Sometimes you get lucky and you find a gem amidst a lot of baubles. More often than not, though, luck has a running mate and that running mate is knowledge.
The more you know, the more you see and the quicker you can make a decision. For example, when you’re at a library book sale in the midst of a full-on feeding frenzy of book nerds and something catches your eye (a familiar author’s name on a small pamphlet, or on a book jacket that looks like something from the 1950s), you have to react quickly and without hesitation.
That is exactly what happened in Bedlam’s acquisition of these two scarce John Updike items that now reside in the glass case. A quick eye and quicker fingers netted two gems.
For a period of time in the 1960s and ’70s, John Updike’s flame burned brightly. His novels were critically and commercially successful. Though David Foster Wallace dubbed him one of the great white male narcissists of late 20th century American letters, Updike’s Rabbit books with the character Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom remain indelible to the latter 20th century literary canon in the United States. As a result, John Updike, poet, novelist, art critic, bon vivant, continues to be a seriously collected literary titan (despite being arguably anachronistic for the times).
So it was with considerable excitement that we discovered, when sorting through the harvest of a particularly frenetic book sale, that we had acquired a first edition of John Updike’s first book, a collection of poetry called “the CARPENTERED HEN and other tame creatures” (sic). Not only that but, astonishingly, the book is INSCRIBED by Updike to his son’s Sunday school teacher.
Finding a book of this stature at a library book sale is unusual, though not unprecedented. Indeed not. At the Natick Library Sale last month, we came into possession of another signature Updike title, though at the time we were clueless as to its value.
I refer to the small pamphlet entitled “Howells As Anti-Novel,” a publication in an edition of 150 copies on the occasion of a lecture given by Updike in 1987. When we researched this item later on at Bedlam we were astounded to learn of its stature in the world of collectible modern first editions.
Between the Covers, the prestigious bookseller in southern New Jersey, calls it a rarity. Ken Lopez, another acclaimed bookseller of top notch modern first editions calls it “One of Updike’s scarcest ‘A’ items.” Neither of these editions can be had from either bookseller for less than $1,000.
For the Updike completist, these two volumes are highly coveted. Bedlam now has them both, and for significantly less than is being asked at the high end of the market.