Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gravity's Rainbow.... a Twentieth Century Masterpiece?

I can't really comment on the masterpiece part of this mammoth book -- it's rather James Joycian in nature -- that is -- stream of consciousness style of writing, which I find difficult to want to read (I can start something like this, but the randomness of it tends to make me want to set it down & start something else).

What I do know is that this is one of the modern masterpieces that is also a collectable highlight for any Modern Fiction / Literary Fiction collection. The original Viking edition was limited to 4,000 copies in hardback (with a simultaneous trade paperback printing of a much larger number... I heard 15,000).

While this was not Pynchon's first novel -- that honor goes to a novel entitled "V." -- nor his second (The Crying of Lot 49), it is THE ONE that broke him out of the mass of modern fiction writers and put his name squarely in the public eye. Collectors started snapping up copies and soon found that there weren't many 1st editions to be found, which only added to the mystique and helped collectable prices spiral ever upwards. Now that nearly forty years have passed, this book can command high prices for fine copies & ridiculous prices for signed copies. Nice copies of the hardback first edition can command upwards of $3000.00 (unsigned).

This book was shortlisted for the Pulizer Prize -- was even nominated as THE winner, but a few of the judges pulled back at the last moment and in the end, nixed the award... which actually meant that NO book was awarded a Pulizer for 1974. It did go on to receive the National Book Award and was nominated for a Nebula Award.

In some ways, Gravity's Rainbow reminds me of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, in the way that both were passed around from hand to hand & pocket to pocket (both hard to do with the massively sized books), both were favorites of the college crowd and both continued to gain readers, even years after their initial publication. Both books became hightlights of modern literature (Gravity for Modern Fiction, while Stranger became known as one of THE books in the Science Fiction oeuvre). Now both books are used as texts in college (and high school) classrooms.

The copy you see in the picture above is a book club edition that I picked up recently. The neat thing about this copy is that it is nearly an exact duplicate of the original hardback. This copy was printed sometime during the initial print run with the same color and style of binding, the same number of pages, nearly the same dust jacket (the book club edition lacks a price on the front flap and a code at the bottom corner of the front flap). The only way to identify the book club edition (if it didn't have a dust jacket) is by the small indented maple leaf logo on the bottom rear corner of the book cover. For those of us who can't yet afford a copy of the Hardback First Edition for our collection, this book club makes a very nice place holder.

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