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Gifts and First Editions for $100 or Less

By Matt Reimann. Dec 5, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Books, Book Collecting, Modern First Editions

When you buy a good book, you become the owner of a cultural and historical artifact. As bibliophiles, we can't help but get close to our favorite works, putting our hands on those copies that first heralded the arrival a major creative effort in the world. It's an elevated experience, and an even better one to share in the form of a gift. And while it may seem that great books carry a significant price, there are deals to reward the most shrewd of book hunters. Below, we've compiled some volumes to please both the novice and seasoned collector alike.

Ragtime

Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

The finest works of historical fiction blend the reality of the past with illuminating artistic invention. Ragtime grapples with the “crime of the century”--the murder of Stanford White by Henry Kendall Thaw; it features as characters J.P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Sigmund Freud, anarchist Emma Goldman, and Booker T. Washington; and the setting follows America as an inchoate world power from the beginning of the century to the advent of The Great War. Its characters come to life in a way that elucidates their cultural significance. Doctorow addresses what made America the great power it became, and at whose expense this ascension was made possible.

 zadie_smith_white_teeth

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Smith began working on White Teeth when she was fresh out of Cambridge University. Called an “astonishingly assured debut” by Salman Rushdie, it was the world’s introduction to one of contemporary fiction’s sharpest talents. It follows numerous characters in Northwest London, particularly two unlikely friends: Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Veterans of World War II, Jones and Iqbal venture across the former empire in London and embrace the comedy of daily existence. The novel focuses in particular on the immigrant experience and the identity of the denizens of multicultural London. It's comic, it's poignant, it's jarring, and it proved to the world that a new wave of ambitious young writers had arrived.

Cherokee

Memorial of the Heirs of Families of the Cherokee Indians

Not all books are published for the common reader. This volume was printed by the US Congress Committee on Indian Affairs in 1848, and covers in great detail the redresses of the Cherokee Indian nation. It outlines in particular the wrongs and injuries done to the Cherokees by the agency of the Department of War, and the instrumentality of the commissioner of Indian affairs in violation of the good faith of the United States. This 150 year-old proposal is not only a remarkable artifact of the struggle for civil rights in the United States, it also shows how texts and the printed word are employed to change the world.

Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz

Like many of the books on this list, Pilgrimage is signed by its author. Yet its author, rather than a woman of letters, is one of the most prominent photographers alive. Pilgrimage represents something of a departure in subject for Leibovitz, most famous for her portraits of celebrities. Across the country, her camera captures the abandoned creative spaces of legendary artists from Emily Dickinson to Virginia Woolf to Georgia O’Keeffe. Her photos reestablish an intimacy between the reader and these legendary artists by looking at the physical spaces behind their work.

Black Hawk Down

Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

The book's subtitle reads "A Story of Modern War,” and the book sets out to tell just that. In 1993, the United Nations commissioned a task force to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. As a reporter for The Philadelphia Enquirer, Bowden conducted numerous interviews to reveal the true nature of the international mission. Bowden offers a clear perspective to the geopolitics that produced the peacekeeping mission that eventually devolved into armed conflict. Bowden proves himself to be a formidable story teller, as well as a responsible journalist.

 Whores of Gloria

Whores for Gloria by William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann has reported from war-torn Yugoslavia, shadowed skinheads and drug addicts, and dived into the bowels of San Francisco’s prostitution underworld. Whores for Gloria comes from a trilogy of novels inspired by Vollmann’s experience as a witness—and occasional participant—in the illicit and seedy practices of the sex industry. Its narrator is highly unreliable, a man who pursues numerous girls on the streets of San Francisco. His beloved is Gloria, a feminine ideal who may or may not be real. It is through this story that Vollmann explores, as the New York Times wrote, "the search for love and redemption amid despair and self-destruction.”

 Carter Always a Reckoning

Always a Reckoning by Jimmy Carter

So far, no other United States president has published a book of poetry in his lifetime. Not only is this book the first of its kind, it’s autographed by the former president himself. The poems in the book often reflect the sparse, pastoral landscape of Carter's childhood. Carter’s life is peculiar among presidents, as many agree that his work outside of government is more impressive than his tenure in the Oval Office. Charity work, advocacy, and intellectual acuity mark the life of a man entering his tenth decade of life, and this book is testament to the man's impressive diversity of accomplishment.

 Gertrude Stein

Selected Operas and Plays of Gertrude Stein by Gertrude Stein

Like much of Stein's work, this volume is a display of audacious artistic experimentation. Stein lectured at universities concerning her grievances about drama, namely that the nature of time at the theater makes every spectator uneasy. Setting out to correct this dysfunction, Stein took to writing dramatic “landscapes,” or performances in which sequence was largely unimportant to the harmony of the work as a whole. Much like her innovations with prose, in which repetition and sound became a new battlefield of meaning, her insights on the nature of drama are still being uncovered and being put to use today.

 Public Burning

The Public Burning by Robert Coover

This masterpiece was locked away for over fifteen years due to the legal concerns over its depiction of Richard Nixon, the book’s principal narrator. Indeed, through Nixon, Coover offers a memorable first person voice in addition to a cast of vibrant, real-life and folksy characters. Among these is the The Phantom, a nebulous, but omnipresent McCarthyian embodiment of all that threatens the American Way. And then there’s Uncle Sam, the towering, foul-mouthed incarnation of American exuberance. The final result is a roaring, unpredictable tome that asserts itself as the great American “political novel” of the last half century. 

Browse Gifts for $100 or Less

Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.

 

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