Two Lovely Le Guins (Books acquired, 22 Jan. 2021)

I found two first-edition hardback Ursula K. Le Guin novels—my favorite Le Guins at that!—for next to nothing last week at my favorite local used bookstore.

The simple, elegant cover for Le Guin’s 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness was designed by Lena Fong Lueg. It employs an illustration by Jack Gaughan.

The jacket for 1974’s The Dispossessed was designed by Fred Winkowski.

In 2015, I undertook the project of reading (or in some cases rereading) Le Guin’s so-called Hainish novels. I wrote about those novels in a long post in January of 2016. Of the (maybe) eight novels in the Hainish cycle, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are easily the strongest (although I really loved the one-two punch of Planet of Exile (1966) and City of Illusions (1967)).

Here is what I wrote about The Left Hand of Darkness:

The Left Hand of Darkness is amazing. Perfect in its strange imperfections and crammed with fables and myths and misunderstandings, it is the apotheosis of Le Guin’s synthesis of adventure with philosophy. Darkness is about shadows and weight. About pulling weight—literally, figuratively. It’s also the story of an ice planet. (A stranger comes to the ice planet!). It’s a political thriller. It’s a sexual thriller. But the impression that lingers strongest: The Left Hand of Darkness is one of the better literary evocations of friendship (its precarious awful strange wonderful tenuous strength) that I’ve ever read.

And here is what I wrote about The Dispossessed:

The Dispossessed feels closer to Le Guin’s non-Hainish 1971 novel The Lathe of Heaven in some ways than it does to its so-called Hainish kin. Both novels formally (and spiritually) evoke yin and yang, opposition, conflict, stress, and, ultimately, synthesis. The Dispossessed is a riff on anarchy and stability, allegiance to one’s community and family weighed against personal vision and ecumenical dreams.

I also claimed that The Dispossessed is the best starting place for those new to Le Guin, but I think The Left Hand of Darkness is equally good, as are her Earthsea novels.

You Lousy No Good Nazi Creep! — Daniel Johnston

You Lousy No Good Nazi Creep! by Daniel Johnston (1961–2019)

Diana and Actaeon — Giovanni Battista Palumba

Diana and Actaeon by Giovanni Battista Palumba (active c. 1500-1515)

“A . . . THING!” | Jack Kirby

thing

Sauron — J.R.R. Tolkien

Sketch of Sauron by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (1892–1973). Via/more.

Trees and Books — Samplerman

Trees and Books, 2020 by Samplerman (Yvan Guillo)

“A Tale of Christmas” — Moebius

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“A Tale of Christmas” by Moebius. Published in Heavy Metal, December 1979. Via the Bristol Board.

35 still frames from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life

From It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946. Directed by Frank Capra; cinematography by Joseph Walker and Joseph Biroc. Via FilmGrab.

The Venus of Akron | Donald Barthelme

From Donald Barthelme’s 1970 short story “A Nation of Wheels.” Collected in 1974’s Guilty Pleasures.

Angela Carter’s Heroes & Villains (Book acquired 30 Nov. 2020)

I went to the bookstore today to take one last shot at finding a copy of Walker Percy’s 1971 novel Love in the Ruins (preferably a first-edition hardback…why not signed, while I’m dreaming? In pristine condition? Or an interesting beat up mass market paperback? I would’ve settled for an ugly tasteful prestige trade paperback at this point). No luck, but I just checked out a digital copy from my library.

I came across this lovely 1972 Pocket Books mass market paperback copy of Angela Carter’s 1969 novel Heroes and Villains. I’m pretty sure the hornyassed so-seventies cover is by Gene Szafran, but no illustrator is credited. The back cover illustration is some psychedelic horniness too:

I know I’ve ranted on here about the trend towards tasteful book covers over the past few decades. I appreciate simple, handsome covers, to be clear—hey, look at this copy of Mark Spilka’s 1963 study Dickens and Kafka—

—I mean appreciate simple, handsome covers, to be clear—but there’s a sameness in contemporary design that is a bit wearying—I see so many new books that look like every other new book. I suppose though that the same could be said about the two examples above, each specimens of their time. Perhaps a few decades from now I’ll reflect fondly on the bold, oh-so Instagrammable cover for the first edition of Marlon James’s novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. (jacket design by Helen Yentus; jack illustration by Pablo Gerardo Camacho):

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Goya’s The Disasters of War

North (1971 Ford Torino) — Eric White

North (1971 Ford Torino), 2020 by Eric White (b. 1968)

Silence, We Are Dreaming — Moebius

Silence, We Are Dreaming, 1991 by Moebius (1938-2012)

Blog about book browsing on a Friday afternoon (and mostly looking at covers)

I’ve made a habit of prowling around my own shelves each week, trying to build a small stack of books I can part with. I then head up the street to trade the books in. Lately, I’ve done a decent job of leaving with far fewer books than I brought in to trade—hell, last Friday I came back with no books.

