Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Paul Auster, David Mazzucchelli, The Music of Chance, City of Glass

I've been thinking about Paul Auster and David Mazzucchelli quite a bit lately. I bought this the other week in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop.

A 1991 Faber first edition of The Music of Chance, signed by Auster on the title page.

Years ago I saw (on the telly, and then again on a video I taped off the telly) and loved Philip Haas's 1993 film adaptation of the novel, starring Mandy Patinkin and James Spader, and with a new novel from Auster due in a matter of days (4321, a breeze block of a book which seemingly explores similar territory to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life), I figured now was as good a time as any to read the source text. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of what I loved about the film – its theme of fate versus free will, of how life can seem both dizzyingly random and crushingly predetermined – is present in the novel, although I don't recall there being much of Jim Nashe's aimless road trip in the film – where I think he picks up hitchhiking gambler Jack Pozzi pretty early on – whereas in the book the opening 20 pages are given over to Nashe's zigzag across America, a segment I found exhilarating in its freedom and irresponsibility, and even more so when weighed against the oppressive, increasingly nightmarish situation – building a pointless wall at the behest of a pair of vindictive, manipulative millionaires – Nashe and Pozzi wind up in.

Thinking about Auster got me thinking about David Mazzucchelli, and led me to suggest to the Marvel Fact Files (who I write a fair bit for) that I do a profile on the cartoonist. I've only read one other Paul Auster novel – 1992's Leviathan – but I have read Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik's graphic novel adaptation of City of Glass, Auster's debut novel (under his own name; he published a crime novel, Squeeze Play, as Paul Benjamin in 1982).

I read it in 2004, when it was reissued by Picador, having been unable to lay my hands at the time on its 1994 Avon original edition – this being before the internet became a thing on which you could buy pretty much anything. Whereas nowadays a copy of that Avon edition, which was published as part of the Neon Lit: Noir Illustrated series spearheaded by the late Bob Callahan (who provides a thoughtful introduction to the Avon edition) and the not late Art Spiegelman (who provides an illuminating introduction to the Picador edition), can be had online for as little as a penny (plus postage).

The other day I reread City of Glass – in its Avon edition, which I bought online for as little as a penny (plus postage) – and it remains a remarkable, formally inventive piece of comics, part PI mystery, part rumination on chance and circumstance and destiny. Mazzucchelli described it (to Indy Magazine's Bill Kartalopoulos) as not so much an adaptation as a translation from one language to another, further noting in a Comics Journal interview that there was nothing visual about the original novel. As a result, in sections the naturalistic style Mazzucchelli adheres to for much of the narrative veers off into symbolism and iconography, notably during the sequences dealing with the character Peter Stillman's damaged mind.

For background to the Marvel Fact Files piece I dug out my collection of Mazzucchelli comics: Daredevil #226–233 (Mazzucchelli and Frank Miller's brilliant, revolutionary Born Again storyline); Batman #404–407 (the same pairing's even more brilliant, even more revolutionary Year One story); issues #1 and 3 of Mazzucchelli's Rubber Blanket anthology (I don't own the elusive #2, and nor do many other people); various issues of Drawn & Quarterly and Zero Zero containing Mazzucchelli strips; Superman and Batman: World's Funnest, which features a four-page sequence where Mazzucchelli channels Jack Kirby; Asterios Polyp, Mazzucchelli's 2009 graphic novel; even the second issue of Bill & Ted's Excellent Comic Book, one page of which was apparently inked, uncredited, by Mazzucchelli (although I've no idea which one). I think I have Marvel Fanfare #40 as well, which contains a Mazzucchelli-drawn story featuring the X-Men's Angel, but if I do have it it's somewhere in the loft in one of two dozen comic boxes. And there are other Mazzucchelli short stories in various anthologies that I don't own; perhaps if I get my hands on some of them, and track down that Marvel Fanfare, I'll do a post on Mazzucchelli's short stories.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories by Patricia Highsmith: Signed First Edition

