This week, a new kind of collector came across the radar of the TLS: the collector of “literary vinyl”. An astonishing archive is up for grabs. And it could be yours. As J.C. reports, even at $80,000, it’s still a snip:
We know simple-minded book collectors, in love with early orange Penguins; we know High Fidelity-type maniacs, for whom the whisper of “vinyl” is an erotic invitation. Until now, though, we had never encountered a collector of “literary vinyl” – spoken word LPs, singles, and those oddly appealing 10-inch discs. Greg Gatenby reckons he is the world’s leading collector of literary records; he has 1,700 of them, and is now offering to sell the collection as a single lot for $80,000, roughly $50 per disc.
Mr Gatenby is the former director of the Harbourfront literary festival in Toronto, and the organizer of weekly readings. During his tenure, he tape-recorded “every onstage utterance for posterity”, at the same time stacking up the vinyl. Here is one small part of the catalogue, relating to discs by Albert Camus:
Albert Camus lit L’Étranger.
Albert Camus Reading in French: La Peste, La Chute, L’Eté, L’Étranger.
Albert Camus Vous Parle (10-inch record).
Albert Camus: Le Mythe de Sisyphe lu par l’auteur.
Albert Camus: His works and his voice.Présence d’Albert Camus: Textes et commentaires dits par l’auteur. (Features a portrait of Camus by Maurice Tapiero specially commissioned for this boxed set. Camus reads excerpts from Noces, L’Homme Revolté, Caligula, La Chute, etc. The discs also feature excerpts from press conferences and interviews.)
To continue only with the French, there are recordings by Apollinaire (two items, one with cover art by Picasso), Cocteau (twelve items), Colette (eight), Duras, Gide, Giono, Giraudoux, Malraux, Mauriac. Imagine a 7-inch recording of Alain Robbe-Grillet, with William Burroughs on the flipside. Mr Gatenby has it. On one record, Maya Angelou sings (Miss Calypso), on another reads poetry (sleeve note by James Baldwin). Did you know that Baldwin and Margaret Mead recorded A Rap on Race in 1972? Of course you didn’t; only Mr Gatenby does.
The list alone is good for an hour’s browsing: Truman Capote reads In Cold Blood; Saul Bellow reads Herzog; Ted Hughes (pictured), Julio Cortázar, William Faulkner. When he began collecting, Mr Gatenby tells us, “literary LPs were being thrown in the garbage by librarians”. Guarding the voices was part of his “record-keeping”. It is a mystery to us why he’s willing to part with it. What can you do with $80,000 nowadays? Bids are solicited on eBay. The seller will send a complete list to interested browsers.