Down the rabbit-hole: Alice’s Alice collection

As a neurodivergent person, I consider Lewis Carroll’s Alice a kindred spirit. I, too, frequently feel stuck navigating a world of nonsense in which I am forced to interact with obstinate people whose thought processes seem to run on a logic entirely foreign to my own.

Given that I found this character relatable enough to literally name myself after her, it should come as no surprise that I have taken to collecting various print editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It is a somewhat modest collection—so far, I only have six different editions—but I recently came into possession of something very special that inspired me to show off everything Alice I have.

Funnily enough, I didn’t actually own a physical copy of the Alice books until I was an adult. I had read the stories as a child, of course, but like most of the things I read as a child, I simply checked them out from a library, and I never had a copy of my own.

That changed in December 2013, when I won a Tumblr drawing for a Barnes & Noble gift card. My family was in a pretty dire financial situation at the time. My parents couldn’t afford to keep their phone bills paid, let alone buy Christmas gifts, so I spent most of the gift card buying presents for my family, just so we could have some gifts, however small, to exchange on Christmas morning. I had a little bit of money left over, however, so I decided to buy a treat for myself. I went to the “Classics” section of B&N, where they keep the new editions of public domain books, and decided to pick myself up a copy of Alice.

(As an aside, to this day, I am the only person I know who has ever actually won a Tumblr drawing. In fact, I’ve won two Tumblr drawings. Most of my friends still insist that all Tumblr drawings are scams and nobody has ever won one.)

This edition is honestly pretty unremarkable. It has a full-color dust jacket, and features the classic John Tenniel illustrations. It’s really basic, but at the time I didn’t care: I was just happy to finally own the book that shaped my view of of the world.

As you might expect, B&N tends to stock multiple editions of every public domain book they sell, each with unique cover art, and often in different sizes and formats. What you may not know, however, is that for public domain children’s books, such as Alice, B&N offers distinct editions aimed at children and adults, each shelved within their respective sections of the store.

If you know me, you will not be surprised to learn that I greatly prefer the editions offered in the children’s section.

I came across this edition in the children’s section of a Barnes & Noble in August 2019. I love everything about it: the purple cover, the cover art, the typesetting, the full-color illustrations, etc. I initially resisted buying it, because I didn’t think I could justify paying for another copy of a book I already owned, but I gave in and went back to the store literally the next day just to pick this one up. And from then on I decided, hey, why not see how many unique editions of this book I can acquire?

A few weeks later, I was shopping online for some used textbooks when I had a thought: If I’m already paying for shipping for my textbooks, why not play a little game? I decided to find the cheapest used copy of Alice available on the site and add it to my order, just to see what edition turned up. A week later, my third copy arrived on my doorstep.

This edition may look unremarkable at a glance, but it genuinely exceeded my expectations. For the 99¢ I paid, I expected to get a well-worn generic paperback edition. I was pleasantly surprised to receive this 1979 hardcover edition, complete with original dust jacket, in great condition. It also features Mervyn Peake’s illustrations, which are some of my favorites.

It seems this particular book was a child’s Christmas gift decades ago, as evidenced by this inscription just inside the front cover.

“For Lisa, from Kathy. Christmas 1979. December 6.”

For a long time, it was just those three. As you would imagine, I had more pressing issues to deal with for most of 2020 and the first half of 2021 than buying new books for my Alice collection. But this weekend, I woke up with an idea in my head: why not get together with my brother and sister and go check out our local Half-Price Books? Surely I’d be able to find at least a couple interesting editions of Alice there.

In the end, I went home with three more books, literally doubling the size of my collection.

This is honestly one of the most bland and generic editions of Alice I’ve ever seen, but…well, you see the price sticker on it. For 50¢, I’d have to be a fool not to pick it up. I can’t even buy a candy bar from a vending machine for that cheap.

This is the first paperback edition in my collection, and it’s also notable for having a set of illustrations I hadn’t seen before. The illustrator is someone named Jason Alexander, and no, I don’t think it’s the same guy who was on Seinfeld.

Much more exciting is this 2017 “Illustrated Classic” edition. It features the full text of the original novel, but also includes all-new full-color splash illustrations by an Italian artist named Martina Peluso. I’ve looked a little bit into her other work and she makes some pretty cool stuff.

These illustrations really are quite striking, and the intricate format and typesetting makes this edition one of my favorites.

But that wasn’t the true treasure I found this weekend.

First published in 1960, The Annotated Alice is a book that presents the original text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass alongside the commentary of mathematician and writer Martin Gardner. Gardner explains not only Carroll’s many references to Victorian-era pop culture that are otherwise lost on modern readers, but also the mathematical and philosophical concepts Carroll addressed in his work.

As the hopeless Alice fangirl I am, I read The Annotated Alice many years ago, but I did not own a copy. Just as I had done with the original stories as a child, I checked it out from the public library, spent weeks poring over it with intense fascination, then returned it. So I was delighted to find a 1960 first edition of The Annotated Alice at my local HPB for only $9.99.

Now, that is special enough on its own, and I knew from the moment I saw this book on the shelf that I had to buy it. But when I opened it up, something caught my eye…

What is this?

I couldn’t believe it: tucked inside the book, kept there long enough to have stained the pages, was a newspaper clipping of a 1965 Associated Press piece, as published in The Columbus Dispatch, commemorating the centennial of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This book’s original owner must have been just as dedicated an Alice fan as I am.

This newspaper clipping is my new prized possession. I’ve showed it off to everyone I know, both locally and online via Discord video call, always being sure to handle it carefully. As I write this, the clipping is not currently in my possession, as I’ve taken it to a shop to have a custom frame made for it. This piece of history needs to be preserved, and as someone who loved Alice so much that I took her name, I can’t think of any better place for it than framed on my wall.

I intend to continue expanding my collection of Alice books, but I suspect I may have already found my collection’s crown jewel.

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