Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Phantom Books

Have you read the book FILLET AND GRISTLE by E.L. Konigsburg?


Actually, you may have.

Yesterday I received a comment from Kyra ( who has been seeking the book SHIRLEY CHISHOLM FOR PRESIDENT : THE STORY OF SHIRLEY CHISHOLM by Leonore K. Itzkowitz, reportedly published by Random House in 1974. Kyra added, "I can't locate this book in my usual online places." I began to check around and couldn't find any reference to it either, beyond a somewhat generic listing on OCLC which was input years ago by a large book distributor. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that this book was written and submitted to the publisher, announced for publication, but then somehow never released. It happens. And since the OCLC record remains online, the title occasionally pops up and may be cited in bibliographies even though, to all intents and purposes, the volume does not exist.

I call them phantom books: titles you see listed in bibliographies, mentioned in magazines, and cited in online sources...but can never seem to lay your hands on.

I first encountered this situation when I was a kid. Every couple months our library received a thick, floppy, paperbound volume called FORTHCOMING BOOKS which listed all the titles being released in the months ahead. One day, while looking up my favorite authors in FORTHCOMING BOOKS, I discovered that E.L. Konigsburg was due out with a volume called FILLET AND GRISTLE. For the next several months, I checked the library catalog to see if FILLET AND GRISTLE had arrived. Finally a new Konigsburg did show up, but it was titled ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME. I was delighted by that book, but kept looking for F&G. Finally I realized that sometime within the publication process FILLET AND GRISTLE had been given the new (more appealing and more appetizing) title ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME.

So in many cases a phantom book is merely a volume whose originally-announced title was later changed. I've seen this happen many times. Chris Lynch's first novel was announced as CHIN MUSIC, but published as SHADOW BOXER. Julie Reece Deaver's WATCH OUT FOR THOSE MORTON CABS! became YOU BET YOUR LIFE. Double Newbery Honor author Gary D. Schmidt was scheduled to publish COMING TO KATAHDIN this spring, but its new title is TROUBLE. The only "trouble" is that sometimes these original titles get listed in bibliographies and, like earthbound ghosts, they never quite die.

...Not exactly a phantom, a book that exists under two separate titles is more of a doppelganger -- causing confusion by being in different places at the same time. If you are a fan of Phyllis Anderson Wood's hi-lo novels (or am I the only one left?) you might enjoy her book THE NIGHT SUMMER BEGAN (Scholastic, 1976) so much that you try to track down her earlier novel ANDY (Westminster, 1971) only to discover the two books are one and the same -- just titled differently in hardcover and paperback.

Sometimes phantom books are published -- or nearly published -- then pulled from the market. This was the case with I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN AND HE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT ME, a picture book "written" by Louise Fitzhugh and illustrated by Lillian Hoban. The book was scheduled for publication by Doubleday in 1993. When advance copies went out to review journals, an astute critic recognized the book had already been published by Harper in 1968 as MY FRIEND JOHN, with the text by Charlotte Zolotow. (Apparently a manuscript copy of the story was found among Louise Fitzhugh's papers after her death and it was assumed she had written it.) In one of my earlier blog entries I discussed the confusion over Cheryl Ware's SEA MONKEY SUMMER (1996) and FLEA CIRCUS SUMMER (1997) which turned out to not be two separate books, but the same story under two different titles due to legal issues involving the use of the term "sea monkey." Most copies with the original title were pulled from the market, though a few survive.

Another type of phantom book is one that's announced for publication...and then nothing happens...sometimes for years. Barbara Shoup's young adult novel STRANDED IN HARMONY was set to be published by Harper in 1986. It was finally Hyperion...ELEVEN years later, in 1997. After publishing groundbreaking books such as THE GOATS (1987) and CELINE (1989), any new novel by Brock Cole is a cause for celebration. As far back as the last century (that is, the mid-1990s) I have been seeing announcements for the imminent publication of a new Brock Cole novel called LOST ABOVE THE TIMBERLINE. It still hasn't appeared. Today I found a website that again lists the book for publication -- in April 2009!

Phantom books can be a cause for confusion and irritation (I'm sure my librarian was irritated when I kept asking for FILLET AND GRISTLE when the only new Konigsburg was ALTOGETHER, ONE AT A TIME) but they can also be intriguing for book collectors. Who knows if the manuscript of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM FOR PRESIDENT is available in some library archive? Or if a few galleys of I KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT JOHN are sitting in a used bookshop someplace? Were any advance copies of the Konigsburg printed with the title FILLET AND GRISTLE on the cover? Will LOST ABOVE THE TIMBERLINE ever be found? These are the kind of strange, ghostlike, phantom books that collectors love to discover.


Barbara Shoup said...

Just avoiding writing by googling myself (how tacky:-) and came upon your reference to Stranded in Harmony. How bizarre, I thought! The book was, indeed, set to be published as an adult book by Harper & Row--around 1985. I'm not exactly sure what happened, maybe the book really was meant for kids all along. Eventually, I saw that Lucas was the most interesting character in the story--and just let him take things over.

buy jeans said...

The permanence of the internet makes this kind of joke even more amusing. I just saw this today, and it wasn't until the photo was MENTIONED in the post that I looked at it closely and scrolled back up to the date to see if it was an AF.