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The Biblioracle: Seeking 'Wise Blood' first edition

The Biblioracle John Warner is bedeviled by a book he doesn't need
A signed first edition of Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood" costs how much?!

I am shopping for books even as I type, but I'm having a hard time pulling the trigger on a particular purchase.

I've read the book I'm considering buying three times and already own two copies, one of which doesn't have a cover anymore, which is why I bought the second one, thinking I would then get rid of the first one, except that I remembered that the first one was covered with my margin notes and scribbles and I don't want to go to the trouble of transferring them to the newer copy.

If I buy a third copy of this book, I will never read it. I may not even open it. I will put it on a shelf in the living room and every so often glance at it as I walk by.

The book I'm shopping for is "Wise Blood" by Flannery O'Connor. I have previously declared that Flannery O'Connor is on my personal Mount Rushmore of American Literature, and "Wise Blood" is one of the reading experiences I hold most dear. It is a genius work of dark humor and human tragedy.

I am shopping at AbeBooks.com, which is my favorite website for used books. There are others that are also good — Powell's is fantastic for used copies of current books, and Better World Books donates a book to someone in need for every book purchased on the site.

But AbeBooks is my favorite site because it is a clearinghouse for used bookstores all over the world to post their wares. It is like every little hole-in-the-wall store owned by some bibliophile eccentric collected into one virtual space.

I am specifically shopping for a first edition hardcover of "Wise Blood."

"Wise Blood" was first published in 1952 by Harcourt, Brace, and didn't attract much initial notice, though it later gained critical and popular traction and The Guardian newspaper ranked it the 62nd greatest novel of all time.

The first printing was likely small, and at the time publishing still suffered from postwar shortages of materials, meaning many books were cheaply made and quick to decay. On AbeBooks, there are only 14 copies of the first edition hardcover, the cheapest of which is over $1,200.

Now you see why I'm never going to pull the trigger on the purchase. The copy I really want, which is inscribed to onetime Savannah socialites and O'Connor friends Reid and Hildegarde Broderick, is priced at $9,250.

On the plus side, the shipping is only five bucks.

So I will not be buying a first edition hardcover of "Wise Blood." My own desires strike me as ridiculous as they fly in the face of the Midwestern thrift with which I was raised.

Yet I cannot deny the wanting.

The most valuable book I own is probably my signed copy of "Amazons," which Don DeLillo wrote under the pseudonym of Cleo Birdwell. It is framed as Cleo's autobiographical account of being the first female National Hockey League player. I paid $50 for it, and according to AbeBooks could turn it around for more like $200.

I'll never sell it.

I have several copies of the original printing of the first three issues of McSweeney's Quarterly that may be worth hundreds of dollars. The third issue has the first short story I ever published.

I'll never sell them.

A signed first edition of my novel, "The Funny Man," will cost you $12.50 on AbeBooks, just over half the retail price.

Catch me at the right time with a copy in hand, and I'll give you one free of charge.

Biblioracle John Warner is the author of "The Funny Man." Follow him on Twitter @Biblioracle.


The Biblioracle offers readers recommendations

1. "World Light" by Halldór Laxness

2. "The Damned Utd" by David Peace

3. "The Three" by Sarah Lotz

4. "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour" by Joshua Ferris

5. "Red or Dead" by David Peace

— Stephen P., Hamilton, Ontario

This recommendation flies in the face of my usual practice, that is, when someone gives me all fiction, I recommend fiction in return. But I have a hunch that Stephen will enjoy the narrative nonfiction of Jon Ronson, one of our best contemporary storytelling journalists. "Lost at Sea" should do the trick.

1. "True Grit" by Charles Portis

2. "The Toughest Indian in the World" by Sherman Alexie

3. "California" by Edan Lepucki

4. "Our Tragic Universe" by Scarlett Thomas

5. "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan

— Shirley T., Chicago

Elizabeth McCracken's "The Giant's House" has just the right blend of grounded, real-world emotions mixed with narrative oddness that Shirley seems to gravitate toward.

1. "My Struggle: Book 1" by Karl Ove Knausgaard

2. "The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolaño

3. "Hawthorn & Child" by Keith Ridgway

4. "Juice!" by Ishmael Reed

5. "The Rings of Saturn" by W.G. Sebald

— Stephen R., Chicago

Holy moly, no breezy beach reads in this bunch. This is neither here nor there, but I wasn't familiar with "Hawthorn & Child," so I looked it up, and it has one of the best covers I've seen in a long time. While admiring it, I noticed another book from the same publisher, New Directions, that should be up Stephen's alley, "Lightning Rods" by Helen DeWitt.


Get a reading from the Biblioracle!

Send your last five books to printersrow@tribune.com. Write "Biblioracle" in the subject line.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now

About this story

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, the Chicago Tribune’s premium Sunday book section. Learn more about subscribing to Printers Row Journal, which is available for home or digital delivery.

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