Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Holroyd

What do you do with twenty-five books?

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Yesterday, I finally received the promised delivery of twenty-five contractual copies of The Icon Thief, which took me overnight from regarding my few author’s copies as the most precious things in the world to having more copies of my book than I’ll ever need. I’m not alone in this, of course: every author I’ve ever met has had a box or two of his or her own books on hand, or a whole bookcase taken up with that single title, like the Da Vinci Code shelf at your local thrift store. (As David Thomson says of his insane, widely derided, and oddly compelling study of Nicole Kidman: “I have fortress walls made of it.” Similarly, the biographer Michael Holroyd describes seeing “a long tall corridor that had been built entirely out of unsold copies of my books,” which he calls “an impressive, an undeniable spectacle.”)

So what do authors do with their own books? Ideally, if you’re of a certain temperament, you want to end up with a library like that of Isaac Asimov, who initially kept all the editions of his books, including translations, but finally ran out of room for anything but the English-language originals (and had to throw away the non-Asimov pages from magazines in which his work appeared). All the same, there’s a limit to the amount of space you have for your own work, at least until you can sell all of it to the University of Texas. Any prolific author will inevitably end up with more books than he needs, and may be tempted to shout to his publisher, like James Thurber in his story “File and Forget”: “I don’t want any more copies of my book. I don’t want any more copies of my book. I don’t want any more copies of my book.”

Of course, the best thing to do with spare copies of one’s own book is to send them around to various influential readers. Even the greatest authors have done this, as we see in a letter by Charles Darwin to Thomas Huxley:

Can you tell me of any good and speculative foreigners to whom it would be worth while to send copies of my book, on the ‘Origin of Species’?…I should like to send a few copies about, but how many I can afford I know not yet till I hear what price Murray affixes.

Emerson, among countless others, made sure that copies of his books were sent to all the important New York editors, listing each one by name, while Aleister Crowley eventually took over the job of selling the unsold copies of his books himself, and indignantly noted, against the rumors circulating in London, that his decision to leave his publisher “had nothing at all to do with the strangling of any woman.” (I know that this last story is a little off-topic, but I couldn’t resist.)

As for my own copies, I’ll keep a few around the house, one to read, one for the archives in a mylar bag, and a couple of spares for emergencies. I owe copies to a number of people thanked in the acknowledgments, including those who kindly read earlier versions of the novel. As for the rest, they’ll probably end up in various hands, maybe even yours, if I ever get around to figuring out some kind of giveaway. (But don’t let that stop you from buying your own copy, just in case.) In the meantime, though, it’s nice to see them all lined up in one place, before they wander off to make their way in the world, and in this respect, if no other, I feel a little like Thomas Wolfe, who stared at copies of his first book in a store window so intently that somebody called the police.

Written by nevalalee

February 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

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