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A Literary Tourist’s Search for the Books of Gregynog Press

The Literary Tourist

Writer, broadcaster, bibliophile, and globetrotting literary journalist Nigel Beale recently paid a visit to Wales in search of all things literary, including the elusive works of Greynog Press.   Read about this bookish exploration and many more on his aptly named and entertaining blog, Literary Tourist.  It certainly has us packing our bags.

Underdog James McBride takes National Book Award

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Winners of the prestigious National Book Award were announced Wednesday evening, with James McBride taking the fiction prize for The Good Lord Bird. Many are calling the win a surprise, considering the underdog was up against favorites Thomas Pynchon and Jhumpa Lahiri. But the winning novel is said to be wildly entertaining, darkly funny, and well deserving. The historical tale tells the story of a young slave’s adventures with abolitionist John Brown. McBride is best known for his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water but we have a feeling that’s about to change. A few signed copies of the winning novel can be found on our site.  

Other 2013 National Book Award winners include George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (nonfiction), Mary Szybist for Incarnadine: Poems (poetry), and Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck (young people’s literature).

Eleanor Catton does it again and wins Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award

She’s on a roll. Eleanor Catton, winner of the Booker Prize last month, has now claimed Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction for The Luminaries – a mystery set in the 19th century gold rush in New Zealand. Once again, I have to write SHE’S JUST 28. The Canadian-born, New Zealand author was the youngest-ever winner of the Booker for which she took home about $80,000. The Governor General’s prize was worth another $25,000.

Full report from the CBC.

Winners of Governor-General’s Literary Awards (English, French)


Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (McClelland & Stewart)

Stéphanie Pelletier, Quand les guêpes se taisent (Leméac Éditeur)


Katherena Vermette, North End Love Songs (The Muses’ Company)

René Lapierre, Pour les désespérés seulement (Éditions Les Herbes rouges)


Nicolas Billon, Fault Lines: Greenland – Iceland – Faroe Islands (Coach House Books)

Fanny Britt, Bienveillance (Leméac Éditeur)

Non fiction

Sandra Djwa, Journey with No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page (McGill-Queen’s University Press)

Yvon Rivard, Aimer, enseigner (Les Éditions du Boréal)

Children’s Literature – Text

Teresa Toten, The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B (Doubleday Canada)

Geneviève Mativat, À l’ombre de la grande maison (Éditions Pierre Tisseyre)

Children’s Literature – Illustration

Matt James, Northwest Passage, text by Stan Rogers (Groundwood Books)

Isabelle Arsenault, Jane, le renard & moi, text by Fanny Britt (Les Éditions de la Pastèque)


Donald Winkler, The Major Verbs (Signal Editions); English translation of Les verbes majeurs by Pierre Nepveu

Sophie Voillot, L’enfant du jeudi (Les Éditions du Boréal); French translation of Far to Go by Alison Pick

Five Doris Lessing books you must read

Lots of articles paying tribute to Doris Lessing, who died at the age of 94 yesterday, have appeared this morning. The Guardian lists her five best books (see below) but the author wrote more than 50 books, including novels, poetry, drama and short stories, so you have a huge selection to choose from. Lessing’s obituary is worth a read as here was a person who lived a full life.

The Grass is Singing (1950)

Lessing arrived in London in the spring of 1949 with £20 and the manuscript of a novel drawing heavily on her life in Africa, exploring the power and fear at the heart of the colonial experience. When Mary Turner’s husband becomes sick she takes over the running of their failing Rhodesian farm. Gradually she begins to develop a relationship with one of their black servants, Moses.

The Golden Notebook (1962)

This account of the fractured lives of British women after the war has been hailed as a feminist masterpiece. Framed by a third-person story of a writer, Anna Wulf, and her friend Molly, the novel weaves together four of Anna’s notebooks which mirror the different strands of her life – Africa, the Communist Party, a doomed love affair and her journal – to arrive at a fifth , The Golden Notebook, which binds them all together. The Swedish Academy called it one of a “handful of books that informed the 20th-century view of the male-female relationship”.

Shikasta (1979)

The first in her five-volume series of SF novels, Canopus in Argus, Shikasta is the story of a fallen paradise, a planet cut adrift from the influence of the advanced civilisation that has brought peace, prosperity and accelerated development. Johor travels to Rohonda and finds it with too little “Spirit of We Feeling”, a world which has turned to greed, war and destruction.

