As I Lay Dying

Not too long ago, a beautiful book came into our possession here at Bibliohead. Before considering the estimable content, the simple beauty of the book itself deserves mention. The simplicity is, I think, perfect.

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As noted critic, Cleanth Brooks writes, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying “constitutes a triumph in the management of tone.” The novel chronicles the Bundrens’ arduous journey into town to bury their mother, Addie. They are committed, against convention, nature and their own personal histories, to honor her dying wish, and maybe get some new dentures at the same time. Faulkner’s novel, narrated by 15 characters, challenges the reader to accept heroic actions alongside the comic and grotesque, for a truly rewarding experience. The book’s publication in 1930 helped further establish William Faulkner as one of the great writers, and as a master, along with James Joyce and few others, of the stream-of-consciousness style that has influenced so many later writers.

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This is a true first edition, first state, with the dropped letter I on page 11. This copy does have a fair amount of wear on the exterior spine hinge and crown, but otherwise the book is in nice shape. The first state of As I Lay Dying is extremely rare. Only 750 copies were printed before the presses were stopped to make the correction to the dropped letter. This book came to us without a dust jacket, but is now nicely dressed in a custom made facsimile of the original dust jacket.

This is a very special book, but if the collectible isn’t for you, we also have a perfectly good paperback reprint along with a number of Faulkner’s other books. Read the book before before the movie and Tim Blake Nelson and James Franco invade your mind’s eye.

A Hitchcock Novelty

There are a few legends about why Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make this into a movie:

One is that he was tight-fisted with the authors, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, so they took the rights elsewhere; one is that another director beat him to the dotted line by mere hours. The more interesting legend, though, is that after Hitchcock saw how Henri-Georges Clouzot (that “other director”) turned The Fiends into the brilliant, classic thriller film Les Diaboliques

Les Diaboliques Poster

…he immediately snapped up the rights to this novel by the same authors:

And what movie did it become?

Here’s a hint: this is the Portman Mansion.

The Portman Mansion

You probably don’t recognize it from that angle. Designed by the well-known Arts & Crafts architect Bernard Maybeck, it used to stand on Gough street, at Eddy, just a few blocks north of us. It was torn down in 1959, not too long after it had been recast with a new name for another story, one that in the transition from French novel to American screenplay had been moved from Paris to San Francisco:

The McKittrick Hotel

That probably wasn’t hard to guess—what other Hitchcock movie do San Franciscans talk about?but it came as a surprise to me. Until these curious little pulp paperbacks came across the pricing desk, I had no idea Les Diaboliques and Vertigo were based on novels, let alone novels by the same French authors.

I’m also surprised they’re both rare, in most, but especially this version, and out of print in all others. You’d think a publisher would be eager to slap on a cover with “Now the best movie ever made (according to Sight & Sound)!” or “The one that got away from Hitchcock (and made it to Clouzot)!”, no? (Though it seems Bloomsbury and BFI did just that.)

(Photo of the Portman Mansion from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library via www.noehill.com)


Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.