My collection grew. I turned to guy fiction for a long time, Paul Auster, Tim O’Brien, Raymond Carver, and Richard Ford. I remember reading Auster on the A train to Kennedy Airport, Squeeze Play, or The New York Trilogy in a stoop on West Broadway. I think my tastes were a sign of my age, certainly when it comes to Paul Auster. I can’t read him now like I did in my twenties. I would stop people on the street and tell them about The New York Trilogy, how amazing it was. But then I tried to find Auster’s books in first edition that’s when I realized that I didn’t make enough money to buy them. He is Paul Auster after all.
Ford was easier, as he hadn’t written more than a few collections, and The Sportswriter, a book I coveted for many years. I found The Sportswriter at the bookstore on 4th avenue in NYC called Alabaster Bookshop (they had it in a glass case and they are overpriced, I paid $35 for the trade paper, a first edition, and the cover was creased), but they are right around the corner from the Strand. I got the book, and eventually when I met Ford at a reading, I got it signed. In the years I was collecting Ford, he wrote a story that appeared in the New Yorker about his relationship with Raymond Carver. A small press in England printed a limited staple bound run, and I bought one. Ford was happy to sign it. I was shaking when I met him, I don’t know why, just nerves. I told him how much I loved his collection Rock Springs, and specifically the story Rock Springs, and the last paragraph. Ford recited that last paragraph word for word and I nearly broke down in tears. I may never meet him again, but that was a really nice moment.
New job meant bigger place, this time in the same building but an apartment with a bathroom inside. I think the rent was $511 a month. (The upside? I walked outside and I was on Broadway at 28th street. I could go anywhere; see anything, a city that never closes.) There were bookshelves, a desk for writing bad novels, and my bed. I never owned a TV. My friends would call me at 12:30 pm to tell me who was on Letterman, and I would remind them that I had no TV. Long pause, “sorry to wake you Jason.”After I left BN I went to work at Bantam Doubleday Dell, who’s parent company Bertelsmann had not yet bought Random House, and I started collecting in earnest. I bought all of Peter Carey’s books (US editions, worth something, just not what the UK editions would be worth), and Kevin Canty’s. I loved Canty’s short stories, and this was the 90’s where every author came through NYC for a signing when they had a new book. Carey signed them with glee, and my collection started to take up all the space in my little apartment. Canty was still an unknown, and he smiled when I showed him what I had to be signed.Finding first editions of Raymond Carver’s work is impossible, unless you have an unlimited supply of money. I have one book, Where I’m Calling From, in first edition, but it seems nostalgic now, I don’t know why? Carver is such a looming presence in my own writing; it seems almost creepy to have all of his books.
Around this time I discovered Zoe Heller. Kakutani gave her first book, Everything You Know, a rave. I devoured it in one sitting. That might be one of the best debut novels I’ve read in recent years. I now have all of Heller’s books, UK and US first editions signed. The Internet took off right when I got to BDD, and online buying and selling of first editions was big. I loved Zoe Heller’s humor, and her talents as a writer grew when Notes on a Scandal came out, a blistering masterpiece.
I became friendly with Dan Chaon’s editor Dan Smetanka, and he gave me this new collection he’d just bought called Among The Missing. I read it fast, in a few sittings. These are the best stories ever, better than anything you have ever read. I found all of his books in first edition, even The Fitting Ends, which had a soft/hard simultaneous release. Dan signed them and got them right back to me. I swear by his writing, I did then and still do.
Then I discovered Franzen, it was a watershed moment, and The Corrections was a game changer for me. I got all of his books in first edition online, read them, and got to the front row of his reading at the BN on 82nd and Broadway right after The Corrections came out. I was first in line to get books signed and Oprah, big to-do followed, she had just picked him for her book club.
“It’s not your fault you were picked by Oprah,” I said to Franzen.
He just looked at me and said nothing. If anything, I know how to leave them speechless. I’m sure Franzen had something to say to me. Not sure it would have done him any good to say it. That was it. I got my books signed and left. It was funny what happened next. And in the ten years since he wrote that great novel, I’ve told a lot of people how much I loved it, and have held most novels that I read up against it. I don’t really think it is the greatest novel ever written. But it’s close.
I read Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta right around this time, and went kind of nuts for it. I backtracked and read her first book, Lightening Field, and I was rather awed by her writing. I was working on my own fiction at this point, all of it bad, unprintable and now long buried in some vacant lot that must have a high rise built up on it now.
I started to read David Benioff, The 25th Hour, and was absurdly in love. I’ve since read all his books, each one more potent than the last. I was writing for Ain’t it Cool News at the time and he sent me an email to thank me for writing such nice things about his books. We correspond occasionally, he offered to sign my books, I sent them his way, and they came right back in mint condition. David is a truly nice man, and through him I met Peter Craig, another great writer. Peter has written a great book called Hot Plastic, which is a masterful thriller, part con man story, and part hustle. Peter is also a super cool guy, and signed my books without hesitation.
When I first got into the book business, Robert Bingham had written a collection called Pure Slaughter Value. I couldn’t go to the event, but left my copy with the event coordinator. Bingham signed it, and I got it back, still have it, and then just before the release of his novel he died of a drug overdose. This sadness is only outdone by my attempt to get all my Larry Brown books signed. I sent them to BN (having left there for good) and the community relation’s manager offered to get them signed when Mr. Brown came for an upcoming event. She forgot to get them signed, and a year later Brown had a stroke and died.
Sadly over the years I had to part with huge chunks of my collection, the signed Michael Chabon collection, Delillo’s, O’Briens, and the Browns. I’d rather not rehash it; safe to say I hope I don’t have to do that again. There was only one author who never sent my books back after he agreed to sign them, and I really liked his writing. I don’t know why he did that. I suppose I will never know. Safe to say I won’t be reading his books ever again.