Modern First Editions 1980-1989
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
It is a 'picaresque' novel, where the 'hero' is thirty-year old Ignatius Jacques Reilly, an eccentric slob who lives with his mother. The book is famous for its depictions of New Orleans and its dialects. A Confederacy of Dunces was published 11 years after Toole's suicide at the age of 31. Toole had initially begun the manuscript during his time in the Army in Puerto Rico and had worked on it for years following, unable to get it published. After his death his mother began her own quest for the manuscription, and after multiple rejections by publishers she finally got it into the hands of Walker Percy, who was teaching at Loyola University in New Orleans. Percy, who had at first resisted, eventually gave into Mrs. Toole and was taken aback by the quality of the novel. Louisiana State University Press published the book in 1980 with a foreword by Walker Percy. Today, A Confederacy of Dunces is considered one of the most important works in Southern Literature.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Carver's second major collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, was also the first of his works to go to a second printing. Carver is credited with revitalizing short stories in America in the 1980s. There was controversy over the heavy editing of the collection by Gordon Lish, and after Carver's death at the age of 50 from lung cancer his widow, Tess Gallagher, fought to have them re-published unedited - doing so in Britain in 2009, under the title The Beginners.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple documents the struggles and eventual triumph of Celie, a young uneducated black girl growing up in the American South in the early part of the 20th century. In the beginning, Celie writes letters to God after her abusive father impregnates her for the second time and tells her to "tell nobody but God." Soon after, she is married off to 'Mister,' in part to save her younger sister Nettie from the marriage, and taken into another abusive household. Through her trials she manages to foster strong relationships with the women around her, including her husband's mistress, a Blues singer named 'Shug.' A story of of strength and redemption, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1983, as well as the National Book Award.
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The first book of the Discworld Series, The Color of Magic takes place on Discworld, a planet-sized flat saucer that is carried on the back of 4 elephants, who are standing on the back of a giant sea turtle. The world is full of dragons, wizards, dwarfs, trolls, among other things, and inspired by mythology and literary classics. The book revolves around the first 'tourist' to Discworld, Twoflower, who is 'assisted' by Rincewind the Wizzard in a series of misadventures, mostly caused by Rincewind's own mishaps. The book segues directly into the next, The Light Fantastic, in such a way the two novels can be seen as two volumes of one work. Forty-one Discworld novels have been written, selling over 80 million books, although the works don't necessarily fit together as a traditional series. Another interesting feature is that each book, barring The Color of Magic, isn't assembled in the traditional novel way, using chapters. Only 506 copies of The Color of Magic were printed - many of which ended up in libraries.
Neuromancer by William Gibson
One of the best-known and earliest works in the cyberpunk genre, Neuromancer was the first novel to win the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award, and is also listed on Time Magazine's top 100 Best English-Language novels since 1923. Gibson's debut novel and the beginning of the Sprawl trilogy, Neuromancer tells story of Case, a washed-up computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer for one last job to work on the ultimate hack against a powerful artificial intelligence. An extraordinary feature of this novel is the prophecy it seems to involve - when Gibson was writing it the modern 'internet' didn't exist - the 'World Wide Web' wouldn't be invented for five more years, and it would be six until the first web browser was created; yet the novel seemed a blueprint for the technological world to come, even coining the term 'cyber-space.' Originally published in the US as a paperback in July 1984 by Ace Books, the hardback was published in 1984 by Gollancz, London.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Told from the perspective of 'Offred' - whose name derives from 'Fred' the man who owns her, The Handmaid's Tale takes place in a near future United States where the Government has been overthrown and replaced with a fundamentalist theonomy called the Republic of Gilead. In this Republic women's rights have been removed, most notably and forcibly by gender restrictions on money and education. The 'Handmaids' are a new 'working class' of women, forced to bear children for the ruling class to counteract a decline in infertility. They dress in red, while other classes of women are also marked by the color of their clothing. The Handmaid's Tale is an important work of feminist literature, and recognized by many in the same category of dystopian fiction as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, with the added feature of confronting patriarchy, although many critics also note the absence of racial diversity in the text. First published in Canada in the Fall of 1985, it was released in the UK and United States the following years, and has since pervaded popular culture, being made into a film, opera and a popular mini-series among other incarnations.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Rob Fleming, record shop owner, music elitist, and lover of top 5 lists, recounts his top five breakups in an attempt to understand his broken love life against the background of mid-nineties music (the title references what audiophiles would dub a high quality reproduction of sound). A 2000 film adaptation Americanized the story by changing the setting to Chicago and casting John Cusack and Jack Black in the lead roles.
