Archive for February, 2008

My favorite books, explained in a verbose manner: Volume 1

Most of the books I’ve described so far (specifically, the Codex Seraphinianus, Hollywood, and Voyage au bout de la nuit) are in my top 10 or so favorite books, with the Codex occupying the top spot. As such, look for a future installment of this soon-to-be-regular blog series dedicated solely to Serafini and my art-crush on him. For now, however, I want to dwell a little bit on my love for a pair of books I refer to as my “yearbooks.” They are both anthologies that I carry around with me to readings and gallery events in hopes of getting them signed by various contributors, just like a nerdy kid trying to get some of the cool kids in school to sign his yearbook (I’m so creative I could just melt, just like that).

CoprotasticThe first is the art anthology Copro/Nason: A Catalog RaisonnĂ© . Copro/Nason is a famous gallery in LA that has been at the forefront of the lowbrow (not really my taste)/pop surrealism (much more my taste) movement pretty much from the beginning. I found out about the gallery through my interest in Joe Vaux, one of the artists they’ve published. In fact, it was at a Joe Vaux opening that I got the idea for the yearbook in the first place. I had planned to pick up the book while I was there, and the person behind the desk gave me the option of the shrinkwrapped book or the opened, signed-by-the-editor copy. Naturally, I chose the latter, and when I turned around, one of the artists in the book, whose show was opening in a different part of the gallery, offered to sign a page for me (his name is Dan Quintana- his stuff isn’t my favorite, but it’s damn good). Feeling emboldened, and now with two signatures to enrich my life, I approached Joe Vaux and humbly asked him for his signature as well. Vaux’s signature is cool in that it’s not a scrawl like most- rather, it’s a spiral with the letters V-A-U-X dispersed among the coils. AND, to top it off, he drew a small sketch of a Vaux-like character right next to the plate featuring his artwork. Since then, I’ve managed to have Luke Chueh and Greg Simkins sign it as well, although I missed opportunities to get Robert Williams and Amy Sol to add their names. The Simkins signature looks very graffiti-ish, like a tag, while Chueh’s is just his name in block letters (distinctively written nonetheless). Plus, he went to the trouble to draw over a photograph of himself in the book so that he looks like one of the teddy bears featured in his paintings.

mcsweeneys 13Yearbook #2 is issue #13 of McSweeney’s. I bought it last summer on eBay for $30 with Dave Eggers’s signature in it (a good deal, in my opinion), which is ironic, given that Eggers has even less to do with this issue than most other ones. #13 is a fantastic collection of comics, edited by Chris Ware (whose signature I’m dying for), and it really rekindled my interest in non-superhero variety graphic novels and comics. This book has Joe Matt’s signature (I got it on “Joe Matt Day” – for a long, long, tediously long account of Joe Matt Day, click the link for my MySpace blog and scroll down a few entries), as well as a cool little drawing, and anything with Matt’s signature is pretty high up on my list of favorites. Also, I picked up Adrian Tomine’s signature at a reading he did to promote his new book Shortcomings (yes, I also got that one signed. I have no qualms about presenting an author 5 or 6 books at a signing. My only rule is that stuff I get for free doesn’t get sold at a profit. I don’t mind reselling something like a book or a print, where everyone involved was fairly paid for it at some point. But profiting off of a signature I got because an author is a nice guy just doesn’t seem right).

Because of the whole multiple-signature aspect, as well as the fact that these books are works in progress, they are really special to me. They aren’t in perfect condition, due to being lugged around in my backpack a bunch, but they’re still pretty nice, and they’re really unique. These aren’t books I could just buy on Abebooks or something, and I imagine I could probably get a pretty high price for both if I were willing to break the ethical standard I just enumerated a moment ago. It’s probably a rule I will break once or twice if a real rarity shows up on eBay that I just HAVE to have (and I’m positive that that will happen at some point), but for the most part, I don’t want to feel like a jerk when I ask authors for signatures. Plus, a lot of the books I’ve had signed in person are signed to me- this is on purpose. I know that flat-signed books are way more valuable (unless I become famous, which is, you know, pretty likely), but something about a stack books signed to me just adds sentimental value to my collection, and since I don’t plan to sell them anyway, that’s more important than dollar value.

