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The Grapes of Wrath Turns 75

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, first edition, 1939

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, first edition, 1939

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published for the first time on April 14th, 1939, making the Depression era masterpiece 75 years old today. The first edition (left) was published by Viking, its dust jacket illustrated by Elmer Hader. The illustration depicts families moving west during the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s.

Steinbeck’s portrait of the Great Depression is told through the trials and tribulations of the Joad family. The Oklahoma farming family was driven off their land and, along with throngs of other Dust Bowl families, traveled west to California only to find the promised land was in fact dry and destitute.

The Grapes of Wrath‘s timely publication resonated with the American working class, selling over 400,000 copies in its first year. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. When Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, The Grapes of Wrath was singled out. In an interview with AbeBooks, Dr. Susan Shillinglaw of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California explained,

Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath not intending or wishing for notoriety – he simply wrote about a problem he thought needed addressing. Honesty was called for – and still is, always and forever.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1940 film edition

The Grapes of Wrath, 1940 film edition

As a landmark of American Literature, The Grapes of Wrath has been published many times over its 75-year lifetime, though no edition is as beautiful or as collectible as the first. The most expensive copy of The Grapes of Wrath to sell on AbeBooks was a first edition signed by the author with a price tag of $12,750.

Other notable editions include the movie tie-in version published by World Books (right). The black and white cover features the stars of the 1940 Oscar-winning film that starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.

Easton Press and the Franklin Library have both published collectible leather-bound editions ranging in price from $30 to $300.

Even more collectible is the beautiful Limited Editions Club edition illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton (below).

The Grapes of Wrath, Limited Editions Club

The Grapes of Wrath, Limited Editions Club

And while endless paperback copies exist on bookshelves around the world, we can’t help but share a 1951 vintage Penguin edition of what is arguably America’s most beloved story.

The Grapes of Wrath, 1951 vintage Penguin

The Grapes of Wrath, 1951 vintage Penguin


The epic French saga that inspired Game of Thrones

The Iron King by Maurice Druon

George R.R. Martin is a household name, but do the millions of people who have their noses stuck in any one of the A Song of Ice and Fire books know the name Maurice Druon?  He happens to be the author of a series of novels set in medieval France – the same series that inspired Martin to pen the ever-popular Game of Thrones and its subsequent books.  The French author wrote Les Rois Maudits (translated to The Accursed Kings)  between the mid 1950s and 1970s, and until a translation was recently reissued the seven books have been scarcely found in English.

Martin provides quite the endorsement in the introduction to the new translation:

Whether you’re a history buff or a fantasy fan, Druon’s epic will keep you turning pages. This was the original game of thrones. If you like A Song of Ice and Fire, you will love The Accursed Kings.

The Accursed Kings series  starts in 1314, with Philip IV on the French throne. He has crushed the order of the Knights Templar and seized their wealth. The leader of the order is burned at the stake but curses his enemies as the flames engulf him. Philip dies soon and the struggle for the throne begins.

Druon died in 2009 and is hardly known outside of France. Notably, he served as head of the Academie Francaise, an organisation which protects the French language.

The Hundred Years War famously lasted for more than 100 years and ran roughly between 1337 to 1453. The French were essentially defending, or rather recapturing, their homeland with the English, who were unhappy about losing huge swatches of French land and their claim to the French throne. Remember, William the Conquerer had come from Normandy when he took control of Britain in 1066.

There were many battles on French soil but Henry V’s victory at Agincourt on 25 October 1415 is the most famous as far as the English are concerned. The France probably don’t dwell too much on that one.

Three debut novels on Women’s Prize Shortlist

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist, 2014

Three debut novelists – Hannah Kent, Audrey Magee and Eimear McBride – have found themselves side-by-side with industry veterans Donna Tartt, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist.  Whittled down from an impressive list of 20, the shortlist includes six novels:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

The Undertaking Audrey Magee

Favorites Margaret Atwood, Eleanor Catton and Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t make the cut.

Beyond The Snow Leopard: Peter Matthiessen’s long legacy of fiction and non-fiction

Peter Matthiessen, one of America’s top writers in the past 60 years, died on Saturday at the age of 86. The Guardian carries an obituary. He had been suffering from Leukemia.

