Phantom book


May 13, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg

A blog on collecting children’s books recently had an entry on Phantom Books, and it reminded me of a phantom book of my own: Dawn B. Sova’s Passion and Penance: The Lesbian in Pulp Fiction.

But surely this book exists? It has an Amazon page. It has an ISBN (0571199178; ISBN-13: 978-0571199174). It has a publisher and a publishing date – Farrar Strauss And Giroux (Nov 1 1997) or Faber & Faber (December 1998), depending on who you ask. It has a blurb from Ingram: ‘With unique access to several large private collections, Dr. Sova has extracted scenes and chapters from each decade’s pulp fiction, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and comments with wit, erudition, and light on the changing evolution of this heretofore unexamined genre of lesbian literature.’ It’s linked to at book sites and bookswap sites and library sites….

And yet. The Lesbian Pulp Fiction Collection at Duke University (seriously) lists it as ‘on order’ since December 1999. No book site or bookswap site actually HAS a copy. Aha! Worldcat says that the Library of Congress has a copy and so does a library in Halifax. So it MUST exist.

Except. I e-mailed the LOC to check on this and another book, both of which were listed as ‘on order’ in the catalog. Neither book is there. The other I found at Better World Books and let’s just say I’m treating the money I paid for this book as a donation to literacy, ’cause the prose was so bad it wasn’t even laughable (kind of a new age romance with a lizard bad guy – okay, HE was laughable, but otherwise it was at the level of excruciating fanfic). About the Sova book, the helpful librarian said that both the LOC record and the Halifax library’s record are incomplete, and the book was never received by either of them. Frankly, he doesn’t think the book was ever published. And when a librarian says that, it’s time to listen.

Yet it’s weird that there’s an awful lot of information out there about a book that was never published.

I wrote to F&F but never got a response, so if Dr. Sova ever reads this, maybe she can solve the mystery.


One thought on “Phantom book

  1. kicking_k says:

    I have a theory that the 1980s Puffin edition of “Spiderweb for Two” by Elizabeth Enright is another such phantom (although the book clearly exists in other editions). I owned matching copies of “The Saturdays”, “The Four-Storey Mistake” and “Then There Were Five” as a child, and the back covers for the last two listed “Spiderweb for Two” as the final volume in the series. Could I ever find it? No. Nor was there ever a blurb for it in the back of other Puffins (I always used to read every word as a child). I suspect that this book, which seems to be less popular with readers than the three earlier volumes, never made it into paperback in Britain.

    It may simply have been out of print. I could never come across a copy of Diana Wynne Jones’s “The Ogre Downstairs”, either, even though its blurb was in the back of several Puffins I owned in the 80s. I had to wait for it to be reissued by HarperCollins in 2003!

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Tiny bio

I live, work, and write in Edinburgh. I travel to other places as much as I can. To contact me, email writingmostly at gmail dot com.


CURRENTLY READING: The Ginseng Hunter by Jeff Talarigo.

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