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Posts from the ‘Book collecting’ Category

New Edition: On the Natural History of Destruction


Sebald book collectors haven’t had much new to add to their collection since Across the Land and the Water: Selected Poems 1964-2001 came out a year ago.  But now there is a handsome new addition to anyone’s Sebald bookshelf.  Notting Hill Editions (London) has just released a new cloth-bound edition of W.G. Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction using the 2003 Anthea Bell translation.  Unlike previous British and American editions, this version reverts to the original content of the original 1999 German edition, which was titled Luftkrieg und Literatur.  The Notting Hill volume includes only Sebald’s Foreword and the two essays: “Air War and Literature: Zurich Lectures” and “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: On Alfred Andersch,” eliminating the essays on Jean Amery and Peter Weiss that were added when the English-language version was posthumously released in 2003.  The slim, compact volume is very beautifully done, being  designed, printed and bound in Germany.

Notting Hill’s website  rewards poking through (don’t overlook the Videos page). is intended to be the hub of all Notting Hill Editions activity, developing a community around great essay writing. To achieve this, author, Daily Telegraph columnist and blogger Harry Mount will be editor of our online journal featuring new essays monthly, and Ophelia Field will dynamically referee our Top Essay Chart, where the public get to select and vote on the Greatest Essays of All Time, emphasizing once again, the vital role essays have had in our literary, artistic, philosophical and political cultures.

Limited Edition Bernhard

I thought I might complete my Thomas Bernhard trifecta with a post that crosses over into book collecting.  Even though Bernhard is an ideal author for serious book collecting, there don’t seem to be many limited edition publications of his work.  I have two and I can find reference to one more: a 1962 limited edition that consisted of two early poems.

The Voice Impersonator.  New York: William Drenttel, 1995.  Designed by Jessica Helfand and William Drenttell, The Voice Impersonator was issued in a limited edition of 100 cloth bound copies (binding by the Campbell Logan Bindery of Minneapolis) and an unnumbered edition in wrappers.  The book had wonderful handmade Japanese endpapers and a paper title label on the spine.  In seventy-one pages, The Voice Impersonator (originally Der Stimmenimitator, 1978) contains 104 very short pieces of fiction translated by Craig Kinosian.  This marks the first English translation of the book.

In 1997, when the University of Chicago Press released the same stories to a wider audience, now translated by Kenneth J. Northcott and under the title The Voice Imitator, this volume was also designed by Helfand and Drenttel.

Beautiful View.  New York: William Drenttel, 1994.  This piece consists of a single sheet (folded to make four pages) and a hand-sewn cover of handmade paper and was released in an edition of 120 copies.  The stunning blue cover stock contains silver, mirror-like spirals.  The text pages were hand typeset and printed on lovely, watermarked Johannot paper at the Aralia Press by Jessica Helfand, William Drenttel and Michael Peich.  The extremely brief, enigmatic is story taken from The Voice Impersonator.

The single-paragraph pieces in The Voice Impersonator are marvelous exercises in tone.  The narrative voice, whether first person or third, maintains a uniformly flat, slightly formal tone no matter whether the story ends with a banal punchline or an act of subdued violence.  Here are two of the shorter stories in their entirety.

THE WALDHAUS HOTEL.  We had no luck with the weather and also had guests at our table who were obnoxious in every way.  They even succeeded in spoiling Nietzsche for us.  Even when they had a fatal car accident and lay prostrate at the Church in Sils, we still hated them.

POST OFFICE.  For years after our mother had died, the post office delivered letters addressed to her.  The post office had not acknowledged her death.

Drenttel and Helfand have formed Winterhouse, an umbrella organization that constitutes an institute, a design studio, a publishing house, and numerous other activities, including the invaluable website Design Observer.  Winterhouse Editions is responsible for a number of books that will be of interest to Vertigo readers, such as Hans Erich Nossack’s The End: Hamburg 1943 (which I have written about here) and Hans Zischler’s Kafka Goes to the Movies.