Two years ago I wrote about Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith and Eleven, Highsmith's first collection of short stories, published by Heinemann in 1970. I hadn't expected to return to Eleven; as well as exploring in that post Highsmith and Greene's mutual admiration and the foreword he wrote for the book, I also reviewed the best stories contained therein, so there wasn't really much more I could have added. But then I went and bought this:

the American first edition of the collection, published by Doubleday in 1970 under the title The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories, with a dust jacket designed by Tim Lewis, and, well, here we are. There are no significant differences between the Heinemann and Doubleday editions – both contain the same eleven short stories; both boast the Graham Greene foreword (although it's titled 'Introduction' in the American edition) – so there's no excuse, really, for my buying the US first edition when I already owned the UK first edition... except that this copy of the US first edition is signed:

Curiously, it's also an ex-library copy, liberated from, according to the indented stamp on the title page, the Westbrook Memorial Library in Maine (I think; it's hard to make out and the library docket that was affixed to the rear endpaper has been removed). I'm guessing that's the Walker Memorial Library. The signature looks genuine to me, but I am intrigued as to the circumstances by which Highsmith signed a library book. Was it signed after it was removed from the library? Or while it resided in the library, during a reading or event of some kind – or perhaps even covertly during an incognito visit by Highsmith...? I don't suppose I'll ever know.

At least, that's what I figured when I first posted this. But then an hour or two later Book Glutton emailed me and drew my attention to this 2015 obituary for Bonny Muir. As Book Glutton noted, Muir was a good friend of Patricia Highsmith's who at one time lived in Portland, Maine, not far from Westbrook. An avid user of the South Portland Library, it's conceivable Muir frequented the Walker Memorial Library too, and that she acquired this copy of The Snail-Watcher there and got Highsmith to sign it at a later date. Then, when Muir died, her books were sold. Conjecture, of course, but it's plausible, and certainly excellent detective work on the part of Book Glutton.

Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 20/1/17.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Signed Inscribed Tom Ripley Books: Patricia Highsmith's Ripley Under Ground and The Boy Who Followed Ripley

I'm of a mind to post some of the signed books I've acquired over the past year or two – at least, I'm of a mind as I type this; whether or not I'll remain of a mind to do so, or indeed retain any enthusiasm for blogging whatsoever, remains to be seen. For now, though, here's a pair of signed Patricia Highsmith books, both of which are novels in my abiding obsession, the Tom Ripley series.

On the left is a 1970 US Doubleday Book Club Edition of Ripley Under Ground, the second novel in the five-book Ripliad, and on the right a 1980 US Lippincott & Crowell first edition of The Boy Who Followed Ripley, the fourth novel in the Ripliad. The dust jacket design on Ripley Under Ground is by Alex Gotfryd, while the dust jacket design on The Boy Who Followed Ripley is by Pat Voehl.

Ripley Under Ground has been signed, inscribed ("Best to you") and dated (19 May 1981) by Patricia Highsmith on the half-title page – in pencil, unusually (every other signed Highsmith book I own – a dozen in total – has been signed in pen). As noted, it's a book club edition, which ordinarily would make it less interesting to me, but it's the only signed copy of Ripley Under Ground – not just one of my favourite novels in the Ripliad but one of my favourite Highsmiths, and therefore one of my favourite novels, full stop – in any edition I've ever come across, so it's a remarkable thing indeed.

The Boy Who Followed Ripley is an association copy, signed by Highsmith on the front free endpaper and inscribed to Lou Kannenstine – or rather "Kannenstein", as Highmith has misspelled it. Kannenstine, who died in 2014, was the publisher of Foul Play Press, an imprint of Countryman Press which issued crime and mystery novels by, among others, Reginald Hill, Max Allan Collins and another abiding preoccupation of mine, Donald E. Westlake (the three Grofield novels written as Richard Stark).

I've added both books to the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery (under 'Patriciaphernalia'), where my inscribed association copy of the fifth Ripley novel, Ripley Under Water, also resides – meaning I now own three-fifths of the Ripliad in signed editions (two copies in the case of Ripley Under Water). And if the mood takes me, I'll be posting some other signed Highsmiths soon.