

AMSTERDAM: Frank Rutten, Sascha Kok and other Amsterdam booksellers are staging a ‘UNESCO Night of the Books’, with music and theater.

HAARLEM: Visit a pop-up book market on Kruisstraat in the historical centre of Haarlem.

GRONINGEN: Antiquariat Isis, ILAB’s only member in this part of Holland, is staging a special pop-up celebration at Folkingestraat in Groninge.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

Antiquarian booksellers will pop up in the foyers of Copenhagen libraries.

SWEDEN

STOCKHOLM: The Stockholm Culture Night celebrates art, music, dance and literature throughout the Swedish capital. Look out for Mats Petterson, Mats Rehnströhm and other Swedish booksellers popping up at the Royal Swedish Academy of Art to present treasures from the history of printing in Sweden.

LUND: Pierre Dethorey from Akarps Antikvariat at Kalkstensvägen 21 is organizing a special exhibition of more than 200 Swedish chapbooks and catch-penny-prints.

OXFORD, UNITED KINGDOM

Booksellers from the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) and colleagues in the Provincial Booksellers’ Association (PBFA) will join together at one of Britain’s largest book fairs, the Oxford Premier Fair, on April 23 and 24, to support the UNESCO initiative.

UNITED STATES

CHICAGO: Kurt Gippert and fellow Windy City booksellers will hold a pop-up book fair overlooking Lake Michigan.

SEATTLE: ILAB booksellers will be in the Madison Room at the Sorrento Hotel for a pop-up book fair including a six-hour appraisal event.

PORTLAND, OREGON: Join ABAA bookseller Elisabeth Burdon of Old Imprints and some of her colleagues in celebrating the final ILAB event of World Book Day.


One Dog, Thousands of Books – O’Connell’s Bookshop in Adelaide

O’Connell’s Bookshop in Adelaide

O’Connell’s Bookshop is an Australian bookselling institution. Established in 1957 by Reg O’Connell, the bookstore is revered by book-lovers far beyond its surroundings of Bank Street in Adelaide, South Australia.

Adelaide’s oldest used and antiquarian bookshop is now at its fifth location. Its previous building was demolished to make way for a Holiday Inn. While other used bookshops have come and gone, O’Connell’s has displayed remarkable resilience.

Ben O’Connell and Oscar the dog

The dog in the picture sitting alongside owner Ben O’Connell is Oscar, a handsome whippet, who is at home among the bookshelves.

“Oscar has been in the shop since he was eight weeks old and he’s now three,” said Ben, who is Reg’s grandson. “He has many fans who come to visit him and bring him treats. We offer a vast range of books from recent releases to rare antiquities. One customer said we are ‘scholarly but not intimidating.”’

Ben adds that many famous figures have browsed the shop’s shelves including writer and feminist Germaine Greer, cultural critic Clive James, comedian Barry Humphries, author Richard Dawkins, cricketer Steve Waugh, broadcaster David Attenborough and rock group the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

“We are very proud of the fact that we still have customers who’ve been coming to the shop for 40 or 50 years,” said Ben of this third generation family business.

Ben has a passion for antiquarian books but wasn’t afraid to introduce graphic novels to appeal to a different generation of readers.

Examples of the gems you’ll find inside O’Connell’s include Australiana, biographies, gardening and botany, and histories of New Zealand.

While browsing O’Connell’s Facebook page, we came across this wonderful picture of Clip and Groom Your Own Poodle – look at the gentleman on the cover image. What perfect hair for a dog groomer, and surely a candidate for our Weird Book Room.

Clip and Groom your own Poodle


February’s bestselling signed books

February's bestselling signed books

1. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

2. Morning Star: Book III of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

3. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco

4. The Drowned Detective by Neil Jordan

5. M Train by Patti Smith

6. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

7. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

8. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

9. The Widow by Fiona Barton

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


The Books of the Films of Meryl Streep

She’s an icon of modern cinema with more than 50 film roles to her credit. She has a trophy cabinet full of silverware, including three Oscars and eight Golden Globes. You’ve probably seen the majority of her films. We’re talking about Meryl Streep – the leading lady of Hollywood’s leading ladies.

