It's not such a reach, really, to move from this:
into a discussion of rare books, especially if the theme of the discussion is "Publishers That Don't Fit."
Publishers, just like car manufacturers or clothing designers, all have their niche. They know what their customers want. Yet here are a few examples of (mostly) famous books that make the biblio-geek pause, just for a moment, to consider their histories.
First, A Confederacy of Dunces. Published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980, the story of author John Kennedy Toole is well-known to book collectors. Unable to get his book accepted for publication, he killed himself, and his mother found the manuscript with his belongings after his death. She brought the manuscript to the attention of author Walker Percy, and LSU Press became Toole's publisher.
Better known for books such as Agrarianism & Reconstruction Politics or regional history titles, A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the three Pulitzer Prize winning titles published by LSU Press.
Ever had trouble with your car? Then you might have had an encounter with Chilton, the publishers of a fantastically long lived and successful car repair series. With titles such as Auto Repair Manual 1970 to 1977 on their roster, they somehow managed to be the first to publish one of the biggest science fiction titles known on this planet.
Another famous first is the Naval Institute Press printing of The Hunt for Red October. Back in 1984, when the first copies were printed, the paper used was clay coated, as was usual for Naval Institute Press titles. Clay-coated paper is heavy, and perfectly suited to printing detailed schematics such as the workings of a super secret nuclear submarine, or perhaps this:
An obscure example of a weird publisher mash-up is the 1883 printing of The Story of Nell Gwyn. Nell was one of the many mistresses of Charles II, loved by the king and the public for her wit and earthy charm. Who published this tale of Restoration politics and sex? John Wiley, the home to technical titles such as Principles of Pavement Design and the Encyclopedia of Minerals.
A new kind of library: the New York Times Dining section this week says that Zengo, at 40th Street & Third Avenue, has a tequila library. Anyone know what this is? Bottles or books?
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Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than 10 years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out-of-print and rare material the most.
Books mentioned in this post