Mystery Promotional Copy of Sebald’s Vertigo

Vertigo Softcover ARC

I now own a mildly mysterious copy of W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo as published by New Directions.  An alert reader of this blog noted that elsewhere I had written: “Curiously, Vertigo is the only one of Sebald’s major books for which I have never seen a British or American proof or advanced readers copy offered for sale. I wonder if one even exists.”   He saw just such a title advertised for sale and let me know so that I was able to buy it for my collection.

New Directions published the first American edition of Vertigo sometime in 2000 (the New York Times reviewed it June 11, 2000).  More than a year later, when they finally decided to release a soft cover edition, New Directions seems to have sent out an unknown number of advance promotional copies to promote the forthcoming soft cover version – using copies of the hard cover edition.  They simply took a jacket-less hard cover copy, slapped a small image of the book’s cover and two pre-printed stickers on the front cover, and then stapled a single page from their October newsletter into the front endpaper.  Unfortunately, it probably isn’t possible to know if this copy is from the first or second New Directions printing, because New Directions places information about subsequent printings of hard cover editions on the dust jacket – not in the book itself as most publishers do.  Note that the upper sticker misspells the name of the British publisher Harvill.

The mini-book cover for Vertigo that is pasted onto the promotional copy above presents another – admittedly minor – puzzle.  Semadar Megged’s front cover designs for the hard cover and soft cover editions of Vertigo (shown below) are essentially the same with only minor changes to adjust for the smaller cover area of about three quarters of an inch in both directions.  Although it is closer to the dust jacket of the hard cover edition since it does not reproduce the blurb by Richard Eder that appears in the final design of the soft cover edition, the cover shown above differs from the final designs of both hard cover and soft cover.   If you look closely you will see that the relationship between the text and the photograph of the volcano does not match the final designs and we see a second peak to the left of the spewing volcano.

Vertigo HC Cover
Left: hard coverVertigo PB Cover

Right: soft cover

Reading Sebald With Scissors

Here’s a must-read over at The Morning News: Reading with Scissors by Elizabeth Kiem.  A nice account of one writer’s growing obsession for the books of W.G. Sebald.

W.G. Sebald First Editions Price Lists


It was good news to learn that Book & Magazine Collector has published an overview of the published works of W.G. Sebald by Chris Griffiths in its January 2009 issue, complete with estimates of current price ranges for both first editions and limited editions.  But the bad news is that, according to the publisher’s website, the issue is already out of print and, hence, has become a collector’s item in itself.  So this becomes one more thing for serious Sebald collectors to try to track down.

Griffiths gives a concise summary Sebald’s life and then walks the reader through all of Sebald’s published monographs.  Along the way he provides some useful new information, particularly regarding the print runs of several hard-to-find Sebald editions.  Sebald provides intriguing challenges and choices to the book collector.  First there is the question of which country of origin should one collect: German, British, American or all three?  With rare exceptions, nearly all of Sebald’s books first appeared in German, but English-language collectors often prefer the English-language first editions – which are always British and are often the most expensive of the three choices.  Then there is the fact that Sebald’s first three books were literary criticism aimed at small German-language audiences.  The collector who wishes to go beyond Sebald’s volumes of prose fiction and poetry will have to spend several hundred dollars for these elusive works.

Griffiths provides current price estimates for first editions from all three countries of origin with and without dustjackets (whenever this is applicable). But unless he is referring to a signed, limited edition publication, Griffiths stays away from pricing autographed or inscribed copies of trade first editions, as well as proof copies.  For the most part, I think his price ranges are fair, albeit occasionally on the low side.  I, for one, would be delighted to find a first edition of Radical Stage: German Theatre in the 1970s and 1980s, which Sebald edited and contributed to, for the suggested price range of £25-£30.

If you can’t locate a copy of Book & Magazine Collector, the only other published source for pricing Sebald’s books is to download the Sebald Author Price Guide  issued by the book dealers Quill & Brush.  They currently list well more than 200 individual authors in their price guide series for first editions.   The Sebald guide is $3.75 and comes as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.  It was issued in 2007 and, in general, reflects the slightly lower prices that one could expect two years ago.  It also avoids pricing several editions the authors hadn’t seen in book dealers catalogs yet.

