Vanderbilt Clinic by John Steinbeck

You mean you’ve never heard of this 1947 book?

Front of book

Front of book

You’re not alone.

And why is Nobel laureate John Steinbeck writing about this clinic at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York?

Simple. The clinic had served him, his second wife, Gywn, and their two sons, very well.

The book is recorded by the Goldstone & Payne bibliography as A24a, meaning it is the 24th primary first edition by the man better known for writing The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, and Cannery Row, among others.

This particular copy includes a memorandum about the book from the hospital president laid loosely into the book.

Memo from the hospital president

Memo from the
hospital president

In the late 1960s when I first started to collect books this was highly desirable, highly sought after. It was elusive then. Back then any Steinbeck collector worth their salt wanted this book, desperately, and it was damned hard to find.

Years ago I checked with the hospital, hoping against hope that it might have a stack of this c8.5X11-inch pamphlet just sitting around somewhere. Yeah, right. A pipe dream, to be sure. I was told the hospital had a copy once, but someone stole it.

The book is just as elusive today. There are only three copies listed on ABE, but they are not flying off the shelves. Why? Well, this book is a great example of how book collecting has changed in a past couple of decades. It was once highly desirable. Now it’s treated like the poor step-cousin that lives in your house and yet remains invisible. Nobody wants anything to do with it. Why? It’s not fiction. And it’s not a high-spot. Collectors of modern literature want Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and The Old Man and the Sea. What about his Across the River and Into the Trees? Not so much. If you’re a Faulkner freak, it’s probably Soldier’s Pay, Light in August, The Sound and the Fury,  and maybe a few others that you want. You would recognize Pylon, The Town, and the Reivers, but money would never leave your wallet in pursuit of these books. It’s the same with Steinbeck. Vanderbilt Clinic? Never heard of it. The Winter of Our Discontent? No way. Sweet Thursday? What’s that? Pipe Dream? What are you smoking?

I liken this movement away from broad-based collecting to seeking only high spots to the loss of our middle class so that we have only those who have and those who have not. A lot of good books get overlooked and ignored to the point of invisibility. This short-sighted collecting M. O. only requires money, not a view of the bigger picture and taste.

Taste.  Now there’s a real rarity.  Shame.


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