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Books I’ll never own: Volume 1

Today, I got an amazing copy of Celine’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the end of the Night) delivered from France after what seemed like forever. This particular edition is part of French publishing giant Gallimard’s “Futuropolis” collection- a series of twenty or so great novels illustrated by a prominent graphic novelist. The text is unbroken, but there is at least one illustration per page, and often times more than that (as well as some beautiful full-page plates). Futuropolis went defunct in the late 90’s and has been resurrected, but the quality of the books isn’t as good as it was previously. They’re hardcovers now, compared to the “hard softcover” in-between binding of the originals, and the designs are updated and look pretty cool, but I prefer the look of the old ones, which look unmistakably like French books (plain beige with red and black type- you know the drill). I had owned a later printing of this book before, but it wasn’t looking so good, so I ponied up and picked up a first edition that’s in great shape. It’s in better condition than all of the ones currently on Abebooks that cost more (I know, because I’ve asked all the sellers to send me pictures, and apparently “bon etat” means about as much as “very good” does in English). A good antidote to yesterday, this one was actually in better condition than I had anticipated. I sold my copy to Moe’s books in Berkeley… I could write a separate blog about selling books to Moe’s. It’s entirely dependent on the mood of one of the two buyers. The day I sold my Celine to them, I had some other books he wanted more, and so he gave it a cursory search on Abebooks, found a copy for $100 and offered me $50 for mine. (He overpaid me… I always search books on Abebooks before I take them to Moe’s just so I know what to expect, and the copy he searched up was a first edition… I guess that year in France is finally paying off financially. Only $27,950 more to go…) I think he thought he was lowballing me, which made it even better.Lovers!

Anyway, back to the story of this book. Journey to the end of the Night is my favorite book, hands down. There’s so much in it beyond just the misanthropic worldview that people get hung up on- it’s a great study of all the good and bad in human nature, and while it tends to wallow in the bad, I think there’s plenty that’s uplifting; you just have to dig for it. I’ve always had an affinity for illustrated books, and the illustrator here, Jacques Tardi, is legendary. The synergy between Celine’s text and his drawings take the book to a new level. He’s basically credited as a co-author on the book’s cover, which is certainly deserving, given the amount of effort it must have taken to produce such a monumental amount of original illustrations. All in all, this book (especially now with this beautiful first-edition) is easily in my top 5 favorites in my collection.

But, there’s always more… obviously, there’s always more. In this case, the “more” takes the form of the first limited edition… limited to 120 copies in a clamshell box with an original, signed drawing by Tardi. <Swoon!> Most of the books in the “books I’ll never have” category are there because of money (first edition of the Codex Seraphinianus, Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated/signed by Henri Matisse, a Bukowski first edition of Ham on Rye with an original painting tipped in)… and I may one day have them if I end up being really rich or win the lottery or something. But this edition of Journey is in another category… it’s in the “I can’t even find the damn thing” realm. That means no copies on Abebooks or anywhere else on the net. It means no copies unearthed in a year of living in Paris and searching around at all the chi-chi bookstores there (and in the not so chi-chi ones as well). I have seen it before… It’s beautiful. The clamshell box is black cloth with the type stamped in red, and with the cover illustration pasted down (ask me how I feel about pastedowns on cloth covers… I like them, okay?).

I saw it at an exhibition for a graphic designer that I went to with my friend one rainy Sunday in Paris. I didn’t expect to find it there; my friend was a design student and had read about the exhibition in the little weekly events magazine, I went with him because I had nothing better to do. Turns out the guy we went to see is a famous font designer, and he designed the font for the Futuropolis logo (the original sketches of it were pretty cool). I asked the museum curator how much that book goes for on the street, and he chuckled. Total French behavior- the answer may have been $200, and because he thought I didn’t look the part of a serious collector, he didn’t want to be bothered telling me. Anyway, it’s assuredly more than that (original Tardi drawings ain’t cheap to begin with), and that’s if I ever see it again. It is still the #1 book-I’d-kill-to-have, but I don’t foresee that happening.

