I love seeing this book. It reminds me of so many good times, and it also can provide both bookseller and book buyer a good lesson in paying attention to detail.
Let’s talk a bit about the book. The O. Henry Memorial Award and its anthology of stories presented every year in book form have been around a long time. Look at the list of contributors in this particular issue — Kay Boyle, Walter Van Tilburg Clark, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Wallace Stegner, John Steineck, Eudora Welty. One could do worse.
Having known Wallace Stegner for a dozen years before his death, the book brings back memories of me sitting at his kitchen table with a box (or two) of his books at my side. I would feed him book after book for him to sign. Sometimes I had my daughter with me. On one such occasion it was October, and she was writing a horror story for school since Halloween was coming up. She was having trouble with the ending. When I arrived at the Stegner home and told him and his wife, Mary, about my daughter’s dilemma, Mary quickly took her into the back of their house where the two of them worked on the story and solved my daughter’s problem with the ending. So, here I was in the living room of a man who was arguably the best living writer in the United States while his wife, one of the best editors in the country, was helping my then eight-year-old daughter with a story project for school. Heaven. And then Heaven got better as I handed Stegner a copy of this book. Instead of signing it quickly and moving on to the next book to sign, he stopped and considered the book for a moment. Then he sung me a little ditty rhyming the editor’s name, Herschel Brickell, with butter brickle ice cream. I could not have been more charmed.
Then there is the matter of edition. The copy of this title I have in my hand right now says it is the first edition — says so right at the bottom of the copyright page. So, it’s the first edition, right? If you knew that this was published by the Literary Guild, you might question it, but that first edition slugline would probably convince you that you were right.
But you would be wrong. The original publisher in Doubleday. The Literary Guild very probably printed the book via photo-offset which simply copied the “first edition” statement by Doubleday on its copyright page. I see a number of booksellers hiding behind that first edition statement all the time. And I can still remember going over the collection list of a collector who loves short story anthologies. When I saw his list, he had the Literary Guild copy, but not the Doubleday. This collector is quite advanced, but even he didn’t know about Doubleday being the original publisher. I set him straight — and sold him a copy of the original which carried Stegner’s signature, a book I had handed to Stegner while we sat at his kitchen table. It’s a very satisfying memory, on many levels.