My Lawrence Block Collection | Mystery Author Lawrence Block Promotes Special Philatelic Release

Lawrence Block releases his latest novel, Hit and Run, on his birthday: June 24, 2008.

A coda to last month’s column on John Irving: As you may recall, I had, after some consideration, purchased a nice used copy of John Irving’s A Son of the Circus to take along to the author’s March reading on the UI campus.

That reading was quite an event. It began with the overflow crowd having to move from a lecture room in Van Allen Hall to a larger—but still inadequate—space in the Pappajohn Business Building. All of the Irving fans charging the couple of blocks across campus must have been quite a sight, indeed.

Irving did a splendid job, reading a full chapter from his forthcoming novel. Afterward, quite a number of us made our way to the front, books in hand, hoping for a signature. Irving declined to sign, which wasn’t surprising, but was disappointing. A Son of the Circus has joined books on my shelf by Powers, Vonnegut, and Updike that have accompanied me to readings but have come home without signatures. It’s a distinguished little collection.

Standing in contrast to that little assortment is my collection of signed books by Lawrence Block. Only Cedar Rapids author Ed Gorman has signed more items that have ended up on my shelves. And I just added one more on Block’s side of the ledger.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Block, a brief look at his work: He is perhaps best known for two mystery series: the dark, serious Matthew Scudder novels and the light, humorous Bernie Rhodenbarr books. I commend both to you.

I’m a bit less fond of his Evan Tanner series—tales of a spy who never sleeps—and Chip Harrison series—stories of a young man’s sexual misadventures originally written under a pseudonym—but I’m a huge admirer of his short stories, I have enjoyed various of his stand-alone books, and I guiltily admit to truly enjoying his stories/novels about Keller, professional hit man and avid stamp collector. My newest Block signature will be in the upcoming Keller book when it is published this summer. More on that in a moment.

I’ve acquired my Block signatures in varied ways and in varied locations. Back in 1998, I discovered Mr. Block was going to read in Castleton, Indiana, near where my sister was living at the time. I put a lovely copy of the fairly rare After Hours: Conversations with Lawrence Block in her hands in the hope that she’d get it signed. She ended up handing it off to a friend, and I was fairly certain that meant that, if it came back at all, it would come back unsigned.

Disappointed, I purchased a signed copy of a book called Deadly Honeymoon from a used bookstore in Peoria, Illinois, on the weekend of the Indiana reading. And then my sister sent me my signed copy of After Hours.

If the bookmark inside my signed copy of Random Walk—Block’s foray into New Age fiction that also seems to presage his late-life interest in race walking—is any indication, I picked it up in a bookstore in Ames, though I don’t remember doing so.

I also don’t remember where or when I picked up a first edition of the first Matthew Scudder novel, 1976’s The Sins of the Father, which I had signed, along with The Burglar in the Rye (a Rhodenbarr book), at a 1999 Block reading at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. That was in keeping with Block’s rule that he’ll sign one book from your personal collection for every one of the current title you buy. Want all your Evan Tanner paperbacks signed? No problem . . . but you’ll have several extra copies of the new book to give to friends.

I believe it was at that reading that I signed up for Block’s e-newsletter. The frequency of the newsletter ebbs and flows, but Block keeps readers updated on his books, movie projects, travels, and the like. He’s always funny and he usually has something to sell.

Block has everything from reading copies to rare editions of his books for sale, all of it signed. I’ve purchased two things directly from him: a DVD of an independent film based on one of his short stories and, just recently, a “philatelic” edition of the new Keller novel, Hit and Run.

From the newsletter: “The Philatelic Edition of HIT AND RUN will consist of a copy of the hardcover First Edition, bearing on the flyleaf or title page (I haven’t decided yet) an imprint identifying it as such. All copies will be serially numbered and hand-signed by the author—that’s me—and each will also bear a special genuine U. S. personalized postage stamp showing the cover of the book, tied to the page with a hand-applied cancellation bearing the book’s official publication date (June 24, 2008, my 70th birthday, and how’s that for timing?) and the city (that’d be New York, duh). And there may be some further philatelic enhancement elsewhere in the book.”

Truthfully, I hardly need such a thing. But it fits nicely with the other books in my Block collection, giving me a fairly unique signed copy from a series I enjoy. Block does an excellent job connecting with readers both in person and over the web. I’m looking forward to reading the book and adding Block’s nod to stamp collecting to my book collection.   

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