Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Collecting Norman Mailer

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Collecting Norman Mailer

Article excerpt

He was condemned and praised by the critics, and always controversial. You either liked his take on the world and his fiction and essays, or you didn't. It has been said that good art provokes strong feelings--positive or negative. Well, if that is the measure, I would say that Norman Mailer was definitely a good artist. Others must agree because, in my experience, many book collectors value the first editions of Norman Mailer's books.

Mailer was a man with a myth that surrounded him, and now, after his death, he has become somewhat of a legend--the tough guy who would take on anyone. Considering his importance in the canon of American literature, collecting first editions of his work seems like a reasonable investment for an admirer of his work (at least that is what we tell ourselves to rationalize buying first editions). I will therefore attempt to explain first edition collecting, outline the collectible Mailer books and how to identify them, and give an estimate of the retail prices in the market for fine copies of his books. It should be noted that the retail prices discussed below are for unsigned copies of his books and that signed copies would be higher priced, depending on the book. His signature would add $40 or $75 to inexpensive common books and hundreds of dollars to scarce books. It is difficult to put a fixed percentage on the increase.

A little background: Norman Mailer obtained an engineering degree from Harvard University in 1943 and attended the Sorbonne in Paris in 1947-48 He served in the Army during World War II, from 1944 to 1946. He was the Co-Editor of Dissent magazine from 1952 to 1963 and a contributing editor thereafter. He was a co-founder and the namer of the Village Voice. Mailer famously ran for mayor of New York City in 1969. He won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for non-fiction with The Armies of the Night in 1969 and a Pulitzer in fiction for The Executioner's Song in 1980.

Mailer has been a presence on the American literary scene since the 1940s. He was a man of his times, who wrote on or contributed to all the subjects that we, collectively, have been involved in the last seventy years: WW II, movies and plays (commentary and production), race relations, politics, architecture, bullfighting, prize fighting, Kennedy and his assassination, Vietnam, the space program, protests, sex, feminism, cancer, government, literature (including criticism), killers, the Bushes, Iraq, God, reincarnation, etc., etc. His was an amazing output, spanning over seven decades.

There is more to be said than the scope of this article allows about the man so many expected would write the "Great American Novel." He certainly wanted to write a great novel the acclaimed writers who have preceded him would admire and might have read with pleasure. Many believe he did write the "Great American War Novel"--The Naked and the Dead.

Now, if you like Mailer, you probably have many of his books in your library. The question is, are you a collector or just an accumulator? Most of the world's book buyers are accumulators who often have piles of books for which they feel no great attachment, and may not have even read. Book collectors start as readers. This point may seem obvious, but, it is important to keep in mind--the majority of book collectors collect authors or subjects they are currently reading, or have read and enjoyed. In fact, perhaps "enjoyed" is really not descriptive enough. Collectors do not just enjoy these books; they feel an affinity with the author and admire the author as one of the best in the field. The author expresses the collector's thoughts and inchoate insights in ways the collector would, if he or she had the talent.

Book readers become book collectors when they find that books have become important as objects that they wish to own, admire, and enjoy at their leisure. This is an essential point, for most readers are content with reading a library copy or a paperback reprint and have no desire to go beyond this point. …

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