Modern First Editions 1970-1979
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's powerful first novel about a black girl who longs to have blue eyes, Morrison was teaching at Howard University and raising 2 sons as a single mother when she wrote the story, waking at 4am in the morning to write. Sales were initially slow until University's started adding it to their reading lists, especially in newly founded black studies departments. Although it is on many reading lists to this day, it has been challenged by multiple school districts because of the difficult sexual content including rape and incest. The first edition of the book, released in 1970, contains the first few paragraphs in the book from the point of view of 9 year-old Claudia on the cover. Claudia is the foster sister of 11 year old Pecola, a young black girl who is told that her dark skin makes her ugly, and dreams of having blues eyes which she believes will make her beautiful, an ideal reinforced by the Dick and Jane books she reads and the blond haired white skinned baby dolls she is given as gifts. Central to the novel is the rape of Pecola by her alcoholic and abusive father which results in her pregnancy. The novel is set in Ohio in 1941 as the country, still very segregated by race, is trying to recover from the economic hardships of the Great Depression.
Watership Down by Richard Adams
This book about anthropomorphised rabbits in Southern England was rejected by 13 publishers before the small one-man Rex Collins Ltd. accepted it, reportedly stating to an associate, "I've just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I'm mad?" Although the central characters, because they are rabbits, can be considered childish, the book handles complex themes with literary writing that pushes into into the adult genre. The tale originated as a story told by the author to his two young daughters on car rides, improvised, which they insisted he write down; in 18 months he had written the book. Drawn from the author's experiences in WW2, the character's focus is on survival and reproduction, weaving in themes of heroism, exile and leadership, in a way that many people can identify with and be inspired by, although some criticize the lack of female authority and voice in the books. The rabbits, who have their own language, culture, and even mythology including a folk hero and spirit guide El-ahrairah, are on a quest, or hero's journey, to 'Watership Down,' a hill in the north of Hampshire, England, a safe place to settle after their home warren is destroyed. There was a second edition of the novel released in 1973, and MacMillan released the US edition in 1974. Watership Down is one of Penguin books best-selling novels of all time.
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Published by Viking in 1973 it was the first novel the publisher released by a major novel in both hardcover, 4,000 copies at a lofty price of $15, and paperback, 16,000 copies at $4.95, simultaneously. The editor believed that Pynchon's key demographic, which was young, educated, and hip, were not likely to spend the $15 for a hardback book. Long and complex, this novel, set mostly in Europe at the end of WWII, won the National Book Award in 1974 and is considered one of the most important books of the century. Described as sprawling and epic, the story centers around the design, production and dispatch of V-2 Rockets by the German military, and a centralized theme is technology's impact on society. Although the novel was selected unanimously by the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1974, the Advisory Board was offended by some of the content and therefore chose not to award a prize that year. First edition, first printing paperbacks of this book can also be very valuable because of the unique printing situation. Book of the Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club printings from 1973 are very similar to the Viking First Editions - the main differences in both the hardback and paperback of Book Club editions is no price is present on the cover or book jackets.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Killer Angels, A Novel About the Four Days of Gettysburg, was published by David McKay Company, Inc in 1974. Michael Shaara was a prolific short story writer, mainly science fiction, who won several awards and even saw a few of his stories turned into television dramas in the 1950s, before moving on to novels in the 1960s. His first few novels were not very successful, although some were critically praised. Killer Angels took him 7 years to write, and was then rejected by 15 publishers before being published to little attention and mixed reviews. Even after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 the book didn't gain much commercial success. Then, in 1993, 5 years after Shaara's death at the age of 59, and almost twenty years after it was published, Killer Angels hit number one on the New York Times Bestseller list after the Ken Burns Documentary film based on the novel - Gettysburg - was released. Ken Burns stated that reading Killer Angels changed his life. First edition dust jacket price $8.95.
Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Ragtime captures the era between the turn of the 20th century and the first World War, a time when Ragtime music, a forerunner of jazz, was popular, and America was coming to terms with issues that still resonate today. The three diverse families that the novels centers each struggle for freedom, peace, and meaning in a fast-changing progress-driven world. Incorporating such real-life characters as Henry Houdini, JP Morgan, Sigmund Freud and Henry Ford, Doctorow weaves historical facts into this fictional tale. The first edition dust jacket is plain white with scripted writing, and a price of $8.95. There are 150 signed and numbered presentation copies that are the most valuable of the first editions at around $400.
Roots by Alex Haley
Roots begins with the story of Kunte Kinte, captured as a youth in Africa and transported to the United States as a slave, and follows his family through seven generations into present day America. Although the book was published as fiction, Haley drew from his family's oral history as inspiration of the book. It is considered a work of extreme cultural importance in the United States. Roots spent 46 weeks on the New York Times bestselling lists, 21 at the number one spot. It was developed into a popular mini series in 1977, and again in 2016. Alex Haley won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize in Special Awards and Citations for Roots.
The Shining by Stephen King
King's third published novel and his first hardback bestseller, the success of The Shining established him as a preeminent author in the horror genre. The novel revolves around Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer who brings his family along to a historic (haunted) hotel in the Colorado Rockies after accepting a position as the off-season caretaker. Jack's son Danny has 'the shining' - an array of psychic abilities that come to light as the family gets snowbound in the hotel. The horrific past of the hotel and the supernatural forces within it possess Jack and set him after his wife and child. King came up with the story while staying at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado in 1974 and having a nightmare about his three year old son running terrified through the halls. He completed the novel in four months, and although he had two other completed novel written at the time, Roadwork and The Body, he published the Shining first.The novel was adapted into a film directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1980 that is now considered a classic. The First edition of The Shining had a run of 25,000 with a price of $8.95 on the dust jacket.
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Irving's fourth novel, The World According to Garp won the National Book award in 1979, and the paperback edition won the same award in 1980. T.S. Garp is named after his father, 'Technical Sergeant', a dying ball turret gunner that Garp's mother, a nurse named Jennie Fields, rapes in order to conceive a child. Garp grows up with his strong single mother, who becomes a famous feminist icon after published a book called the 'Sexual Suspect,' and grapples with his own writing career and relationships with women and family through the book. The novel was turned into a film starring Robin Williams as Garp in 1982. First editions have copyrights dates from 1976 and 1977 on the copyright pages because portions of the book appeared in magazines during those years. Dust jackets on later printings are shorter than the book. First edition original price is $10.95 stated on dust jacket.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy aired for the first time at 10:30pm on Wednesday, 8th March 1978 on the BBC as a radio comedy, inspired in part by Ken Walsh's Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe published in 1971. The radio show's popularity spawned not only the best-selling book series, but a televisions series, several stage plays, a computer game and feature films. The novel adaptation of Adam's radio series is a misnamed "Trilogy" of six books, five written by Douglas Adams, that sold more than 15 million copies in his lifetime. The series follows the 'misadventures' of the last surviving man, Arthur Dent, around the galaxy after the Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Dent is rescued a human-like alien, Ford Prefect, who writer for the travel guide The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. First published in London 12th October 1979 - sold 250,000 copies in the first three months. US edition is 1980, Harmony Books. First edition, signed run $1,000-$2,000.
Sign up for our newsletter for a chance to win $50 in free books!
Author Bio: Amy C. Manikowski is a writer, bookseller, trail-diverger, history buff, and pitbull lover. She graduated from Chatham University with an MFA a while ago, and after wandering aimlessly settled in Asheville NC.