“How many times’d you end up sucking on the rug?”

I don’t have the inclination or the wherewithal to collect first editions, and there’s something about the antiquarian trade that strikes me as unseemly and beside the point, but goodness the catalog [PDF] for the Bruce Kahn Collection is gobstoppingly beautiful. Kahn, a Michigan-based mergers and acquisitions lawyer, has acquired a collection of first editions of 20th century (mostly) American fiction that’s in impeccable shape, from John O’Hara to Philip Roth to Toni Morrison to Cormac McCarthy and on and on. None of it’s cheap: Plenty of the items run into five figures, with a copy of Appointment in Samarra running to $30,000. (If money’s tight, you can drop $2,500 for a signed proof of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.)

Perhaps more interesting than the books themselves are the various scribblings included. The copy of John Irving‘s The World According to Garp (apparently sold) is inscribed with a note about the author’s take on the book’s ending: “The meaning of life? ‘We are all terminal cases’, but I find that no surprise and no cause for cynicism or depression. It’s all the more reason to live purposefully and well.” The highlight of the collection on that front, though, is a 1974 handwritten letter from Thomas Pynchon to his friends David Shetzline and his wife, Mary Beal. Writing on graph paper (Pynchon apparently has a thing for graph paper), he recalls his disinterest in attending an impeachment rally in Greenwich Village. From the catalog:

“Maybe I am wrong not to show up, after all think of all that great neurotic pussy that always shows up at things like ‑‑ oh, aww, gee Mary, I’m sorry! I meant ‘vagina,’ of course! ‑‑ like that, and all the biggies who’ll be there…” He goes on to describe that he is having “what the CIA calls a ‘mid‑life crisis,’ looking for another hustle, cannot dig to live a ‘literary’ life no more…” A “lump of hash I lost somewhere in Humboldt County 3 years ago” figures into what becomes an increasingly textured, complicated narrative, the way his fiction does, at the same time that it represents his side of an obviously ongoing dialogue, and elicits further contact from the recipients: in referring to stories of bad LSD circulating, he asks “You might as well tell me. How many times’d you end up sucking on the rug?”

The letter is yours for $25,000.

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