AbeBooks' Reading Copy

AbeBooks book blog

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley sells for £56,000

A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used by the judge who presided over the famous 1960 obscenity trial, has sold for more than £56,000 (about $71,500) at auction, reports the BBC.  Judge Laurence Byrne brought the copy of DH Lawrence’s novel into the courtroom each day. As everyone knows, Penguin, the book’s publisher, was found not guilty.

The judge’s wife Dorothy Byrne had read the book and indicated the sexually explicit passages to her husband who did not read the book. During the trial, Laurence Byrne famously asked whether the novel was “a book that you would… wish your wife or your servants to read.”

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

One of our favorite books of 2018 has been The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury.  This is a book for anyone who loves beautiful dust jackets. It traces the evolution of the book jacket from its functional origins as a plain protective covering. Salisbury celebrates the work of more than 50 artists from Rockwell Kent to Edward Gorey and NC Wyeth, and covers several styles including Art Deco from the 1920s and 1930s.

Find copies

Lisa Grimm: an interview with a ghostlore collector

Our latest edition of the Behind the Bookshelves podcast features an interview with Lisa Grimm (pictured), who is a collector of books about ghostlore, general folklore and weird fiction. Lisa, who lives in Seattle, is a trained librarian but no longer works in libraries. Brought up in St Louis, Lisa has also lived in the UK.  Aside from books, her other passions are craft beer and travel, and her website offers more on these subjects. She tweets as @lisagrimm.

First editions of MR James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – books Lisa would like to own.

Among the authors mentioned by Lisa is MR James, who is famous for his ghost stories.  Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a scholar at Cambridge University. In some respects, he modernized the ghost story format. He wrote a number of collections, including Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). They were designed to be read aloud to a group for entertainment. A typical “Jamesian” tale often includes the discovery of an old book or another old object that usually creates a world of supernatural trouble for someone.

A selection of Lisa Grimm’s ghostlore books

Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman – one of Lisa’s exciting discoveries

A selection of Lisa’s early printings of Rider Haggard books

Anna Burns wins 2018 Man Booker Prize with Milkman

2018 Man Booker winner

Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, becoming the first writer from Northern Ireland to take home the award. She wins £50,000 for Milkman, a novel set in the Troubles in Northern Ireland about a young woman being sexually harassed.

People are describing Milkman as “experimental” and it was an outsider to win. The novel is narrated by an 18-year-old girl – never named and known as Middle Sister – who is being harassed by an older paramilitary figure. It definitely carries undertones of the #MeToo era.

This is Burns’ third book. The 56-year-old has previously been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Burns was born in Belfast and raised in the Catholic district of Ardoyne. She moved to London in 1987 and now lives in East Sussex. Her first novel was called No Bones and that is also an account of growing up in Belfast. She published a novella called Mostly Hero in 2014

See the book

See all the Booker winners

Lee Israel: from author to forger

Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel

Have you heard of Lee Israel? She was a run-of-the-mill author of non-fiction books, who became an exceptional forger of literary letters by the rich and famous.

Israel’s career in crime is now being brought to the big screen with Melissa McCarthy starring as the American writer who forged letters from notable people such as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Lillian Hellman and Louise Brooks.

The film, released on October 19, is called Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and co-stars Richard E. Grant. The movie marks a change of dramatic focus for McCarthy who is well known for her comedy roles. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name – a short, breezy book which describes Israel’s descent into the criminal world, resulting in more than 300 forged letters.

As an author, Israel – a wise-cracking and feisty New Yorker with a drink problem – wrote biographies of the actress Tallulah Bankhead and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, which sold well. Her third book, an unauthorized biography of cosmetics mogul Estée Lauder, flopped as Lauder simultaneously released her own memoir. From there, things went downhill fast and she was soon in financial strife with rent to pay, a cat to feed and no money coming in.  Unsecured access to a collection of letters in a library opens the door for her.

Lee Israel’s memoir from 2008

Israel’s trick was to visit libraries, request to see letters from famous people stored in the archives, stealthily make a copy of the signature, study the style and content, and then do more biographical research before putting typewriter to paper. She acquired a storage locker full of old typewriters and old blank writing paper.

She then offered the forged letters to autograph dealers, who were convinced they were real and attracted by the cheap prices she was asking.  Israel’s scheme worked because she was a good researcher who understood her chosen celebrities and their private lives. She knew detail was everything and also learned that autograph dealers craved letters with interesting content, so Israel would insert gossip, comments about relationships and revealing little comments to add spice.

Two of Israel’s forgeries were even featured a book called The Letters of Noël Coward.  Without spoiling the movie, Israel is forced to turn to theft and that’s where things go pear-shaped for her, and the FBI comes calling.

The Can You Ever Forgive Me? book reveals Israel took great pride in her forgeries.

“They totaled approximately 100,000 words, give or take,” she wrote. “Not bad for less than two years work. I still consider the letters to be my best work. I was a better writer as a forger than I had ever been as a writer.”

Find copies of Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Richard Grant co-stars in Can You Ever Forgive Me?


The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Fiction. Shapiro delivers a compelling tale of a forgery tied to the real unsolved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist in Boston. The protagonist is a struggling painter called Claire Roth, who is convinced to create a replica of a Edgar Degas painting stolen in the 1990 robbery.

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

Fiction. A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s curiosity. This story starts in Hay-on-Wye in 1995 as Peter Byerly searches through a used bookshop. He picks up an 18th century study of Shakespeare forgeries and a picture falls out.

I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger by Frank Wynne

Non-fiction. This is a biography of arguably the most famous forger of all time, Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned Dutch painter, who created fake paintings by the master Johannes Vermeer. Nazi leader Hermann Göring was among his unwitting customers.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo

Non-fiction. Journalists Salisbury and Sujo uncover the decade-long scam of con-man John Drewe and painter John Myatt, who copied famous artworks. Drewe’s trail was covered by falsified provenance records and fake documents planted in the Tate archives in London. Myatt’s work still hangs in many collections.

Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank W. Abagnale

Non-fiction. In his brief but notorious career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and co-piloted a jet, masqueraded as a member of hospital management, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks before he was 21. Now recognized as a leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale went from poacher to gamekeeper. Leonardo DiCaprio played Abagnale in a 2002 movie.

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi

A 2002  FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.”

Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time by Clifford Irving

Elmyr de Hory was a Hungarian-born painter and art forger, who is said to have flogged more than a thousand forgeries to top-drawer art galleries around the world. Orson Welles made a documentary film about him called F is for Fake in 1974. Picasso, Matisse, and Renoir were among the artists that Elmyr de Hory was able to copy. One Texas oil baron purchased more than 50 of his fake paintings.

The importance of Paddington Bear

Our latest podcast addresses the importance of Paddington Bear as he approaches his 60th birthday.  From marmalade sandwiches to really hard stares, we look at why this children’s book character is so special.

Netflix’s Ozark and the Thomas Wolfe first edition

Viewers of the Netflix show Ozark are searching for first editions of Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, a 1929 novel famous for its eye-catching Art Deco dust jacket. Listen to our podcast to learn more.

Guide to literary road trips across America

We enjoyed this literary journey infographic. The Fear and Loathing trip is actually an easy drive if you aren’t behaving like Hunter S Thompson.  Bill Bryson made a long journey considering he was in a pokey little car.

Not everyone will be familiar with F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s Cruise of the Rolling Junk trip. It was made three months after they were married in a dilapidated car. It was a hapless trip of comedy, despair and danger, and the old car is a key character in their adventures. Zelda was born in Montgomery, Alabama, which was their destination.

Infographic courtesy of CarRentals.com

Collecting the Dillons

Brooklyn-based bookseller Honey & Wax recently announced the winner of their 2018 book collecting prize.

