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Elizabeth McCracken traces the life of a first edition… hers ‹ Literary Hub

My first book was published quietly. By that I mean: the imprint that purchased it was closed on the day of publication; everyone I knew had left the company; my book—a collection of stories called Here’s your hat what are you in a hurry— came into the world with the colophon of a phantom, the last of its kind. But he has been published. I had a nice new editor at Random House proper who, when I met her, apologetically handed me my first review, which had just been faxed. He called me “capable”.

Later, a publicist booked me a reading in Iowa City but forgot to tell me. I was on Cape Cod myself. My friend Ann called to say, “Elizabeth, I’m in Iowa City and there are signs here with your name on them. I put my mom on the case – that was 1993 – and drove like hell all the way to Boston, stopping at phone booths to check on my mom, and at a Marshall to buy an outfit at read, an empire waist with yellow and red flowers. bulky jumpsuit that still visits me in nightmares. I had hoped I would be wearing a Gauguin painting, but I’m pretty sure I looked like a walking beanbag.

The next day during the reading – which aired on Iowa Public Radio, which is why the publishing house was ready to rush in for a last-minute post – I started coughing and was so sleepy that I decided to pass, and in this way I broadcast to the general public in Iowa City nearly an hour of hacking. A friend said to me afterwards: “That was… good?

“I coughed,” I said, and he grabbed his head and said, “Man, that was atrocious.”

However, I had published a book. The item itself was lovely: a shiny, mostly black jacket with an image of a window with two hands, one handing the other a hat. Type of whiteboard. This colophon, a small inclined building. A quote on the back of Katherine Dunn, the only quote I got – my two preprint reviews weren’t good to extract – but who needs other people’s opinions when you have kind words from Katherine Dunn?

*

Three years later, I published my second book, a novel. My beloved original publisher has returned to the publishing house to launch a new edition. I was sent on a little book tour to Cape Cod, where my novel was set. It was the first time I had met them, the booksellers, men who showed up with bags of books for a writer to sign, the jackets folded in mylar covers. I am a former public librarian; I’ve always liked a mylar cover, almost at the fold. The merchants brought with them my new book, The Giant’s Housebut they also had copies of Here’s your hat what are you in a hurry. Hardcover; the book had not come out in paperback for a few years.

“It’s a first edition,” the booksellers told me proudly, and I had to tell them: “They are everything first editions.

*

Eventually, I discovered that my name had been listed in some book collectors’ newsletter as a good bet: a quietly published first book, and now a novel that had garnered some attention. Some dealers have written to me asking if I have any extra copies I’d be willing to part with. I did: the book sold out almost instantly and my publisher had offered me cheap slipcases. Writers end up with too many copies of their own books the way some people end up with too many cats: it’s not healthy to have dozens and dozens and dozens, but if the choice is that they will be destroyed or you take them away, what can you do?

I sold a few boxes, but kept many, though I’m not usually sentimental about books as objects: years of working in public libraries had rid me of them. People misused books all the time. You couldn’t care about all of them. All collections must eventually be weeded. When I ran a lending service, I continued to donate books signed by other writers to the library book sale; my colleagues tenderly returned them to me. “You don’t want to lose this!” a colleague would say. “It’s made for you!” Some of these books, I thought, I should put in a bag and drown in a river.

“It’s a first edition,” the booksellers told me proudly, and I had to tell them: “They are everything first editions.

About my own books, however, I was not lucid. I can’t remember what the top of the market for a signed first edition Here’s your hat what are you in a hurry was – I mean $200, but it could have been more – so maybe deep down I thought that I had finally found a way to make money from my writing.

These days I think you can buy them for twenty bucks.

I stored much of my inventory from my first book in my parents’ basement, where they remained until my brother and I had to clean out the house in 2018, after our mother died. ; our father had died a few years earlier. I took to Twitter and gifted copies of the book to strangers and mailed them individually, and even so I had several boxes left, which I shipped to myself in Texas.

I don’t know how many copies I currently own. Maybe as many as forty, stacked in a closet. I always feel different towards them than I have any other of my books – I just mean the physical object, that black cover, the author’s photo taken by an Englishman who followed me to Philadelphia, where I was going to library school, slightly insulting my figure and my sense of fashion. It’s the look on my face in the photo, cold irritation at a stranger. Deep down, I still believe these books are worth something. I find it hard to let them go.

*

My brother and I hired a company that held an estate sale at our parents’ house and then disposed of the leftovers. I attended the sale. There was a small pile of my books on the porch. “Relative?” asked the guy who was running the sale. “Me,” I say. “Sign them and we’ll charge an extra dollar,” he said, which I did, standing in the aisle.

I’m not superstitious, which means I believe in absolutely everything. Was it a sign? I had written about my mother, and here is a reminder that I had promised never to do.

Later that day in the kitchen – he had them stacked on the island – a woman pursed her lips and said, “Well, somebody loved Elizabeth McCracken.

I introduced myself.

These books were copies of my parents, unsigned until the seller asked me to sign them. I hate signing books. In other words, I hate signing books for people I love. Usually I remain wise: I am sentimental, but not on demand. Each time, it’s the same thing, a blank page, a person I love, a total inability to find the right words. How do you enroll a book to its parents anyway? Thank you for giving me life. I’m still mad at everything you said to me in eighth grade. Please try not to die before your time. With best wishes, Elizabeth.

*

No, not every time. The first book is always different.

A few months after the sale of the estate, the cleanup, after writing a novel that isn’t about my mother, so I claim, but is about someone who looks a lot like my mother, except my mother (ask anyone) was like no one else ever – you do the math – in the very week that I finished writing this book, I received an Instagram message from a woman who had been in the one of those hotels decorated with old books without dust jackets, and she had seen a title that caught her fancy that she thought she had read. A naked book, but not anonymous: it had been autographed, and the woman sent me a photo:

For Mom-

– from which I will continue to extract the life story, but which never– no matter what she or anyone else thinks – comes across as a character in my work, being too good for people like me + my characters.

love, elizabeth

Mothers’ Day
1993

The occasion is the reason why I had signed this book just for her; the book came out in June, so this must have been one of my first finished copies and – I’m as sure as I can be – the first book I’ve ever written anyone down in my life.

I’m not superstitious, which means I believe in absolutely everything. Was it a sign? I had written about my mother, and here is a reminder that I had promised never to do. How had he ended up in Baltimore? What were the odds that a nice person would pull up that same book, look at the dedication, and decide to find the author?

On the other hand, what better dedication, what better disclaimer: this book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead…

I asked the stranger on the internet if she could send me the book. She did it. I love it more than any other copy in my collection.

______________________________________

The hero of this book by Elizabeth McCracken is now available through Ecco.

Margarita W. Wilson

The author Margarita W. Wilson