Saturday, February 26, 2011

Happy birthday, John

Dear Reader -  It's been an absolutely lovely week. I was open on Monday, Thursday, and part of Friday (before I headed up to Dover for the Diocese of Delaware's 226the convention). These winter weekdays are gentle and quiet, allowing me a nice chunk of time to research the pricing on some of my out of print books.

You see, while I've kept all of the stuff that I've known is rare tucked away off site for future pricing and shelving, I went ahead and put everything else up on the shelves, simply marking the yet-to-be-priced books with a yellow dot on the spine:

I've made my way through most all of the fiction and biography, and am about to turn my attention to politics and history.

So as I neared the end of the fiction shelves, I came across two unassuming, un-dustjacketed volumes of John Steinbeck. One Grapes of Wrath and one East of Eden. As a girl growing up in a windy, sometimes dusty tiny town in Kansas, with a father whose lungs were visibly scarred by his days as a boy in the dust bowl, I gravitated to Steinbeck's work. Looking back, I'm not sure that I always "got" it all as a girl, but something about it resonated, and I loved it - particularly East of Eden:

Besides reading, one of my other favorite things to do on Saturday afternoons as a girl was to curl up in my daddy's big, brown vinyl recliner and watch the classic movies that the local networks would run in the middle of the day. And I'll never, ever forget discovering Elia Kazan's genius and his gems of movies, like "East of Eden" itself. Kazan brought the work to life in such compelling and evocative ways, with Dean's help (man-alive, this is what I love most about Kazan - how he again and again took little-known talent, like Dean, and gave them their break-out roles - his work is a treasure):

Anyhow, I hadn't thought much of these two Steinbeck volumes - as I said, they were pretty darn unassuming. Some first editions are clearly marked and often even stated as such. But many are not, particularly those that are less contemporary. And first printings are often even harder to reliably identify. Both of these books merely had the standard copyright year info behind the title page, so I figured that they could have been from any number of printings or editions:

But when I started to do a little more rooting around on some book sites about identifying first editions of these two books in particular, I found some helpful information. The first 3000 volumes of East of Eden that'd been printed included an error by a proofreader, who thought that the word "bight" was used by mistake and who replaced it with "bite."

I picked up my volume and carefully turned the pages, making my way to 281. And there is was on line 38: "bite":

I felt this profound sense of gratitude that somehow the universe had rescued this book - one of just 1500 first printed for the general public - from the oblivion of some forgotten, anonymous stack. And with John's birthday coming up tomorrow, it feels fitting that it should be discovered so happily close to this occasion, ready to be treasured again. The Grapes of Wrath, also a first edition, does not appear to be a first printing, but I have more research to do to confirm that for sure.

I've told several of my friends that my books feel like puppies to me - they each find me and then I hold and love them for awhile 'till their true owners show up to take them home. It's a joy every single time to see which books find which owners. I don't know if I'll be able to part with John, but if he's meant to live with someone else, I figure it'll be clear when the time comes.

In the meantime, I'm getting "East of Eden" again from Netflix. I haven't brought Mr. Kazan home for Miss C, yet, but I think it's time. I couldn't get the scenes that I wanted to upload from YouTube onto Blogger, so here are some links for you. Here's the seminal birthday scene (pure Dean genius), and here's a gorgeous follow-up, showing Kazan's genius mixed with Dean's.

Happy birthday, John.  - Jenny

P.S. And here's some Latin tunage worthy of John's Salinas roots, thanks to the inspiration of my buddy Todd:

P.S.S. Steinbeck's dedication to his editor, Pascal "Pat" Covici is tender and moving, particularly to my little editor's heart:
Love that the manuscript made its way into that hand-carved box.


  1. I found a wonderful quote for you Jen. This would make a terrific sign.
    "These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves." ~ Gilbert Highet
    Isn't that great?!

  2. Awesome quote, Norma Jane! I'll have to find a way to use it . . . and I'm thrilled that the comment thingie worked! Thank you! - J


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...