THE RAREST OF THE RARE
The subject here is rare books--really rare books.
If you’re a book collector you know as well as I do that there will always be those impossibly scarce volumes that seem destined to remain tantalizingly out of reach. Below I’ve listed several such titles that I’ve been actively searching out, seemingly forever.
The following is an admittedly self-serving survey, and not a catch-all listing of rare genre publications (such a list would require far more room, and patience, than I’ve got). Nor am I too concerned with edition or condition, as what I’m after are strictly the books themselves, which at the moment are all-but impossible to come by.
ARRABAL PLAYS Volume 4 by FERNANDO ARRABAL
I’m unabashedly fanatic about the work of Spain’s Fernando Arrabal (of VIVA LA MUERTE and FANDO & LIS infamy). I’ve currently got every available English translation of his plays and novels but this, the fourth volume of John Calder’s Arrabal drama compilation series. It’s said to contain English translations of Arrabal’s plays CEREMONY FOR A MURDERED BLACK and ARS AMANDI, yet I’ve never come across a copy, for sale or otherwise. This would seem to indicate that the book was never published, but I have seen listings for it, and so will continue to keep an eye out--futilely I’m sure!
BEAUTY LABYRINTH OF RAZORS by JUN HAYAMI
An adults-only compilation of manga stories by Jun Hayami, one of the most extreme of Japan’s “ero-guro” (erotic-grotesque) artists. Creation Books was set to publish this in 2006 but the book was apparently so disgusting the printers refused to print it! Creation allegedly responded by briefly putting out the book as an e-text, although I’ve never been able to find a single trace of said e-text.
More recently Creation decided to make BEAUTY LABYRINTH OF RAZORS available once again, this time printing it themselves in a super-limited edition of just 69 copies, priced at a whopping $80 apiece. That edition, needless to add, is no longer in print.
DEE SNIDER'S TEENAGE SURVIVAL GUIDE by DEE SNIDER, PHILIP BASHE
Here's a definite too-stupid-to-be-ignored publication, an eighties-era teenage advice book by the one and only Dee Snider! Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that I can't find a copy for under $100.
DEEP RED ALERT #1 Edited by CHAS BALUN
The late Chas Balun edited this slim volume in 1991, the first of two digest sized DEEP RED “Alerts." I currently have all of Balun’s other books (and a good thing, as most are now mighty difficult to locate), but this one continues to elude me.
GRIMHAVEN by CHARLES WILLEFORD
The late Charles Willeford was one of the greatest hard boiled writers of all time, and GRIMHAVEN is one of his most intriguing yet elusive books. It’s the original draft of his 1985 novel NEW HOPE FOR THE DEAD, and the second entry in Willeford’s Hoke Mosley saga. Detective Hoke Mosley was introduced in the brilliant MIAMI BLUES (1984), but Willeford apparently had no interest in writing a series, and so in this follow-up had the character go mad and kill his two children. Willeford’s agent convinced him not to send the novel out to publishers, and he ended up reworking it.
Yet GRIMHAVEN still exists in manuscript form at Florida’s Broward County Library. This is per the wishes of Willeford’s widow, who’s been quite zealous about keeping the manuscript away from publishers (and in confiscating the Xeroxed copies that have inevitably appeared on the internet). I don’t understand her determination to keep GRIMHAVEN out of the public eye, as those lucky few who’ve read it claim it’s quite good--bleak and disturbing, but good.
A GUIDE FOR THE UNDEHEMORRHOIDED by CHARLES WILLEFORD
Another Charles Willeford rarity, a self-published 1977 account of Willeford's hemorrhoid surgery. Excerpts have been published on the web, with the full version now selling for hundreds of dollars.
THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS by MAURICE SANDOZ
Only two English editions of this surreal horror novel by France's Maurice Sandoz have been published, back in 1950 and '55. Both are now ungodly expensive rarities, probably due to the fact that the book was illustrated by Salvador Dali.
THE IMPOSSIBLE TRANSPLANT by RUSS MILLER
The idea of a man's consciousness transplanted into a woman's body isn't new--see Jean Marie Stine's SEASON OF THE WITCH and Michael Blumlein's X,Y--but this impossible-to-find paperback is said to present the subject in a more explicitly ribald and pornographic manner than either of those other novels.
