AbeBooks Home

Pages & Proofs


A book blog from the staff at AbeBooks.co.uk

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

One of our favourite books of 2018 has been The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury. This is a book for anyone who loves beautiful dust jackets. It traces the evolution of the book jacket from its functional origins as a plain protective covering. Salisbury celebrates the work of more than 50 artists from Rockwell Kent to Edward Gorey and NC Wyeth, and covers several styles including Art Deco from the 1920s and 1930s.

Find copies


Anna Burns’ Milkman wins 2018 Man Booker Prize

2018 Man Booker winner

Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, becoming the first writer from Northern Ireland to take home the award. She wins £50,000 for Milkman, a novel set in the Troubles in Northern Ireland about a young woman being sexually harassed.

People are describing Milkman as “experimental” and it was an outsider to win. The novel is narrated by an 18-year-old girl – never named and known as Middle Sister – who is being harassed by an older paramilitary figure. It definitely carries undertones of the #MeToo era.

This is Burns’ third book. The 56-year-old has previously been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Burns was born in Belfast and raised in the Catholic district of Ardoyne. She moved to London in 1987 and now lives in East Sussex. Her first novel was called No Bones and that is also an account of growing up in Belfast. She published a novella called Mostly Hero in 2014

See the book

See all the Booker winners


The importance of Paddington Bear

Our latest podcast addresses the importance of Paddington Bear as he approaches his 60th birthday. From marmalade sandwiches to really hard stares, we look at why this children’s book character is so special.


Don’t miss the 2018 Amsterdam Antiquarian Book Fair

People who love antiquarian books, atlases, old maps, fine prints, manuscripts, first editions and the written and printed word in general should plan to be in the Netherlands on October 6-7 for the 2018 Amsterdam International Antiquarian Book Fair. After the last year’s successful event, the fair will be held again in the Marriott Hotel.

The fair has attracted a large number of prominent antiquarian dealers from Holland and abroad. Both serious bibliophiles and general book-lovers will be delighted by almost 50  stands from sellers in the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Belgium. There will be something of interest for everybody, from incunables and antiquarian books to 21st century literature. Anyone who just wishes to browse is welcome and admission is free.

The exhibitors include a large number of members from the Dutch Association of Antiquarian Book Dealers (known in Dutch as the De Nederlandsche Vereeniging van Antiquaren or NVvA). New exhibitors include Acanthus from Utrecht, Alessandro Borgato from Italy, Foldvari from Hungary,  Galerie bei der Oper from Austria, Lynge & Son from Denmark, Mayfair Rare Books & Manuscripts from the UK, and Dat Narrenschip from the Netherlands, and Hanno Schreyer from Germany and Michael Steinbach from Austria.

Just like last year, the curators Reinder Storm and Adriaan Plak from the University of Amsterdam will be giving guided tours on Sunday, walking round the stands and talking about their favorite items displayed in the exhibitors’ collections.

The fair is on the first floor of the Marriott Hotel, Stadhouderskade 12, Amsterdam, and is centrally located between the Leidsche Plein and the Vondelpark. It will be open on Saturday from 1pm to 6pm, and 11am to 5pm on Sunday.

Visit the fair’s website for more information and highlights, which include a first edition of Florilegium Harlemense filled with beautiful flower illustrations, a contemporary coloured copy of the final Hondius edition of the Mercator atlas, and an early book on Greenland.


Marthe McKenna, the WWI nurse who became a British spy

We’re seeing tremendous interest in the books of Marthe McKenna (1892-1966) after the New York Times ran an “overlooked” obituary. A nurse, McKenna, who was Belgian, spied on the Germans for almost two years in World War I. Her book I Was a Spy! became a massive bestseller after the war. It’s still in print thanks to Pool of London Press.

10 novels set in bookshops

Probably the best book about a bookshop is 84 Charing Cross Road, but what about fiction? There is actually a mini-genre of novels set in bookshops dating back 100 years to the books of Christopher Morley. Romance, mysteries, and tales about life-changing events seem to be the main themes. John Dunning, who still owns an antiquarian bookselling business in Denver (Old Algonquin Books), created an entire series of crime novels about a detective who loves books.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

A witty, sharply observed novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookshop in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life using his intuitive feel for what the reader needs.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon has left life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. After a few days, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

Published in 1917. When you sell a man a book, says Roger Mifflin, the traveling bookman at the center of this novella, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue, you sell him a whole new life. A romantic comedy.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

A 1919 suspense novel that continues the story of Roger Mifflin. Not a ghost story, the title refers to the ghosts of the past in the form of dead authors and old books that can be found in a bookstore.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

In a small East Anglian town, literature-loving widow Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. A bookselling drama of small town politics.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry lives alone, his bookshop is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore.

