Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2008 Issue

<i>In The News</i>: An Unusual Book Theft, Presidential Book Market Heating Up

It's Perfectly Normal was the subject of an abnormal book theft.


By Michael Stillman

A woman from Lewiston, Maine, has pleaded not guilty to a most unusual charge of book theft. JoAn Karkos took a book from her local library and refused to return it (unlike most library patrons who simply lose them). However, this was not traditional stealing, as she sent the library a check for $20.95 to cover the book's cost. This may sound crazy, and there are those who believe Ms. Karkos is a nut case, but there was method to her madness. This was an act of civil disobedience, a protest against the library's offering a copy of the ironically titled, It's Perfectly Normal. It turns out that this book is not a tongue-in-cheek biography of Ms. Karkos, but is subtitled Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health. This book is about sex, a subject Ms. Karkos believes to be inappropriate for public consumption, especially in a place frequented by children (presuming children go to libraries any more). Actually, why would children go to libraries to learn about sex when they can get an unlimited education on their television sets and computer screens? Ms. Karkos is as clueless about the real world today as she is about sex.

Ms. Karkos' arguments are what would be expected -- the book is part of a conspiracy to harm children, causing bad behavior and subjecting them to terrible diseases. Her protest is one we might expect to see in the Bible belt, though it is unusual to see it arise in Maine, where the state motto is "mind your own damn business." Ms. Karkos had earlier attempted to get the police to remove the book from the library on obscenity grounds, but they found no cause. Now, she is scheduled to go to trial in May for her self-appointed police work. Of course, the result of this incident is a sudden surge of interest in this 1993 book.

We see this as an opportunity for the library to take advantage of its superior knowledge of the technological world. Ms. Karkos sent them a check for $20.95, presumably the cost of a new book, but you can go to Abebooks and find lots of copies for as low as $1. If they can keep filling their shelves at $1 a copy and get Ms. Karkos to buy them for $20.95, the library can go into the bookselling business. There's nothing wrong with a 2,000% mark-up. A few booksellers actually survive on less.

The presidential election is bringing old books written by the candidates to the forefront. Collectors are placing their bets. First editions, particularly signed ones, by the eventual winner can be anticipated to bring a healthy profit. Of course, bet on the wrong horse, and all but one of these horses is a wrong one, and you may be stuck reading the thing.

The odds in this gamble took a dramatic swing after the Iowa caucuses when Barack Obama suddenly surged to the top. AbeBooks noted that signed copies of his autobiography, Dreams from My Father, recently sold for $1,798 and $1,299. This one is particularly collectible as it is not a typical written-for-the-campaign book. It was published back in 1995, when people still thought Barack Obama was an obscure Irishman with a funny first name, like "Paddy."

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Manuscript Masterpieces from the Schøyen Collection
    London auction, 11 June
    BROWSE NOW
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Holkham Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, decorated manuscript on vellum [Toledo, 2nd quarter 13th century]. £1,500,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Crosby-Schøyen Codex. In Coptic, manuscript on papyrus [Upper Egypt, middle 3rd century / 4th century]. £2,000,000–3,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The Geraardsbergen Bible. In Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Southern Netherlands, late 12th century]. £700,000–1,000,000
    Christie’s, Explore now : Jean de Courcy (fl. 1420). The Chronique de la Bouquechardiere. In French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1480]. £200,000–300,000
    Christie’s, Explore now: The ‘Catherine de Medici’ Hours. In Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Paris, c.1485]. £120,000–180,000
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000

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