Rilke’s Bookseller

From Rainer Maria Rilke’s 1910 novel Malte Laurids Brigge (in the old translation by M.D. Herter Norton):

Occasionally I pass by little shops – in the rue de Seine, for example.  Dealers in antiques or small second-hand booksellers or vendors of engravings with overcrowded windows.  No one ever enter their shops; they apparently do no business.  But if one looks in, they are sitting there, sitting and reading, without a care; they take no thought for the morrow, are not anxious about any success, have a dog that sits before them, all good nature, or a cat that makes the silence still greater by gliding along the rows of books, as if it were rubbing the names off their backs.

Ah, if that were enough: sometimes I would like to buy such a full shop-window for myself and to sit down behind it with a dog for twenty years.



An Illustrated “Restitution”


Verlag Ulrich Keicher in Warmbronn, Germany has recently issued a wonderful edition of W.G. Sebald’s Zerstreute Reminiszenzen, the speech he gave on November 17, 2001 at the opening of the Stuttgarter literaturhauses.  This was published as An Attempt at Restitution in The New Yorker (December 20-27, 2004) and was anthologized in Campo Santo. What makes this publication is fun are the illustrations and the loose inserts.


The illustrations include many of the things mentioned by Sebald, from the Quelle mail-order catalog that his father showed him for Christmas 1949 to newspaper clippings (above) and photographs from the Sebald archive in Marbach.  A few sections of Sebald’s own typescript of the speech are reproduced.


To add to the fun, two facsimiles are tucked into a small pocket on the final page.  The first is a postcard of from Sebald’s collection referred to when Sebald recounts his memories of the “angular brutalist architecture” of Stuttgart Central Station (designed by Paul Bonatz).  Sebald mentions a postcard he owns

written by an English schoolgirl of about fifteen (judging from the clumsy handwriting) on holiday in Stuttgart to a Mrs. J. Winn in Saltburn in the county of Yorkshire on the back of a picture postcard, which came into my hands at the end of the 1960s in a Salvation Army junk shop in Manchester, and which shows three other tall buildings and Bonatz’s railway station…

The second inserted facsimile is Sebald’s very first entry in the literary world – a 1961 student literary magazine called Der Wecker, co-edited by Sebald and his friend Jan-Peter Tripp.  (Cover photograph below by Tripp.)  All sixteen pages are reproduced including articles on Algeria and Albert Camus and ads for beer and Coca Cola.


This small pamphlet was issued in September in an edition of 800.

My Precious Cellophanschuber

I recently upgraded my collection of books by W.G. Sebald by acquiring two rather hard to find copies of his 1990 book Schwindel. Gefühle (Vertigo). The first volume is one of the limited edition of 999 specially bound copies. These were done in a pale green leather and accompanied by an even paler green cardboard slipcase. This edition was issued simultaneously by Eichborn Verlag with the trade edition which had an initial print run of 10,000 copies. Internally, the only difference is the final page of the limited edition, which is hand numbered in ink but not signed by Sebald.

I also acquired a fine copy of the trade edition that includes the Cellophanschuber, or cellophane slipcover. My first copy of this book didn’t have one and now I understand why: it is an extremely fragile, almost transparent thing that probably got tossed or torn most of the time. The cellophanschuber boldly proclaims the enclosed book to be a first edition (erstausgabe). More intriguing, however, it also provides Sebald’s first work of prose fiction with a brief description or blurb that does not seem to have been used anywhere else:

Vom leisen Inferno der Depression und von der Unheimlichkeit des Glücks.

In my humble and no doubt amateur translation, this reads something like “From the quiet inferno of depression and the eeriness of fate…” (Anyone want to take a better shot at this?)

It appears to me that German booksellers use various terms for this kind of transparent paper slipcase, including Pergaminschuber and Rückenschild.  [The Rückenschild, I am told, is the pasted label on the spine.  Thanks, Claus.]

Last year I wrote about the various first editions of Schwindel. Gefühle and Vertigo here.


