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Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography by C. Edgar Grissom: Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography by C. Edgar Grissom: Reviewed by Kirk Curnutt

After last week’s interview with David Meeker of Nick Adams & Co. Rare Books, it’s a perfect time to introduce Oak Knoll Press’s wonderful new bibliography by C. Edgar Grissom. Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about Hemingway and the Lost Generation, has reviewed it below.  I hope to interview Mr Grissom later this year about his book and the research he’s done to create such a thorough reference book for Hemingway fans and scholars. Grissom’s book is heaven for those who love books and Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography by C. Edgar Grissom. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2011. ISBN: 9781584562788. 560 pp. + DVD-ROM. Hardback. $225.

Ideally, a good bibliography is more than a useful research tool. If done right, it will engross readers by involving them in as twisty a labyrinth of clues as any mystery ever solved by Sherlock Holmes or C. Auguste Dupin.

Why 36 lines of type per page in one edition but 29 in another? Why gold labels on black calico-grain cloth in one binding but gilt-stamping on another? Why leave a bottom edge untrimmed when the top one has been stained black? What motive would drive a 1st printing of a 2nd edition to try to pass itself off as a 2nd printing of a 1st edition?

As in any whodunit, such evidence may be meaningful, or the trail may dead end without revealing much more than what the biblio-gumshoe knew when the investigation began. Even when that happens, though, the inquiry can make for an exhilarating ride. Textual details spark the curious imagination; minutiae hint of motive; every stitch and margin remind the folio flatfoot that more fingerprints than just the authors’ can be lifted off any given book.

Quite honestly, I had as enjoyable a time reading C. Edgar Grissom’s new descriptive bibliography of Ernest Hemingway as I did Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (2011). Both are hefty volumes—more than 500 pages—chockfull of semiotic intrigue and inferences lurking in the white space, waiting to be drawn out. (The plot in Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography moves a little faster, however). In both cases, the storyline pivots around the relationships between books. In Eco’s case, the intertextual referent is Dumas père’s Joseph Balsamo (1854). In Mr. Grissom’s case, it’s a source with which all serious Hemingway aficionados have more than a little familiarity: Audre Hanneman’s Ernest Hemingway: A Comprehensive Bibliography (1967).

As Grissom notes in his introduction, “no single source” for scholars “has proven more valuable” than the late Hanneman’s groundbreaking work (including its 1975 supplement). Yet forty-five years later it’s inevitable that the need for a contemporary bibliography would arise. For starters, posthumous Hemingway works and collections have proliferated since the mid-seventies. But even more importantly, Hanneman listed only first editions, thereby excluding the exhausting array of subsequent printings (never mind subsequent editions) that may differ in binding or even jacket, effectively creating a new book even when disguised as the same exact text.

Wisely, Grissom is not interested in secondary sources such as book reviews and critical studies, leaving those to Hanneman and Kelli Larson’s 1991 reference guide from G. K. Hall. Instead, his study updates Hanneman’s “A,” “B,” and “C” sections, otherwise known as individual Hemingway books, first appearances of texts in collections and pamphlets, and first periodical publications. Nearly four-fifths of the volume is devoted to this A section alone, meaning that if you happen to own a first edition of A Farewell to Arms (as I do), you quickly find yourself wishing that your fourth printing were a second or third. Because then your page x would include this disclaimer, through which the always libel-anxious Hemingway aimed to protect himself from potential lawsuits, just in case Agnes von Kurowsky took issue with his portrait of Catherine Barkley. (Or “Katharine Barclay” as my dust jacket’s front flap refers to her). Such is the level of detail with which a great bibliography like this deals, and even if one only peruses it for entertainment as opposed to scholarly study, it still makes for a fascinating read.

To cite a few other curiosities that caught my eye:

Most Hemingway fans probably know that Caresse Crosby—wife and survivor of the infamous Harry Crosby of Black Sun Press fame—published an edition of The Torrents of Spring in Paris in 1932. Less well-known, the Crosby Continental Editions version came in two sizes or “states,” the smaller of which was enclosed in a glassine case with “obliquely” printed text asking the reader, “Have you read this Hemingway?” Of course, in 1932, few readers had read Torrents—not even the 10-franc market Mrs. Crosby aimed at. (The larger “state” was priced at 125 francs for collectors). Readers had likely heard of it, however, given the notoriety of Hemingway’s ingratitude toward Sherwood Anderson, the subject of Torrents’ parody in 1926. The glassine case and the relatively inexpensive price suggest how the rarest of the rarities aren’t always aimed at upscale audiences. In this case, the smaller “size” version seems addressed to a general readership that needed to be educated via a catchy, if novel, design element that Hemingway had published more novels than just The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. (Whether Torrents is properly classified as a novel is a whole other issue).

