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The 1857 Tidal Wave that was Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary didn’t just make a splash in the literary world — its release caused something more akin to a tidal wave. When it was published in 1857 (or, correction, after its author was acquitted from a trial on the obscenity of the book after its serialized release in 1856), it positively sank the boat of traditional storytelling and forever changed the literary landscape of the world of fiction.

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One of the key ways Madame Bovary turned things around was with its bold portrayal of realism. Flaubert didn’t sugarcoat anything – he presented life as it was, warts and all. From the monotony of small-town existence to the harsh realities of adultery and disillusionment alike, Flaubert quite obviously didn’t shy away from the more gritty details of adult life. It wasn’t just the scandalous affairs that made Madame Bovary famous – it was the way Flaubert captured the human condition. He confronted the ugly parts of life – the jealousy, heartbreak and crushing disappointment – and laid them all out there for the world to see, unflinching and unapologetic. This commitment to the realistic style was pretty groundbreaking, and one could argue that it paved the way for future authors to explore the complexities of human experience in a more honest and unfiltered way than previous Victorian literature. 

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Another way Flaubert and Madame Bovary left their mark was through his distinctive narrative style. Flaubert had a meticulous attention to detail and used a form of indirect discourse and conversation that allowed readers to dive into the minds of his characters, not just view them from afar. In this way, we didn’t just observe Emma Bovary’s actions – but readers felt her desires, her frustrations and her despair. This engrossing literary technique was influential in setting a new standard for psychological and emotional depth in literature. Flaubert is cited by hundreds of writers that followed in his footsteps as the reason for their ability to explore the inner lives of their characters with greater complexity. 

Another significant impact Madame Bovary had was its challenge to societal norms. Flaubert was brave enough to critique the superficiality and hypocrisy of French society, particularly its treatment of women. Madame Bovary’s quest for passion, excitement and fulfillment in an unbelievably stifling patriarchal world struck a chord with readers of the day. It was able to spark conversations about gender roles, marriage, and individual autonomy (whether male or female) – all topics hot on our minds still today. In doing so, Madame Bovary became not just a work of fiction, but one could see it as a stimulus for social change.

Madame Bovary didn’t just change the literary landscape of the mid 1800s, it reshaped it entirely. Flaubert’s revolutionary approach to the realistic style, his open and deep narrative techniques, and the social commentary throughout the book ensured its place as a timeless masterpiece that still inspires readers to this day. Because in the end, Madame Bovary is a book about longing, about a human search for something more. And who hasn’t felt that at some point in their lives?

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“Cormac McCarthy’s Early Proofs: How to Tell the Real from the Fake” – Another Blog by Our Friend Scott Brown

Cormac McCarthy has a devoted following of readers & collectors, and as such, this Pulitzer-Prize winning author has drawn the interest of those who prey on such collectors.  My ABAA colleague, Scott Brown, in a recent blog, identifies and discusses some fake McCarthy proofs recently discovered in the market.  In an effort to disseminate this bibliographic information to a wider audience in the hopes of precluding the perpetuation of any further fraud, we share this information with you.  

Finally, as one of my other colleagues is known remark, “Be careful out there.”

Kind regards,

Vic

Forged proofs1 exist for many of Cormac McCarthy’s books. They have fooled major McCarthy collectors, top dealers in first editions, and specialist book auction houses. You can read how I came across these fakes in my regular Dispatch newsletter.

This list is intended to help collectors and booksellers identify fake proofs of the first editions of Cormac McCarthy’s first five novels, the ones published before the break-out success of All the Pretty Horses in 1992.

Please contact Downtown Brown Books or post a comment to this post if you have corrections or questions about this list.

The starting point for this project was an attempt to compile a list of all the proofs of Cormac McCarthy’s novels known to exist before the forged proofs began to appear in the 2010s. I found two reliable pre-2010 sources for information on McCarthy proofs:

  • The Author Price Guide (APG) for Cormac McCarthy published by the booksellers Quill and Brush in 2004. For more than a decade the authors, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, compiled every catalog reference to McCarthy. Any book not seen by them should be considered suspect.
  • The J. Howard Woolmer Cormac McCarthy collection at the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University (TXST) in San Marcos. Woolmer began collecting McCarthy in 1969. He was a bookseller and a respected bibliographer. He sold his McCarthy collection to TXST in 2006. If he didn’t have an early published McCarthy item in his collection, it should be considered suspect.

“Suspect” does not necessarily mean forged. If a particular proof does not conform to the known real proofs or forgeries described below, a careful examination should be made to determine its authenticity.

In addition to the pre-forgery sources I located, I also consulted Ken Lopez, a specialist in modern first editions who focused on McCarthy early on and who also deals in uncorrected proofs.2 This bibliography would not have been possible without his considerable assistance. Ken and his photographer, Brendan Devlin, examined a large number of forgeries about 2013, took photos, and generously shared them with me. The collector Umberto La Rocca, who has done archival research on McCarthy’s proofs, willingly answered questions for me. A number of other dealers and collectors offered opinions and advice. The conclusions, however, are my own.

Observations on Known Forgeries

For Cormac McCarthy’s first five books, there are more distinct forged proofs than there are real proofs for those novels. (There are also forgeries of proofs of All the Pretty Horses and other books. I will add them in the future, as time permits).

This list was compiled without my ever seeing a forgery in person. I was unable to convince anyone to loan me one to examine, nor were any of the current owners willing to describe in detail the make-up of their forgeries. The conclusions rely on visual evidence from photographs supplemented with the memories of people who have seen them in the past and the surviving archival evidence. But that is more than enough. Once you know what to look for, the forgeries are obvious, it’s figuring out what to look for that is hard.

My analysis of the methods of manufacture devised by the forger are based on the information preserved by Ken Lopez and Brendan Devlin. However, there are variants in the forged proofs that indicate that fakes were produced at different times and the methods used might have changed.

So far, the fabricated UK proof of Suttree is the only forgery that appears to have been done in any sort of edition. I have located three or perhaps four identical or nearly identical copies; presumably there are more. The other fake proofs seem to have been made in smaller batches or perhaps one at a time. Where I have found more than one forgery for a particular proof, it is clear they were made at different times with different cover designs.

The big problem facing the forger of an entire book is how to produce the hundreds of pages required. In most (if not all) cases, the forgeries incorporate printed pages extracted from real books.

In some cases, the forger used first editions of the Cormac McCarthy’s novels to make fraudulent proofs. This was a reasonable choice because at least two real McCarthy proofs are made from the sheets of first edition books. The invented Chatto & Windus proof of Suttree seems to have used a paperback edition. When dismantled hardcover first editions were used to create forgeries, the forger appears to have variously used ex-library, remaindered, and later printing books for the text block of the fakes. These would have been cheaper to procure. Some forgeries also show evidence that the page block edges were sanded, perhaps to remove library or remainder marks. The UK proofs may have been made from American books, which also would have required the replacement of the title page.

Whatever the source, the sheets (pages) were then glued into paper covers printed with an invented or copied design. In a few cases (the least convincing forgeries), rubber stamps were created to add authenticity to the finished product. There is also evidence that false foxing (spotting) was added to the edges of proofs to make them look older than they are.

For the forgeries of books originally printed in the 1960s to the 1980s, the use of computer fonts is obvious to a practiced eye. But not everyone has a practiced eye so based on Ken Lopez’s photographs taken in the early 2010s, I have identified three hallmarks of the forgeries that can be observed without special training or experience. It is possible, however, that the forgeries improved over time and that these techniques are not sufficient to identify all forged McCarthy proofs. Any collector of McCarthy proofs should be exceptionally careful.

Hallmark 1: The Replacement of the Title/Copyright Leaf

For reasons that are still not completely clear, the forger regularly replaced the title/copyright leaf in the fake proofs with a modern printed sheet.

Hallmark 2: Amateurish Binding

The forger was not an experienced bookbinder and does not appear to have had access to professional equipment. As a consequence, there is a homemade look to the bindings (at least the ones seen by Ken Lopez early on—the forger may have improved over time).3 Real proofs are professionally made in almost every case. They are, after all, produced by companies who make books for a living. The design may be simple and the text pages may show corrections, but the books themselves are manufactured, not assembled by clerks with glue sticks.

The fake proofs for which images are available also show a mixture of glues, the original glue used to bind the real book and new glue used to attach the sheets to the paper proof covers.

The inserted title/copyright leafs often protrude from the rest of the page block. Inserting new leaves into an already-bound book is a binding skill that requires practice to do invisibly. The forger did not have enough practice.

Examples of fake Cormac McCarthy proofs showing inserted pages that don’t match the color of the other paper and which protrude beyond the edge of the page block. Note also the gaps between the sheets and the covers and the odd glue residue. [Images courtesy of Ken Lopez]

Hallmark 3: The Use of Color Inkjet Technology for Black-and-White Printing

Many color inkjets print blacks using all four ink colors by default (the printer manufacturers say these blacks are richer; I suspect they want users to consume more ink cartridges). The forger was apparently unaware of this and consistently printed in full color. Under magnification, tell-tale spots of cyan (blue), magenta, and yellow inks can be clearly seen on the pages printed by the forger. Similar anachronistic printing can be seen on some of the covers, but this is harder to spot when the fake covers are printed on colored paper.

Under magnification, many of the fake McCarthy proofs show spots of color, artifacts of the modern desktop printing equipment used to make them. [Images courtesy of Ken Lopez]

A Pictorial Guide to Real and Fake Proofs of Cormac McCarthy’s First Five Novels

THE ORCHARD KEEPER

Random House (1965)

Real US Proof

Covers: Light colored printed wrappers (paper covers), variously described as gray or buff. The paper has a faint vertical pattern.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures glued into paper covers. You should be able to clearly see the “loops” of the gatherings (also called signatures).

Notes: Since this proof is made with real folded and gathered sheets, it is better described as an advance reading copy (ARC).4 In this it resembles many of the phony proofs. The real version of the proof does not have a tipped in title page. The text paper color and texture should be the same throughout the book.

This proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (McCarthy no. 001a) and a copy is found in the Woolmer collection. No fake copies of this proof have been located but they could exist.

REAL: The advance reading copy (ARC) of The Orchard Keeper (Random House, 1965). Bound from folded and gathered signatures in buff-gray paper wrappers. [Images from Between the Covers (l) and First and Fine (r)]

Real UK Proof

Andre Deutsch (1966)

Covers: Proof version of the UK dust jacket with “For Publication/Mar 1966/Andre Deutsch Ltd. Finished Jacket Will Be Varnished” in bold purple lettering on the inside of the front cover (the back or verso of the jacket)..

Page Block: Folded and gathered sheets from the first American edition glued into wrappers made from the trial dust jacket. Green top edge. With a Random House title page.

Notes: This description is from the Ahearns’ APG (#001c), citing a for-sale offering from Waiting for Godot Books in April 2004.

The UK proof of The Orchard Keeper with publication information stamped on the inside front cover (a trial dust jacket used as wrappers). [Courtesy of a private collector]

Forgery of the UK Proof

Covers: Bright yellow printed wrappers in a dust jacket.

Page Block: Signatures, with a tipped in title/copyright leaf printed with a color inkjet printer.

Notes: This proof cannot be a second variant of an Andre Deutsch proof because it includes a false title page printed using twenty-first century technology.

The ink stamp on the cover also has an anachronistic element: the straight single quote in the word “printer’s”. Straight quotes were based on typewriter fonts that were ported to early word processors; they were not in general use before the desktop computer era.

The jacket on this proof could be real, but it is more likely a modern recreation.

FAKE: (Left to Right) Cover of a forged UK proof of The Orchard Keeper. Detail of the page block showing sanding near the spine and glue residue left after the sheets were removed from a hardcover book. The jacket (possibly real) wrapped around the proof. Detail of the straight apostrophe that give the computer-generated origin of the rubber stamp. [Images from Ken Lopez]

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OUTER DARK

No proofs of Outer Dark were made by either Random House in the US or Andre Deutsch in the UK. All Outer Dark proofs should be presumed to be fakes until proven otherwise.

Random House: A search of internet book marketplaces suggests that Random House produced very few paperback proofs in the late 1960s so the lack of a proof of this novel is not especially surprising.

In the late 1960s, Random House instead tended to produce unbound galleys of forthcoming books. Such an advance issue is known for Outer Dark. Galleys are long narrow sheets output from the typesetting equipment of the era. The Ahearns recorded an unbound set of galleys in their APG (#002a), and copies are found in Cormac McCarthy’s archive at TXST.

The collector Howard Woolmer unsuccessfully sought a proof of Outer Dark for many years, and in his papers at TXST is a copy of a letter he wrote to Ken Lopez in 1988 seeking information about this proof.

Forgeries of the US Proof

Two different fake proofs for Outer Dark are known.

US FAKE STYLE 1

Covers: Cream-colored printed wrappers with the title on one line. Information sheet taped to cover (replicating real examples of later McCarthy proofs). Tapebound spine

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures glued into paper covers. Title/copyright leaf printed on an inkjet and tipped in.5

US FAKE STYLE 2

Covers: Title on two lines. The cover design uses a typeface that is not characteristic of printing in the 1960s. The lower half of the cover copies the design of the real proof of The Orchard Keeper.

Page Block: Unknown

FAKES: (Left) The Style 1 forged proof of Outer Dark. (Top) Detail of the cover sheet and the logo on the cover that both show spots of color from inkjet printing. (Bottom) A detail of the page block with the tipped-in white title page sticking up at the left and unconvincing glue residue at the spine. (Right) A partial cover of the Style 2 forged Outer Dark proof with the title on two lines and a lower half that copies the real Orchard Keeper ARC. [Images from Reddit user howtocookawolf (right) and Ken Lopez]

Forgery of the UK Proof

Covers: Tan printed wrappers with the phrase “uncorrected first proof” at the top of the front cover. The tan wrappers on copy of this fake examined by Ken Lopez were printed on white paper (why the forger didn’t just use tan paper cannot be readily explained).

Page Block: Bound from folded and gathered signatures; tipped in title/copyright leaf printing on a color inkjet printer.

Notes: The description of this undoubted forgery is based on an examination of an fake proof seen by Ken Lopez.

Another copy of this proof was sold at auction on December 10, 2019 by Fonsie Mealy as part of lot 716, a group of books from the Philip Murray collection of Cormac McCarthy. The purchaser was a UK bookseller, who consigned it to Forum Auctions in Lonon, which sold the book with a fake UK Child of God proof (see below) on November 30, 2023 for £1,512 (about $1,900).6

I considered the possibility that the Murray Outer Dark proof might have been real and the source of the fake seen by Ken Lopez. Looked at on their own, the fake UK Outer Dark proofs look plausible, until you compare them with other proofs from the same publisher from about the same time.

FAKE: A forged UK Outer Dark proof alongside contemporary real proofs from the same publisher. The text “uncorrected first proof” gives this British proof away. That text is copied from the real American proof of McCarthy’s next novel.

A strong argument can be made that the Murray copy was also fake, from the cover design alone without knowing how it was constructed.

The key give-away is the phrase “uncorrected first proof” on the cover. This is not typical wording for any proof, let alone an Andre Deutsch proof from the early 1970s.

This phrase comes from Random House, McCarthy’s American publisher, which used that descriptor on proofs for a brief period in the early 1970s, including the real proof of Child of God (1973). Thus, the forger faked a 1970 British proof using a distinctive design element from an American proof published three years later.

There are other elements that don’t pass the sniff test. The addition of the superfluous “by” in front of the author’s name; the italicization of Cormac McCarthy, copied from the Random House proof of The Orchard Keeper; and the use of a contrasting font for the publisher’s name (Andre Deutsch did not have a standard typeface for its proof covers, but it typically used just one type family for the entire text).

The Philip Murray / Fonsie Mealy / Forum proof is thus almost certainly fake. Forum Auctions told me they were going to issue a refund to the purchaser, an American.

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CHILD OF GOD

Real US Proof

Random House (1973)

STATE 1: Without Information Sheet

Cover: Red printed wrappers with a double rule in the center. The double rule is slightly wavy. The Random House logo is hand drawn.

Page Block: Unknown (I haven’t been able to confirm if it is perfectbound or bound from folded and gathered signatures).

Notes: This proof of Child of God is recorded in the Ahearns’s APG (#003a). The catalog entry for the copy in the Woolmer collection does not mention the information sheet..

STATE 2: With Information Sheet Taped to Front Cover.

State 2 is the same as State 1, but it has a photocopied information sheet taped to the cover. Heritage Auctions sold a Random House proof of Child of God on October 16, 2009. It did not have and information sheet but it had surface scars where the tape used to be.

Notes: A distinctive feature of this proof is the wording “uncorrected first proof” on the cover, a particular phrasing that appeared on Random House proofs in the early 1970s and rarely on proofs at any other time or by any other publisher.

A REAL (left) and a FAKE Style 1 (right) Random House proof of Child of God. There are subtle differences between them. For example, the line spacing between the author’s first and last names is slightly larger in the fake. However, the easy way to tell them apart is that the FAKE proof (center, top) has a pair of neat, straight lines. The REAL proof (center, bottom) has a wavy double rule. [Images from Ken Lopez. The real proof image dates to 2006 or before.]

Forgeries of the US Proof

Two different forgeries of this proof are known.

US FAKE STYLE 1

Covers: Red printed wrappers designed to look very similar to the real US proof. The easiest way to distinguish the two are to look closely at the double rule (line) between the title and the author. The forged rules are computer generated and perfectly straight. The real proof has slightly wavy lines.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures with an inkjet-printed title/copyright leaf. The sheets appear to have come from a hardcover copy of the book.

US FAKE STYLE 2

Covers: Red printed wrappers with a design similar to the real Random House proof of The Orchard Keeper and the fake Random House proof of Outer Dark. The distinguishing features between this fake style and the real proof are 1) the real proof was a slightly wavy double rule between the author and the title where this fabrication has a tapered rule; and 2) the real proof uses a hand-drawn logo while the forgery uses a more standard publisher’s logo, probably copied from the Random House Orchard Keeper proof.7

Page Block: Unknown

Notes: As with several other fake proofs, this style can be condemned from its cover design, which is copied from the American proof of The Orchard Keeper. Most likely, this forgery was made before the forger had access to the real proof.

The partial photograph I have found of this style shows a copy that has the order “destroy” rubberstamped many times on the cover.8 The fact that this proof pretends to have been destined for the trash bin made it easier to overlook its design flaws.

FAKE Style 2: A partial image of a different forgery of the Random House proof of Child of God. This example uses the wrong logo and a single tapered rule, both copied from the proof of The Orchard Keeper from eight years earlier. [Image from Reddit user howtocookawolf]

Forgeries of the UK Proof

No legitimate UK proofs of Child of God are known to exist. No copies were recorded in the Ahearns’s APG or in the Woolmer collection. The collector Umberto La Rocca spent time researching this proof in the Chatto & Windus archive at the University of Reading. He told me that there is no record of a proof being printed for this book.

UK FAKE STYLE 1

Covers: Heavily textured paper. The publisher’s logo is closer to the bottom of the front cover.

Page Block: Folded and gathered signatures with a tipped in title/copyright leaf printed with a color laserjet printer.

FAKE UK Child of God proofs. Style 1 (left) and Style 2 (right). [Images from Ken Lopez and Forum Auctions.]

UK FAKE STYLE 2

The Style 2 UK proof proves that fake proofs were made over time (and not in a single act of forgery).

Cover: Lightly textured paper, with the publisher’s name closer to the bottom of the front cover.

Page Block: Unknown.

Notes: An example of fake Style 2 of the UK proof of Child of God came out of the Philip Murray collection auctioned by Fonsie Mealy in 2019. It later sold at Forum Auctions (2023), a sale cancelled by the auctioneer when the forgery came to light.

While this style of proof has not been examined closely, it can be condemned by its cover design.

Stylistically, this proof is atypical of other proofs from Chatto & Windus from the mid-1970s as the title text is based on the dust jacket design, a feature not seen on any other proofs from the era. In addition, it has a text box noting this copy is “the property of the publisher and not for sale.” This wording and the formatting appears to be based on the real Picador proof for Blood Meridian, which wouldn’t be published for another decade.

A distinguishing feature of the McCarthy forger’s design work are elements that are copied from proof to proof, publisher to publisher, and country to country in a way not seen in real proofs by other authors or among the real proofs for Cormac McCarthy. Proofs typically conform the publisher’s current house style and not to previous or future proofs for other books and different editions.

(Upper left) A Style 2 forged proof from the Philip Murray collection sold twice at auction, with proofs of other books from the same publisher within two years of its supposed publication.

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SUTTREE9

Real US Proof

Random House (1979)

US PROOF STATE 1

Covers: Red printed wrappers without an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Page Block: Unknown

Notes: I have not found an image of the proof without the information sheet. A copy of this proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#004a). A copy is also recorded in the Woolmer collection which is apparently State 1, with a “book synopsis” laid in. No forgery of this proof has been reported.

US PROOF STATE 2

Same as State 1 but with an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Notes: No forgery of this proof has been reported.

REAL. US Suttree proof, state 2. [Image from Heritage Auctions, 2014]

Forgery of the UK Proof

No proof of this book was issued and any book purporting to be a proof should be considered extremely suspect.

Covers: Red textured printed wrappers, with the title reproducing the title-page design.

Page Block: Perfectbound. Umberto La Rocca has identified the page block of at least one copy are coming from the 1992 Vintage Books paperback which omitted the acknowledgements page which is opposite the copyright page in all other editions. The title page is recreated using a slightly wrong font (see below). The page block may be from a paperback copy or perhaps photocopied from a paperback copy.

FAKE British Suttree proofs (possibly the same copy photographed a decade apart). Two other examples of this proof have been located, bringing the total to either three or four (if the pictures are of different books) known examples. More are likely.

Notes: The UK first edition of Suttree was made in the US from finished American books. The title/copyright leaf was removed and new one with the British publisher’s name was tipped in (in technical book terms, the title leaf is a cancel). The spine of the UK first edition says Random House, not Chatto & Windus. Chatto & Windus designed and printed a different dust jacket for the novel.

It does not seem logical for Chatto & Windus to produce a proof of the novel when they didn’t even bother to put their name on the outside of the finished book. The collector Umberto La Rocca says that there is no record of Chatto & Windus producing a proof for their edition of Suttree in the publisher’s archive at the University of Reading.

The cover design of the fake proof is not characteristic of Chatto & Windus proofs of the era, which use straightforward typesetting, just like the American proofs. Further condemning this proof is the fact that the copyright page is a re-creation of the real UK title page, but the font is wrong.

(Left) Details of the copyright page of the first Chatto & Windus edition of Suttree. (Right) Details of the forged UK proof, with the publisher’s name misspelled (“Wundis”) at the top and the wrong typeface for the numbers below. Another copy (not pictured) has the publisher’s name spelled correctly but the font appears to be the same as the known forgery. [Images from The Rare Book Sleuth (real) and Burnside Rare Books (fake)]

A Note on Foxing

A known fake of the UK edition of Outer Dark has heavy foxing on the page edges. The forged UK Suttree proof photographed by Ken Lopez in the early 2010s and the Paul Ford/BooksCurious/Burnside Rare Books copy that I wrote about in my newsletter also had foxing on the top edge (they may be the same copy, but the photographs are not clear enough to say for sure).

The Suttree foxing may be faked; it has the appearance of a coffee splatter. The forger may have used this and other fake aging techniques to disguise the recent printing of the proof covers.

Bottom Left: Real foxing on a fake proof. Circles: Details of probably fake foxing on fake proofs.

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BLOOD MERIDIAN

Real US Proof

Random House (1985)

US PROOF STATE 1

Covers: Printed yellow wrappers without an information sheet on the cover.

Page Block: Perfectbound

A copy of this proof is found in the Woolmer collection with an information sheet laid in. It is also listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#005a). No forgery of this proof has been reported.

US PROOF STATE 2

Same as State 1 but with an information sheet taped to the front cover.

Notes: No forgery of this proof has been reported.

Two states of the US proof of Blood Meridian. [Images from Heritage Auctions and Books4Ewe]

Real UK Proof

Picador (1989)

Covers: Red printed wrappers.

Page Block: Uncertain. The cover says the page block is printed on “proofing paper.” How this is different from regular paper is unclear.

Notes: A copy of this proof is listed in the Ahearns’ APG (#005c) and a copy can be found in the Woolmer collection at TXST.

Fake UK Proof

The cover of the forged proof of the Picador edition of Blood Meridian is the best of the fakes. The most obvious difference is that the publisher’s logo is closer to the bottom edge on the fake than on the real proof.

Covers: Printed red textured wrappers.

Page Block: Bound from folded and gathered signatures from a hardcover book.

REAL proof on the left; forgery on the right. The typefaces used are not quite the same but the most obvious difference is the placement of the publisher’s logo. The fake proof’s logo is positioned somewhat lower than on the real proof. [Images from First and Fine (left) and Ken Lopez (right)]

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Forgeries of Other McCarthy Proofs

Faked copies of the UK proofs of All the Pretty Horses and The Stonemason exist. There are also fakes of a fictitious illustrated edition of Blood Meridian and of a supposedly scrapped signed, limited edition of The Road.

Be careful out there.

—Scott Brown, Updated April 10, 2024

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What We Can Learn from Evelyn Waugh’s “Scott-King’s Modern Europe”

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When you think of the name Evelyn Waugh, titles like Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust probably come to mind. Waugh, an author known for his biting satire and meticulously written prose, was a prolific author of the 20th century. His novella “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” is a classic example of Waugh’s satirical work – complete with profound insights into (unfortunate) cultural decline, the crumbling of “traditional” values, and the occasional absurdity of modern life. Despite its brevity (the work is only 88 pages), this novella is an almost perfect example of Waugh’s trademark wit and language while offering sharp social commentary.

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Set in post-World War II Europe, “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” follows (lo-and-behold) the character of Mr. Scott-King, a classics professor at an English public school, as he sets off on a cultural exchange program to the fictional European state of the “Modern European Republic”. At the beginning of the story, Scott-King shows reluctance to participate fully in the trip, feeling a dedication to preserving the traditions and manners of classical education in a progressively more and more modern, utilitarian world. However, as time passes and as Mr. Scott-King sees absurd bureaucratic nonsense and the inanity of this “Modern European Republic”, he finds himself staring straight into the harsh (yet at times comical) realities of the cultural and moral decline of his world.

Central in the novella is Waugh’s rather scathing critique of modernity and its impact on education, culture, and society in general. Comparing the polar opposites of the world of classical academia and the fairly soulless modern functional bureaucracy, Waugh found a way to reveal the occasionally empty promises of progress and pragmatism. The protagonist’s extreme commitment to the concepts of a classical education and tradition seem to be a rather uncomfortable reminder to value knowledge, tradition and manners in an age obsessed with the superficial, with expediency and convenience. Sound familiar to anyone else? Seems like a reminder we could all use today. And this was written in 1947… clearly it’s an enduring problem!

Throughout the book, Waugh’s writing is full of subtle irony and dark humor – classic hallmarks of his satires. The novella might be short, but don’t let that fool you. Waugh deftly handles themes of identity and disillusionment, not to mention the human battle between our idealistic and realistic feelings and desires. Mr. Scott-King himself is something of a tragicomic character, with a hint of the absurd yet heroic in his own way. He sticks to his principles, even to the detriment of his relationships with those around him. While coming across as a bit of a “stick-in-the-mud”, he also isn’t necessarily wrong in his breakdown of a modern, unfeeling society. 

Despite being published almost eight decades ago, Waugh’s work remains almost remarkably relevant in his critique of contemporary society. Here in the 21st century, we struggle with similar issues! Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Waugh’s commentary and incorporate more traditions and values into our modern society.

Check out our 1st edition copy here!

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“Why I Don’t Trust COAs” – A Blog by Our Friend Scott Brown

So you think you scored with that signed Hemingway volume you bought on eBay?  I mean, it came with a Certificate of Authenticity [COA], right?  You may wish to rethink that position after reading my colleague’s Scott Brown exposé blog on “COAs”.

Enjoy, and as another ABAA colleague was wont to say, “Be careful out there”.

V.

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Why I Don’t Trust COAs

An exploration of the contradictions and conflicts of interest in the certificates of authenticity industry

MAR 4, 2024

Paying the Bills
These rare-books newsletters are published in conjunction with my latest list of new arrivals, this time a group of modern first editions from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and other writers. If you are a fan of Larry McMurtry, I have a number of signed items on eBay right now, with no reserve (I needed the space for the McMurtrys that will be on my next list).

Why I Don’t Trust Certificates of Authenticity and an Argument Why Maybe You Shouldn’t Either

I think Certificates of Authenticity (COAs)1 for autographs are bullshit, and here’s why:

If you can’t trust 100% of a company’s COAs, then you have to double check all of them. That means you are authenticating autographs on your own, so what do you need an authentication service for?

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Currently, the largest and most respected autograph authentication service is probably PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), a subsidiary of Collector’s Universe, a formerly public company that was taken private in a $700 $8502 million hedge fund deal.

Here’s an example of a famous autograph they authenticated:

I read this as “To Leslie and [?], the most beautiful reading is done between mother and daughter—…read on…. X [love, as in xoxoxo] D[ad].

This inscription is in an otherwise worthless, badly water damaged copy used book. The asking price from an eBay seller was $12,000.

The seller used PSA’s reputation to justify the price: “THIS HAS BEEN AUTHENTICATED BY A RECOGNIZED WORLD LEADER.  It is beyond question.”

That’s what PSA would like you to think.3

But this isn’t even a forgery.

It’s just a father4 giving a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger to his wife and daughter to read together. It was kind of sweet, until PSA said it was a rare inscribed book by Salinger, one of the most reclusive and collectible authors of the 20th century.

PSA’s online confirmation of the autograph, downloaded on February 22, 2024

Apparently the person at PSA who authenticated the autograph read the signature as “J.D.”—at least that’s the most generous interpretation I can come up with.

Salinger tended to sign his name “J. D. Salinger” but people didn’t call him “J.D.” To those who knew him, he was Jerry. Assigning the autograph to Salinger fails on the basic facts, without even considering the handwriting.5

Back in December, I contacted PSA about this autograph and informed them that they had probably made a mistake. I exchanged several cordial emails with a customer service representative that went nowhere (the cert number was still showing as authentic the last time I checked it). I’d excerpt PSA’s emails but they come with threatening-sounding language about unauthorized quoting that I think is legal mumbo jumbo, but why chance it? I do wonder, though, what they have to hide.

Now you might think that PSA would be concerned about their liability if someone relied on their COA and paid $12,000 for this book, only to learn later that it wasn’t actually signed by Salinger.

Most members of the major bookselling associations (ABAAIOBA) would feel this way because as long as we are in business, we have to offer money back guarantees to our customers if we sell something that turns out not to be authentic.

PSA calls itself “the only third-party grading service to offer a guarantee on its services,” and it says that the “PSA Authenticity and Grade Guarantee…is fundamental to PSA’s reputation.”

But it’s always good to read the fine print, especially when there’s a hedge fund involved looking to make a significant return on an $850 million investment. By my count, there are currently 18 itemized exceptions to the PSA “guarantee” totaling more than 1600 words (compared to 350 words for the guarantee itself).

Collectors and dealers relying on PSA’s autograph authentication services and COAs should pay attention to this part of the PSA “guarantee”:

“The Guarantee does not apply to the authenticity or grade assigned to any autograph, whether certified by a manufacturer or applied after its release.”

In short, PSA is happy to take your $100 to authenticate a J. D. Salinger autograph but they make no promises about whether their authentication opinion is actually right. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t bother to correct the apparently bogus Salinger I told them about. They got their money. For everyone else, it’s buyer beware.

This supposed Salinger autograph is by no means the only time PSA’s authenticators have made an egregious error.6 Here’s a sports card with a printed signature on the front that was encapsulated in an “authentic auto[graph]” plastic slab. To be fair, sometimes it can be hard to tell a printed signature from a real one (but, of course, that’s one of the reasons you might want to hire a professional autograph authenticator).

In this case, however, the back of this Justin Verlander card states twice that the autograph on the front is a reproduction, but PSA took the money and certified it, relying on the autograph exception on their guarantee not to take any responsibility for the error.

illustration of a card with a printed signature authenticated by PSA
An illustration from screen captures showing a sports card that PSA authenticated as having a real autograph when the card itself says “it does not contain an original autograph.”