The Good Terrorist (1985)

After two short novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers, Lessing returned to publishing under her own name with this story of a well-intentioned revolutionary, Alice, who lives in a north London squat with a motley bunch of fellow militants.

Alfred and Emily (2008)

Combining fiction and non-fiction, this exploration of her parents’ lives begins with a 137-page novella, a golden-hued re-imagining of what might have happened if her parents had never married. The second half returns to reality: Alfred loses a leg in the trenches, meets Emily in the Royal Free Hospital and then leaves for Persia and Rhodesia. Would Emily have been happier if she could have become a matron, if she could have re-connected with her love of literature?

Writer and convicted bank robber Stephen Reid wins 2013 Victoria Book Prize


Stephen Reid, Canada’s most notorious bank robber, is the winner of the 2013 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for A Crowbar in the Buddhist Garden: Writing from Prison. The book is a collection of unflinching, harrowing essays that detail Reid’s experiences as an addict, criminal, writer, and prison inmate.

Reid’s first book, the acclaimed novel Jackrabbit Parole, was written while he was serving 21 years for bank robbery at Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C. The book was published in 1986. The same year, while still at Kent, he married fellow writer Susan Musgrave, who we interviewed in 2011. Reid was granted parole in 1987.

Reid is currently serving an 18 year sentence at William Head correctional instititution for a 1999 bank robbery in Victoria, B.C. The robbery was followed by a police chase through Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park, during which shots were fired.

The Victoria Butler Book Prize, worth $5000 CAN, was awarded at a gala event on October 16, in Victoria. Reid was unable to attend.

Short Story Collection Nabs the Giller Prize


Lynn Coady was named winner of Canada’s 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize earlier this month for her collection of short stories, Hellgoing.  Now in its 20th year, the Giller Prize recognizes excellence in Canadian fiction.  Previous winners include literary hard-hitters Alice MunroRohinton Mistry, Joseph Boyden, and Michael Ondaatje.

Writers Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem made up this year’s jury, saying of Hellgoing:

“The eight stories in Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing offer a stupendous range of attitudes, narrative strategies, and human situations, each complete and intricate, creating a world the reader enters as totally as that of a novel, or a dream. Yet the book as a whole is also magically united by Coady’s vivid and iconoclastic language, which brims with keen and sympathetic wit. Whether from the perspective of a writer flailing in the social atmosphere of a professional conference, or a woman trying to extend forgiveness to a lover’s abusive father, Coady offers a worldview full of mournful humour, ready indignation, and vertiginous possibility; the reader feels in the presence of life itself.”

With a review like that, this book is definitely going on our wish list.

America’s first printed book visits Amazon in Seattle

Yesterday I attended a reception for the Bay Psalm Book hosted by Amazon to celebrate Sotheby’s forthcoming auction of this historic book. Seattle was the latest stop on a tour of the United States that has delighted bibliophiles from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The interesting juxtaposition of the first book printed in what became the United States and the e-commerce giant Amazon (who is AbeBooks’ parent company and the creator of the Kindle) was not lost on anyone in the room.

The book itself is modest but looks robust enough. It entered the room accompanied by two burly security guards and was carried in a reinforced custom case. Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s international senior books specialist, carefully balanced the book on his lap as he prepared it for the viewing. I couldn’t help noticing that he wasn’t wearing gloves.

“No, we don’t use gloves,” explained Selby. “It’s important that we have the full ability to touch and handle an item like that. You lose something with gloves.”

The book was placed open on a pedestal and encased in a perspex case. The two security guards would not have looked out of place outside a nightclub. One of them, Tom, was perhaps the most bookish bouncer in the security business at the moment. He had guarded the Bay Psalm Book in USC’s Doheny Library, Chicago’s Newberry Library, Cleveland’s public library, St. Louis Mercantile Library and a number of other important institutions around the US.

The book was placed open at Psalm 23 and it was easy to see how different this version of the ‘Lord is my Shepherd’ psalm is from the text commonly known today. Not satisfied with the English editions in circulation, the puritan publishers of the Bay Psalm Book had translated the text from Hebrew in order to stay closer to the psalm’s original meaning.

The reaction of visitors was interesting to see. Some photographed it, while others were photographed with it. For many (including myself), it was hard to grasp that this book was printed in 1640 using paper and a very basic printing press imported from Britain, and yet it is still in remarkable condition today.