I always have a little mental checklist of books I’m hoping to come across. It mutates and swells, and I get lucky a lot of times. Sometimes I grab stuff at near-random. And other week’s are stale. Increasingly, I search for first editions and interesting mass market paperbacks, a reversal of a previous version of myself who found hardbacks clunky and mass market paperbacks cheap. Mass market editions tend to have wilder art, more interesting designs, and generally take more risks than contemporary, respectable trade paperbacks, as do older hardbacks. I ended up with three first editions. I was not especially looking for any of the books I acquired.

I was looking for certain books of course. Here are some interesting book covers I saw while looking for what I did not find.

I was looking for Walker Percy’s second novel Love Among the Ruins. I’d found a copy at this same book store last year—a first edition in beautiful condition with a really cool cover. I almost bought it (I think it was seven bucks) and now regret not having done so. I’m sure I’ll regret skipping on both of these Percy books, both of which have cover designs by Janet Halverson.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular when I saw this hardback copy of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, but the font on the spine attracted me. Love the cover painting, which is by Richard Powers (I assume this is a different Richard Powers than the American novelist).

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular when I picked up this Bantam collection of Mark Twain stories, which has a very cool uncredited Giuseppe Arcimboldoesque cover. Not sure why I picked it out. But I love the cover.

I was hoping to score a cheap paperback copy of one of David Marskon’s early novels when I came across this edition of Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks with a cover by Ben Shahn.

I was looking for anything by Gerald Murnane when I found this beautiful edition of Robert Musil’s Young Torless.

The bookshop I frequent separates “Classic Fiction” from “General Fiction” (with some somewhat arbitrary distinctions, in my opinion)—so I checked under the “PE” section in general fiction for a stray Walker Percy (no luck). Never heard of J.Abner Peddiwell’s The Saber-Tooth Curriculum but I love the simple expressive cover.

Walking past “PE,” “PI,” “PL” etc. I stopped at section on James Purdy to check out this edition of The Nephew. I’ve never been able to get into Purdy—seems so sad—but I love this cover.

I was looking for an original edition of Charles Wright’s 1973 novel Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About; I have it in an omnibus, but I’d love a stand alone if I could find one. I did see this edition of The Messenger. The cover is terrible and boring and has way too much text on it. I found a copy of The Messenger a few months ago with a far more interesting cover.

I was looking for one of the William Melvin Kelley novels I don’t have. I found a bunch of mass market copy paperback versions of his first novel, A Different Drummer. The copy on the left has a cool cover. I think I like my new reissue better though.

I always look for a copy of David Ohle’s cult novel Motorman and I never find it. I do like this vibrant cover for Chad Oliver’s The Shores of Another Sea.

While I was in the sci-fi section, I passed by the Gene Wolfe area, and spied a complete hardback set of his seminal The Book of the New Sun tetralogy. I couldn’t pass up on a first hardback edition of the first in the series, The Shadow of the Torturer:

I also picked up a pristine first edition hardback copy of William Gaddis’s 1994 novel A Frolic of His Own. It’s the only Gaddis novel I’ve yet to read and buying a second copy seems like a good motivation to finally dig in.

I also came across a first edition hardback copy of Padgett Powell’s first novel Edisto. I’ve always felt ambivalent about Powell. He was the writer in residence at the University of Florida when I was an undergrad there in the late nineties. He’d taken the post over from Harry Crews, and I always resented that for some reason, brought that resentment to the few readings I attended, never made it through anything but a few stories. But this copy of Edisto was only four bucks. And check out the blurbs on the back:

There’s my guy Barthelme. And then Percy, who brought me to the store today. I’ll give it a shot.

 

 

 

Not our fault! | Donald Barthelme

A page of Donald Barthelme’s story “The Expedition.” From 1974’s Guilty Pleasures. Read “The Expedition” here.

 

Manuscript Illustration of Flay — Mervyn Peake

Lost my mind soon after (Art Spiegelman)

From In the Shadow of No Towers by Art Spiegelman, Pantheon, 2004.