Meryl Streep by Karina Longworth

But, as so often with movies, books have inspired many of Streep’s films. In fact, if you want an original reading list for a year of solid literature then you could do a lot worse than the books that served as the basis for her movies.

Oddly, for an actress who has appeared in so many influential films, there are not many good books about Streep herself. Perhaps only Phaidon’s Meryl Streep: Anatomy of an Actor by Karina Longworth and Ian Johnstone’s Streep: A Life in Film are worth a look.

Streep, born in New Jersey in 1949, is one of only six actors to have won three or more Academy Awards.

There are some major literary successes on this list including The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Bridges of Madison County, The Giver, Out of Africa, Kramer vs Kramer, and Sophie’s Choice. These books also cover cooking, blogging, foxes, numerous love stories and families falling to pieces, fashion, and music.

Meryl’s Movie Bookshelf

Pentimento by Lillian Hellman

Julia (1977)

Based on Lillian Hellman’s memoir Pentimento, Julia was Streep’s first film role after she cut her teeth in theatre. A chapter of Pentimento describes Hellman’s relationship with Julia, who fought against the Nazis in the years prior to World War II. The movie starred Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, and Maximilian Schell with Streep in a supporting role.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

This remarkable film about the Vietnam War was based in part on an unproduced screenplay called The Man Who Came to Play by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker, about Las Vegas and Russian roulette. There is a novelization, by Eric Corder, of the screenplay.

Manhattan (1979)

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

The screenplay of this romantic comedy was written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman. You can find the screenplay in a book format in Four Films of Woody Allen (and Annie Hall, Interiors and Stardust Memories are the other three films).

The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

The screenplay of this political drama, featuring a senator who has an affair, was written by Alan Alda, who also played the title role. A novelization by Richard Cohen exists.

Kramer vs Kramer (1979)

Adapted by Robert Benton from the novel of the same name by Avery Corman. Streep starred with Dustin Hoffman in this bitter tale of a family split in half.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Based on the 1969 novel by John Fowles, it’s a non-traditional Victorian love affair where gentleman and naturalist Charles Smithson falls in love with Sarah Woodruff. Jeremy Irons starred alongside Streep.

Still of the Night (1982)

Not based on a book, the screenplay was written by Robert Benton and David Newman. In case you’ve forgotten, this movie was a psychological thriller co-starring Roy Scheider.

Sophie’s Choice (1982)

A National Book Award winner in 1980, William Styron’s novel concerns three people sharing a boarding house in Brooklyn – a young writer, a Jew and his lover who is a Polish concentration camp survivor. The catastrophic decision referenced in the novel’s title is believed to be based on actual events.

Silkwood (1983)

Plenty by David Hare

The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. There are now several books about the life and death of activist Karen Silkwood, including The Killing of Karen Silkwood by Richard L. Rashke, and Who Killed Karen Silkwood? by Howard Kohn.

Falling in Love (1984)

Michael Cristofer wrote the screenplay. We can skip this romantic comedy co-starring Robert DeNiro, although there is a scene in the Rizzoli bookstore in New York.

Plenty (1985)

Adapted from David Hare’s play of the same name. The story concerns an Englishwoman who struggles to recover from her experiences of fighting with the French Resistance in World War II.

Out of Africa (1985)

Ironweed by William Kennedy

Inspired by Isak Dinesen’s autobiographical book Out of Africa (Dinesen was the pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen) published in 1937. The book focuses on Blixen’s life in Kenya, then called British East Africa, and offers an insight into colonial life.

Heartburn (1986)

The screenplay by Nora Ephron is based on her semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which was inspired by her marriage to Carl Bernstein and his affair with Margaret Jay. Streep starred alongside Jack Nicholson.

Ironweed (1987)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by William Kennedy, who also wrote the screenplay. Again Nicolson co-stars. The story features a homeless couple and their travails during the Great Depression.

Evil Angels / A Cry in the Dark (1988)

The Live and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon

A film with two names. The screenplay by Fred Schepisi and Robert Caswell is based on John Bryson’s 1985 book, Evil Angels. The story details Australian Lindy Chamberlain, who was tried for the murder of her baby. She claimed the child was taken from a tent by a dingo.