Sotheby’s will auction the book in a single item sale on November 26 on behalf of Boston’s Old South Church, which is retaining another copy. The sale estimate is a mind-boggling $15 million to $30 million, and there was widespread speculation at the reception about whether the estimate would be reached and who would buy it. Two local rare booksellers Priscilla Anne Lowry of Lowry-James Rare Prints and Books and John Lang of John Michael Lang Fine Books positively glowed with interest.

“I think it will exceed $30 million,” was the bold prediction of John. While Priscilla Anne added that she thought the book could be sold to a buyer outside the US – something that Selby Kiffer predicted as being “highly unlikely.”

Sotheby’s has worked hard to publicize its auction but the tour has put the Bay Psalm Book in front of a wider audience and definitely added buzz to the rare book world. As Selby Kiffer pointed out last night, the auction has also reminded many people about this important period in American history when a nation’s culture was just being developed.

The auction could be the most furious five minutes of rare bookselling since 1947 when the last copy of a Bay Psalm Book was sold for $151,000 – a record-breaking sum for the time.

Reading Copy’s 5,000th Post & Albert Camus’ 100th Year

This post just so happens to be our 5,000th.  Pretty big deal, right?  In celebration, we decided to compile a list of the top 5,000 books ever written.  Get comfy…

Just kidding.  What better way to commemorate our little blog’s 5,000th post than to celebrate the would-be 100th birthday of the late and great Albert Camus.  The Nobel Prize-winning author, philosopher, and journalist contributed novels, plays, essays, short stories, and philosophical writings to the literary world before his death in 1960. First editions of his works can be quite affordable, and many are available for sale on AbeBooks. We’ve selected a few of our favorite Camus covers for you to enjoy.

The Plague by Albert Camus

Exile and the Kingdom by Albert Camus

The Possessed by Albert Camus

The Outsider by Albert Camus

Two Plays: Caligula & Cross Purpose

Literary pumpkins carved by AbeBooks

The AbeBooks’ marketing has celebrated Halloween with a pumpkin carving session where carvers had to create literary pumpkins. The one lesson that we learned is that artistic pumpkin carving is actually very challenging. We have a new appreciation for the people who create detailed masterpieces out of a common, rather bland-tasting, squash.

Behold, literary pumpkins from Sherlock Holmes to a Penguin and a Penguin bookshelf to Pynchon to V for Vendetta to Oliver Twist to The Raven.

And the odd thing was that no-one did Harry Potter.

Who will buy the Bay Psalm Book?

Perhaps we should rephrase this question? Who has $15 million to $30 million and wants to own this particular book? It’s a narrow field of potential bidders.

This copy of the Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640, will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on November 26. It is set to become the world’s most expensive printed book and will make history, and a lot of headlines one way or another.

The Bay Psalm Book is considered to be the first book printed in what became the United States so motivated buyers are going to be keen on Americana, history and keeping this book in the US. It would be embarrassing if the book was bought by an overseas buyer considering its significance to Uncle Sam.

Many institutions such as universities would be interested in owning a copy of the Bay Psalm Book but, frankly, the price will be beyond their budgets. There are already copies in the Library of Congress, Yale, Harvard and Brown University, and also Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum.

Potential bidders will probably be limited to American billionaires, with a library of rare books, and/or corporations with an interest in owning a piece of American cultural history.

Bill Gates has the money and the track record. The technology pioneer purchased Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci for $30.8 million in 1994 but used the handwritten journal to benefit Microsoft. Investor Warren Buffett would be another with the cash for such an outrageous purchase, but is he bookish enough? It would have to be a billionaire who loves books and the culture of books.

Charlie Munger, of Berkshire Hathaway, is a grand supporter of book culture. In May, he gave $32.7 million worth of his stock to the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in California. Five years ago, the New York Public Library received $100 million from Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman, who made his fortune with as the chief executive of the Blackstone Group. Now these two are wealthy bibliophiles.

We could see a technology billionaire step forward and attempt to land the book.  There is value in having your name associated with a piece of American cultural history when you are involved in changing how people communicate and interact in today’s tech-based world. Google and books are closely aligned. Facebook is, well, an Internet behemoth with the word ‘book’ in its name.

We will find out on November 26.

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