With apologies to the late James W. Best for appropriating his image (from his 1935 Forest Life in India)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Best by Test

A few years back I went through a phase of collecting first editions of some of my favourite books, but pretty soon I realized this wasn't really for me. For one thing, later editions are often better. Take Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. I am lucky enough to own a reasonable condition UK first edition (Jonathan Cape, 1952), given to me one Christmas, with extraordinary generosity, by a dear old friend after I spotted it lurking on their bookshelves and pointed it out to them with none too subtle admiration:

Now, I'm very happy to own it, and I do like the cover, which is much jazzier than the US first edition (Scribners, 1952), but I was just as thrilled to find a 1953 Reprint Society edition for a few pence at a village fĂȘte one summer, even though it had long since lost its dust jacket, because this edition is full of the most wonderful illustrations, some by Raymond Sheppard...

and some by C. F. [Charles Frederick] Tunnicliffe, like this one (a colour-tinted variant of which actually featured on the missing dust jacket)...

When I think about it, though - and this is the other reason collecting first editions isn't really for me - my all-time favourite copy of The Old Man and the Sea, one long since passed on to my son, is the cheap, nondescript, 'worthless' paperback edition I bought many years ago when I first got into Hemingway, the one that gave me the priceless pleasure of reading this marvellous little book for the first ever time.