Another interesting name that pops up is Louis Henry Cohn, Hemingway’s first bibliographer and the man who introduced him to Esquire editor Arnold Gingrich. Cohn published a rare edition of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” in 1933 through the eponymous imprimatur of his House of Books bookshop. While that 300-copy booklet remains a curiosity, Cohn’s 1931 bibliography on Hemingway is actually of far more interest, if only for the mysteries it initiated thanks to assumptions he sometimes haphazardly made.

Regarding Men Without Women, for example, Cohn claimed that the first two printings (he inaccurately used the term “editions”) consisted of paper of different weights. For this he offered neither a source nor any semblance of proof. Later bibliographers either took him at his word or conducted decidedly unscientific experiments to qualify his claims. Either way, as Grissom meticulously notes, the claim is irrelevant for a very simple reason: Cohn (and later Hanneman) either didn’t know or overlooked the fact that there were four printings of the story collection in 1927, not two, and there is simply no way to date any specific copy to one of them—the paper weights of different copies vary by up to three ounces for no discernable reason. Cohn’s bibliographical “fact” seems to have been invented out of thin air (or perhaps hot air if his source was an insider at Hemingway’s publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons). What Grissom doesn’t ask is how many dupes may have bought a copy of Men Without Women thinking it came from a first printing simply because the paper appeared heavier.

Finally, there are some editorial choices that defy logic. Hemingway, and later, his estate, smartly avoided the sort of endless slicing and dicing of material that makes Dashiell Hammett’s bibliography so convoluted. The Nick Adams Stories is a rare example of such “repackaging.” But the occasional headscratcher has slipped through, especially during the posthumous years. Why on earth did the London-based Book Club Associates, for example, decide to lump A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, and The Old Man and the Sea into a single 1987 volume? It is hard to imagine three more disparate works in the Hemingway canon, with little demonstrable connection when it comes to genre, setting, plot, or any other commonality. One suspects that rights to other texts were either unavailable or too expensive; regardless, the triple-decker stands as one of the odder entries in Grissom’s book. Others include the occasional custom edition whose very peculiarity makes it a collector’s item. I had never heard of Coyote Love Press before, but apparently in 2002 it published an illustrated edition of “Big Two-Hearted River” whose 85 copies were sold at $325 a piece. According to the colophon, Coyote Love had been putting out such editions for twenty years, but “River” would be its last—though why isn’t addressed in this rare volume.… Another potential mystery of the sleuth.

With this volume, Mr. Grissom has done Hemingway scholars, collectors, and everyday fans an immense favor. Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography is an impeccably researched, accessible record of the writer’s works in their various formats over the decades. Exhaustive in detail, judicious in assessing its predecessors, it will stand, one suspects, as the source on editions, printings, and ephemera. It also happens to be a commendably handsome publication, with an eye-catching color cover and a pleasing design of its own—certainly a far more attractive volume than many bibliographies of yore, which tended to look as if they scrolled straight out of the typewriter.

Additionally, Mr. Grissom includes a DVD-ROM with hundreds of jacket and spine images (including that “Katharine Barclay” typo). It also features a PDF with another 700+ pages of supplementary material, including a list of blurbs, interviews, keepsakes, and translations.

Surfing through the images on the DVD, I found myself asking a question that makes this important contribution all the more valuable: how will the craft of bibliography catalogue e-reader editions? Unfortunately, one suspects that terms such as “deckled edges,” “binding,” “gilt,” “stamping” and others won’t have much descriptive relevance. The DVD is as essential a resource as the bound text. $225 may seem a formidable price to the general reader, but the investment is well worth it.

To find out more about Oak Knowll Press and Ernest Hemingway:  A Descriptive Bibliography, click here:

Kirk Curnutt is a Professor of and Chair of English at Troy University Montgomery as well as the author of several books about the Lost Generation including Coffee with Hemingway, Key West Hemingway, The Cambridge Introduction to F Scott Fitzgerald, Critical Responses to Gertrude Stein and more. He also writes contemporary fiction.  Read more about him at:


To read my interview with Kirk about the Lost Generation, click here: