Friday, October 26, 2007

The Vonnegut Shelf

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You can tell a lot about people by their bookshelves. Mine are messy, cluttered, and over-stuffed. The pride of my book collection is what I call the Vonnegut Shelf. It contains all the major hardback editions of my various Kurt Vonnegut collectibles and related ephemera. Here is an abridged guide to the highlights.

  1. My wife collects penguins of different materials. We have wood, glass, coal, quartz, and several obscure types of stones. When we were in China, the big quest was to find a jade penguin, which is a humorous story all in itself. I had to move a bunch of the penguins off the shelf to take the picture, so only a representative selection is visible.

  2. I wrote about my letter from Vonnegut back at the time of his death (so it goes). I keep it in a pretty cheap picture frame and the magic marker signature is starting to show some fading. The envelope it came in was hand addressed, but it has long disappeared.

  3. For our first anniversary (which is the paper anniversary), my wife gave me a first edition of Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. A book dealer just a little up the road from our apartment in Tampa had a copy. Nowadays they are only available from internet dealers at prices easily five to ten times what she paid. It is one of my most treasured possessions for several layers of sentimental reasons. Next to it is the equally rare, but much less valuable book club edition.

  4. Vonnegut’s most famous novel is Slaughterhouse Five and first editions of it go for nearly as much as the much older Player Piano. I have two copies and I’m not sure what it would take to make me part with either.

  5. My favorite later Vonnegut novel is Bluebeard and I own four different versions of the book. In the red paper cover is the galley proof. The faux-leather bound fancy version is the Franklin Press limited edition. These are silly collector plate type of editions designed to rip-off collectors. I bought mine used at less than what the original price. Next to it is the standard “trade” edition first printing. At the top left of the picture, in a yellow cover, is the latest paperback edition you can get at your local BigBoxOfBooks®. I have had to slowly buy reading copies of all my Vonnegut novels.

  6. The one and only time I saw Kurt Vonnegut in person was when he was autographing his last original book, Timequake. The picture of me standing next to him while he is signing it is still misplaced somewhere.

  7. For his 60th birthday, Vonnegut’s publisher in cahoots with wife Jill Krementz put together a commemorative collection of tributes to him called Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut in homage to his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June. This book was never available for purchase.

  8. Another rare piece of Vonnegutia is the ostensible children’s book Sun Moon Star he wrote with artist Ivan Chermayeff in 1980. While hardly rare, it is usually not listed in bibliographies of his works. Somehow I’ve ended up with two copies.

  9. In addition to the printed works, I have a few audio recordings. One is a cassette of excerpts from Slaughterhouse Five read by Vonnegut himself. The full unabridged CD version is read by Ethan Hawke. I also bought on a whim a CD collection of interviews with him. Ironically, I have never listened to any of them because they are all still in the original shrink rap as if they were precious Star Wars figurines. Not on the shelf is the ten-minute CD called “Tock Tick” which is Vonnegut reading the backwards bombing sequence from S5 set to music by Simon Heselev.

  10. When we first moved to Maryland, one of our must-do items was to take our son to the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The two wooden eggs are the souvenir of that rainy Monday. The blue one is the standard egg given to all the kids. The yellow one is the much less common one with Sock’s paw print on it. My son has no memory of the event, but I’m still thrilled he got to do it.
I hope to give tours of other parts of my book collection in future posts, but these are the crown jewels.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: How do you display your books or collectibles?


Smiler said...

Have to admit, I've never read any Kurt Vonnegut. But I'll add him to my evergrowing reading list. MIchele sent me to say hello.

Anonymous said...

We have a room in the house designated as a "library". Unlike the real thing, however, there's very little rhyme or reason to the way the books are arranged; their current setup isn't much different from the way they came out of the boxes after the move. Every now and then I move a couple of books so that a pattern is only now starting to emerge.

2fs said...

By way of answering your query, here's this link. (And since I can never remember whether link html is allowed, I'll repeat that in plain text (I hope): )

Sue T. said...

My mom used to collect penguins too, but it got to the point where everyone she knew was giving her penguins on every occasion. The penguin collection was threatening to take over the house, so she finally boxed up 99% of them.

Since I am so allergic to dust, I am hoping to invest in some new bookshelves with glass cabinet fronts to help keep them clean. I love books so much and hate the fact that they can literally make me sick!

yellojkt said...

I admire your library. Not only do we have a lot of books in common, but you have a great collection of comic strip compilations.

Your books are nice and organized in the studio room, but like me you have piles of books on the floor. I need to upload some more pictures for that Flickr group.

We get some kitschy penguins as gifts. The point of the collection is that the penguin has to be not cutesy and has to be of a material we don't have yet. It's getting tougher and tougher to find unique items.

Impetua said...

I stopped collecting things a while ago, as the idea of owning stuff for stuff's sake doesn't appeal to me after a certain point. At this point most of the things I have are of the sentimental variety, or else decorative in some way that I enjoy.

But books! That's a whole 'nother story. We have a whole wall of bookcases. But, again, there's only so much room, so nowadays I only buy books I really, really need to own (vs. borrow from the library). And I have thinned the ranks pretty considerably these days.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

My bookcase houses all my hard back editions and my shot glass collection is on top of my entertainment center along with my Nightmare Before Christmas snow globes

Elizabeth said...

Wow, I'm impressed with your collection!
We have one bookshelf with all the books we can fit on it. The rest of our books are in boxes in the garage. I collect sea glass so it all fits in a pretty glass bowl and doesn't take up too much room.

Cedar said...

I used to own a glass museum display-style case, something like this

but older and smaller. I got it at a yard sale for very cheap. The wood looked like crap, but I sanded it and repainted it. I kept my snowglobe collection in it (touristy snowglobes, not like Disney collectible things). Alas, when I moved across the country two years ago, I didn't want to spend the money to have it shipped or moved professionally, and it wouldn't fit in my car.

Now I keep my snowglobes on a plain old IKEA bookshelf. But if anyone knows where I can get a museum display case, cheap, in Seattle, I'll be all about it.