I love you like a mesh bag filled with eraser crumbs

First limSo, today I received what I thought was going to be one of the cornerstones of my book collection- a signed copy of Bukowski’s novel Hollywood, limited to 150 copies (copies that are hand-bound with special touches that only matter to me and 8 other people in the world). It was the most I’ve spent on an individual book – $350 – and I had to sell some books I really liked in order to afford it. I knew it wasn’t in perfect condition (this one sells for $650-$750 in “fine” condition) but I wasn’t quite prepared for what was in the envelope… bottom line, the book was gross. It smelled like it had been sitting in a smoky den for the 18 years since it was published, and it looked that way too… it looked sickly, with a yellow patina, and little brown stains on the back (affectionately termed “foxing” by booksellers) that happen when a book sits in a high-humidity environment. I was mad, and I emailed the seller demanding $150 of my money back. I didn’t think he’d go for that, and I was ready to send the book back to him, but to my surprise, he took my offer. I felt like it was worth $200, but I still wasn’t “proud” of it, if that makes any sense.

The lovely and talented Rubyred had shown me a website about book preservation that recommended using a “dry cleaning pad” to remove stains from books, so I swung by my local art supply store after work and picked one up. I am in love with it. The obscure object of my desireIt’s basically a mesh fabric bag filled with eraser crumbs, and it allows you to erase paper without abrading it at all. I wore out my forearms cleaning off both the front and back covers of the book, and I stripped away years of cigarette smoke residue (gross). Now, the book isn’t in perfect shape- it’s still yellowed along the top and bottom of the boards, but it is pretty bright on both the front and back covers. Huge improvement. Then, I switched out the cloudy, yellowed dustjacket (most Bukowski hardcover books come with clear unprinted dustjackets) with a pristine one I had on another book, and it looked even better. Next, I’m going to seal it up with some “Book Deodorizer Granules” that I bought to get the cigarette smell out. When I’m done, I think I can legitimately claim it to be in “Very Good” condition (again using those arcane bookseller terms), whereas when I got it, I think it would probably be described as “Good” (which means “bad”, whereas “acceptable” means “acceptable for wiping your ass with”). So, NOW I think it is worth the $350 that I paid for it… good thing I only paid $200!

Hollywood first-tradeI sold a pristine copy of the standard first edition of this book (pictured to the right) to a friend in order to afford this copy, and I was a little disappointed at first that I dumped a super clean copy in exchange for this. But, in addition to having always wanted signed copies of my 2 favorite Bukowski novels (this and Ham on Rye), I do like the fact that this has some history… see, when the bookseller agreed to my refund request, he told me he could because he got the book “very cheap.” Which leads me to believe that he picked it up at an estate sale for $25 or so… and I started thinking about the crusty old chainsmoker who had this book sitting on his shelf while he puffed away and drank scotch until he croaked. Part of me feels like that’s a better place for a Bukowski book to live than a climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness (or at least that some of the books in my personal climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness should have come from these types of places). Of course, I wouldn’t feel this way if I couldn’t at least clean the book up a little bit, which is why I’m grateful to my little rubbery-smelling crumbly pillow of joy.

When I was done with Hollywood, I started going after some other books I had with smudges on them, and I have to say, the $7 I paid for the dry cleaning pad has probably paid for itself 20 times over just in terms of value I’ve added to my books. It doesn’t do much for yellowing or foxing, but it takes care of soiling incredibly well. There’s a magazine I bought for the lovely and talented Rubyred that I got a nasty smudge on a ways back before I sent it to her… when she brings it back to me, it’s getting the treatment, and I can’t wait (well, that’s fairly low on the list of things I can’t wait for relative to Rubyred’s arrival here, but still…).

