Monday, March 14, 2016

Playing Authors at the book fair

At the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair on Saturday, I saw a display of about a dozen different editions of the old card game Authors. The game has been around since 1861 and remains available for sale, although I don't think children play it nearly as much as they used to. I played the game frequently with my sisters as a child. It was how I first associated certain authors, like Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with certain books. Each card in the deck showed a prominent author and the titles of four of his or her best-known works. The game was fun, as I recall, and educational. Later I actually got around to reading many of those books mentioned on the cards.

As in the card game, we tend to associate certain books with certain authors. Think of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example, and you think of The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night. You probably don't think of The Vegetable, Flappers and Philosophers or All the Sad Young Men. These books may not qualify for Fitzgerald's card, but they are of interest to collectors, in part because copies of them are much rarer than those of the better known books. I saw all three of those books on display at the fair.

I saw two copies of Ernest Hemingway's Winner Takes Nothing, a collection of stories that probably wouldn't make the Hemingway card.

Readers of mysteries probably know the name Ross Macdonald, and some of them know that was the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar. But I didn't know Millar wrote his first mystery, The Dark Tunnel, under his own name. A dealer at the fair was asking $5,500 for a first edition of that book.

Nelson Algren is best known for The Man With the Golden Arm, a novel I read for a college class, and A Walk on the Wild Side. But it was his first novel , Somebody in Boots, that I noticed at the book fair. A dealer wanted $7,500 for it.

If Joseph Conrad has a card in any version of Authors, titles like Lord Jim and The Heart of Darkness would be listed, but probably not Chance, even though the latter was one of his most commercially successful novels. I noticed a copy of it on sale for $15,000.

Clearly collectors of fine books think a little differently than manufacturers of card games.

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