Born in 1927, Matthiessen is remembered for co-founding The Paris Review literary magazine in the 1950s but he also enjoyed a long writing career where he effortlessly switched between fiction and non-fiction. His best known book is The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, but he was also acclaimed for his 2008 novel, Shadow Country, which is a reworking of an earlier trilogy of novels. His writing on nature and conservation, which ranged from birdlife to sharks, has been highly influential on the modern environmental movement.

The Snow Leopard, a landmark book in modern naturalism, details his two-month search for the endangered Snow Leopard with naturalist George Schaller in Tibet. The book also has underlying themes about Zen Buddhism and his thoughts on his wife’s death from cancer.

The Snow Leopard won for the National Book Award for non-fiction in 1980 and Shadow Country won for Fiction category in 2008. Mattiessen’s latest novel, In Paradise, is published this week. It’s the story of a Zen retreat held on the site of a Nazi concentration camp.

A graduate of Yale, he co-founded The Paris Review with George Plimpton while living in France. On his return to the USA, Matthiessen studied Buddhism, became a Zen priest, and continued to write fiction and non-fiction.

There are hundreds of signed copies of his books for sale on AbeBooks. His most collectible works are signed first editions of The Snow Leopard and first editions of his debut novel, Race Rock. There is also a deluxe limited edition of his non-fiction book, Men’s Lives – a tribute to the fishermen of Long Island where Matthiessen lived.

Peter Matthiessen’s Fiction

Race Rock (1954)

Partisans (1955)

Raditzer (1961)

At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1965)

Far Tortuga (1975)

On the River Styx and Other Stories (1989)

The Watson trilogy

Shadow Country (2008)

In Paradise (2014)

Peter Matthiessen’s Non-Fiction

Wildlife in America (1959)

The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness (1961)

Under the Mountain Wall: A Chronicle of Two Seasons in the Stone Age (1962)

The Shorebirds of North America (1967)

Oomingmak (1967)

Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution (1969)

Blue Meridian. The Search for the Great White Shark (1971)

The Tree Where Man Was Born (1972)

The Snow Leopard (1978)

Sand Rivers, photographer Hugo van Lawick (1981)

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (1983)

Indian Country (1984)

Nine-headed Dragon River: Zen Journals 1969–1982 (1986)

Men’s Lives: The Surfmen and Baymen of the South Fork (1986)

African Silences (1991)

Baikal: Sacred Sea of Siberia (1992)

East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of the Mustang (1995)

The Peter Matthiessen Reader: Nonfiction, 1959–1961 (2000)

Tigers in the Snow (2000)

The Birds of Heaven: Travels With Cranes (2001)

End of the Earth: Voyage to Antarctica (2003)

Stephen King’s 40 Years of Fear

Carrie by Stephen King

It all started with a novel about a girl with a frightening power.  On April 5, 1974, Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie hit shelves for the very first time, and the master of horror is still going strong.

At the risk of stating the obvious, few authors past or present have achieved the level of success experienced by Stephen King. But then again, few authors are as prolific as Stephen King. With over 350 million copies of more than 70 titles sold worldwide, many adapted to film, television, and even Broadway musicals and comic books, King’s impact on popular culture is irrefutable.

King has released at least one book every year since his debut – frequently more than one, sometimes as many as three or four in a single year.  His next book, Mr. Mercedes, comes out June 3, 2014. From Carrie and Cujo to Dolores Claiborne and Doctor Sleep, we’ve compiled a complete list of King’s books and stories along with a look at the literary royalty’s most collectible titles.  Get a full dose of horror right here.

Letter signed by Joseph Stalin sells for $4,500

A letter signed Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) has sold for $4,500 on AbeBooks.

The “confidential” two-page typed letter dates from World War II, and is dated April 1943. It commands the creation of a ‘Major General’ position within the tank section of the Soviet military. Stalin has signed in red, “I, Stalin”

 “National Commissar of Defense, Union Socialist Soviet Republics, April, 1943,

To: Commanders of Fronts and Military Districts

To: Commanders of Tank & Military Camps

To: Superiors of Armor Tank Centers,

“Issue a position of Vice-Commander of Department into Staff # 010/418 of Administration of Tank and Mechanical Department. The Military Title is – Major General (VUS) – 1. Salary is 2200 rubles. March of Soviet Union, I. Stalin.”

