Raymond Carver

Bibliophilia rejoice when the Academy Award winner chosen is a film adaptation of a favorite book. It is a very special year when the film that got the Best Picture award is due to receive an extra bonus of publicity and a boost in readership. 2014 is about to become a manifestation of that through the Oscar winning American black comedy-drama, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), co-written, co-produced, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Birdman’s story is not based on a book, but, it has a short story from a book in the center of its plot. The film is about a washed-up Hollywood actor, Riggan Thomson (played byMichael Keaton), who was famous for playing the superhero Birdman in blockbuster movies decades earlier. Riggan hopes to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. This short story from Carver’s third collection of stories was published by Knopf in 1981 under the same title.

The level of attention Raymond Carver’s works, and specifically, What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, will receive from book collectors depends on a number of factors. The visual exposure that the Oscars generate and all the added publicity, does not necessarily translate into increased collectability and ultimately scarcity. There is always a good chance that other collector interests, such as Hollywood memorabilia collectors and so forth, will view a first edition of the short stories as a collector’s item. That may or may not amount to a significant increase in demand.

Historically, books and films have held a close relationship. Listed below are the ten most recent best picture winners that were produced through film adaptation, along with their scarcity rank before and after the award.

Best Picture winners

Without a doubt, the age, imprint, and book and author importance are the major factors behind scarcity. J.J.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a good example of the effect these factors have on scarcity and of course the value of rare first editions. The older books that are already short on supply tend to get the extra boost from the film adaptation that turns them into a hot commodity, as demonstrated by Twelve / 12 years a Slave, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Chicago. The author’s importance as demonstrated in the case of J.R.R. Tolkien is also a big factor, pushing his trilogy well into five figures. On the surface, short story adaptations from collections by the same author seem to be less collectible than full novel productions. That should come as no surprise since the literary content is partially used, unless of course, the author’s importance becomes the main attraction to the rest of the works.

American short story writer and poet, Raymond Carver, is an important author that contributed to the revitalization of the American short story in literature during the 1980s. Critics argue that his short active writing career lasted less than 10 years due to the adverse effects of alcoholism prior to 1977, and an early death at the age of 50. His third collection of stories – What We Talk about When We Talk about Love, was published just prior to the peak of his popularity, and became the first of his books to go into multiple printings. Soon after the book’s release, Carver was disturbed by a reviewer’s compliment, which called him a “minimalist” writer. Carver reacted with: “There’s something about “minimalist” that smacks of smallness of vision and execution that I don’t like.” He should now be happy to know that there is no minimalism in the Oscar for Best Picture on the Big Screen.




Valentine by Grand Richards

So many people read romance novels these days that it is hard to accept the mediocre performance that the genre exhibited in our rare book index – Rare Book Sales Monitor, over the last year. This trend was recorded primarily through sales of modern romance editions that lag behind the corresponding romance classics. The most sought-after romantic novels are, for the most part, classics written by famous authors such as the scarce editions of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Such high spots, and others similar, crossed over the “buyer opportunity” stage around the middle of last century with tremendous price appreciation that put them out of reach for most rare romance collectors.

Precisely because romance, love, and passion, varies from person to person, appreciation of such literature particularly modern romance literature tends to vary as well. Bibliophilistic speaking, old-fashioned romance novels from the beginning of the 20th century do tend to turn me on. I love some of the early works published in London by Grant Richards. One of England’s most prominent publishers, he is perhaps most famous for publishing, James Joyce’s first short story collection- Dubliners (1914), which does not quite fit into this romance theme. Richards’ ability to detect literary talent, contributed to the development of the British and international book business of the early twentieth century with published works by George Bernard Shaw, Alfred Edward Housman, Jack Kahane, Frank Harris, Richard la Gallienne and many more.

