Monday, March 27, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: 1984 by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty FourThe Book of the Week is the first American edition with red dust jacket of 1984 by George Orwell, pseudonym of Eric Arthur Blair. A landmark work of science fiction (don't try to deny it) and perhaps the most important dystopia ever written, 1984 is far too famous to require any synopsis, but I will give you this note on the title: It is often said that Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, and created the book's title by reversing the last two digits of the date. This is demonstrably false, since Orwell's original manuscript bore the title 1980, which he pushed back to 1982 and then to 1984 as completion of the novel was delayed. Orwell also considered the alternative title The Last Man in Europe.

1984 was first published in England on June 8, 1949 and in the United States on June 13, 1949. That five-day difference makes the British first edition the more valuable (even though there were more copies of the British edition printed), but the first American edition is also a prized collector's item, especially in the coveted red dust jacket. The 20,000 copies of the first American edition were printed in both red and blue dust jackets. Neither color has priority, i.e., neither one can fairly be said to have come "first," but the red dust jacket is much more valuable, because hundreds of thousands of copies of subsequent editions also had the blue cover. In explaining to a friend why your copy of a book is worth hundreds of dollars and theirs is worthless, flipping three pages and pointing to the small "first American edition" notation is much less satisfying than being able to say, "Well, this one's red, donchasee?"

Next week, we return to our history of the pulp magazines, with an early copy of the very first science fiction magazine ever published.

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