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By E.L. Doctorow (1975)
First Edition, First Printing
DESCRIPTION: Among collectors of Postmodernist first editions, a popular guessing game is to determine which of the novels of our own age will eventually be the ones most sought after in another 50 years from now, and which will have fallen into forgotten obscurity by then, not only in terms of individual titles but of the authors in general writing these titles; so the smart collector of contemporary novels relies on a series of intuitive choices backed up by a bit of luck, looking to outside cultural touchstones to help tell which particular books will hopefully stand the test of time. Take for example E.L. Doctorow, who as of the time of this write-up (August 2014) is still alive and publishing new books on a regular basis; although it's impossible to foretell with 100-percent accuracy what literary fans of future generations will think of him, he's at least had the kind of long and popular career that will at minimum guarantee that he's still remembered in another half-century from now, and placed in that short list of writers that future historians will use to define the Postmodernist Era in general (along with, most likely, such authors as Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, John Updike, John Irving, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more).
So why make the argument that his 1975 novel Ragtime will eventually be the most valuable one of all? Well, to start with, one can argue that it's simply his best book: a piece of historical fiction written in Doctorow's trademark style (that is, of combining real people from that era with completely fictional elements, using the precision of a historian but the imagination of a fantasy author), it's a dark funhouse mirror of subversive Americana published just in time for the country's bicentennial, a shockingly frank look at the racism and sexism that was so rampant during the "glorious" years during the turn of the 20th century, and the kind of naked new look at history that largely helped define Postmodernism to begin with. (See also from these years The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, plus pretty much every novel Gore Vidal wrote in the 1970s.) Now add the fact that this particular book completely changed Doctorow's career, from just another interchangeably obscure academic author to suddenly a popular superstar in the mainstream bestseller list, and now a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award (and surprisingly, a finalist in that year's science-fiction Nebula Award); and then from a collector's standpoint, add the fact that this was a bit of a surprise to everyone involved, and hence the very first print run of this book was shockingly small, compared to every other book by Doctorow that came afterwards, all of which had enormous first print runs, thus making the financial value of any individual copy a lot less. Now add its lasting historical legacy -- including being named one of the 100 best American novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library -- then finally add its historical legacy in the popular culture -- namely, an insanely popular 1981 movie version (nominated for eight Oscars and featuring the very last screen appearance of James Cagney), and an equally popular 1998 Broadway musical (which won four Tonys and was nominated for another nine).
It's for all these reasons that this book is being offered at its relatively premium price today, compared to other popular novels from the 1970s that one might pick up for much cheaper; and although no one can predict with exact accuracy what the future may hold, it's this collector's opinion that such a book is almost guaranteed to eventually increase in value at least tenfold or more, for the young patient collector willing to park this on a shelf and wait for history to catch up to it. Fated to be an eventual jewel in the book collection of anyone into it for the long haul, don't let this modern diamond in the rough pass you by.
CONDITION: Text: Fine (F). Almost identical to how it appeared brand-new in bookstores. Dust jacket: Very Good (VG+). In almost perfect shape, except for just the tiniest bits of crinkling and dirt along the top edges, and with the price on the inside flap clipped off. (In fact, to be clear, many other dealers would list this dust jacket in Fine condition, and is only being downgraded today in the effort to be as fair as possible.)
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Bookworks, Chicago, summer 2013.