Collectors who value COAs from companies like PSA might brush off errors like these as the inevitable result of grading hundreds of thousands of autographs. A few errors are bound to creep in, they might say. But now that you’ve seen one bogus PSA “Salinger” autograph, would you trust their judgment on this one for $98,000? (permalink).

These errors aren’t errors of judgment made by someone trying to identify a real signature from a good forgery. The Salinger I reported to PSA and the printed Verlander autographs aren’t celebrity autographs at all. No company that professes to have expert authenticators should ever make this kind of mistake.

And I return to my original point. If you have to second guess any autographs, then all the COAs are effectively worthless because you still have to do your own authentication. COAs are also arguably counterproductive because they cause collectors and dealers to let their guard down and may make them more likely to accept a bad autograph with a COA than a bad autograph without one.

Autograph authentication is hard, particularly when someone is trying to evaluate a simple signature. There are lots of forgers at work; more now than ever before (user saveafricanow on eBay is my personal favorite, both for the volume of forgeries that they sell and for how truly awful all of the “signatures” are).

Even the world’s best handwriting experts will have a hard time identifying a good forgery, particularly when the handwriting example is very small, like the one, two, or three words of a person’s name.

I wondered who the autograph authenticators at PSA are, but of the nearly 800 employees on LinkedIn, none are obviously working on autograph authentication.7 One authenticator I identified got her job following thirteen years working as a “Custom Logo Order Specialist” at Northern Safety and Industrial.

I don’t mean to pick on this employee, but getting good at authentication requires years of experience, none of which is particularly evident in the LinkedIn profiles of Collectors’ (the parent company of PSA) employees.

I searched Justia and found a single US court case where PSA’s opinion about authenticity was accepted by a court, and that was for a baseball card that had been touched up with paint, an objectively obvious alteration that was easily confirmed by other sports-card authenticators.

PSA is not the only autograph authentication company pumping out tens of thousands of COAs each year. Autograph authentication has become an industry with (at least) tens of millions of dollars of sales each year.

James Spence Authentication (JSA) is another autograph authentication firm popular with collectors (James Spence Jr, the founder, also founded PSA’s autograph authentication division. JSA’s COAs are now signed by James Spence III, who is taking over from his father).

While a much smaller company than PSA, JSA’s LinkedIn page at least has a few people identified as autograph authenticators. But as far as I can tell, neither PSA nor JSA obviously employ former law enforcement officers with experience with forgery, nor are any of their employees identified as belonging to the professional organization, the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners.

According to LinkedIn, one autograph authenticator came to JSA from SGC, a sports card grading company (recently acquired by the hedge-fund-owned parent company of PSA). I don’t want to pick on this fellow, either, but according to his resume he went from an entry-level position at SGC to “director of autograph authentication” in less than 18 months. His previous job, before he became an autograph authenticator? For eight years, he cleaned airplanes between flights for JetBlue.8

As for this employee’s success rate at authenticating autographs, he claims to be “able to achieve 99% accuracy.” Sounds pretty good, but that implies that at least one in every 100 SGC autograph authentication was wrong. As the lead authenticator, this expert said he “authenticated highly valued items autographed by superstars such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Wayne Gretzky.” Imagine: One year you are picking up pretzels off the floor of a budget airline and the next you are deciding which pieces of paper with “Babe Ruth” written on them are worth tens of thousands of dollars and which are worthless.

(Now that you know that one of JSA’s sports authenticators spent more time working with an airport ground crew than producing COAs, how confident are you in JSA’s authentication of this 5-figure Mickey Mantle autograph certified during his tenure?)

The resume of this expert perfectly captures the circular reasoning at the center of the whole industry of autograph authentication: “Working closely with some of the largest auction houses in the nation,” he writes, “I authored hundreds of LOA’s (Letters of Authenticity) for items which have sold at auction at significant prices.”

In other words, collectors pay large sums for authenticated items and then the authenticators argue that the large sums validate their authentications.

JSA is a prolific issuer of COAs for Stephen King signatures.

King has signed a lot of books over the years, including more than 50,000 signed, limited editions by my estimate.9 For many years, King also let collectors send in books to be signed, and he employed assistants who kept track of all the books and corralled the author into signing them. Despite the large number of real autographs in existence, a King signature often adds $1,000 or more to the price of a book.

In recent years, King has not gone on book tours, nor does he make many personal appearances, yet newly signed Stephen King books keep turning up.

I asked an advanced Stephen King collector about JSA’s COAs for Stephen King autographs. She responded, “Unfortunately it’s prevalent that JSA-authenticated Stephen King signed books are mostly fakes… Furthermore it is in the interest of unscrupulous sellers of fakes to get their copy ‘authenticated.’ ”

I did a bit of digging.

On January 4, 2024, some lucky person had six King books authenticated by JSA. The ink is still fresh and shiny, and yet they look like Stephen King signatures from ten years ago. Nevertheless, these autographs were issued certificates YY73722, –23, –24, –25, –26, and –27.10 Impressive!

Not nearly as impressive, however, as the run of 38 Stephen King autographs consecutively authenticated by JSA on or about December 6, 2023 (beginning with letter of authenticity no. YY65473 and ending with YY65511. You can easily check the adjacent certificates by simply changing the URL in your browser’s address bar).

A number of books from that amazing haul turned up in the eBay store A&E Sports hosted by the seller y2littlek. They recently sold a 9th printing of the Perennial Classics reprint of King’s classic On Writing for $1,499 (available new, not signed, on Amazon, for $17.49). That book came with JSA’s letter of authenticity no. YY65493.

These autographs bear only a passing resemblance to Stephen King’s current signature. JSA provided COAs for all of them. The certificate number is below each signature.

Several of these 38 autographs are very atypical of Stephen King. Even if they were real and signed under some extremely unusual circumstance, it’s hard to understand how JSA can authenticate them; at best an autograph expert should say their opinion is inconclusive. (This is another problem with the authentication business. They give refunds or credits if they can’t reach an opinion; absent scientific testing or detailed provenance research, a lot of autographs should come back inconclusive, but the COA mills don’t make any money if they say that.)

If someone handed in a stack of 38 books signed by Stephen King for evaluation, I think any professional autograph expert should be very skeptical. Of the thousands of Stephen King collectors out there, not very many have managed to acquire 38 signed trade (not limited) editions. How likely is it that a sports guy like y2littlek would turn up a world-class collection of books signed by Stephen King?

Herein lies another contradiction at the heart of autograph authentication—the firms and their customers both want the same thing: lots of real autographs. When a business that should be skeptical is dependent on giving the positive results their customers want, they have a conflict of interest. If JSA doesn’t return enough positive results, the customer can turn to PSA, or Beckett, or others. Collectors who buy autographs accompanied by COAs are not actually the authenticators’ customers, they just rely on the authenticators’ opinions. (It’s exactly the situation in this scene in The Big Short about how the rating agencies gave good marks to junk mortgage bonds, helping to perpetuate the banking crisis of 2008).

Like all businesses, PSA and JSA rely on large-volume customers to drive profits. Large-volume customers will switch services if they pay for too many autographs that come back as fake. JSA charges $50 for a Stephen King COA so a batch of 38 books means almost $2,000 in revenue; the eBay seller y2littlek has nearly 700 items listed that are accompanied by JSA COAs, which equals piles of money for JSA. This is exactly the sort of situation that can lead to errors in judgment. When their livelihood is at stake, even people with good intentions can be swayed to make decisions they might not normally make.

If you find my arguments compelling, a collector might reasonably ask what they should do if they want to collect signed books. Fundamentally, the desire for a COA reflects a keen wish for certainty. The COA companies feed this with their “letters of authenticity” and “certificate numbers,” while renouncing all guarantees in their fine print (JSA’s policies state, “JSA makes no warranty or representation and shall have no liability whatsoever to the customer for the opinion rendered by JSA on any submission.”) Certainty about autographs cannot be 100%. Even if you witness the autograph session, you can’t transfer that memory to anyone else. We are all stuck making our own judgment calls.

But here are a few guidelines:

  1. Buy signed, limited editions. Sometimes they are fake, but not often.
  2. Buy inscribed books, rather than simply signed books. This goes against the current collecting trend, but the more a forger has to write, the harder it is to make a convincing forgery (the exceptions are Ken Kesey and Hunter S. Thompson, whose autographs are almost a caricature to begin with).
  3. Learn all you can about the signers you collect and the basics of forgery detection. Kenneth Rendell’s Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents is a good start.
  4. Buy more often from booksellers (like me, 🙂 who actually guarantee their autographs, as all members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA), and the Professional Autograph Dealers Association (PADA) must do. The guarantee is only good as long as the booksellers are members of the organization, but considering that the COA companies offer no guarantees, it’s a much better deal however long it lasts. To be fair, the ABAA is not filled with angels. There have been member dealers connected to forgery and theft, but as long as the dealers are members, they will take returns of inauthetic items sold by mistake, and both IOBA and the ABAA have ethics committees that will mediate between customers and dealers, services that none of the COA companies offer.

Be careful out there.

Authentically yours,

Scott Brown
Downtown Brown Books, ABAA, IOBA

1

Many autograph authentication company’s issue letters of authenticity (LOAs), rather than certificates of authenticity (COAs), but collectors tend to call them COAs and I will too. James Spence Authentication (JSA), as an example, issues letters of authenticity that have unique certification numbers rather than letter numbers.

2

The deal for the company was so hot that the hedge fund and its investors had to pony up $850 million after originally agreeing to do the deal for $700 million. Lots of billionaire money is pouring into the collectibles industry. Collectors, the new parent company of PSA, has been on a buying spree, acquiring an auction house and another sports card grading company. The New York Times recently ran a story about the increasingly high-dollar competition for sports trading card companies [behind a paywall]. Billionaires have figured out that trading cards—which cost a few cents to manufacture—can be turned into tens of thousands of dollars by adding a fraction of a cent worth of ink from the pen of a star athlete. There may be no higher margin business. The authentication business, particularly certifying and encapsulating (slabbing) items, is also hugely lucrative, as the companies charge a percentage of the value of the object, which can be thousands of dollars per trading card, comic, and video game. Autographs are still charged only a flat rate because that’s how everyone does it. As soon as one of the firms changes to a percentage-of-value model for autographs, the others may well follow—it’s the same work, only it would be much more money.

3

If you go to JSA’s website to validate one of their COAs, the prompt offered is “Verify the validity of PSA & PSA/DNA certification numbers.” On the JSA site, visitors are invited to “Verify authenticity.”

4

Or perhaps someone whose first name begins with D.

5

Very few “celebrities” consider autograph collectors when signing items, which makes authentication inherently difficult. We all vary how we write all the time [I wrote about that here]. I found one example of Salinger signing a letter to a friend with his initials (which is a lot different from signing a book for a stranger) and “xx” for “love,” which is stylistically in the same ballpark as the Salinger book inscription I wrote about above.

As these initials suggest, Salinger was fond of printing rather than writing cursive. As he got older, his handwriting became a blend of printing and cursive, but I haven’t seen an example that is purely cursive like the book inscription attributed to him by PSA.

Top: Early Salinger printing from 1952. Bottom: Late (1989) Salinger printing/cursive.

6

The same card collector on YouTube exposed faked signed Willie Mays cards which have problems with both the cards and the signatures, yet examples were certified by both PSA and CSG (also known as CGC—why so many three initial names in this field?). What his video also demonstrates is the amount of effort needed to closely compare authentic and forged items; signature authentication probably doesn’t cost enough to be done well by skilled (read: highly paid) professionals.

7

Searching Collectors’s (PSA’s parent company) LinkedIn page on March 2, 2024, for the term autograph turns up a person who lists their job title as “follower of Jesus Christ”, an “intermediate sales associate”, a “sales supervisor”, and one autograph “grader” (adjacent to authentication in the sports autograph field, related to how perfect the signature is on an artifact).

8

When I fly, I greatly appreciate the people who clean the planes between flights, especially when there’s a short turn-around time. I just don’t see how that prepares someone to separate real autographs from forgeries.

9

Stephen King has signed nearly 90 limited editions of his own books and probably as many anthologies. While some have small print runs, many were issued in hundreds and even as many as 2000 signed copies. That’s a lot of signatures.

10

JSA’s online certificate lookup provides limited information about the authenticated autograph. More information can be found on the LOAs themselves, including the date the item was submitted for authentication. I am assuming, I think reasonably, that consecutive LOA numbers, for items by the same signer, are highly likely to have been submitted by the same person.

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A Look at Charles Dickens’ Thoughts on America

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This being his birth month, we couldn’t possibly let the month go by without a blog on our main man – Charles Dickens. Our Victorian celebrity gifted the world with timeless tales of love, loss, and, of course, the occasional ghostly visitation (what happy, holiday story would be the same without one?). Did you know though, that when it came to his adventures touring in America, Charles was full of wit and humor… and dismay, at our strange American customs? If not, buckle up – you’re in for a ride! (Yet another American idiom he probably would have hated!)

