Back of Beyond Books recently released their Rare Book Catalogue No. 13. Back of Beyond generally specializes in books relating to their corner, or four corners, of the world. That is the four corners region of the American Southwest. However, this catalogue is different. It is focused mostly on fiction. There is a section of nonfiction, but most books come from the library of Milo McCowan. His collection was that of a “completist,” one who seeks everything possible from a particular author. In this case, the primary author was southwestern writer Edward Abbey, but the collection also covered writers who were friends of Abbey and others whose works are often associated with those of Abbey. Here are a few of these books, and some others in this latest catalogue from Back of Beyond.
We start with Mr. Abbey, a hard man to peg. Item 9 is his first novel, and the only one not at least partly centered in the Southwest. Abbey grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania before heading west. His first novel, Jonathan Troy, is about a young man growing up in small town Pennsylvania, though it is not autobiographical. It didn't take long for Abbey to come to despise his first work. He found it amateurish, filled with uses of others' styles. It was published in 5,000 copies in 1954 and never printed again. The result is it is not easy to locate. This copy is inscribed by Abbey to Cynthia Farah, who wrote a book about Southwestern writers. Priced at $6,500.
Item 3 is a signed first edition of Abbey's second book, The Brave Cowboy. It is a story about a modern-day cowboy who wishes to live as those of old. In it, the values that directed Abbey's life become evident. The cowboy rejects fences, modern technology, and most of all government authority, refusing to carry government identification or register for the draft. It gets him in deep trouble with authority, from which he tries to escape. This 1956 book was made into the film Lonely are the Brave, starring Kirk Douglas in the title role, in 1962. $5,000.
Item 14 is Abbey's best-known work, a first edition, first printing of The Monkey Wrench Gang. It was published in 1975, with this copy being inscribed by the author. It is a novel about a few eccentric characters who seek to protect the environment from those who would destroy it. Their most notable target is the Glen Canyon Dam, a massive project that dammed the Colorado River near the Utah-Arizona border, flooding much of the pristine canyon. Abbey sought to protect the desert wilderness from all comers, which makes him hard to peg by current political standards – he fought both government and industrial intrusion into the land. $2,750.
This next book also comes from a western writer, but of a different sort and from a different time. Zane Grey was a writer of what were traditionally known as “westerns.” He was the most notable of all such writers, especially during the first half of the 20th century. Grey was a dentist who loved the outdoors, like Abbey. He managed to turn his writing skills into a very different and successful career. Grey's first book was an historical novel, set in the Ohio Valley during the American Revolution. The title is Betty Zane. Betty was his great-great aunt. She risked her life to bring gunpowder to soldiers fending off attacks by Indians allied with the British. This copy has been signed by Zane (Grey, not Betty). Item 22. $3,500.
Here is a book that has as little to do with cowboys and the American West as any I can imagine: Eloise in Moscow. Eloise, of course, is the little girl in the children's books (meant for adults) by Kay Thompson. In this adventure, the resident of the Plaza Hotel in New York brings her havoc to the city of Moscow at the height of the Cold War. Item 102. $150.