Category Archives: Books

How Much is a Jane Austen First Edition Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksToday, July 18, 2017, marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) death. Like fellow British writers Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, Austen is a perennial literary sensation — her works have never been out of print over two centuries. Her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published anonymously (the title page simply stated “BY A LADY”), as a three-volume set in 1811, selling out just two years later. Following Sense and Sensibility, Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1817), and Persuasion (1817). Austen began a seventh novel, Sanction, in 1817 but died before it was completed. Austen’s popular six novels have inspired more than 70 TV and film adaptations and thousands of books. To get a sense of the impressive Austen canon, type in “Jane Austen” into the Amazon search field and you will find 14,594 books (compare this with 40,203 books about Dickens and 134,625 books about Shakespeare!). Naturally, a bibliophile (especially a Janeite bibliophile) wonders: what would a first edition of each of Jane Austen’s cost? Excellent question. According to current prices at AbeBooks, an entire set of first editions of Jane Austen six novels would set you back $190,000. Serious coin — about the cost of a college education in America. The most valuable books in the set are Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Interestingly, all the first editions were published as multiple volume sets. Here is the value of each first edition:

Sense and Sensibility: $30,000

Pride and Prejudice: $45,000

Mansfield Park: $20,000

Emma: $45,000

Northanger Abbey: $25,000

Persuasion: $25,000

Read related posts: The Best Books About Jane Austen
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What to Read Next
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For further reading: Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen by Edward Copeland

The Lord of the Books: Creating A Library From Discarded Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksGarbage collector Jose Alberto Gutierrez took the adage, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, to heart when he rescued thousands of books from the trash bins over a period of 20 years to create a free library for his neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia. So how many books did Gutierrez rescue? He collected more than 20,000 books, earning the nickname “Lord of the Books.” Lordy! Two immediate take-aways: 1. people of Colombia throw away perfectly decent books? and 2. Gutierrez, who stores these books in his home (he lives there with his wife and three children), must have a very patient and understanding wife (Jose — when are you gonna start clearing out some of these books? — if I trip on Infinite Jest one more time!….).  

Gutierrez is passionate about reading even though he had to leave elementary school when he was young to earn money for his family. “I got my inspiration from my mom,” he explained in an interview. “When I was little she would read to us every night.” Then when he was 13, he read a book that changed his life: Homer’s great epic, The Odyssey. “After reading it,” Gutierrez recalled, “I became a traveler in my own odyssey. I will only reach Ithaca when I see libraries and books everywhere in my country.” This passion for reading and education is what fueled his goal to open a free public library, that he calls “La Fuerza de las Palabras” (The Strength of Words), in 2000. The first book he collected was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. He was shocked that someone would toss such an important literary work into the trash. I mean, if the book were 50 Shades of Grey — that would make sense, right?

Gutierrez’s generosity is not limited to his own neighborhood — over the years he has donated books to more than 235 organizations and schools in his native country to help disadvantaged students to discover the joy and benefits of reading; he explained, “The whole value of what we do lies in helping kids [to] start reading.” The library has also become a mecca for writers, poets, and education specialists who visit the library to browse, research, and to sip from this impressive literary monument.

So next time you finish a book, but don’t want to keep the book, think of the Lord of the Books. Donate the book to a library or a neighborhood lending library, so it can be passed on. Perhaps one day, it may end up thousands of miles away in La Fuerza de las Palabras. Now that would be quite a literary odyssey…

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The Power of Literature

For further reading:

What is the Shortest Book Title in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf booksMost people are familiar with some of the most famous book titles in literature, for example, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes; War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. And then there are some books with longer titles, like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain or The Strange Case of Dr. Jerkyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. But few readers are familiar with the shortest book titles in the world, consisting of only one letter:

?, a novel by Sir Walter Newman Flower (1925)

&, a collection of verse by e.e. cummings (1925)

C, a novel by Maurice Baring (1924)

G, a novel by John Berger (1972)

V, a novel by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

Read related posts: What is the Longest Book Title in the World?
How Many People Read the Harry Potter Books?
What is the Longest Novel Ever Written?
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What is the Longest Song Title?

For further reading: Brewer’s Cabinet of Curiosities by Ian Crofton

The Library as Open Door to Wonder and Achievement

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsI received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it. Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.

From I. Asimov: A Memoir by Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), prolific science fiction writer (he wrote more than 506 books and more than 90,000 letters during his lifetime), best known for his Foundation, Galactic Empire, and Robot series of novels.

What is a First Edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Worth?

alex atkins bookshelf booksAll of the books in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are highly collectible. But a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, initially published in the UK in 1997, is the Holy Grail for serious book-collecting muggle (the book was retitled as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in US). Only 500 were published, if you can believe that (talk about having faith in a new author!), and of those 300 were shipped to libraries. Interestingly, the author is indicated as Joanne [Kathleen] Rowling. So how valuable is the book? Would you believe $37,000! Really! She should shove that number in the face of the reps of 12 publishing houses that rejected her first manuscript.

In August 2005, a book collector who wishes to remain anonymous, lacking an actual invisibility cloak, purchased the first edition Harry Potter book on AbeBooks. The sale broke a record that remains today — it is the highest price paid for a single Harry Potter book on the AbeBooks website. In a fascinating interview with the editors of AbeBooks, Mr. X, as he is called, shares his passion for books: “I have a background in writing and I would not have read the Harry Potter books if they were not well done. I find it very hard to read fiction nowadays… I own over 600 books,” he said. “The first editions I own are those by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was a great read for me as a nine-year-old. I have all of the books in his Mars and Venus series, as well as a complete Pellucidar collection. My Tarzan collection is by no means complete, however.” Asked why he was willing to pay so much for a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mr. X replied, “That’s difficult to say. I had read it and I had looked at the prices on the Internet and I thought it would be a good thing to have. I had thought about buying a US first edition but I finally thought I’d do it because it would be such a good investment. There was an element of fun involved. It’s very hard to explain the feeling of elation when you realize you own this particular book. Naturally, I did my research before buying the book. I researched the numbers of the first edition and identified that only 500 were printed and most were sent to libraries where they were more than likely trashed. I also researched the bookseller thoroughly and discovered that they were a member of certain rare bookselling associations and realized they were bound by codes of conduct. They were totally legitimate. There was an element of the unknown because they were on the other side of the world… I believe the value will keep growing. I don’t think that we will realize a profit from the book in my lifetime but I feel a certain joy in seeing its value increase. In the meantime, the book is well protected and very well insured.”

Mr. X believes that the Harry Potter series not only encouraged reading, but launched a new generation of book collectors; he adds “The children who have read the books will grow up and some of them will become book collectors — in 50 years time, it will be these people who will want to own rare copies of the books and they will be looking to buy them.” So for book loving muggles who are reading this, start saving up your allowance, wages, and cash gifts to buy these really sought-after and pricey Harry Potter first editions.

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For further reading:

The Importance of Reading

alex atkins bookshelf literatureWhen we read we get to step into the shoes of another human being. In that journey of a mile — or perhaps hundreds of miles if you consider the great epics — comes greater understanding, empathy, and the humility that comes from the realization that you don’t know everything (and you shouldn’t have to; besides no one likes a no-it-all). In short, we read to understand ourselves and our fellow man in the hope that we can become better human beings. But don’t take my word for it, here are some of the world’s greatest thinkers and writers on the importance of reading:

Socrates: Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writing so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.

Aldous Huxley: Every man who knows who to read has it in his power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he exists, to make his life full, significant, and interesting.

T.S. Eliot: Someone once said, “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.

Henry David Thoreau: A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint… What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

William Ellery Channing: It is chiefly through books that we enjoy the intercourse with superior minds… In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their soul into ours. God be thanked for books.

William Faulkner: [Man] is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Emily Dickinson:
He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

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The Poem I Turn To
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For further reading: The Delights of Reading by Otto Bettmann

What Do You Call the @ Symbol?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsThe ubiquitous @ symbol is commonly referred to as the “at sign.” Although many consider it to be a punctuation mark, it is not. Technically, it is a grammalogue or logogram that represents the phrase “at the rate of” introduced by merchants in Europe in the 1700s to indicate costs succinctly (eg, a pound of butter @ 4 pence). Incidentally, how the symbol originated is simply speculation, since there is no proof behind three theories. Perhaps the most likely is that @ is derived from the French “à” with an accent grave that eventually morphed in the symbol we recognize today. Over many centuries, the @ symbol made the jump from handwritten chalkboards to the typewriter in 1889; and it took until 1971 to make the leap to the digital world, when Raymond Tomlinson decided upon the @ symbol for email addresses.

One of the most interesting aspects of the @ symbol is that it functions as a sort of typographic Rorschach test. That is to say, it is perceived differently by different cultures. Where Americans see a lowercase “a” inside a circle, the Danish see a monkey’s tail, while the Swedish see a cinnamon bun, and so forth. Consequently, the @ symbol is known by various names across different countries:

Armenia: ishnik (puppy)

China: flowery A

Czechoslovakia: zavinac (rollmops)

Denmark: apestaart (monkey’s tail)

Germany: kammeraffe (spider monkey)

Hungary: kukac (little worm)

Israel: strudel

Italy: chiocciola (snail)

Netherlands: grisehale (pig’s tail) or snabel (elephant’s trunk)

Serbia: crazy A

Sweden: kanelbulle (cinnamon bun)

Taiwan: little mouse

United States: at sign

Vietnam: bent A or hooked A

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For further reading: Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks by Keith Houston

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