What do famous authors think when they look back at their earlier books? The English branch of PEN, the international writers' organization that promotes free expression, is finding out by inviting fifty authors, including J.K. Rowling, Julian Barnes, Margaret Atwood, Tom Stoppard, and Nobel Prizewinner Nadine Gordimer, to write notes in copies of their very first published work.
The works will be auctioned next Tuesday in London by Sotheby's, with all proceeds to benefit English PEN's work.
J.K. Rowling wrote several notes in a rare first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (sold in the U.S. as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), including "I wrote the book... in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night. For me, the story of how I wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages."
The auction's curator, rare book dealer Rick Gekoski, described the results as "astonishing", adding "some authors annotated on many pages of the text; others wrote sustained comments on the endpapers and blanks; some edited and corrected the text, one marked a book for a performance or a reading; a substantial number offered their own illustrations. In almost every case, my hope that the result will stand as the definitive copy of the book was comprehensively satisfied."
Something similar was published as a recent "Insider's Edition" of Kitchen Confidential, featuring handwritten notes by Anthony Bourdain. If and when social reading becomes a standard feature of e-reading, these kind of author revisits might become more commonplace, and purchasable as optional extras. For now, however, if you want to read your favorite author's line-by-line reminiscences and see their sketches, you'll have to make a bid.
Check out some of the handwritten notes, including those by Yann Martel, Ralph Steadman on Hunter S. Thompson, Hilary Mantel and Helen Fielding, below: