South Africa: On the Art of Owning Literary Contraband

opinion

Ben Williams considers the hows and whys of owning books that you ought not to.

The rumours (there are none) are true: I am the proud possessor of a book that, set to be a blockbuster and scheduled for mass production, never saw the light of day. One of the few unpulped copies found its way to my desk on a lucky Friday the 13th a couple of years ago. The tome is so rare, and the frisson of owning literary contraband of this type so pleasurable, that it travels with me, packed among a handful of other works whose nominal value is higher - signed first editions and so forth - but which will not cause any future collector's eyes to pop quite so indecorously as when they first get a look at my book that never was.

You may think you know what this book is, but you're wrong: It's not that book. Further, what if I told you that there are in fact two books in my collection that fit the description above? My children can split them after I'm gone, if they have any idea of their significance: Such anonymous-looking titles, jumbled together with much more...

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