A Storied Book with a Fine Association: Henry Roth’s “Call It Sleep”

In the world of book collecting association copies are highly sought after, and our upcoming auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature has some fine examples. One particularly interesting association copy is a rare first edition of Henry Roth’s first novel Call It Sleep, 1934. 

 

Henry Roth, Call It Sleep, first edition

Lot 339: Henry Roth, Call It Sleep, first edition, inscribed to Lawrence I. Fox, New York, 1934. Estimate $15,000 to $25,000.

 

The book itself is a rare and storied text, even before the association. Roth’s debut novel, which tells the tale of a young Jewish immigrant growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century. Call It Sleep received immediate critical acclaim, with positive reviews in multiple publications. However, despite the attention, the book sold poorly and went out of print for almost thirty years until the 1960s, when critics hailed the text as an overlooked masterpiece, leading to successful sales of a 1964 paperback edition. 

Due to a combination of factors, Roth had largely abandoned writing in the period between the initial publication of Call It Sleep and the book’s return to prominence in the 60s, leading to what has become literary legend as the longest writer’s block in history. He began writing in earnest again in the late 60s, though he wouldn’t publish again until a 1979 autobiographical piece Nature’s First Green, titled after a line in Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Roth’s follow-up novel, A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, was published a full sixty years after the debut of Call It Sleep. 

 

 

The copy in our auction is inscribed to Lawrence I. Fox, who served as the trustee of the Henry Roth Literary Properties Trust, and to whom A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park is dedicated. Fox is a longtime book collector and has served for years as legal counsel to the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. Mr. Fox donated the book to the ABAA to be auctioned to benefit the Elisabeth Woodburn Educational Fund and the Benevolent Fund.

 

For more information on Call It Sleep and many other association copies included in our 19th & 20th Century Literature auction, check out the complete catalogue.