I’m about to shut down the computer for the night and read this book (that’s one of my rules of book collecting: no owning “reading copies” of expensive books… books are meant to be read, and I’m going to read them, even if it means worrying incessantly about whatever damage I might be doing to them), after playing with it all evening, and I’m finally proud to own it. Thanks, dry cleaning pad. Some may think you’re just a mesh bag filled with eraser crumbs, but to me, you’re the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky (or at least what I’d use if there were smudges on the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky).

Another trip to the well…

Hello, blog readers… if you’ve found this page, then you’re officially bored, and that certainly won’t change over the course of the time you spend here. I have another blog on Myspace that contains many irreverent ramblings about things I see and do, so I decided to focus this WordPress page on my near-obsessive book collecting habit.

Quick note: the web address of this blog (“Chance Press”) refers to the small press I one day hope to start with the lovely, extremely talented Justine Rubyred… but that’s a few years into the future, so for now, you get this.

Tonight, I took a gamble and bought a couple books by Luigi Serafini, my favorite artist and the subject of a mild global cult following. Serafini is the author of the Codex Seraphinianus, a bizarre encyclopedia of an alien (alternate?) world, written in a totally made-up script. Google it and enjoy the fuck out of yourself in the process. There are 4 major editions of the Codex: the original, published in 2 volumes in 1981 and signed by Serafini (goes for around $4000 and up), the first-US, published in 1983 (released concurrently with the first German and first Dutch editions), the 2nd edition, published in 1993(with additional material and a neat-o preface-o by Italo Calvino), and the 3rd edition, published in 2006.

Serafini art bookIn 2007, an Italian art gallery held a Serafini retrospective, and they released a really nicely designed catalog, complete with tons of essays I can’t read, because I’m too stupid to have realized that I would someday be smitten with an Italian artist and would then buy a catalog of a retrospective of his work at an Italian art gallery complete with tons of essays that I would want to read, and I never learned Italian. Still, I had to have the book as soon as I heard of it, especially because I thought it might contain a picture of Serafini’s painting of little children feeding wind-up toy alligators (it does). The book was $90 in the US, which seemed inflated, except that it is published at 44 Euros (god I hate Euros right now), and with shipping from Europe, that seemed about what I would have to pay for it if I tried to convince some Italian bookstore to send it to me.

I got it, and it didn’t disappoint me, although I started to think that I could turn it around on eBay for a profit. I mean, there is literally only one bookstore in the US that imports it (and despite the obvious website, http://www.artbooks.com, it’s not very well known and doesn’t even advertise a catalog on AbeBooks), and there is a decent Serafini following here that would want this book. It has momentarily occurred to me that I’m taking advantage of people by finding something cheap and reselling it for more (not to mention the fact that I could be accused of fleecing the nice bookseller offering this book at a fairly reasonable price), but I decided that I should be entitled to at least SOME form of compensation for the ridiculous amount of time I spend researching used books online… I mean, if no one else seems to be able to find this book online and would rather buy it on eBay, who am I to stop them from doing so?

So the book ended up selling for $170, which exceeded my expectation. I of course bought a replacement copy, but tonight I decided to take another trip to the well and buy a 3rd copy that I will again try to sell on eBay. We’ll see if the magic happens again. God damn this blog must be boring! Well, onward and upward…

3rd ed. codexI also bought a copy of the 3rd edition of the Codex Seraphinianus for $145 (again a fairly reasonable price). This one is more common to find, but I’m still going to try to sell it for profit, or at least to get my money back. My main interest in buying it is a booklet that supposedly ships with the book called “Decodex”. Again supposedly, this booklet contains Serafini’s own remarks, allegedly the first that he has ever issued about this book. It will be in Italian, but in case I meet an Italian who gets a tingling sensation when thinking about translating books for strangers, I feel that I need to have it. Plus, the 3rd edition contains even more plates that weren’t in the first two editions, so who knows… I may like it so much I have to keep it and buy another one to try and sell. And this is how it goes. I’ll probably spend about 10x the amount of time it took you to read this blog mulling over that very question.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the gripping saga so far. I guarantee you that it will continue and I promise that it will never become more interesting.