The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Tom Wingo is a football high school coach in the lowcountry of South Carolina who flies to New York after learning about his younger sister Savannah's suicide attempt. Meeting with Savannah's psychiatrist Susan Lowenstein Tom begins to unravel his family's dark past as the only way to save his sister, and himself. The Prince of Tides was Conroy's fifth published work, and two of his previous novels had attained a fair amount of success: The Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini. The Prince of Tides became his best-known work and cemented him as an iconic Southern writer, his popularity helped in part by the 1991 movie starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Set after the Civil War, the story begins in 1873 in Cincinnati, Ohio with the protagonist, Sethe, and her daughter Denver. Their house is haunted by a spirit, believed to be the 2 year-old child Sethe killed years earlier while running from the plantation where she was enslaved. She was found by her master, and unwilling to return the child to the horrific conditions and abuses of slavery, she slit her child's throat. Soon the spirit seems to manifest in human form, a girl named only 'Beloved' - the same inscription written on the dead child's tombstone. 'Beloved' grows stronger as she is spoiled and subsequently destroys Sethe. Sethe's daughter Denver, meanwhile, relies on support from the women in the community to escape the destruction and history of her household. Morrison was inspired by a story she had come across in 1974 when she was compiling black history and culture stories for The Black Book. The story about Margaret Garner was from an 1856 newspaper article from American Baptist titled "A Visit to the Slave Mother Who Killed Her Child." Morrison dedicated the book to "Sixty Million and more," referring to the number of people who died in the transatlantic slave trade. The novel's epigraph is Romans 9:25 - "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'" Beloved won the Pulitzer in 1988, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and is considered one of the best works of fiction of the late 20th century.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie's fourth novel. Inspired in part by the life of the prophet Muhammad, it tells the tale of a hijacked jetliner that explodes above the English Channel. Through the falling debris, two figures, Gibreel Farishta, a Bollywood superstar, and Saladin Chamcha, an expatriate returning from his first visit to Bombay in fifteen years, plummet from the sky, washing up on the snow-covered sands of an English beach, and proceed through a series of metamorphoses, dreams, and revelations that Rushdie presents using magical realism and contemporary events. The title refers to the satanic verses, a group of Quranic verses that allow intercessory prayers to be made to three Pagan Meccan goddesses. In the United Kingdom, The Satanic Verses received positive reviews, but major controversy ensued as Muslims accused it of blasphemy and mocking their faith, resulted in a fatw? calling for Rushdie's death issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, in February 1989. The result was several failed assassination attempts on Rushdie, who was placed under police protection by the UK government, and many assassination attempts on his translators as well, including a deadly attack of his Japanese Translator Hitoshi Igarashi in 1991. The book was banned in Singapore and India for its purported attacks on Islam.
A Time To Kill by John Grisham
A Time To Kill was inspired by a court case that Grisham, a lawyer, witnessed in Mississippi involving testimony of a 12 year old rape victim. Imagining what would happen if the girl's father killed her assailants, Grisham began waking at 5am to write for several hours before going to work in court, spending 3 years writing the book. Delving into racial violence and justice in a small southern town, Grisham was also reportedly inspired by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. This first novel by John Grisham was rejected by multiple publishers before it was finally published by Wynwood Press in a limited printing of just 5,000 copies. The copies were cheaply made, so finding one in good condition is very rare. Grisham gave away or sold 1,000 of his own copies, keeping 50-60 of them for himself. Grisham, a rare book collector, has said that he has these copies buried in his backyard. After his bestselling book The Firm was published in 1991, Doubleday took over the contract for A Time to Kill, reprinting and remarketing it for a release in 1993 that sold 1.5 million copies. Doubleday also released another 'first printing' and a limited numbered edition in 1993 that is highly collectable. In 1996 the movie A Time to Kill was released. It stars Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, and is credited with making Matthew McConaughey famous. Grisham has sold over 300 million copies of the over thirty books he's written, one of the latest, Camino Island, involves rare-book collecting and a biblio-heist.
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Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.