Caviare by Grand RichardsRichards was also a novelist. His first three novels: Caviare (1912), Valentine (1913) and Bittersweet (1915), capture the essence of romance – seeking love, fine food, fine wine and Paris. Well, there is a bit of London life and the building of an empire in the mix also, but they are just supporting his interesting plots. The following excerpt from “Bittersweet” captures the essence:

….Getting back to bed he wrote at once:

“MY DEAR ILLONA: It is such a beautiful day that I think you and I ought both of us to make the most of it. You say you like motoring. Won’t you come out with me? I’m going to mark this letter ‘urgent’ so that it may reach you at once. Forgive me, please, if you wanted to go on sleeping. But what I thought was that we might motor up to La Chambotte. My guide-book says it’s a ‘site ravissant,’ whatever that may mean, and we can lunch there-if only you’ll be ready to start at twelve o’clock. You’ve got time, you know! But perhaps your English friend has found you and you’re engaged. I hope not though. We’d meet at the station-a la gare-at 12.5. Please send me an answer by the bearer, Yours very “-how should he end?- “Yours very sincerely,

                                                                                                                                  “G. BLUNDELL.”  


“Like-that’s a poor word. What French word would you use?”

“How do you mean? Je vous aime, I think.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant. But ‘Je vous aime’ is nothing. Vous aimez the motor-car or the mountains. Je vous aime, but I like also the waiter who brings me my breakfast; j’aime this chauffeur.”

Illona burst into laughter. “Oh, you do amuse me. What would you have me say? Je t’aime?” She laughed again. “No that would be too much-too much for to-day…..


Bittersweet by Grand Richards

Grant Richards is master of the exact word, the apt phrase. His stories are also “very English” with a good knowledge of London life and a “foreign air.” A strong believer in international marriage he was first married to Elisina Palamidessi de Castelvecchio (later Elisina Tyler), great-great-granddaughter of Napoleon’s brother Louis, and after to his second wife Maria Magdalena de Csanády (later Marie Madeleine Agnes Richards). Some of the scarce first editions of these books surviving contain Richards’s inscription to his wife Madeleine. Copies having the beautiful dust jackets are also quite scarce but still reasonably priced with ample expressions of love printed inside.




Some Disordered Interior Geometries

January 23, 2015
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American photographer Francesca Woodman started making photographs when she was 13 years old and had a working span of eight and a half years before her death at the age of 22, in 1981. Her suicide came a few days after the release of the only artist’s book to get published during her lifetime – […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter 2014

January 9, 2015
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Investment experts engaged in discussions on the topic of making money in collectibles are quick to point out that investing in collectibles may not be a good idea. Their argument mainly focuses on the lack of liquidity and efficiency of the marketplace causing such investments to be highly speculative in nature. Rare Books Digest has […]

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Bible Scarcity Reaches the Civil War

December 20, 2014
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Collectors who buy and sell Bibles have pushed the pricing of older editions printed prior to the 1700’s in Europe, and prior to the 1800’s in North America, to unreachable levels for the majority of liturgical buyers. During the second half of the last century, institutional and private collectors have driven these editions of the […]

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Obelisk Scarcity

November 21, 2014
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A mix of censorship and bad novel-writing can provide the right ingredients in bringing about scarcity in rare books. That is exactly what the 1930’s, semi-underground literature publisher Jack Kahane created through his production at Obelisk Press. This is not to say that Obelisk published strictly smutty books since well known writers such as Henry […]

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Valuable Encyclopedias

November 7, 2014
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Stopping at a yard sale a few years back, I picked up a set of The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition, produced during the year 1910.  Fascinated by the idea of owning a cross section of the trunk of the tree of knowledge just prior to the First World War, when the publication was at a crossroads with […]

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Happy 75th Anniversary Madeline

October 23, 2014
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“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines”…… For seventy-five years, Ludwig Bemelman’s iconic words have graced numerous playrooms and nurseries around the globe, as children of all walks in life have snuggled down to hear all about the young girl Madeline’s many adventures. What is extraordinary about Bemelman’s creation is that […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 3rd Quarter 2014

October 10, 2014
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The Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) analyzes prices of rare books traded at on-line marketplaces, auctions and various book fairs to report valuation trends by genre and author.  The data collection process remained relatively static since the original collection was built back in 2011. The RBSM engine, however, has undergone several improvements in order to […]

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Rare, Signed and Forged

September 26, 2014

As there has been an unfortunate increase in the number of forged signatures over the last few years, I have cut back my purchasing of rare books that are signed by their authors and are not guaranteed to be genuine. The following guidelines that I have collected from a variety of sources have proven to […]

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