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.
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.