Friday 18 June 2010

On Collecting

Call it a hobby. Call it a compulsion. Call it a disease, even. For some of us, collecting is in our blood.

I've been pondering how my collecting habits have changed over the years, both in what I collect and the way I collect. (And yes, I know what you're thinking: the days must fly by chez Louis.) Increasingly over the past year, I've been collecting modern firsts (Patricia Highsmith, Donald Westlake and others), but I've also been doing a large part of my collecting online, so much so that I've developed a daily habit of checking eBay for particular authors and titles, checking Amazon, checking AbeBooks... It's got to the stage where if I don't see an auction to watch on eBay every day or something to buy elsewhere online, I'm slightly disappointed. (Today I'm not disappointed; I found something to watch on eBay, and the lead on a couple of Peter Rabe books I mentioned yesterday paid off. Huzzah.)

I don't do all of my collecting online, of course. I still haunt bookshops, book fairs, comic shops, junk shops and the like. I still get the thrill of anticipation when visiting a shop I've never been to before, or even a shop I have been to before, even if it's just up the road. For instance, I'm off to Tunbridge Wells tomorrow with the bird to meet a friend, but I know that trip will involve visits to the various second hand bookshops there, and that's what I'm really looking forward to (particularly because I've seen a book listed online at one of the shops, which I'm really hoping will be there...). I mean, it'll be nice to see our friend... but y'know... books...

Even so, internet shopping has utterly transformed the way I collect. Not everything you might want to find is online, but most things are. Gawd knows how I'd have followed my Westlake/Stark obsession years ago without the internet. I guess it'd have involved visiting bookshops and book fairs even more, picking up catalogues and the like – basically the way I used to collect comics. I was a regular at comic marts in the late 1980s and then again in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when I got back into comics after a ten year break, mostly at the London marts, turning up on the dot of opening time, rifling through comic boxes, wants list in hand.

I've always collected something. The first thing I remember collecting was, bizarrely, the backs of football stickers. I've never been remotely interested in football, but for some reason, back in primary school, when footie stickers first came in, me and a friend started collecting the peel-off backs, picking up the discarded ones. After that, it was probably Star Wars bubblegum cards, and then American comics, starting with Captain America, then Batman, Superman, eventually discovering Alan Moore and Warrior, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, then graduating to indie and UK small press: Fast Fiction, Escape, Eddie Campbell and Chris Reynolds and John Bagnall and the like.

In early teens – concurrently with the superhero phase of comics collecting in the mid-1980s – I got into music in a big way, and started collecting records. I was heavily into electro and hip hop, so I'd make regular trips up to Groove Records on Denmark Street in Soho (long gone now – the shop, not the street) and the other record shops up in town and buy the latest import electro 12"s (all of which I've long since sold, guh). After that, and following a brief flirtation with electro pop, I got into indie: Wedding Present, McCarthy, Creation Records. And so a new phase of collecting began, which changed again when I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) dance music: techno, R&S, rave, hardcore. That led to a job as a music journalist on Mixmag, whereupon I started getting free records, and that obsession ballooned.

Somewhere along the line I rediscovered comic books, and as my interest in dance music waned I found myself working for a comics and graphic novels publisher, Titan. And then I started getting free comics and graphic novels. And my comics collection grew to a ridiculous size (which it still is, despite regular culling). And now it's books – novels, first editions, which again has grown and grown.

And now this post has wandered off the trail somewhat, if it was even following a trail. So I'll stop there.

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Books Bits and Bobs: Killy, The Rare Coin Score, The Hot Rock, and Peter Rabe

Per the title of this post, it's a bits and bobs day today. First up, apropos of nothing, here's a pic of an early Donald Westlake book I got hold of a while back and never posted the cover:

That's the UK first edition hardback of Killy, published by T. V. Boardman & Company in 1964 (a year after the US first) as part of their American Bloodhound series (no. 454, to be precise). The cover's by Denis McLoughlin, who was pretty much Boardman's one-man art department. I haven't seen this particular cover online before, so here it is. Lovely stuff.

I finished reading The Rare Coin Score, which was a good, solid Parker (and number 9 in the series, fact fans). For a change, there isn't much of a Stark Cutaway in this one; in Part Three we hang out with a coin dealer for a while, and a security guard, and one of Parker's crew, and the finger for the heist, Billy Lebatard, but it's more about advancing the plot than filling in backstory – and it's hard to see what the interlude with the security guard (or the coin dealer for that matter) brings to the table (I'm not even sure if it's the same guard who gets shot later). But I'd say the Stark Stooge in this one is the aforementioned Billy; he's out of his depth right from the get-go, and it's not hard to guess how his story ends.

