Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing

First edition of The Big Clock published by Harcourt Brace in 1946
This thriller by Kenneth Fearing is my favorite of his books; The Big Clock tells the enthralling story of George Stroud, family man and news executive, who is the last person to see his mistress Pauline Delos alive. The problem is that he knows his boss, powerful news magnate Earl Janoth, is the murderer. Janoth knows someone was in the shadows the night she was killed but he can't figure out who it was, and uses the vast media resources of Janoth Enterprises to track down this supposed murderer, most specifically his publication "Crimeways," which George Stroud heads up. Tasked with having to track himself down, Stroud must race against time to prove his own innocence and Janoth's guilt. The Big Clock is stylistically unique, especially for a crime novel from 1946, in that most of the chapters are told from a different character's point of view while juggling the plot. It is also poetically eerie in certain ways like how each member of George Stroud's family has a variation of the name George (i.e. Georgette and Georgia), and all of Janoth's publications have the same kind of title ("Futureways," "Newsways," etc.). Fearing's novel feels like it exists within a noir-ish microcosm of old New York and is tremendously fun to read. This first edition features great cover art attributed only to someone who signed "Roger" on the top right corner of the front cover.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Book of the Month Club edition published by Little, Brown in 1951
This is a book that doesn't really need an introduction or synopsis; it also isn't predominantly weird or rare (except for the edition), and falls mostly into the category of cool. This copy of The Catcher in the Rye was published later in 1951, the same year as its initial publication, although was part of the third or fourth printing for the Little, Brown Book of the Month Club (BOMC). The main aesthetic difference between later printings and the first edition is that the first run had Salinger's photo on the back cover and he demanded that it be taken off for future editions. A secondary printing by Grosset & Dunlap around the same time had advertisements on the back cover, which he also demanded be taken off, and so all subsequent printings just had blank white on the back (which I would have scanned except it is literally just an empty white space). The cover of Salinger's only full-length novel features amazing, and now iconic, jacket design by Michael Mitchell (sometimes credited as E. Michael Mitchell) depicting a carousel horse in Central Park and part of the city. After its publication, Salinger became friends with Mitchell and corresponded for the better part of four decades. On the back flap Salinger is quoted as saying, "I've been writing since I was fifteen or so. My short stories have appeared in a number of magazines over the last ten years, mostly—and most happily—in The New Yorker. I worked on The Catcher in the Rye, on and off, for ten years." I value this copy immensely, despite the small physical imperfections on the cover, and will have to do because first printings go for many thousands of dollars.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Warlock by Oakley Hall

First edition of Warlock published by Viking Press in 1958
Oakley Hall's most famous novel is about the denizens of this eponymous town and their struggle to maintain order against criminals and cowboys in the Wild West. Amid a sprawling cast of characters in Warlock, Clay Blaisedell becomes the hero gunslinger meant to restore order to the lawless town and its people held captive under the oppressive rule of free-wielding outlaws. Hall's novel is lengthy and can be difficult at times, especially given its high degree of attention with regards to language—also one if its greatest feats. Thomas Pynchon and Richard Fariña initially bonded at Cornell over their shared passion for Hall's masterpiece, and according to Pynchon, spoke to each other "in Warlock dialogue, a kind of thoughtful, stylized, Victorian-Wild West diction." In reading their work it's clear to see the influence Hall's novel had on both of them. This first edition features great Western pistol cover artwork by Charles Egri and Evelyn Curro.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford

Fourth Bantam paperback printing of The Short-Timers from 1988
The Short-Timers was Vietnam veteran Gustav Hasford's first novel based largely on his experiences as a combat correspondent during the war. First published in 1979 to the bestseller list and currently out of print, The Short-Timers was adapted into the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket in 1987 to great acclaim. Kubrick's film largely remains true to the novel with minor differences, and Hasford himself helped pen the screenplay; following an Oscar nomination, however, the amount of Hasford's actual work came under scrutiny by co-writers Kubrick and fellow veteran Michael Herr. At the same time, it was discovered that Hasford had been checking out and never returning books from various university libraries around the country under a phony social security number. Nearly ten thousand stolen books were discovered in his storage locker in California, for which he ultimately paid restitution and served three months in jail. The Short-Timers is a great piece of fiction by itself, and without it Full Metal Jacket couldn't have existed; that said, Hasford's literary career was a short, staggering one that only saw the publication of a sequel to this novel 12 years later (probably written for the money) and a flimsy, unnoticed detective novel published a year before his death. The Short-Timers is without a doubt Hasford's slim masterpiece, and supports believers of the notion that some writers only have one good book in them.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Iron Clew by Alice Tilton

Hardcover first edition of The Iron Clew from 1947
Pictured above is the eighth and final installment of Phoebe Atwood Taylor's Leonidas Witherall mystery series (writing under the pen name Alice Tilton). Published by Farrar, Straus and Company (before Giroux was around), The Iron Clew continues the story of Leonidas Witherall, an anonymous mystery writer himself whose novels recount the adventures of Lieutenant Hazeltine, who is interrupted from his pastime when he must attend a dinner at fellow banker Fenwick Balderston's home. Upon arriving Balderston has been murdered with a bust of Shakespeare, and Leonidas and his band of helpers must set out to solve his murder. Tilton's Witherall novels are all engaging murder mysteries but of a lighter, more whimsical sort, and she comes up with some of the best names in fiction. While the cover of my copy is unfortunately slightly torn at the top, it still shows one the best book cover illustrations I've come across by Ronald Clyne. These mysteries are obviously dated, having been written over half a century ago, but they still exist as a unique, sardonic take on a genre that is almost always overly serious.