Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kinds: Richard Ford in NYC May 22,2012

Richard Ford read from and signed his new novel Canada (Ecco, 2012) last night at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York City. Ford is probably my favorite American novelist, and the large crowd and corporate bookstore setting made me anxious that the meeting of my literary hero would be spoiled by the B&N setting. But despite rather frustratingly strict signing limits (only two old titles for every one new purchased book), Ford's magnominity and charm made the event enjoyably memorable. He was funny, accommodating and warm during the talk, and his reading (starting from the beginning of the book) was engaging.

A few interesting notes came out of the Q&A. Ford thanked Barnes and Noble for being the only bookstore in the town he lives in. He keeps a notebook and in it, he continues to make Frank Bascome notes even though he has no plans to revisit the character (he is fairly certain he won't write another Bascome novel). Ford reads the entire drafts of his novels to his wife during his writing editing process.

Ford signed on the half title page because of the graphics on the title. This is his authentic signature (10). Here are a few more examples of signatures from last night.

The first trade edition of the prize winning Independence Day (10).

The true first of The Sportswriter was a paperback original. Above is the book signed last night (authenticity 10).

Just for the sake of comparison, here is a copy of the US first printing of the last installment of the Frank Bascome from 2006 (the Canadian edition is the true first). It was purchased new from an independent bookstore so I am confident of its authenticity though I can't be 100% certain since I didn't see him do it of course, so I rate it a 9.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Nell Freudenberger, Brooklyn NY May 2, 2012

Nell Freudenberger, author of Lucky Girls (Ecco 2003) and The Dissident (Ecco 2006) read and signed her new novel The Newlyweds (Ecco 2012) at the wonderful Greenlight Books in Brooklyn on May 2,2012. Despite the "release party" set up and the copious amounts of cheese sitting nearby, Freudenberger wasn't much for conversation that night. This was disappointing for me, charmed as I was from recently finishing several engrossing stories from Lucky Girl. She may have been shy, or feeling ill, it was hard to tell. In any event, hey it was free. She read for a time, briefly took a question and then signed books. It would have been nice to hear more from the author, one of the New Yorker's "20 Under 40," about her process, her background, or anything, but in any event, she graciously signed books and the night was over.

Below are two signatures from that night (authenticity 10), along with a slightly different, older and hopefully authentic signature I purchased from a dealer. I am going to rate signatures purchased in the rare book market, from a dealer I am less familiar with, and with no provenance a 7 to indicate my level of uncertainty about the authenticity. Any handwriting experts out there?

Below, the book I am less sure of. It seems similar enough, but more articulated. Anyone have some early Freudenberger signatures to compare?



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Peter Carey in Brooklyn, NY May 15, 2012

Two-time Booker Prize winner Peter Carey read from and signed his new book, The Chemistry of Tears (US: Knopf, 2012; UK: Faber&Faber, 2012) last night at the lovely BookCourt Bookstore in Brooklyn. According to Carey, the book did come out first in Australia (as some of his others have). The pictures here are only of the just- released US edition (which states that the book was first published in Great Britain--odd!) and the UK which hit the shelves a few weeks ago. You can see the Australian edition, which was released 1/25/12, here. It isn't Carey's availabilty that makes him tough to collect, it's all those Australian true firsts!
Carey is a pleasant engaging man with a winning sense of humor. He gave some insight into his writing and research process, noting that when he finishes a novel, he often has no thoughts left in his head. Carey revealed that he wrote four doomed novels before finding sucess, and I assume from what he said that these will never see the light of day: "shit doesn't get better with age." He read from the beginning of the new book and I was immediately interested. I usually have trouble getting into Carey's quirky books, but started in last night on this one and am enjoying it so far. Below left is the US edition and right is the UK (Faber&Faber).
My sense is that Carey's signature is relatively easy to come by, but as I said, getting Australian first printings can be a chore. Below you can see two examples from last night. (Carey and I had trouble getting together on the inscriptions; he forgot the year on my first copy and, for the second book, I asked for a line from the book that is not on the same page in the UK edition.) There is also an example of a signed book I found months ago in a used store in Brooklyn. Does the third look authentic?
Chemistry of Tears, US edition (Authenticity: 10)

Chemistry of Tears, UK edition (Authenticity: 10)

Found in used store, among the stacks. Authentic? Looks pretty good to me!