I've taken a slight detour from the Parkers and am now halfway through Westlake's first John Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock, which is an amusing read, although not as laff-out-loud funny as I'd been led to believe. But the structure is inherently comedic, as Dortmunder and his crew have to keep trying to steal the same diamond, for reasons that are too complicated to go into here. I've just ordered a nice-looking Hodder & Stoughton UK first edition of the second Dortmunder book, Bank Shot!, from Australia of all places, to match my Hodder first of The Hot Rock, so I'll give that one a go too, and then we'll see. (Not least because there are no Hodder copies whatsoever online of the third one, Jimmy the Kid... I'm getting the feeling collecting these may be even harder than collecting Allison & Busby Parkers.)

I also bought a copy of the new graphic novel adaptation of The Hot Rock, by LAX (originally published in France a couple of years ago). So I may do a compare-and-contrast when I've read both the novel and the graphic novel. Gee, I bet you can't wait, can you?

Finally, a new arrival:

A 1959 first UK edition of Peter Rabe's Journey into Terror, published by Frederick Muller/Fawcett/Gold Medal in paperback a couple of years after the US edition (with the same fab cover by M. Hooks, the only difference being a UK price of 2 shillings in the top right corner). I've mentioned Rabe before, and previously nabbed a copy of his Blood on the Desert off eBay (same as I did this one). Rabe wrote loads of pulpy crime novels in the 1950s and 1960s, but I've recently discovered some of them comprise a loose series of six books, featuring a retired gangster called Daniel Port. The first one of the series is Dig My Grave Deep; I've just ordered a cheap UK first of that from Amazon, and I'm looking into the others. I know that Donald Westlake was a fan of and influenced by Rabe, so I'm wondering if Port was an influence on Parker. We shall see...

Parker Covers for Trent

If you're reading, Trent, these are for you; a few gaps I can fill in your cover galleries on The Violent World of Parker. Feel free to click on 'em and grab 'em (they're a bit dark, but I'm sure you can lighten 'em up):

Point Blank, Coronet, UK paperback, 1967

The Split
(a.k.a. The Seventh), Allison & Busby, UK hardback, 1985

The Damsel, Hodder & Stoughton, UK hardback, 1968

The Rare Coin Score, Coronet, UK paperback, Second Impression 1970

The Rare Coin Score, Coronet, UK paperback, Third Impression 1972

The Green Eagle Score, Coronet, UK paperback, 1968

Deadly Edge, Allison & Busby, UK paperback, 1990

Plunder Squad, Coronet, UK paperback, 1974

Breakout, Robert Hale, UK hardback, 2003

New Arrival: Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith

This one's a little different:

A 1983 UK hardback first edition of Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction, published by Poplar Press, originally published in the States in 1966. I did toy with getting a US edition – either the original or the 1981 revised edition – but I like the cover on this UK edition (although it's yellowing at the edges, as are the pages; that aside it's in good condition). The book is essentially Highsmith's thoughts on writing, with chapters on ideas, plotting, drafting, revising, and so on, using examples of her own work. But as Highsmith states in the preface:

This is not a how-to-do-it handbook. It is impossible to explain how a successful—that is, readable—book is written. But this is what makes writing a lively and exciting profession, the ever present possibility of failure. Therefore, I have dwelt as much on my failures as successes here, because one can learn a lot from failures.

And then in chapter one, she begins:

The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publishers and the readers can and will come later.

Food for thought. Not that I've started writing a book or anything. Ahem.

Gaze in Awe and Wonder at The List!

A decent-ish week for new comics this week. There's this:

DC Universe Legacies
#2. I really liked the first issue of this, which is a ten-issue miniseries charting the history of DC Comics' costumed characters. Writer Len Wein is very much old skool DC, but considering how dreadful most new skool DC titles are (Grant Morrison's various Batman books being the obvious exception), that actually counts in its favour. It seems to be tackling its subject from a man on the street perspective, a la Marvels and Astro City, and while that has been done before (and there have been numerous series charting DC's history before), going by the first issue the result is thoroughly readable. The artwork is rather good too: Andy Kubert and his dad Joe Kubert on the main story, and J. G. Jones on the back-up story in #1 and J. H. Williams III on the back-up this time round. In fact the whole thing is like an oasis of decency in the arid creative desert that is today's DCU. There's a quote for your clippings.

Also out this week and likely to be bought by me are these:

Walking Dead
#73 (left) and New Avengers #1 (right). Walking Dead is always good, and of course there's a TV series based on it due to start airing in the fall, with Frank Darabont running the show. New Avengers is Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen's relaunch of their previous series; hopefully it'll be better than the other newly launched Avengers and Secret Avengers series, which weren't that great. We shall see.

And I might try and get these if I see 'em:

Crossed: Family Values
#1 and 2. I loved Garth Ennis' Crossed, which was his take on a zombie comic, although closer to 28 Days Later really, as it's more of a disease that turns people bloodthirsty crazy. It was pretty grim, but I like grim Garth (as my rant about his Punisher series attests), so it was right up my alley. This new series is written by David Lapham of Stray Bullets fame. I'd given it a wide berth, as I couldn't see the point of it (Ennis' Crossed was a complete story), but online reviews of it have been good, so I might see if my comic shop still has these.