Homage to Everyman

Some books are just friendlier than others. They feel good in the hand, they have wonderful paper and a typeface that lets the eye glide. Someone has given them a thoughtful page design and maybe a useful amenity like a ribbon bookmark. A few days ago at the (now defunct blog) Dovegreyreader, I greatly enjoyed the short homage to the reader-friendly editions of the Everyman’s Library:

It just remains to put all unfinished books onto a reading hold over Christmas and become a one-book wonder this week because Bleak House is proving to be positively all-consuming.I’ve opted for the Everyman’s Library edition with the lovely smooth paper, the lush burgundy cover and the ribbon bookmark.You know how easily impressed I am by a ribbon in a book.Then that beautiful little inspirational quote ‘ Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, in thy most need to go by thy side.’ I have a growing collection of Everyman’s Library, I’m starting to gather my most favourite reads in this very special edition.

everyman-endpapers.jpg Endpapers from Everyman’s Library, 1912.

This reminded me of the final pages of W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo, when the narrator leaves London’s National Gallery, where he was studying Pisanello’s painting of St. George, and wanders for miles to the western edge of the city. Tired, he enters the nearby underground station, which he likens to the entrance to Hades. As the train pulls out “past the soot-stained brick walls the recesses of which have always seemed to me like the parts of a vast system of catacombs,” the narrator contemplates his fellow passengers – “a defeated army” – and the dismal city where they work. Then, hoping to change his mood, he takes up his book. “Idly I turned the pages of an India paper edition of Samuel Pepys’s diary, Everyman’s Library 1913.” As he reads he starts to drowse and the London of Sebald and the London of Pepys blur together. He suddenly imagines that he is fleeing the Great Fire of London:

Is this the end of time? A muffled, fearful, thudding sound, moving, like waves, throughout the air. The powder house exploded. We flee onto the water. The glare around us everywhere, and yonder, before the darkened skies, in one great arc the jagged wall of fire. And, the day after, a silent rain of ashes, westward, as far as Windsor Park.

And so the book ends. (I love the over-punctuated, breathless phrasing.)

I have long looked for a 1913 Everyman’s Library edition of Pepys, but I’m beginning to feel that Sebald made up that particular edition. 1913 is a symbolic year in Vertigo and Sebald manages to find any number of ways to reference that specific year, some of them rather suspect. In the end, I settled for a two-volume 1912 Everyman’s Library edition, which is, technically speaking, a reprint of the 1906 edition (London: J.M. Dent and New York: E.P. Dutton). I’d like to think that this was the edition that Sebald’s narrator held in his hands as his train plowed into the year 1666.



As Dovegreyreader notes, the Everyman’s Library continues to produce books that like to be read. Now published by Random House’s distinguished Alfred A. Knopf imprint, their pages of warm creamy paper are sewn and bound in tactile cloth. The one I pulled off the shelf, not surprisingly, was printed and bound in Germany. In fact, I think I’ll just move to the couch and re-read Gabriel Josipovici’s Introduction to Kafka’s Collected Stories.


Missing Pictures 1: The Rings of Saturn


I credit Robin Kinross for pointing out that one image from W.G. Sebald’s book Die Ringe des Saturn disappears when the book comes out in English as The Rings of Saturn. In an essay in his book Unjustified Texts (London: Hyphen Press, 2002) called Judging a Book by its Material Embodiment: A German-English Example (pp. 186-199), Kinross makes a close physical comparison of the German version (Frankfurt: Eichborn Verlag, 1995) and its British equivalent (London: Harvill, 1998). In doing so, he discovered that the first image in the German chapter 9 does not appear in the Harvill edition (nor does it appear in any later English-language edition).

The image, which appears on page 301 of Die Ringe des Saturn, is a photograph of what seems to be a rural house and the drive that leads up to it. Given the placement in the text, my guess is that the house is supposed to be “Chestnut Tree Farm,” the home of “Thomas Abrams”, the one-time farmer who, when the narrator visits him, has devoted the last twenty years of his life to building a scale model of the Temple of Jerusalem. Perhaps the real Thomas Abrams, whose name is Alec Garrard, preferred not to have his Suffolk residence published. More on Alec Garrard in a subsequent post.