LORD HORROR by DAVID BRITTON
A “holy grail” of quite a few literary horror buffs, this one included!
This novel is legendary, primarily because it landed its author-publisher David Britton in jail and had much of its print run confiscated by British authorities. Those few copies that weren’t destroyed are all that remain (outside a heavily abridged audio reading by PJ Proby). I’d love to own one, but don’t see that happening any time soon--or ever.
LOVELY BISCUITS by GRANT MORRISON
A 1999 prose collection by the famous comic scribe Grant Morrison that has never been reprinted, with copies now going for around $300. I hear it's supposed to be good, especially for Morrison fans.
MAD BALLS by Benjamin Peret
An English translation of a 1928 story by surrealist movement co-founder Benjamin Peret that has been described as "Pornographic, blasphemous and absolutely hilarious." The first edition of this tale was published by Atlas press in 1991 and the second (packaged with the novella 1929 by Peret and Louis Aragon) by Creation Books in 2009. Both, unfortunately, are now extremely difficult to come by.
MINDBLOWER by CHARLES McNAUGHTON JR.
Back in the 1960s the late Essex House put out many XXX-rated paperbacks that are now quite scarce. In most cases that’s probably not such a bad thing, but there exist some Essex titles that sound worthy. Charles McNaughton Jr.’s MINDBLOWER is one, a hallucinatory science fiction/sex saga with an admiring introduction by Philip Jose Farmer. That cover illustration, I must say, is quite a grabber!
NIGHTTOWN by T.E.D. KLEIN
Will this book ever surface? It’s the long awaited second novel by T.E.D. Klein, who wowed me and a whole lot of other readers with his first, 1984’s THE CEREMONIES.
NIGHTTOWN, described by Klein as a paranoid horror novel set entirely in New York City, was first announced back in the eighties--when it was reported that Klein had “turned in” the completed manuscript--and scheduled for publication in 1996. That publication, alas, seems to have been delayed indefinitely. By this point it’s doubtful we’ll ever see this novel, but I can hope, can’t I?
PICCOLA PULCINELLOPEDIA by P. CETRULO & LUIGI SERAFINI
The impossible-to-find second book by Luigi Serafini, whose CODEX SERAPHINIANUS is widely hailed as the strangest book ever printed. Like that mind-twisting classic, this one (co-written by P. Cetrulo) is a large format picture book told entirely through a succession of surreal images. The subject, as I understand it, is the 17th Century French puppet character Pulcinella, known for his beak-like nose and extremely crafty disposition. Sounds like perfect material for the inimitable Serafini, and a book I’d really like to peruse!
TALES AND FABLES by WILLIAM HJORTSBERG
A short story collection by the brilliant and quirky William Hjortsberg (FALLING ANGEL) that was issued in a limited edition of just 330 copies back in 1985--and now, it seems, impossible to come by for under $120.
THE TIGRESS: A STRANGE LOVE STORY by WALTER SERNER
Another book that was likely never published. Blast Books was set to put out the first-ever English translation of this novel of perverse eroticism and murder, a classic in its native German (and recently made into a crappy movie), back in 1991. For all I know that publication may have gone ahead as scheduled, but I have yet to find any trace of it.
THE WATER SPIDER by MARCEL BEALU
The late Marcel Bealu has been widely acclaimed as "the French Kafka," yet only a scant few of his books have been translated into English. Among them is 1948's THE WATER SPIDER, said to be about "an impossible love between a man and a watery creature who slowly turns into a girl."
The only standalone English version of this novel, translated by Michael Bullock, was put out back in 1970 by the London based Oasis Books, and all remaining copies have seemingly been erased from existence.
THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS: THREE TELEVISION PLAYS by NIGEL KNEALE
The UK's Nigel Kneale was more famous for his screenplays than his prose, as proven by the fact that the published scripts of his phenomenally popular QUATERMASS BBC serials were all bestsellers. This 1976 compilation contains transcripts of three of Kneale's BBC teleplays: THE YEAR OF THE SEX OLYMPICS, THE STONE TAPE and ROAD.
I'd love to own a copy, but this book, it seems, is now quite scarce, and the few extant copies are ungodly expensive.