Deadly Edge for Trent

Here we go, sir:

This is the 1990 Allison & Busby paperback. Feel free to use this on Violent World of Parker; or if you hang on till tomorrow, I'll do a better pic and you can have that instead (this one's a bit crap). If you look through the posts on here from the last few months you might find some other covers you're missing too; I've got a couple of Coronet printings of The Rare Coin Score that came after the one you have up, f'r instance, and a first Coronet printing of The Green Eagle Score, which has a similar cover to your Coronet Rare Coin. If you want better images of any of those, lemme know.

(If anyone's confused over what the hell this post's about, see comments here.)

Monday 14 June 2010

Westlake Score #6: The Hot Rock

This one was an Amazon find rather than an eBay score, but in the brave new world order of Donald Westlake acquisitions (see previous post), it now qualifies as a Westlake Score. And I'm rather pleased with this one:

A 1971 UK hardback first edition of The Hot Rock, published by Hodder & Stoughton (originally published by Simon & Schuster in the US in 1970). The Hot Rock, as I'm sure we all know, is the first of Westlake's John Dortmunder series – a more hard-luck version of Parker. This first British edition is rather rare: there are a few pricey copies on AbeBooks from New Zealand and Australia, but that's about it (I bought the only Amazon copy). The dustjacket seems to be Hodder's house style from that period (either for Westlake in particular or more generally – I'm not sure which); it's very similar to the jacket on my copy of Somebody Owes Me Money (both designed by Lipscombe, Lubbock, Ewart & Holland):

And speaking of Somebody Owes Me Money, unlike The Hot Rock, which just has text about previous books on the back of the jacket, my Hodder first of Somebody sports another photo of Westlake. But whereas the previous jacket photo I posted, from the back cover of my Random first of Pity Him Afterwards, had Westlake looking super-cool, the pic on the back of Somebody is... well... super-dorky. Compare and contrast – Pity Him Afterwards on the left, Somebody Owes Me Money on the right:

Nice grin.

Westlake Score #5: Dancing Aztecs

So then, to the third of my Donald Westlake eBay scores... Wait, hold up: if this is the third Westlake Score, I hear you cry, how come it's number five in the post header? Ah, well, see, I've decided to re-think these Westlake Score posts and turn them into a series, a la my Parker Progress Reports. And seeing as I already had two Westlake first editions – Killy (a 1964 UK Boardman hardback) and Pity Him Afterwards (a 1964 US Random House hardback) – when I acquired my other two eBay scores – Somebody Owes Me Money and Levine – that makes this latest addition Westlake Score #5. Exciting Times! Ahem. And here is Score #5:

A 1976 US first edition of Dancing Aztecs, published in hardback by M. Evans and Company, with a dustjacket by Joel Schick. This one was a great score: I don't think it's ever been published in the UK, and there don't seem to be any copies online from the UK at all. It's also in fantastic condition. One thing that struck me was the extent of the book: it's well over 350 pages (Helpfully, Westlake provides a guide to the cast of characters at the start of the book). I'm used to Westlake – or rather Richard Stark – books being less than 200 pages. I don't know how many of the books he wrote under his own name are as lengthy as this, but I guess I'll find out if and when (or more likely as and when) I acquire them...

The Bourne Supremacy/The Dolly Dolly Spy

Bit of a book bonanza over the weekend. I had a couple of Westlakes turn up in the post, which I'll deal with separately, and a trip to Kim's Bookshop in Arundel turned up two good finds. First up:

A 1986 UK hardback first edition of Robert Ludlum's second Jason Bourne novel, The Bourne Supremacy, published by Granada. I'm a huge fan of the films, so I've been wanting to read these for a while. Of course, I'll have to start with the first one, The Bourne Identity, so I'll be keeping me eyes peeled for a first of that. And the other find was this:

A UK first edition hardback of Adam Diment's debut novel The Dolly Dolly Spy, published by Michael Joseph in 1967 with a dustjacket by Broom Lynne. Diment wrote four books about swinging sixties spy Philip McAlpine (described at the time as a successor to James Bond) up to 1971 and then promptly vanished. No one really knows what happened to him, although recent reports suggest he is currently living either in the Far East or, er, Kent. (Diment was also claimed at one point to simply have been a pseudonym for various in-house writers at Michael Joseph, although that seems to have been disproved.) In any case, I've been meaning to check one of his books out, and this is a really nice copy, the only fault being some old sellotape that was stuck to the edges of the jacket to protect it. But the tape was so old it peeled off easily when I got it home, just leaving leaving a little discolouration. Splendid.