From the Editor’s Desk in November 2022

Article | Issue: Nov 2022

In my day-to-day work life I am lucky enough to put books in people’s hands to read and review. I very much understand how special that is. We have a range of dedicated and wonderful reviewers. Each one of these people has different likes and dislikes so each book has to be selected to fit what they enjoy reading, an author they might know more about or a genre they read most. A book that suits their reading tastes. At the same time I like to stretch reviewers, just a little, so they also discover new authors and try new genres. This is all within reason. I’m not going to put a romantic fantasy in the hands of someone who much prefers reading about serial killers.  

As we require books many months before publication, so reviewers have time to read and review a book for you on release, we receive many uncorrected proofs. ‘Uncorrected’ meaning a final proof of the book still has to be carried out. Reviewers have to be a bit forgiving as there may be the odd spelling or grammatical mistake.  

Proofs can look quite special in their look and feel with colour or unique cover image. Others have marketing spiels plastered over them. Some can be very plain. But always they are available only in limited numbers. This has meant that in some instances, like first editions of popular books, it makes them more valuable. It’s often the limited number of anything that drives prices up. Books, wine, football cards. The less of them, the higher the price.  

Some proofs become collector’s items. A 2006 proof of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is liable to set you back US$300. An uncorrected proof of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone recently sold for £21000 pounds. A tidy investment.  

Some proofs are signed by the author or may even include a letter from the author to the reader. Imagine what a signed proof of any ‘Harry Potter’ book may be worth. My mother had a Norwegian book as a child called Snorri and the Seal by Frithjof Sælen. It was published in 1941 when Norway was occupied by Hitler’s Germany. Although a children’s story, the book clearly operates on a number of levels.  

An article by The Paris Review in 2016 described the book as a ‘story about “the vainest little seal in the Arctic Ocean” – that’s our Snorri! – who whiles away his seal-days delighting in his own good looks. And who wouldn’t, with a luxurious coat like his? He’s so self-absorbed that he fails to see trouble on the horizon in the form of Brummelab, a distinctly Soviet polar bear. Clearly there’s a metaphor afoot, and Sælen knows how to run with it: he stocks the book with obvious stand-ins for various nation-states. (Even the ice floe Snorri plays on is shaped like Norway.) Snorri evades Brummelab only to encounter Glefs, a Teutonic killer whale who butters him up by admiring his (Aryan?) features and making a lot of false promises; then he crosses paths with Sving and Svang, a pair of S.S.-ish seagulls who have the troublesome habit of broadcasting Snorri’s coordinates to Brummelab and co. Oh, and Snorri routinely ignores his Uncle Bart, a well-intentioned walrus with an avuncular, deeply Anglo moustache.’  

Interesting to point out that at the end of the article the journalist reminds us how we should never risk complacency, pointing out the striking resemblance Donald Trump has to the Polar bear … But I digress.  

Twelve thousand copies of this book were published. Many were tracked down and confiscated by the Nazis. Needless to say, this book is very rare and worth many thousands of dollars if you are lucky enough to actually find one. My mother’s nickname became Snorri and, as much as my mother would love to see a copy to revisit her childhood … sorry Mum!  

Topping the list of expensive books sold are antique books. The Book of Mormon 1830, (US$35 million), Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester circa 1506-1510 (US$30.8 million), Magna Carta from the 13th Century (US$21.3 million).  

You have to be one of the super-rich to purchase at this level of collectible books, but for the rest of us, we can still dip our toes into collecting books. Being savvy about which first editions to buy, having authors sign copies, scouring secondhand stores, can all help make up interesting collections. Whether any of your collection will ever be ‘that book’, like ‘Harry Potter’ that takes off into the stratosphere and becomes an investment that could have you putting a down-payment on a new house, is another matter.  

But really, do we care? It’s the collecting and the reading that has all the real value anyway, don’t you think? 

Rowena 

And Baxter, loving sweet potato chips!

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