Carey's difficulties with the date and quotation made me reflect on the perennial debate over how much writing the author should do on the page. (I told him jokingly that now I was going to have to buy another copy.) Some people prefer the book be personalized to them. Others prefer just a clean signature. Some argue the more writing--inscriptions, quotations--the more valuable. Others think this detracts from the value. My own feelings are that the more writing the better position is probably right, but I never have books signed to me. At some point, I'll track down some of the more silly inscriptions I have gotten from authors, though none are as bawdy as this guys'.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Toni Morrison in NYC May 14, 2012

Toni Morrison signed copies of her new novel Home (Knopf, 2012) at Barnes and Noble in Union Square, in New York City. Note the UK edition of this book was out about a week before the US was released, similar to Morrison's last book, A Mercy, making the UK (on right) likely the true first.


The signing was mediocre to disappointing. Morrison decided to reward (some pretty rabid sounding) fans who waited up to two hours to see her by canceling the Q&A and refusing to sign back titles. She also seemingly saw fit to humiliate a cameraman during the talk for some reason, which was both odd and a little disconcerting. The book itself sounded ok, but the reading didn't really grab my fancy. Despite Morrison's enjoyable and mellifluous voice, the reading was a bit flat. (Stung over the signing restrictions, I couldn't help wondering if it isn't a bit arrogant to name your book after Marilynne Robinson's award winning and highly praised 2008 novel.) Morrison had not seen the UK cover in its full color before, so we had a pleasant exchange about that.

A half hour before the signing, a representative from Barnes and Noble announced that Morrison would only be signing the new book, because of the size of the crowd. However, the rep continued, Morrison would be happy to sign as many copies of the new book as necessary. So apparently it wasn't really about time or volume. The message I took, as I tucked my sad, naked copy of Beloved back into my bag, was that the Nobel laureate had time only to push new product. This kind of churlish and transparent behavior, luckily, is rare on the signing circuit, but is an affectation of the "superstar" writers in my experience.

When older, accomplished writers decide they can dictate their terms in this way, I wonder if they think of how they got where they are--the readers. In my opinion, it is remarkably disrespectful of the audience of readers and book buyers. These people waiting with books are the people who made you rich and famous, folks, or at least notable and wealthy.

It is one thing to limit the number of books per customer, a disappointing but defensible policy (so everyone gets a chance to see the author). Similarly, if an author has a medical condition, like John Irving, that prevents them from signing comfortably for an adoring audience of fans, then fine (note:I'm not entirely convinced of Irving's excuse since he is able to sign copious numbers of books and bookplates in private on location, and he is kind of pompous and self- regarding). I will have more to say about the politics of book signings in some future post. Here are some signatures:

The American edition. Authenticity 10. You can compare this recent signature to an earlier autograph at the excellent Pulitzer Prize First Edition site,

Below, the UK first (10):


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Ben Fountain in NYC May 8, 2012

Ben Fountain read spoke and signed books at the Center for Fiction in New York City last night. His new novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, 2012), was inspired by a football halftime show Fountain saw on Thanksgiving some years ago during the Bush administration and it's gratuitous and troubling mix of militarism, sex and patriotism. It sounds good and is getting great reviews and is hopefully as enjoyable his excellent 2006 book of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevera. Fountain was pleasant and affable and thanked me for buying his books, and even recommended a few good books on Haiti when I asked. He performed the Destiny's Child songs found in the text during his reading and revealed that he has labored over at least one failed novel.

signature authenticity 10.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Signed Encounters of the Firsts Kind: Herta Muller 92Y NYC, NY May 4, 2012

Herta Muller, winner of the 2009 Nobel prize in literature, signed books on Friday May 4th as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. The event itself featured a reading from Muller's newly translated book (originally published in 2009 in Germany), The Hunger Angel (Metropolitan Books, NY 2012) delivered by the book's English translator, Philip Boehm. Muller was interviewed by Claire Messud. Messud's scattered and unprepared line of questioning was exacerbated by the labored mediation of a translater (Muller does not speak English). This all made for slow going, though Muller's responses were occassionally fascinating. The organizers collected questions from the audience, but Muller and the translating process was so long-winded that they only got to one of them! Muller didn't look up during the signing, her grim expression perhaps reflecting the long line of autograph hounds.
Mullers' rather bold and attractive signature is seen below. The signature below hers is the translator Boehm's.

Authenticity: 10