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

A Danish literary thriller. When Luca Campelli dies a sudden and violent death, his son Jon inherits his second-hand bookshop, Libri di Luca, in Copenhagen. An arson attempt follows and Jon is forced to explore his family’s past. Unbeknownst to him, the bookshop has for years been hiding a remarkable secret.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Nina Redmond has a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? This romantic comedy is a valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village and buys a van, which becomes a mobile bookshop.

Booked to Die by John Dunning

Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway is an avid collector of rare books. After a local book scout is killed on his turf, Janeway is on the (book)case, while also opening a small bookshop. The first in a series of crime novels featuring Janeway, the others are The Bookman’s Wake, The Bookman’s Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman’s Last Fling.


This week’s podcast: books set in London

Charing Cross Road features in one of our recommendations

In our latest AbeBooks Behind the Bookshelves podcast we go beyond Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle to recommend books set in London. From a genre-defining non-fiction book about Arsenal to fictional descriptions of the immigrant experience by Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureishi, we cast our eye across a wide selection of books. For more recommendations, visit our literary tour of London page.


Jamieson’s Heavenly Celestial Atlas from 1822

Sagittarius: Archer in Latin, and this constellation is usually represented by a centaur firing an arrow

Alexander Jamieson was an 18th century schoolteacher who wrote textbooks on the side. His books included A Grammar of Universal Geography, A Grammar of Logic and Intellectual Philosophy and the Mechanics of Fluids for Practical Men, and you can be excused for giving these three a miss. But you cannot turn your back on Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas from 1822.

Born on the Isle of Bute, the son of a Scottish wheelwright, Jamieson became a member of the Astronomical Society of London and is chiefly remembered for his beautiful depiction of the heavens in a celestial atlas. The book’s full and lengthy title is A Celestial Atlas, Comprising a Systematic Display of the Heavens in a Series of Thirty Maps, Illustrated by Scientific Descriptions of their Contents, and Accompanied by a Catalogue of the Stars and Astronomical Exercises.

Cost forced Jamieson to produce a small atlas

Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas contains 30 engraved illustrations by a firm called Neele & Son. The star maps are overlaid with imagery from the Zodiac and ancient mythology. The latest scientific knowledge is combined with artistic craftsmanship. Jamieson wasn’t the first to mix art and astronomy, but his atlas, which was allowed to be dedicated to King George IV (quite the honor), remains memorable to this day.

Twenty six of the plates are constellation maps. Jamieson only displayed stars visible to the naked eye, making it widely accessible to anyone who looked at the heavens.

Pictorial star atlases were popular at this time but these impressive books were often large and expensive. Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas was much smaller and cheaper. Each chart was approximately 9 inches by 7 inches in size. Jamieson explains in the preface that he had originally wanted larger charts, but used smaller ones to reduce production costs.

He printed black and white and hand-colored versions which were offered for £1 5 shillings or £1 11 shillings and 6 pence respectively. These books are now scarce and only one copy can be found on AbeBooks, for £2,350, (NOW SOLD) but individual prints are available.

Orion was a hunter in Greek mythology who was sent to the heavens by Zeus.

Jamieson produced a second edition of the star atlas just four months after releasing first, almost certainly due to demand. In 1824, he published a follow-up called An Atlas of Outline Maps of the Heavens but it did not sell well.

Jamieson’s original Celestial Atlas was so popular that his artwork was copied and used in a book called Urania’s Mirror, which was published anonymously (since it was blatantly plagiarised) in 1824. Urania’s Mirror contains hand-coloured cards depicting mythological figures while strategic pinholes indicate the location of the stars, allowing a viewer to visualise their appearance in the sky when held up the sky. Apparently, these cards had a tendency to catch on fire. It was books like Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas and Urania’s Mirror that helped popularize the idea of the heavens being a blank piece of paper for artists.

Find Jamieson’s Celestial Atlas

Auriga: This constellation was identified as early as the 2nd century AD by the astronomer Ptolemy. Its Latin name means ‘charioteer.’ Illustrations traditionally show a chariot and its driver, who is holding goats and reins.

Cancer: The fourth sign in the Zodiac. This constellation is usually represented by the crab, based on Karkinos, a huge crab that harassed Greek hero Heracles during his battle with the Hydra.

Cetus: A whale-like sea monster in Greek mythology slain by Perseus in order to save Andromeda from Poseidon.

Ursa Major: Also known as the Great Bear, this constellation is in the northern sky and has been known for eons. It was one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy.

Hydra (SOLD): The largest of the 88 modern constellations and commonly represented as a water snake.

Perseus: A constellation in the northern sky, named after the Greek hero Perseus. Andromeda is also in the north and named after the daughter of Cassiopeia. She was chained to a rock to be eaten by a sea monster.

Cygnus: A northern constellation lying on the plane of the Milky Way, deriving its name from the Latin and Greek for swan. Cygnus contains Deneb, one of the brightest stars.

Taurus (SOLD): A large constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky. Stargazers have looked up to this constellation since the Bronze Age. The association with a bull dates back thousands of years.


Jamieson’s heavenly Celestial Atlas

Alexander Jamieson was an 18th century schoolteacher who wrote textbooks in his spare time. In 1822, he published a memorable Celestial Atlas that contained engraved illustrations of constellation maps overlaid with imagery from the Zodiac and ancient mythology.


20 Pioneering Novels that Paved the Way for Today’s LGBT Literature

Today’s LGBT genre is vibrant, accessible, accepted and intertwined with the likes of memoirs, young adult fiction and graphic novels. It was a long journey to reach this point. At first, homosexuality had to be hinted at and could never be explicit. It was disguised in everything from vampire tales to philosophical fiction. Countless gay authors had to hide their own sexuality when writing about this subject. Many books with gay themes were banned or (worse) simply ignored and allowed to fade into obscurity. When LGBT plots and characters became more common in 1950s pulp fiction, the narratives had desperately unhappy endings, same-sex relationships were portrayed as tragic, and the cover artwork was lurid. Two recommended reads on this subject are Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram and the more academic The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature.

Our list is in chronological order

Probably the earliest gay novel published in America

Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania by Bayard Taylor (1870)

Taylor was a prolific author of poetry and travel writing. This novel describes a relationship between two men without ever becoming sexual or doom-laden. Considering that it was written in the middle of the Victorian era, Taylor’s book was way ahead of its time.

First editions are very scarce and highly collectible.

Imre: A Memorandum by Xavier Mayne (1906)

An early novel about a homosexual relationship between two men that’s important because of its sympathetic portrayal of gay love. AbeBooks sold a first edition for more than £8,000 in 2009. Only 500 copies were privately printed. The tale describes a love story between a 30-something British aristocrat and a 25-year-old Hungarian military officer who meet in a Budapest cafe. Xavier Mayne was the pen name of Edward Prime-Stevenson, who was an American author who turned away from a legal career to become a mainstream writer for magazines such as Harper’s and The New York Independent. Prime-Stevenson also wrote a 1908 study called The Intersexes that defends homosexuality from numerous standpoints.

Not an easy novel to read due to the complex plots

The Counterfeiters by André Gide (1925)

A complex novel with multiple plots that made little impact on its publication due to its gay characters and their intertwining relationships. Today it’s seen as a book that paved the way for post-modern fiction.

A novel of campus life that is long forgotten.

The Western Shore by Clarkson Crane (1925)

One of the first novels about gay university life. Clarkson Crane (1894-1971) attended Berkeley and this novel probably resulted from his experiences. Cane served in France in the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps during World War I. He returned to France in 1923 where he wrote this novel, which quickly faded into obscurity. At this time, American university life was portrayed in literature as being nothing but heterosexual romance, parties, and sport.

A lesbian novel that sparked controversy.

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

Published by Jonathan Cape, the plot sees an Englishwoman find love with another woman while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I only to suffer social isolation. The novel portrays lesbianism as a natural state. It was hugely controversial and put lesbians in the newspaper headlines.

Gender is a fluid thing in this pioneering book.

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (1928)

This well-known novel is important because of the fluid way in which Woolf treats gender. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex and meets important historical figures.

A novel about the challenges of coming out.

Strange Brother by Blair Niles (1931)

A platonic relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man is at the heart of this downbeat novel set in New York in the Art Deco era. It highlights many of the issues facing people afraid to reveal their true sexuality. Blair Niles was actually Mary Blair Rice, a novelist and travel writer, who made just this one foray into gay literature.

She is a he in this novel that features characters based on real people.

The Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully (1932)

Horrible title. The main character, Fay Etrange, is referred to as “her” throughout but she’s clearly a man. This is a story of how the androgynous Fay has endless encounters after moving to New York and diving into the queer world of nightclubs, theatres, and street life. It has been surmised that Scully was actually publisher Robert McAlmon, who founded Contact Editions, and the book’s characters are based upon notable figures in the American expatriate community of Paris, ranging from Sylvia Beach to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Hats off to Fordham University Press who republished this novel in 2016.

This novel was also titled Better Angel.

Better Angel / Torment by Richard Meeker (1933)

Richard Meeker is the pen name of Forman Brown. This novel was also published under the title, Torment. It describes a young man’s gay awakening between the World Wars and, importantly, shows that a homosexual lifestyle can be rewarding rather than tragic. The Torment edition cover blurb reads: “Kurt loved this woman. Did he love her brother more? Is it evil for one man to lavish affection on another?”

Early lesbian fiction.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936)

An early example of lesbian-themed fiction. Published by Faber and Faber, this novel did not end up forgotten and was praised by several notable authors for its prose. The main character, Nora Flood, is based on the author.

Janes Bowles was married to fellow author Paul Bowles.

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (1943)

This novel is about two women who break from their traditional lives. One of them visits Panama, where she meets women working in the city’s brothels. Bowles was the wife of Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles.

James W. Fugaté had to write this novel under a pen name.

Quatrefoil by James Barr / James W. Fugaté (1950)

A landmark novel because it portrays gay men in a positive light. Two men become lovers and one of them has the choice of financial security or true love. James W. Fugaté wrote the book under the pen name of James Barr. Fugaté served in the US Navy in World War II and rejoined the Navy in 1952 but he was discovered to be the author of Quatrefoil which led to his discharge.

Claire Morgan was Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt / Carol by Patricia Highsmith (1952)

First published under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan, this novel has been titled The Price of Salt and also Carol. The story concerns Therese Belivet, a young woman living in New York, who meets Carol, an elegant woman in her early thirties. It depicts a lesbian relationship in a relatively positive light, plus there’s the wonderful prose from Patricia Highsmith. Cate Blanchett starred in a movie adaptation in 2015.

The characters in this novel were based on real people.

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson (1958)

A British novel that was originally published anonymously because homosexuality was still illegal in the UK at this time and because the main characters were based on real people, including the poet Stephen Spender.

This is a collection of short stories.

The Keval and Other Gay Adventures by Harry Otis (1959)

A selection of gay-themed short stories spanning the world. One Incorporated, the publisher was a non-profit philanthropic organisation that promoted homosexual literature through a monthly periodical called ONE and other ventures.

Author Christopher Isherwood was well traveled and lived in Berlin during the 1920s.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

Set in California, this novel depicts one day in the life of George, a middle-aged university professor, in mourning after the sudden death of his partner. Isherwood lived a full life in the UK and the United States but also spent time in Berlin at the height of its ‘Cabaret’ era of sexual freedom.

A lesbian novel set among the casino culture of Reno in Nevada.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule (1964)

Originally published in hardback by Macmillan Canada, the hardcover binding was a landmark because most lesbian novels were being printed as pulp fiction at this time. Set in the 1950s’ casinos of Reno, this novel’s plot concerns two women, one waiting on a divorce, who meet and begin a relationship that becomes complicated.

A lesbian novel about the difficulties of coming out.

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton (1965)

A novel about a lesbian relationship that sunk like a stone in the 1960s before being rediscovered by the women’s movements of the 1970s. Sarton, an established writer at the time, revealed her own homosexuality by publishing this book which deals with the difficulties of coming out.

This gay novel bucked the trend and became a bestseller.

The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick (1970)

A gay novel on New York Times bestseller list in 1970? Yes, this one was popular. Charlie Mills and Peter Martin meet and fall in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from being a closeted gay man. Merrick was an actor who wrote a number of gay-themed novels in a mass market style. Merrick’s first novel, the autobiographical The Strumpet Wind was published in 1947 and concerns a gay American spy in France during World War II.

This novel was published until a year after EM Forster’s death.

Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)

Written in 1913 and 1914, but not published until 1971, the year after Forster’s death, Maurice is a very English story of homosexual love in the early 20th century. Forster never attempted to publish it because he thought gay love had too many taboos. This novel, also featuring class strife and blackmail, was turned into a film in 1987. Unlike many gay novels from the early decades of the 20th century, Maurice is now widely available and frequently read.