Three auctions for book lovers

Three upcoming auctions give readers a chance to find out what authors think of their classics.

Summer is finally here. And as we turn our thoughts to holiday reading, a group of acclaimed authors have been rereading their most celebrated novels in support of English PEN, an organisation that champions the right to read and write freely around the world.

Double Booker Prize-winning writers JM Coetzee, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood and Hilary Mantel are among those who have returned to their first editions with a pen to note down their thoughts, as they come to them now, in the margins. The books will be auctioned as part of Christie’s “First Editions, Second Thoughts” sale, which runs online from 28 June to 12 July.

Rescued from “product”

The authors welcomed the chance to get reacquainted with their works. “The process of publication (however welcome and necessary) is a process of estrangement,” says Mantel, on rereading her 2012 novel Bringing Up The Bodies. “Annotation gives your book back to you, but presents it multiplied. It rescues you from finished product, returns you to process.” Her book is expected to sell for £6,000. In the margins of Monica Ali’s 2003 novel Brick Lane, about the east London Bangladeshi community, Ali writes, “Haven’t read BL in last 16 or 17 years. Sense of trepidation. Also curiosity”. Hers is valued at up to £2,000. Sadly, John Le Carré died 45 pages in while rereading his 1963 classic The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The copy is being offered with the bookmark still in its place from where Le Carré left off and it is expected to fetch up to £12,000. “His annotations are so typically Le Carré,” Christie’s Mark Wiltshire tells The Guardian. “For example, he says: ‘Many agents lie about their personal lives for fear of losing their salaries. They also babble to their mistress or the stranger on a train.’”

The sale forms the second part of Christie’s “The Art of Literature” event. The first part this week saw a signed first edition Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), which features errors, offered for private sale. Bidding began at £200,000. Bonhams is also offering another signed first edition Philosopher’s Stone, valued from £100,000, on Wednesday.

The “Fine Books and Manuscripts” sale at its Knightsbridge premises in London also features 25 original parts of the splendidly colourful first edition copy of The Birds of New Guinea and the Adjacent Papuan Islands, Including Many New Species Recently Discovered in Australia by Victorian ornithologist John Gould. Not unlike John James Audubon’s earlier The Birds of America (1827-1838), a copy of which sold with Sotheby’s for $6.6m in late 2019, Gould’s work (an example of which is pictured) features 320 hand-coloured lithographic plates of birds of paradise, kingfishers and parrots. The work, begun in 1875, was brought to completion after Gould’s death by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, in 1888. It is expected to sell for up to £60,000.

Margaret Atwood’s book-burning stunt

Margaret Atwood burning a book with a flame-thrower

© Sotheby’s

Never mind the signed and annotated first edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that’s for sale with Christie’s next month. The Canadian author left her mark – or rather, she tried to – on an altogether different edition of her seminal work. Atwood attempted to set it on fire. Toronto-based companies Rethink, a creative agency, and The Gas Company, a graphic arts and bookbinding speciality studio, teamed up with publisher Penguin Random House and the author to produce a single copy of the 384-page novel made from Cinefoil, a specially treated aluminium product. The 82-year-old duly wielded a flamethrower and she was filmed directing a jet of blue flame at a prototype. “I never thought I’d be trying to burn one of my own books... and failing,” Atwood said afterwards.

The special edition’s creation, and subsequent sale with Sotheby’s last week, was in aid of PEN America to support its work in fighting censorship, as well as to raise awareness of the proliferation of book banning in American schools. Since it was first published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel about the violent oppression of women, has itself been banned in schools and libraries, and even whole countries over the years. “Let’s hope we don’t reach the stage of wholesale book burnings, as in [Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel] Fahrenheit 451,” says Atwood. “But if we do, let’s hope some books will prove unburnable – that they will travel underground, as prohibited books did in the Soviet Union.” The “Unburnable” edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, featuring the iconic cover by Israeli designer Noma Bar, sold for $130,000. All of the proceeds from the sale went to PEN America.

Recommended

How to find the best dividend stocks
Income investing

How to find the best dividend stocks

Stocks that pay dividends tend to outperform the market over the long run - as well as providing an income. Here, Rupert Hargreaves explains the best …
28 Jun 2022
Boom times for the collectable watch market
Alternative investments

Boom times for the collectable watch market

Vintage and collectable watches are setting records at auction. Chris Carter reports.
28 Jun 2022
What the end of the 1970s bear market can teach today’s investors
Stockmarkets

What the end of the 1970s bear market can teach today’s investors

The 1970s saw the worst bear market Britain has ever seen, with stocks tumbling 70%. Things have changed a lot since then, says Max King. But there ar…
28 Jun 2022
S4 Capital – a company that still has much to prove
Share tips

S4 Capital – a company that still has much to prove

Audit delays set shares tumbling at advertising agency S4 Capital. It needs to show it can turn growth into profits, says Bruce Packard.
28 Jun 2022

Most Popular

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?
Stockmarkets

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?

For a little while, markets looked like they were about to embark on a full-on crash. And that could still happen, says Dominic Frisby. Today, he look…
27 Jun 2022
Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market
Savings

Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market

With inflation at more than 9%, your savings are not going to keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which yo…
24 Jun 2022
Prepare your portfolio for recession
Investment strategy

Prepare your portfolio for recession

A recession is looking increasingly likely. Add in a bear market and soaring inflation, and things are going to get very complicated for investors, sa…
27 Jun 2022