She-Devil (1989)

A very loose adaptation of the 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil by Fay Weldon. An ugly woman goes to great lengths to wreak revenge on her cheating husband and his pretty mistress.

Postcards from the Edge (1990)

This film was based on Carrie Fisher’s 1987 semi-autobiographical novel of the same title. Fisher, who rose to worldwide fame as Princess Leia, had a bizarre Hollywood upbringing as the daughter of screen star Debbie Reynolds.

Defending your Life (1991)

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Albert Brooks wrote, directed and starred in this romantic afterlife comedy. Let’s be thankful there’s no book.

Death Becomes Her (1992)

Scripted by David Koepp and Martin Donovan. A forgettable black comedy fantasy – again no book.

The House of Spirits (1993)

Based on the 1982 novel La Casa de los Espíritus (The House of Spirits in English) by Isabel Allende. This debut novel was conceived by Allende when she heard her 100-year-old grandfather was dying. It tells the story of four generations on the Trueba family through Chile’s many social and political upheavals.

The River Wild (1994)

Screenplay by Denis O’Neill. No book. A rafting adventure in which Streep nearly drowned during filming.

The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Robert James Waller. A love story between Robert Kincaid, photographer and free spirit, and farmer’s wife Francesca Johnson. Clint Eastwood starred opposite Streep.

Before and After (1996)

Based on Before and After by Rosellen Brown. The story centers on a death in a small Massachusetts town. Liam Neeson co-starred.

Marvin’s Room (1996)

Based on the play of the same name by Scott McPherson. The tale of one family’s journey through humour, heartache, separation and self-discovery around physical and mental health.

Dancing at Lughnasa (1998)

Adapted from the Brian Friel play of the same title. Five unmarried sisters in a remote Irish village just before World War II see their isolated world fall apart. Irish angst galore.

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen

One True Thing (1998)

Adapted by Karen Croner from the novel by Anna Quindlen. The story is based on Quindlen’s real life struggle to accept the death of her mother in 1972, due to ovarian cancer. William Hurt co-starred.

Music of the Heart (1999)

Pamela Gray wrote the screenplay. It’s a dramatization of the true story of Roberta Guaspari, who co-founded the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music. There is a book about it called Music of the Heart: The Roberta Guaspari Story co-written by Warren Larkin.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Streep has just a small part in this science fiction film. The screenplay is partially based on the 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss, which deals with life in an age of intelligent machines.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

The Adaptation (2002)

A comedy drama directed by Spike Jonze based on Susan Orlean’s non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, which deals with the poaching of rare flowers in South Florida.

The Hours (2002)

Based on Michael Cunningham’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same title. The book concerns three women affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway novel, including Woolf herself.

Stuck on You (2003)

Streep makes an uncredited cameo appearance. It’s a comedy (!) about cojoined twins. There’s no book.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

The film is based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name. Denzel Washington stars. The novel is a rollicking good political thriller with brainwashing, communists and lashings of conspiracy.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

You all know Daniel Handler’s bestselling series of children’s books. The movie covers the first three books – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window.

Prime (2005)

A prime flop. A romantic comedy starring Uma Thurman. Streep plays a therapist. No book. We’ll move along.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Directed by Robert Altman. A fictional vision of behind-the-scenes at the famous NPR show of the same name. There are all sorts of books associated with the show.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Based on Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel of the same name. Anne Hathaway starred as the college grad terrorized by Streep’s fashion magazine editor. Was Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, the inspiration for Streep’s character?

The Ant Bully (2006)

A computer-animated children’s adventure based on the 1999 children’s book of the same name by John Nickle.

Dark Matter (2007)

This film is loosely based on a shooting at the University of Iowa. No book.

Evening (2007)

A drama based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Susan Minot. A dying woman looks back on her confusing past.

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

Rendition (2007)

A thriller about the CIA and their abduction practices. No book.

Lions for Lambs (2007)

A modern warfare drama film. No book. Robert Redford directed.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

“Gimme, gimme, gimme, a man after midnight. Won’t somebody help me chase the shadows away?” Meryl sings too. The film version of the smash Broadway production, which salutes the songs of ABBA.

Doubt (2008)

A drama adapted from John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer-winning play Doubt: A Parable. Misdeeds in a Catholic school.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

A comedy drama inspired by a blog and a book. The film looks at the lives of chef Julia Child and New York blogger Julie Powell, who aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a challenge that moved from the blogosphere to the printed page (Julie and Julia).