First on Dickens’ list of American annoyances was the peculiar trait of what he called “Yankee Doodle Dandies” – who chewed tobacco with (apparently) all the grace of a cow chewing cud. Dickens was disgusted at the sight of fully grown men spitting wads of brown gunk on the sidewalks like it was going out of fashion. He wrote about this disturbing habit, “One wonders if they mistake the streets for spittoons or simply enjoy adding a dash of rustic charm to the pavements.” Honestly? Yuck – he’s not wrong. 

Dickens also couldn’t help but poke fun at what he perceived as a showy nature of American hospitality. “In England we’re content with a pot of tea and a biscuit, but in America, one must navigate a veritable maze of gilded mirrors and chandeliers just to find the water closet!” How difficult it must have been for him, trying to find his way through lavish mazes of American excess! (I have seen Downton Abbey… who is he calling excessive?!)

And of course, one can not forget Dickens’ abhorrence for general American cuisine! The man who wrote descriptions of an amazing amount of delectable Christmas feasts found himself absolutely disconcerted by our culinary creations. From “chili con carne” (delicious – did he even try it?) to an apparently confounding combination of turkey and cranberry sauce, Dickens found his stomach not in agreement with American cooking. Not to mention our sheer nerve: “One can only wonder at the audacity of a nation that serves pie without custard!”

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Despite all of his reservations at our strange customs and interesting inventions (I would consider turkey with cranberry sauce an invention, after all), Dickens nevertheless had moments of true admiration for the people of the United States. He appeared impressed by the spirit of democracy that seemed openly expected and understood by all the people he met here on his travels, and he found the general optimism of our nation delightful. I suppose his final conclusion was that “America may be a land of eccentricities and culinary calamities, but it is also a land of opportunity and innovation – a place where even the most unlikely of dreams can take flight.” Hear, hear!

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5 (Easy) New Years Resolutions for Those Who Love Reading

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As the year 2024 begins, and many of us find ourselves trying to decide if this is finally the year that we are going to establish the perfect morning routine, devote our time to charity work or actually join that gym that stares us down on our way home every day, we think it’s time to take a step back and form more realistic (not to mention more calming) New Years Resolutions. So instead of buckling up to hear what society believes you ought to be doing, pour yourself a tea or a glass of wine, and let’s discuss how we can make 2024 a comfy cozy reading year instead. 

1. For the love of whatever you believe in, put your phones down! All our phones seem to do these days is remind us of everything we don’t have and aren’t doing with our lives. I know it’s the toughest ask (which is why we put it first), but if we all were to take a little break from our excessive scrolling, perhaps we’d finally tackle that overly large to-be-read pile next to our beds, and feel better about ourselves before we fall asleep. The only understandable part would be if you’re an e-reader and read books on your phones. That being said, most e-readers are probably not reading our antiquarian bookstore blog!

2. Start a book club. I know, I know, I know… don’t get your pants in a twist. I don’t mean one where you are hosting ten friends once a month and having to set up an instagrammable charcuterie board (which you won’t be doing, because of the break from social media, right?). For all we care, set up the book club with your dog. Your sister. Your partner. It doesn’t have to be an endeavor to be valid! Even just setting aside one night a month to solely discuss a book with your partner or friend at dinner works! Perhaps it will keep you both accountable for reading, even if it is one chapter at a time.

3. Mix it up! Expand your horizons. You may not be a big poetry person… or perhaps you just haven’t found the right poet to read, yet! Pick one book this year that is out of your comfort zone, not something you typically find interesting. And try it. Perhaps it will remind you why you detest sci-fi thrillers. Perhaps you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Do your research and find a book whose subject matter doesn’t make you want to throw it out of a window right off the bat and try something new. No matter how it ends up, you’ll be glad you did. (Or you’ll send us an angry email. Which, to be honest, might be kind of cathartic and you’ll thank us all the same!)

4. Try a blind book draw. A new fad which we’re sure many of you have seen, is where the covers of books (which do influence us, make no mistake) in bookstores and the like are actually wrapped up, with only a description of the plot to nab our attention. Try it! You don’t even need a bookstore to do so. Grab a book-loving friend, privately pick out some titles for each other, and only tell the choosing person the different plots in your own words. Buy or send the books you each choose to each other!

5. Last but not least… just read. Even if it’s one page a day, one page a week. Don’t get caught up in our crazy world so much that you lose the time, ability or interest in reading. Keep your brain active with a book – not just a news headline. You’ll thank us later. 🙂

Happy New Year!

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The Realism of Stephen Crane

We thought we’d start off a very autumnal month like November with an in-depth look at an author read country-wide… oftentimes in the fall school semester for required High School reading! Stephen Crane, the author of The Red Badge of Courage, continues to captivate readers of all ages, all over the country. Published in 1895, this novel doesn’t only have an engrossing (according to my sophomore year lit teacher) narrative, but it truly is an in-depth exploration of human nature, war… and an “American” experience. On this here his birthday, let’s remember what Crane did for American literature!

Before we dive into the The Red Badge of Courage, we should understand the literary movements of the time that helped shape Crane’s writing into what we see today. The late 19th century, when Crane was writing, witnessed both movements of Realism and Naturalism. Both literary trends sought to show life as it truly was… sans the idealization or romanticism of previous movements. 

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Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage uses realism and naturalism to show the raw, gritty reality of war. Through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier who dreams of glory but is suddenly faced with fear and confusion on the battlefield, Crane paints a pretty vivid picture of the uncertainty, fear and coldness of battle. Crane’s (almost ridiculous – oh, I’m sorry…. meticulous) attention to detail, his extremely vivid descriptions of battle, and his description of the emotional turmoil experienced by the protagonist Henry all contribute to the novel’s realism. For Crane, sugar-coating was simply not allowed! 

One of the most striking characteristics of The Red Badge of Courage is Crane’s focus on the inner struggles of its protagonist. Crane goes deep into Henry Fleming’s psyche, offering readers a pretty remarkable ‘character study’. The novel watches the evolution of Henry, as he confronts fear, cowardice, and a desire for forgiveness. We get to see his journey from a self-doubting youth to a more adult, self-assured and introspective individual. During his transition, American high school students all around the country get a more comprehensive understanding of human nature.

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In the world of American literature, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is considered a masterpiece of realism. Its enduring appeal lies in its (almost) too-descriptive depiction of the psychological and emotional struggles of a young Civil War soldier. Crane’s understanding of an “American experience”, coupled with his decided portrayal of war’s (extremely) harsh realities, truly fixed the novel’s place as an American classic.

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