The contest was open to women book collectors in the United States, aged 30 or younger, and AbeBooks was excited to lend a hand as one of the sponsors. Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, the two sellers behind Honey & Wax, were looking for original collections that had been assembled via creativity, coherence, and bibliographic rigor. Size and value were not factors in the judging process.

The winner was Jessica Jordan, a 27-year-old a former bookseller who is currently a graduate student in English at Stanford. Jessica collects books designed by prolific American illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon. The Dillons collaborated on many literary projects, from science fiction to children’s stories and paperback editions of notable books by James Baldwin, Madeleine L’Engle, Chinua Achebe, and Isabel Allende. The husband-and-wife team were interracial partners, in life and work, and they were committed to showing all races in their graphic design work.

Jessica (pictured below) kindly permitted AbeBooks to publish her winning essay – we think you’ll enjoy it, especially as many of you will probably own at least one book illustrated by the Dillons. Congratulations to Jessica.

Collecting the Dillons by Jessica Jordan

Winner of the 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize

When I was 10 years old, I found myself captivated by the elegant hands on the cover of a small paperback novel called Wise Child written by Monica Furlong. The hands belonged to two figures – a woman with intense eyes, one arm cradling a bouquet of spindly, dried-out wildflowers, the other resting protectively on the shoulder of a dark-haired girl, whose own hands open to reveal what appears to be a piece of a mask. I read and enjoyed the book, but what stayed with me most was not its characters or plot, but the cover which I found hauntingly beautiful.

A year or two later, another paperback volume caught my eye while browsing the local library – Sabriel by Garth Nix. Again, a woman on the cover caused me to linger over the volume. She, too, had dark, wild hair and powerful hands, which held a sword and a bell as she faced off against a shadowy creature that lurked behind her left shoulder. I knew those hands, just as I recognized the otherworldly grace at play in the picture’s muted colors and intricate patterns; as I would later come to learn, both were trademarks of illustrator duo Leo and Diane Dillon.

This early fascination with the Dillons’ work, coupled with the fact that their art graced the covers of many of my favorite books, eventually evolved into the desire to collect their work. I knew the Dillons’ work primarily from fantasy novels for young readers, but it didn’t take me long to learn that their body of work was far more extensive. Just as many lovers of science fiction and fantasy know the Dillons from their work on iconic book covers, children’s book aficionados know them from their illustration work on classics like Verna Aardema’s Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Margaret Musgrove’s Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, for which the pair won consecutive Caldecott medals in 1976 and 1977 (and are still the only illustrators ever to have done so).

As I continued to delve into the Dillon archive, I learned that they were also regularly employed to produce covers for literary bigwigs like James Baldwin, Virginia Hamilton, and Isabelle Allende – and that’s not to mention their work in the 1960s and ’70s creating covers for pulpy paperback editions of Chaucer and Shakespeare. In all, their published output comprises more than 40 picture books and countless books for which they have provided cover or interior illustrations. And “countless” is barely an exaggeration; if there exists anywhere a comprehensive list of the Dillons’ work, it must be in a personal artists’ archive, and has not been made public.

Some might find the idea of collecting without knowing exactly what you’re looking for daunting, but, for me, it’s actually one of the things that makes collecting their work so much fun. I often scout book sales for Dillon titles without having any idea what I’m looking for. A hardcover? A paperback? A picture book? Of course, I sometimes come across titles that I’m already familiar with, but the real shot of adrenaline comes with the shock of realization that floods through me when I recognize the Dillons’ work on a book I have never heard of before. This is just what occurred when I stumbled onto a hardcover book club edition of John Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit from 1969 at a convention booth giving away old science fiction books. The Dillons were contracted by Ace – the publisher of The Jagged Orbit – from 1967 to 1971 to create covers for their Science Fiction Special Series, but until stumbling onto my copy, I had seen no record of these illustrations being used for any hardcover editions, book club or otherwise. There is a feeling serendipity that accompanies every new Dillon discovery I make; collecting their work perfectly epitomizes that old book-hunting adage, “You never know what you might find.”