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

The farmers versus the foxes. Roald Dahl’s much loved children’s story was the basis for this animated film. Streep provided the voice of Mrs. Fox.

It’s Complicated (2009)

It got mixed reviews. Another rom-com where Streep is a bakery owner and single mother of three who starts a secret affair with her ex-husband. No book.

Higglety Pigglety! Or There Must be More to Life (2010)

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout

A live-action/animated short film about the adventures of Jennie the dog. It’s based on Maurice Sendak’s 1967 children’s book.

The Iron Lady (2011)

Not based on a book but there are several notable biographies of Margaret Thatcher, including The Iron Lady by Hugo Young. Alan Clark’s Diaries describe her downfall from the inside. For the other side of the coin, try Things Can Only Get Better by John O’Farrell.

Hope Springs (2012)

Yet another romantic comedy, this time with Tommy Lee Jones. No book.

August: Osage County (2013)

A drama based on John Wells’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor also star in this tale of a dysfunctional family that reunites after a disappearance. No book.

My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst

The Giver (2014)

Streep plays the Chief Elder in this dystopian science fiction drama based on Lois Lowry’s much loved and much studied 1993 novel set in a peaceful, ordered community that has some dark secrets.

The Homesman (2014)

A period drama set in the 1850s Midwest based in Glendon Swarthout’s novel of the same name. Streep plays the wife of a priest in this story about pioneer women on the edge of a breakdown.

Into the Woods (2014)

Inspired by Grimm’s Fairy Tales, this is a musical fantasy based on the Broadway musical of the same name.

Ricki and the Flash (2015)

A comedy drama where a wife leaves her family to become a rock star. No book.

Suffragette (2015)

An historical drama with Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement. It’s not based on a book but My Own Story by Pankhurst tells her remarkable tale of fighting for women’s rights.


January’s bestselling signed books

January's bestselling signed books

Another month has come and gone, which means it’s time to look at AbeBooks’ bestselling signed books! January’s biggest signed sellers are a mixture of brand new books (My Name is Lucy Barton), award winners (A Brief History of Seven Killings), page-turners (Rogue Lawyer) and books on the big screen (Room).

1. M Train by Patti Smith

2. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

3. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

4. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

5. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

6. The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

8. The Martian by Andy Weir

9. Room by Emma Donaghue

10. Eileen: A Novel by Moshfegh Ottessa


Illicit notebook detailing Newgate Prison’s executions sells for £5,000

‘The Death Warrant’ etching from Cotton’s notebook

A handwritten notebook – belonging to the chaplain of London’s Newgate Prison, which details numerous executions of notable 19th century criminals – has sold for £5,000 ($7,341) via the AbeBooks.co.uk marketplace for used and rare books.

‘Convicts Executed Since the Year 1812 at Newgate’ was the Reverend Horace Salusbury Cotton’s personal and illicit record of the execution process. The bookseller was London rare book dealer Peter Harrington.

Rev Cotton’s book

Cotton worked at Newgate from 1814 to 1839. He recorded the dates of executions, the names and crimes of criminals, and other facts that caught his attention. He also added some magazine clippings about executions.

The dark blue notebook contains 120 pages of clear handwritten notes, and three small etchings by a prisoner called W. Thompson and dated 1828 – The Morning of Execution, Condemned Criminals Receiving the Sacrament, and The Death Warrant.

The first page features John Bellingham, who Cotton notes “shot Mr. Percival the Prime Minister, in the Lobby of the House of Commons.” Spencer Percival, who was killed in 1812, is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

In 1820, Cotton attended to the final moments of five of the Cato Street conspirators, who had plotted to murder the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and his entire cabinet in 1820. They were the last people to be hung and beheaded as a punishment in Britain. “They were decapitated after being hung – and buried in the prison in their cloathes [sic.],” wrote Cotton.

At the rear of the book, Cotton added a note that explains how in 1836 he had been asked by officials whether he “kept any other Journal relating to Newgate other than the one in the Keeper’s Office” and how he had been forced to surrender “two books” to the inspectors, who expressed their “regret that any Books [should exist] the entries in which have been kept secret from the Court of Aldermen.”

