Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence ~ Book Review

In August, I joined the Austen in August reading challenge at Lost Generation Reader, committing myself to reading only books by or about Jane Austen and her works. I'd had this book, Becoming Jane Austen, in my possession for several years and hadn't mustered the courage yet to dive in. It wasn't that the book itself seemed uninteresting to me, it was just that I wasn't impressed with the film that came out of it, so it was hard to get excited about reading it. I'm so glad that I did, however---it is the perfect book for the Austenite who thinks she knows everything there is to know about Jane!

I've always believed that all writing is autobiographical in some way. In Becoming Jane Austen, author Jon Spence draws parallels between Jane Austen's real life and the characters and plot lines in her novels. Focusing mainly on her cousin Eliza, as well as rumored love interest, Tom LeFroy, Spence gives ample evidence that Austen's own relationships were woven deeply into her works---even to the point of leaving clues for others to find about themselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Austen family "scandals" that influenced works like Love & Freindship (sic), as well as the many ways in which she brought her personal life into the stories; the connection of Pride and Prejudice---and everything that came after it---to Tom LeFroy, for example. I've read lots of commentaries claiming there was really nothing between her and Tom and that modern readers just want to find a love story where one seems to be lacking. However, I think this book makes an excellent case for there having been a romantic relationship there---even if just from Jane's perspective.

This is definitely no quick and easy read. If you're not a die hard biography person, hungry for any unknown morsel about Jane, you might want to skip this one. But, if you're like me and just can't get enough of Austen, Regency England, or how an author's personal life and relationships can affect every aspect of her writing, Becoming Jane Austen, is an excellent choice for your cold weather reading!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Finding and Caring For a First Edition {Guest Post}

I'm very excited to welcome my Australian friend, Mozette, as my first guest blogger! Mozette is an avid reader, writer and book collector. She authors several interesting blogs, including my favorite, My Reading List, where she discusses all things related to literature. Thanks, Mozette, for sharing your experience with first edition books with my readers today!

Books are something that are beautiful and age well if cared for well.  I have been collecting books for my whole life –- well, for as long as I can remember anyway.

And if you’d like to find that particular book that is feeling elusive in your life right now, I may be able to help you.  By following your own gut feelings and being very observant when you’re out at markets and book sales, you can find yourself not only a bargain, but also a book that may be out of print –- or even a first edition –- and you won’t know it until you look it up on the internet or take it in to get it valued.

I remember when I found my first out of print book.  I was on holidays in the UK and doing a huge Trafalgar Tour of the whole country for around three weeks when the bus stopped in a little Welsh town for a toilet rest.  Seeing we had a bus full of elderly people –- and only a few young people like myself –- it was the young people who used the facilities first.  However, we then had around forty-five minutes to wait for them to go through the rest of the bus load of people. So, I asked if there was a bookstore nearby and the tour co-ordinator pointed me in the direction of an old theatre across the square.  I told them I’d be back within the forty-five minutes and took off across the relatively quiet square. 

Once inside the place, I found I was in a renovated picture theatre from the early 1920’s.  I climbed the stairs to the box office and asked the lady there where I could find biographies and autobiographies and I was directed to an old film room.  It was cramped, had a slanted roof and I couldn’t use the light switch and had to use a torch, but the place was filled with as many books as they could cram into it.  And as I scanned the room, I had two thoughts going through my mind:  I wonder what I can find in here in ten minutes and if anything runs over my foot, I’m outa here!  Well, the light of my torch scanned across the light yellow spine of a book, crammed into a bookcase full of dark brown ones and I was pulled towards it; forgetting my fear of anything running over my foot or me standing on anything that might be living in here.  What I found was The Letters of JRR Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter in hard cover format.  This book was published in 1981 originally and I was about to sit down and look through it when the bookcase it came out of creaked!  Dropping it, I pushed it up against the wall and wondered if anyone was around and called out for help… fortunately, another woman was there and she thought I looked funny until I told her what happened and she went to pick up my book off the floor to push into the space left in the bookcase!  I protested and asked if she could choose another one…of course she obliged.

As I walked up the stairs, though, I realised I had never seen a hardcover of this book around anywhere, only paperback, so I offered them an extra fifty pounds on the twelve pounds and fifty pence they had on the inside cover.  The woman there said, It’s just a book! I offered more – one hundred pounds! – but she still refused.  So, I paid the amount on the inside cover and walked out of this wonderful store thinking I had ripped them off.  

And you know, I had.  When I returned to Australia, I went into the city and got the book valued in the city and found it was so rare that Australia gained a copy and the UK lost a copy of this book and it was worth around $1200 at the time I showed it to the evaluator.  Now, all these years, later, its price can’t be put into a price tag… let’s just say that there’s not that many around anymore.  Now, I rarely let anyone look at it, I have never read it, and when I do handle it, I use gloves; and it never sees sunlight or hardly any light at all.

However, after finding that one book, I didn’t think I’d ever find another quite so easily.  So what I did was not look for them; and they seemed to show up where I was.

Now that sounds really corny and stupid beyond belief, but after about a year or so, I found that if you looked hard for a particular book you never found it.  But if you acted like it doesn’t matter – but it does – it will find you, or show up when you least expect it to.  And the feeling you get when you finally do lay your eyes and hands on that book that you’ve been looking for all this time is like falling in love at first sight!  This is a great feeling to have and the funny thing is you get the feeling every time you look at your rare or out of print book… there’s nothing like it!

After finding your book you must be willing to care for it.  There’s no middle of the road when you own a one-of-a-kind book.  You must care for it or it will vanish from the world of literature as we know it… I know that sounds really over the top and dramatic, but in today’s world of the internet, e-readers and computers, it’s people like me who collect these kinds of things that keep them not only in our world physically but also in our memories for future generations to appreciate.

Caring for these types of books takes only a little patience and the right environment in your house.  It also takes the same amount of environmental changes to make your first edition books go from being worth something to being worth nothing.

All it would take is an infestation of silverfish, cockroaches or mice and you have to flush a worthy collection of books down the proverbial drain; or even worse: mould!  The last thing you’d need is rising damp and your books aren’t worth a single thing as they’ll smell and look terrible; as books –- like us –- are porous. So, looking after your books is something you must promise to do; not because you want to but because if you end up selling them to somebody, you want to get the best price possible for them. You want them increase in value not decrease.

But if your book already smells, there are ways to get rid of that wet smell.  I have found that locking the book in a zip-lock bag with apple peelings and coffee grounds works.  You have to change it over every few days as this stuff will absorb the smells pretty quickly.  I have been recommended this treatment for a book when it came through the mail and it stunk of cigarette smoke when my parcel went through a customs search in America and the customs officer was a smoker.  They must have breathed into the envelope just before they re-sealed it and the smell of cigarettes was trapped inside all the way here; and when I opened it here in Australia, the whole book was permeated with that disgusting smell.  So, I used the coffee and apple peelings treatment for about a week and the smell weakened a little over that time.  However it didn’t go away completely until around 6 months after I’d had the book and I had to keep it separate from my main collection.

It’s been some time since my first book landed in my lap by pure chance on a holiday in the UK.  And now, when I’m out and about at second-hand bookstores, I’m always excited about which books I pick up; just in case they are first editions, special editions or rare books; or –- better still –- signed copies. There’s just something about these particular types of books that I love.  They keep me going in search of another book, and yet another, to keep this world of the written word alive and kicking in some way. Even long after it’s gone, I will still have a library of books to care for and enjoy.  And when I’m gone?  I have plans to give my first editions to the State Library of Queensland, if nobody else wants them, so they are kept in their archives.