The thrill of the hunt is heightened by the fact that the Dillons’ work is unsigned on many of their early book covers – meaning that the burden of identification is left solely to my own abilities – and because the Dillons’ style evolved drastically over the course of their career. In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the Dillons were known for an innovative technique that allowed their paintings to appear as though they were produced using woodblock printing. This method, while striking, is a long way from the elegant lines I so admired in Wise Child and Sabriel: the images tend to be more monochromatic, though they still possess a dark palette, and render their subjects using stylized geometric shapes. Over the past three or four years, as I have grown my collection, I have also been training my eye to see what others don’t, and nothing else puts a spring in a book collector’s step quite like that feeling.

While my interest in the Dillons grew from work produced to accompany fantastic fiction – like their 1969 cover for Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (another Ace Science Fiction Special) and their now-iconic cover for the 1979 hardcover reissue of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time – learning more about their lives and work has interested me in another aspect of their oeuvre: its engagement with race and the African and African American literary traditions.

Leo and Diane met at Parson’s School for Design in New York City in the early 1950s. According to interviews given by the artists later in life, their attraction to each other’s work was instant; romance was slower to follow, as the pair found themselves competing to be at the top of their class. By 1957, the couple was married, though their early years were not without their share of challenges. Mostly, the pair was working out a system that would allow them to successfully collaborate for more than 50 years, until Leo’s death in 2012 – a system that would eventually become their concept of the “third artist,” who was neither Leo nor Diane but emerged from them both. But the young artists also had to navigate the challenges of being an interracial couple pre-Civil Rights Movement America.

Though the couple is notoriously private, generally sharing information only about their work rather than their personal lives, a 1981 book celebrating the Dillons’ work give a small glimpse into the difficulties the pair faced. In Byron Preiss’ The Art of Leo & Diane Dillon, Leo shares: “I always had the feeling that unless [clients] knew I was black we would be getting work under false pretense. If Diane went, I made it a point to show up…It raised a number of eyebrows, but we were still given work.”

Rather than speak about their own experiences, the Dillons channeled them into their work; in 2002 joint interview, Diane stated: “We’re an interracial couple, and we decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen in children’s books at the time.”

This commitment is evident not only in their two Caldecott Award-winning picture books, but titles like Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly (1985), Leontyne Price’s Aïda (1990), and their own works Jazz on a Saturday Night (2007) and Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles—Think of That (2002), as well as several others. Lately, I’ve also become interested in the paperback covers they produced for writers like James Baldwin (Nobody Knows My Name, 1978 and Going to Meet the Man, 1976) and Chinua Achebe (No Longer At Ease and Things Fall Apart, both 1969). I’ve also read that some of their work was taken up and used by the Black Power movement in the 1960s, though I have not been able to find any record of which of their works was used, or in what manner. As my collection grows, I hope to discover more works which speak to the Dillons’ dedication to inclusion in picture books and on book covers.

I began collecting the Dillons because I find their artwork unparalleled – even today, I still find myself enchanted looking through their illustrations for works like Ray Bradbury’s Switch on the Night (1992) and Claire Martin’s The Race of the Golden Apples (1991). My interest in this collection has grown ever stronger as I have learned how influential and groundbreaking their career has been both for the field of illustration and the young readers who saw themselves for the first time on a Dillon book cover. In the future, I hope not only to discover more hidden treasures during my book scouting expeditions, but also locate prints of their work (now scarce) that were produced in the 1980s and ’90s. After all, I can think of nothing more lovely than filling my walls with the art of Leo and Diane Dillon – but I can’t bring myself to cut up copies of their picture books in order to do it.

Marthe McKenna, the WWI nurse who spied

We’re seeing tremendous interest in the books of Marthe McKenna (1892-1966) after the New York Times ran an “overlooked” obituary. A nurse, McKenna, who was Belgian, spied on the Germans for almost two years in World War I. Her book I Was a Spy! became a massive bestseller after the war. It’s still in print thanks to Pool of London Press.