Title page of Cotton’s book

This copy was apparently not surrendered and offers a remarkable historical insight into corporal punishment in the 19th century.

In 1815, Cotton officiated at the execution of Eliza Fenning, a servant found guilty of attempting to poison her master’s family with arsenic. Her conviction was front page news at the time as many thought she was innocent. Fenning was hanged alongside a man convicted of sodomy and also a child rapist.

Newgate Prison was built in the 12th century. It stood at the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey, and was demolished in 1904. London’s gallows were moved to Newgate in the late 18th century and public executions outside the prison attracted large crowds.

Newgate’s famous prisoners have included author Daniel Defoe, playwright Ben Jonson, pirate William Kidd, and William Penn who founded Pennsylvania.

The prison even inspired a genre of literature – Newgate Novels – which drew on the dramatic lives of its inmates. Newgate has featured in countless books, and Charles Dickens mentioned it in Oliver Twist, Barnaby Rudge, Great Expectations, and A Tale of Two Cities.

The ‘Condemned Criminals Receiving Sacrament’ etching

The ‘Morning of Execution’ etching

Cotton’s Notes – the three executions detailed were for murder, robbery and house-breaking respectively.

A clipping found in Cotton’s book – the executions were for stealing clothing, highway robbery and the theft of silver buckles.


David Bowie’s top 100 books

In October 2013, we published this list of David Bowie’s 100 favourite books. With the sad news of his death at 69 from cancer, this list offers a special insight into the mind behind the musician. Celebrate the life and music of a man who read a book each day.

David Bowie’s favourite 100 books have been revealed and it’s a good list stretching from Homer to modern bestselling authors like Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz. The musician is the subject of an exhibition called David Bowie Is and the list was released as the exhibition moved from London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum to Canada’s Art Gallery of Ontario.

The top 100 was supplied to the curators by the singer’s archivist, who keeps watch over a huge collection of stage costumes, sheet music, books and other memorabilia accumulated from an entertainment career that began in 1962 when Bowie was just 15 and formed his first band.

David Bowie is a “voracious reader,” according to Geoffrey Marsh, the V&A exhibition co-curator, “who consumes a book a day.”

The list boasts many titles from the 1960s, a formative decade for Bowie (real name David Jones), who hit the big time in 1969 with Space Oddity. Favourites from the Swinging Sixties include A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Saul Bellow’s Herzog.

There are three George Orwell books – Inside the Whale and Other Essays, The Road to Wigan Pier, and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Apparently Bowie wanted to produce a musical around Nineteen Eighty-Four but failed to obtain the rights.

You will also find Dante, Homer’s Iliad, Faulkner, Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Capote, Evelyn Waugh and D.H. Lawrence. There’s poetry too and several books that analyse modern music, including the evolution of soul and the career of Little Richard.

Fans of British humour will be pleased to see the chameleon of pop also reads Viz Magazine when not browsing Albert Camus’ Stranger. Viz is infamous for memorable satirical characters such as the Fat Slags, Johnny Fartpants, Buster Gonad and Sid the Sexist.

David Bowie’s 100 books

Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

Room at the Top by John Braine

On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious by Douglas Harding

Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

City of Night by John Rechy

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

The Iliad by Homer

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

Inside the Whale and Other Essays by George Orwell

Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood

Halls Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art by James A. Hall

David Bomberg by Richard Cork

Blast by Wyndham Lewis

Passing by Nella Larson

Beyond the Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd

The Divided Self by R. D. Laing

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Infants of the Spring by Wallace Thurman

The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Puckoon by Spike Milligan

Black Boy by Richard Wright

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

McTeague by Frank Norris

Money by Martin Amis

The Outsider by Colin Wilson

Strange People by Frank Edwards

English Journey by J.B. Priestley

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White

Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn

Mystery Train by Greil Marcus

Beano Comic

Raw Magazine

White Noise by Don DeLillo

Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom by Peter Guralnick

Silence: Lectures and Writing by John Cage

Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll by Charlie Gillett

Octobriana and the Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky

The Street by Ann Petry

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jnr

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby

Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz

The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard

The Bridge by Hart Crane

All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

Tales of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

Nowhere To Run: The Story of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey

Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture: 1875-1945 by Jon Savage

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Viz Comic

Private Eye Magazine

Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara

The Trial of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens

Flaubert’s Parrrot by Julian Barnes

Maldoror by Comte de Lautréamont

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders: Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jur by Lawrence Weschler

Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Transcendental Magic, Its Doctrine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri

A Grave for a Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

In Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924 by Orlando Figes

Journey into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg


Raptis Rare Books – selling the finest books in rural Vermont

Matthew and Adrienne Raptis

Deep in the southern Vermont countryside, you will find an ornate Italianate villa simply packed with sumptuous books worthy of any collector’s bookshelf.

Welcome to Raptis Rare Books and the world of husband-and-wife bookselling team Matthew and Adrienne Raptis.

Matthew and Adrienne specialize in fine first editions, signed and inscribed books, and books that are quite simply important. You will see them at the major books fairs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, and you can visit their Vermont villa if you have an appointment.

They have sold via AbeBooks since 2003 and their inventory covers the biggest names in literature.

The home of Raptis Rare Books in Vermont

Raptis Rare Books stands out for the high quality photography that accompanies their listings on AbeBooks. Just browsing their books is fascinating – a first edition of Ulysses, a first edition of The Great Gatsby complete with its dust jacket, a Fourth Folio of Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. These are books that are simply important.

Prices range from $20 for signed copy of The Flaming Corsage by William Kennedy to $160,000 for a first edition of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Adrienne kindly took a few minutes away from the business to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: How did you get into the bookselling trade?

Adrienne: “Matthew started collecting books when he was a young child. He was very interested in history, particularly the American Civil War, and started with a small collection of antiquarian books. His collection grew over the years to encompass many other fields, such as literature, economics, architecture, and photography. The business in rare books was a natural development from his passions.

“I came into the business by virtue of being married to Matthew, so it was less of a direct journey. My degrees are in the sciences, but I have always loved books and read voraciously. A funny thing is that I used to pretend when I was a child that I was a bookseller. We actually came across a photo a number of years ago after we returned from the San Francisco book fair that shows me with my books fanned out in a very similar way to how our books our displayed when we are at a fair. It must have been destiny because I love this business and being surrounded by such amazing pieces of history.”

An example of Raptis’ photography – The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

AbeBooks: What’s the most expensive book you have ever sold?

Adrienne: “We’ve sold a number of books in the six figures, but we’d rather not say specific titles or amounts. (Editor’s note – Adrienne is being discrete. In September 2015, Raptis sold a signed 1964 first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl for $25,000 on the AbeBooks marketplace, so you can see their inventory can command top dollar prices.)

AbeBooks: What’s the first edition you have always wanted to offer for sale but never yet found?

Adrienne: “Our holy grail of books would be a first edition Don Quixote. There was one that was known in the 1980s and went for around $1.5 million.​ If you find one in your attic, give us a call.”

Books galore in the Raptis gallery

AbeBooks: How do you acquire your inventory?

​Adrienne: “This is a question we get asked quite often. We do a lot of travelling and have both been to over 65 countries. W​e travel to purchase items from private collections, bookstores, rare books, and auctions.”

AbeBooks: What’s the most thrilling aspect of bookselling – discovery, closing a sale, making customers happy?

Adrienne: “We love making our customers happy and finding specific titles that they are looking for.​”

AbeBooks: “You are located in the heart of New England – would you describe it as a bookish part of the world?

​Adrienne: “This is definitely a bookish part of world. New England is known for its schools of higher education​ and literary events. You can still find many small and used bookstores in the ​area. Brattleboro in particular has a literary history, with famous authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Saul Bellow, and many others living and writing in the area. We also have a wonderful yearly literary festival.”

Search Raptis Rare Books


December’s bestselling signed books

December's bestselling signed books

Here it is, the last signed books list of 2015. M Train by Patti Smith has crept up the list to the number one spot. Despite being released late in the year, the popular memoir was one of AbeBooks’ bestselling signed books of 2015. December’s list includes some brand new reads alongside a few books that have stood the test of time.

1. M Train by Patti Smith

2. A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

4. Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello

5. Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

6. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

8. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

9. Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates

10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr