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Nick Skelton’s show jumping gold sparks rush for his forgotten autobiography

The Rio 2016 Olympics appeared to have zero effect on bookselling until a 58-year-old from Warwickshire won a gold medal for Great Britain.

The stories behind superstars like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Mo Farah are well known, but Nick Skelton is not a household name. He is a veteran equestrian, who has competed since the 1970s.

Only Falls and Horses by Nick Skelton

Skelton’s obscure autobiography, wonderfully titled Only Falls and Horses, was the top search term on AbeBooks.co.uk on Friday and Saturday after Skelton won gold in individual show jumping in his seventh Olympic Games. All copies available on AbeBooks.co.uk have now sold.

He first competed in the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, in 1988 before many of his teammates on the current British team were born. Skelton is Britain’s oldest gold medalist since 1908.

His autobiography was published in 2001 by a small publishing company called Greenwater, which appears to no longer exist. The book is, of course, out-of-print. I strongly urge someone to update and republish this book as Skelton is a larger-than-life character.

Skelton broke his neck in a fall in 2000 and retired from competition after being told he would never ride again. He recovered.

He is no saint.  As a 21-year-old, he was knocked unconscious, in a fight, by veteran show jumper Harvey Smith. He also brawled with his mentor and former employer Ted Edgar, a key figure in British show jumping, in a Gothenburg hotel.

Skelton had a hip replacement in 2011 but rather than fade into retirement he struck gold at the 2012 London Olympics in the team show jumping event. He was named an OBE in 2012.

Now he’s gone a step further and won individual gold, and clearly there is an interest in his remarkable life and career.

Bookseller Q&A: World of Rare Books

Michael Laundon, Managing Director of World of Rare Books

Michael Laundon, Managing Director of World of Rare Books

AbeBooks recently caught up with Managing Director of World of Rare Books Michael Laundon to talk all things bookish. Sister company to World of Books, WORB was founded in 2012 and focuses on rare and antiquarian books from the pre-ISBN era. Naturally, Michael had some interesting stories for us. From providing a special book to a Nigerian tribe, to returning a long-lost childhood treasure to Australia, this Sussex-based bookseller is living up to their name. Read the Q&A to learn more about the fascinating world of rare book selling.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Michael: I love finding homes for the most unusual books the most. It thrills me to sell an obscure book on Geology when the only online alternative is a reprint. One such story was a book we had on the ancient Ibibio People of Nigeria – we sold a very rare book about a particular tribe to a chap who wanted to collect the book in person. When he arrived at World of Rare Books HQ we quickly realised he had traveled all the way from Nigeria and was part of the tribe. The book was so precious to his people that they wanted him to collect it in person rather than having it sent via the postal service!

World of Rare Books

Vintage Penguin paperbacks from World of Rare Books.

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

Michael: Currently my favorite showpiece is Anglo-Saxon Magic by Godfrid Storms. I love this book because of the bizarre nature of it, and I find it interesting to read about history in the context of how far society has moved on – in this case, how there is no requirement for using a leech to cure a sore throat! I also think it represents our stock nicely – it’s an interesting, unique, and fun book.

AbeBooks: What is the most interesting book you’ve come across?

Michael: Too many to mention, however, it always sends shivers down my spine when holding a famous first edition in my hands, especially when researching how to spot the printing errors to define the validity of the copy you have. An example I can give is the now sold first edition of Pickwick Papers with the famous printing errors.

World of Rare Books classics

Beloved classics from World of Rare Books.

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

Michael: I think it has to be a bullet shot into the actual book! Most frustrating thing is probably crayon marks in the illustrations of classic children’s books!

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

Michael: Many years ago, we sold an old children’s annual from the ’60s to a customer in Australia. A few weeks later we received a phone call from the same very excited customer – she was looking for her favorite childhood book, which is what she purchased…literally! When she received the book she realised the book had her name in the front and all the puzzles were filled in by herself as a child! The most interesting thing here is she had never been to England. The book had somehow exchanged hands and managed to travel across the world to England where it ended up with us 30 years later and resold to its original owner. Let’s just say it made everyone’s day!

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

Michael: War of the Worlds by HG Wells – yes, it pained me to sell a first edition of this a few years back that I should have purchased myself!

Les Phipps, Joy Ridley, and Michael Laundon of World of Rare Books.

Les Phipps, Joy Ridley, and Michael Laundon of World of Rare Books.

Rare comic featuring Superman’s debut sells for £730,000

Superman-Action-Comics-ArchivesA 1938 edition of Action Comics No. 1 sold for £730,000 (that’s $956,000) yesterday.  Written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, the 13-page story describes Superman coming to Earth, rescuing an innocent woman from the electric chair, stopping an episode of wife-beating and going out on a date with Lois Lane. The famous cover of this historic comic features Superman lifting a car above his head.

Only around 100 copies are known to exist. It could be argued that this comic marks the start of the superhero genre and is the Holy Grail for comic book collectors. If you don’t have close that much money, I recommend Superman: Action Comics Archives Vol. 1, which offers reprints of the first 20 Action Comics.


Welsh National Opera turns In Parenthesis war poem into a bestseller

The Welsh National Opera’s interpretation of In Parenthesis has sparked interest in David Jones’ modernist poem about World War I. The book has been the top search term on AbeBooks.co.uk during July and is now a bestseller… 79 years after it was originally published.

The poem was published in 1937 and won Hawthornden literary prize the following year. It recounts of the experiences of a private travelling from England to the front and an assault on the German trenches during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

In Parenthesis by David Jones

TS Eliot, who worked for Faber & Faber, the original publisher, said: “I am proud to share the responsibility for that first publication. On reading the book in typescript I was deeply moved. I then regarded it, and still regard it, as a work of genius. Here is a book about the experience of one soldier in the war of 1914-18. It is also a book about War, and about many other things also, such as Roman Britain, the Arthurian Legend, and diverse matters which are given association by the mind of the writer.”

The WNO performed the opera from May 13 until July 1. However, the WNO has posted a performance online which can be viewed for free during the next six months. There are also series of videos about In Parenthesis and a dedicated website.

Born in Kent to a Welsh father, Jones (1895-1974) was a watercolour painter and a poet. In World War I, he enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1915 and his experiences included fighting in the battle for Mametz Wood during the Somme offensive.

He was also a talented wood engraver and produced illustrations for Golden Cockerel Press, whose publications are adored by book collectors. His artwork can be seen in The History of Pompey the Little (pictured below),  The Chester Play Of The Deluge, and Gulliver’s Travels.


Find copies of In Parenthesis

June’s Bestselling Signed Books

June's Bestselling Signed Books

We here at AbeBooks love a good read, especially when it’s signed by the incredible author that wrote it. From epic family sagas to scientific discoveries, our bestselling signed books list has something for everyone this month. What signed book will you add to your collection?

1. Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

2. The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman, offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

3. The Girls by Emma Cline
An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong – this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

4. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
Pulitzer Prize winner and American master Anne Tyler brings us an inspired, witty and irresistible contemporary take on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.

5. Barkskins by Annie Proulx
From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-­winning author of The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain, comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.

6. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies comes a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to read and write our own genetic information?

7. The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
You followed The Passage. You faced The Twelve. Now enter The City of Mirrors for the final reckoning. As the bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale, Justin Cronin’s band of hardened survivors await the second coming of unspeakable darkness.

8. LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.

9. Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Heart-wrenching and darkly funny, Family Life is a universal story of a boy torn between duty and his own survival.

10. The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
Set in three cities in three eras, The Mirror Thief calls to mind David Mitchell and Umberto Eco in its mix of entertainment and literary bravado. Three stories will weave together into a spell-binding tour-de-force that is impossible to put down  an old-fashioned, stay-up-all-night novel.

May’s Bestselling Signed Books

May's Bestselling Signed Books

What were the most sought after signatures on AbeBooks in May? The list ranges from award-winners and a children’s book to science and science fiction.

1. Zero K by Don DeLillo

2. Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

3. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

4. Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

5. Mort by Terry Pratchett

6. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

7. The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

8. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

9. Underworld by Don DeLillo

10. LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich

Seize the day – a first edition of A Shropshire Lad sells for £3,250

A Shropshire Lad, sold for $3,250

Seize the day, it’s a mantra we hear almost daily across social media and pop culture. One hundred and twenty years after the publication of A Shropshire Lad, a first edition of A.E. Housman’s famous book of poetry – which encourages readers to act while they can – has sold for £3,250 on AbeBooks.co.uk.

Housman’s collection of 63 poems was rejected by several publishers, so he paid for 500 copies of the book to be printed by Kegan Paul in 1896. This is the most expensive copy of A Shropshire Lad to sell on the AbeBooks marketplace, which has been selling used and rare books since 1996. The bookseller was Peter Harrington from London and the buyer was located in North America. The book had been rebound in dark green morocco leather. Its original cover was a plain, modest affair. An unrestored first edition sold for £1,000 in 2010.

This collection of poems is known for its themes of mortality and rural life. In 1899, Victorian Britain was mourning the loss of soldiers from the Second Boer War but that death-toll would pale in comparison to what was to come. The book’s popularly drastically increased during World War I as almost every British family was touched by the conflict.

During these decades, the idyllic rural life described by Housman was rapidly disappearing as urban living thrived and the English countryside switched to mechanised agriculture. The poet famously describes Shropshire as “the land of lost content.”

Many of the subsequent covers of A Shropshire Lad illustrate the rural life saluted by Housman.

Although Housman (1859-1936) is buried in Ludlow in Shropshire, he did not have strong links to the county. He was born near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, and was educated at St John’s College, Oxford. He went on to become a Latin scholar at University College London and later Cambridge.

This sale shows interest in A Shropshire Lad has not dimmed. Housman’s core message of ‘seize the moment’ is as strong as ever.

A Shropshire Lad is referenced frequently in popular culture with excerpts regularly quoted in films. A Shropshire Lad appears in numerous novels, including Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa and Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising.

Find copies of A Shropshire Lad.

A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Housman

Interview with AbeBooks’ ‘Heritage’ seller Zubal-Books

The Zubal bookselling family – from left to right: Thomas, John, Marilyn & Michael

To celebrate AbeBooks.com’s 20th anniversary in June, we are profiling one of our ‘Heritage’ sellers, Zubal-Books from Cleveland, Ohio. Any bookseller who joined our marketplace in 1996 is classified as a Heritage seller.

Michael Zubal, son of the founder John Zubal, was kind enough to answer our questions about a bookselling business that was created in the year that John F. Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States. This family business specialises in providing books to libraries, researchers, collectors, and avid readers, and has steadily expanded over the decades, adding warehouse after warehouse to contain their ever-growing inventory. They even acquired a bakery facility in the 1990s as another venue for storing books and journals.

John and his wife Marilyn had four children – Vicky, Michael, Jean, and Tom – and they have all worked in the business from an early age with Michael, Jean and Tom still on board today. The company was quick to adopt computing technology in the 1980s and swiftly moved online in the early 1990s, and joined AbeBooks on December 7, 1996. Let’s hear Michael’s story.

Q&A With Michael Zubal

AbeBooks: Zubal is a family business. When and how did it start?

Michael Zubal: “Established in 1961 by John T. Zubal, who at that time was an inveterate book collector and historian. Space at home was running out and he had to do something with all those books.”

AbeBooks: Do your mother and father, John and Marilyn, still play a part in the business?

One of the Zubal buildings

Michael Zubal: “Yes. They arrive every day at 8:00 a.m. and go home at 4:30. Most Saturdays you can find them at the office. I, on the other hand, prefer to be on the third or fourth tee at 9:00 on a Saturday morning.”

AbeBooks: When did you become a bookseller and join the business? Were you tempted to do something else?

Michael Zubal: “Possibly flaunting child labour laws, Thomas and I began working with our parents around the ages of nine or 10 and went full time after college. Aside from being part-time jazz and rock musicians, we’ve worked only in the book business our entire adult lives.”

AbeBooks: You joined AbeBooks in 1996, our first year of operation – what do you remember about those early days of online bookselling?

Michael Zubal: “The sudden realization that the Internet was revolutionising how books were marketed.”

AbeBooks: Can you remember the first book you sold on AbeBooks?

Michael Zubal: “That’s asking a lot.”

AbeBooks: Describe your storage building (are you still in a former bakery) and tell us about the size of your business (such as number of employees).

Michael Zubal: “Our facility consists of a half dozen congruent buildings that total around 400,000 square feet, including the repurposed Hostess Twinkie bakery. Some of the pipes still contain the stuff that when whipped makes the Twinkie filling. Yummy! The oldest structure on the premises was built in the 1890s and the most recent one in 1984. Supporting the six family members are nine additional employees, many of whom have been with us for more than 10 years.”

AbeBooks: “What are your specialties and who are your target customers?”

Michael Zubal: “We specialize in scholarship and scarcity in all fields. The majority of our clients are involved in advanced and intensive post-doctoral research. Some of our most popular subjects are math, physics, philosophy, anthropology and occult, as well as collectible first editions.”

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Michael Zubal: “Satisfying our customers by supplying them with the books they need and want.”

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

Michael Zubal: “1776 Greenwich, Connecticut, edition of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. It connects us directly to the Founding Fathers of the USA.”

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

Michael Zubal: “A first printing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As close to ‘new’ condition as one could ever hope to find. Apparently, it was purchased in 1900 and stuck in a sock drawer for decades.”

Like any good bookseller, there are cats in the Zubal buildings

AbeBooks: How and where do you source books?

Michael Zubal: “Since we’ve been in the business for over 55 years we’ve amassed a huge network of scholars and collectors. When the time comes for them to divest themselves, they know that they can trust us to purchase their books. Very often we end up buying back books that we previously sold to them.”

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

Michael Zubal: “Ladies’ stockings and other kinds of ‘unmentionables.’”

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

Michael Zubal: “Finding in an otherwise unremarkable book a check drawn on the bank account of Thomas Jefferson and signed by him on its face.”

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

Michael: Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby

Tom: Be Here Now by Ram Dass

John: Tarzan of the Apes or Atlas Shrugged

Marilyn: Don Quixote

April’s Bestselling Signed Books


There’s nothing like a Pulitzer Prize to boost book sales. Following the Pulitzer announcements on April 18th, winning titles skyrocketed to the top of the bestsellers’ list. Number 2 on our list of bestselling signed books is Custer’s Trials, the Pulitzer Prize winner in the History category. Fiction winner The Sympathizer appears at number six, while Pulitzer finalist Get in Trouble comes in at number 10.  Congratulations to this year’s winners!

1. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

2. Custer’s Trials by T.J. Stiles

3. The North Water by Ian McGuire

4. The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

5. A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

6. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

7. The Ancient Minstrel by Jim Harrison

8. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny

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

10. Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link

JK Rowling’s chair sells for £278,000

The chair that JK Rowling used while writing the first two Harry Potter books has sold for £278,000 at auction in New York, reports The Guardian. She penned Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets while sitting on the chair. The 1930s chair was one of four mismatched chairs given to the then little-known writer for her council flat in Edinburgh. Let’s just say JK Rowling is no longer living in a council flat or acquiring secondhand furniture.