In the early months of 1943, the Soviet war machine was attempting to replenish its top ranks after suffering heavy casualties in the Siege of Leningrad. Stalin seized power in the mid-1920s and died from a stroke in 1953. More than eight million Soviets soldiers and around 15 million civilians are believed to have died in World War II under his rule.

7 Beautiful Editions of The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden, 1949

We’re celebrating the first day of Spring (hooray!) with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. A secret garden and a mysterious key lead the girl to a world she never could have imagined. The classic children’s tale is still loved by children today (it was my own favorite as a young reader) and has been published many times since its first run in 1911. From work-of-art to pretty paperback, we’ve selected 7 beautiful editions we’d love to add to our shelves.

The Secret Garden, Puffin Designer Classics   The Secret Garden, Puffin Designer Classics

Designed by picture book creator Lauren Child, this incredible limited edition was published by Puffin in celebration of their 70th anniversary in 2010. The cover is made of paper layers that can be peeled back one by one until Mary and the garden are revealed.  With only 1000 copies printed, the book is incredibly collectible.

The Secret Garden by Penguin Threads, designed by Jillian Tamaki     The Secret Garden, designed by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini

The Penguin Threads series was commissioned by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley.  Artist Jillian Tamaki sketched then hand stitched the cover (left) using a needle and thread. The final cover is sculpt embossed. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini designed the Puffin Classic hardback (right).

The Secret Garden, 1949

This vintage copy illustrated by Nora S. Unwin was published in 1949 by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia & New York.

The Secret Garden, introduction by Sophie Dahl  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett   The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Lastly, some pretty copies from Puffin and Penguin, perfect for a young reader’s first adventure into The Secret Garden.

21 Booksellers Who Blog

BookstoreMany AbeBooks booksellers are also dedicated bloggers. Each seller’s blog is one of a kind, created with a deep love of books – from sharing images of vintage cover art, to cataloging recent acquisitions and sales, to publishing in-depth educational articles, to recounting highly entertaining stories of personal experiences, both in the trade and about the book life in general.

Check them out – we think you’ll be impressed. We certainly are.

If you’re an AbeBooks bookseller who blogs, let us know – we’d love to add you to the list. Send the URL for your blog to media@abebooks.com.

Any Amount of Books – London, UK

Any Amount of Books’ blog, Jot101, wants to be a place known for its “dogged curiosity and thirst for knowledge – however abstruse”. It’s a blog where anyone can submit a ‘jot’ – notes and comments on readings, obscure data discovered through a variety of sources. Their old blog, Bookride, is still available and also contains many fascinating stories about rare books and their values.

Bauman Rare Books – New York City, Philadelphia, Las Vegas

Bauman Rare Books blog features the stories behind great works in literature. The blog also includes Rare Books 101, an online mini-course covering all the fundamentals of collecting rare books. Rebecca Romney, manager of Bauman’s Las Vegas location, also maintains her own blog, called Aldine by Rebecca Romney.

SimonBeattieSimon Beattie – Chesham, UK

Simon Beattie’s blog is about ‘The Books You Never Knew You Wanted’ – featuring rare books, manuscripts, music, and ephemera with a European cross-cultural focus.

The Book Faerie – Las Cruces, New Mexico

The Book Faerie uses her blog, Journey of a Bookseller, to “write reviews from a reader’s point-of-view and spread the magic of reading”.

Books Tell You Why – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

One of our long-time favorite blogs, Books Tell You Why is an invaluable resource for collectors, booksellers, journalists, and anyone interested in the world of books. Covering an eclectic mix of topics, recent posts range from ’10 Surprising Facts about Albert Einstein’ to ‘How to Identify First Editions from Doubleday’.

Bromer Booksellers, Inc. – Boston, Massachusetts

Bromer Booksellers’ blog, called Books @ Bromer, features rare and beautiful books in their inventory, as well as news and events from the bookselling world.

Cabin Fever Books Ltd. – Calgary, Alberta

Cabin Fever Books’ blog focuses on books in their inventory, book events, and collecting.

Callum James Books – Portsmouth, UK

Callum James Books’ blog, Front Free End Paper, is an “eclectic mix of book collecting and dealing” covering a wide range of subjects, combined with “a personal journal of life and memoir”.

Hang Fire Books – Brooklyn, New YorkHangFireBooks

The Hang Fire Books’ blog – a personal favorite – is one of the best repositories of vintage pulp fiction cover art I’ve ever come across.

Peter Harrington – London, UK

Peter Harrington’s Rare Books Blog is another perennial favorite, presenting well-researched, interesting articles on treasures in their inventory and the stories behind them.

Hoonaloon Books – Derbyshire, UK

The Hoonaloon Books blog is an online newsletter highlighting interesting books in stock and new acquisitions.

Indy Library Store – Indianapolis, Indiana

The Indy Library Store’s blog, called Bookselling for Libraries, is an educational blog intended to help librarians and Friends of Library groups with the business of online bookselling.

Logos Books & Records – Santa Cruz, California

Logos sells books on AbeBooks and books and records in their store. Their blog features both.

Old Scrolls Book Shop – Stanley, New York

Old Scrolls Blog covers collectible books and authors of interest but especially fascinating are the stories and photographs of visits to other bookstores around the US.

Pistil Books Online – Seattle, Washington

Pistil Blog features interesting books, news, items ‘found in books’, etc.

Powell’s Books – Portland, Oregon

Powell’s Books’ blog includes everything from author interviews, book reviews, buyer Q&A, book lists, and more.

Rainy Day Books – The Basin, Victoria, Australia

Rainy Day Books’ blog features some of their recent window displays and book events.

Reed Books/The Museum of Fond Memories – Birmingham, Alabama

Jim Reed is as much a writer as he is a bookseller, and his blog, redclaydiary.com, is a rabbit-hole of entertaining stories and ramblings on a wide variety of topics, from musings on an unfamiliar customer to memories of childhood roller skates to the beauty of the book.

Sekkes Consultants – North Dighton, Massachusetts

Sekkes Consultants’ blog, called Rare Books Digest, is an educational and informational site about rare, old, and antiquarian books.

Sleepygirl’s Used Books – Joplin, Missouri

Sleepygirl’s Used Books’s blog, called Bound4Escape, features book reviews and book related news, images, and quotes.

BookPatrolWessel & Lieberman Booksellers – Seattle, Washington

Wessel & Lieberman’s blog, called Book Patrol: A Haven for Book Culture, is “a blog to celebrate the book in all its forms … spanning the internet to bring you book news, images and related content from all corners of the globe.”

Women’s Prize for Fiction Boasts Impressive Longlist for ‘Year of Reading Women’

Reading Copy - Women's Prize for Fiction

Writer Joanna Walsh dubbed 2014 ‘the year of reading women’ when she launched the #readwomen2014 project late last year. The project encourages readers to read books written by female authors, or at the very least, learn about them, and the trend is spreading. American literary journal The Critical Flame will dedicate one year of its review coverage wholly to women writers and writers of color, beginning with their May 2014 issue.  If ever there was a year to read women, this is it. Names like Eleanor Catton, Donna Tartt, Rachel Kushner, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have received a multitude of award nods for their latest works, while Hannah Kent, Anna Quindlen and Elizabeth Gilbert have dominated editors’ picks lists.

The recent surge in attention to women authors is nothing new for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – they’ve been celebrating excellence in women’s writing since 1996. The expert judges have provided anyone looking for a female-focused reading list with a bumper selection. This year’s longlist features established authors like Margaret Atwood alongside debut novelists like Eimear McBride and M.J. Carter.

Without further adieu, the books of the 2014 Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto

The Bear by Claire Cameron

Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Flamethrowers Rachel Kushner

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Undertaking Audrey Magee

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Want to read more women? Check out our list of the 75 Greatest Living Female Authors, as chosen by our customers and keen bibliophiles.

A fishy rare book tale from the pope’s doctor

Who needs to sail when you have Rome’s fish markets?

Last month’s most expensive sales on AbeBooks.com span five centuries of natural history, physics and philosophy, and fiction from John Steinbeck. There is also 20th century art and the ultimate book for North American tree-spotters.

The oldest book to sell last month, published in 1554, was also our most expensive – Aquatilium animalium historiae, a study of Mediterranean fish, from a Vatican doctor called Ippolito Salviani, who showed that research can come in many forms. Rather than going to sea to find samples, the man who kept popes healthy trawled the fish markets of Rome.

See the list

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