Scandal, Hype, and Making Rare Books: What Books Are You Betting On?

Earlier this week Michael Moynihan ran an article in Tablet Magazine that exposed several glaring problems in a new book by Johan Leher: Imagine: How Creativity Works.

The author had completely made up six quotes and attributed them to Bob Dylan, for example, regarding his song lyrics:
Bob-Dylan-jpg(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan indeed, via Buzzfeed)
 

The media-driven outrage that erupted shortly after the article was published, whether or not commensurate with the crime, resulted in Lehrer’s resignation from his post at The New Yorker and a letter of apology: “When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said”.


What happened next is something which I think has a long history in the making of rare books: Lehrer’s publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, began posting ads telling booksellers to stop selling copies of Imagine and to return them to the publisher, full shipping costs covered. Today they updated the message to include individual readers who own the book. Imagine is the latest among books whose errors have lead to scandal, recall, or destruction: for the most extreme cases, just look at the history of errata in the Bible. On the one hand Lehrer is going to have trouble moving forward in his career, but on the other hand surviving copies of his book will only gain rarity with age now that they’ve joined the ranks of recalled books like A Million Little Pieces and How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

It’s true that putting your money on preserving these books, each of which were bestsellers, is a long-term game with many hits and misses, the certainty of which may not even be confirmed in our lifetime. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed... is on both available for around a dollar on abebooks.com, but also safely preserved in at least one special collections library. The coin is in the air and will probably be suspended there for at least a few decades.

The added benefit of this final frontier of collecting, which I’ll call biblio-prognosticating to add a little pomp to what is otherwise the bookish equivalent of ambulance chasing, is that it’s cheap. Unlike tried-and-true incunabula, Kelmscott Press, or even to an increasing extent punk fanzines, you can start a collection of books inflated by hype and scandal on a relatively small budget.

I would be surprised if the instincts of the book collector didn’t lead him or her to do just that every now and then. According to twitter, I’m not half-wrong. As lovers of books our instincts are sharpened, primed even, for opportunities like this:
twitter-1.jpgIt’s not a bad choice: especially given what a landmark the Harry Potter Series is in the history of publishing, both in the sheer numbers of production, but also the uniquely high level of security surrounding the publication and sale of each installment (you can find an excellent chapter about the amazing lengths Bloomsbury went to, including GPS tracking devices and on-call militia to take down stolen vans of Book 7 of Harry Potter before his official release in Ted Striphas’ Late of Print).

twitter-2.jpgAgain, a smart move given the author’s legacy and the general greatness of the work.

All of this begs the question: Which contemporary books do you buy in hopes that they’ll obtain value later? Post your answers in the contents!

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