I can't decide whether this is evidence of the book's staying power, or a sign that its end is near: to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, the art publisher Taschen will release "Moonfire: the Epic Journey of Apollo 11," a book of photographs from the mission with excerpts from Norman Mailer's 1970 book "Of a Fire on the Moon."
Taschen plans to release an edition of 1969 copies, most of which will have a retail price of one thousand dollars. Twelve copies, however, will be bound with a fragment of a lunar meteorite. Priced individually according to the size of the sample, the rock-bound editions will likely trump Taschen's previous most-expensive book, the Muhammad Ali tribute volume GOAT, which went for five grand apiece.
Someone I know suggested that "Goodnight Moon" might make a more charming setting for a lunar-rock binding.
But Mailer's work has a suitably luxe pedigree: when he sold Little, Brown the rights to the Life magazine article on Apollo which was the basis of the book, the pugilistic novelist fetched a million-dollar advance. And Mailer ends his book with a lyrical passage about a sample of lunar rock brought back to Earth by the Apollo astronauts:
"Was she very old, three billion years or more? Yet she was young, she had just been transported here, and there was something young about her... (I) wondered if her craters were the scars of a war which had once allowed the earth to come together in the gathered shatterings of a mighty moon...."
It's important to note that "Moonfire" won't be bound with rocks brought back by astronauts – which are essentially priceless. (Photographs taken during the Apollo missions, by contrast, are NASA images, and as such are in the public domain). The Taschen rocks are lunar meteorites, tiny chunks of rock that were broken away from the moon by meteor impacts and showered upon the Earth as falling stars over millions of years.
The supreme irony, of course, is that the moon was born of the Earth. A cataclysmic meteor strike more than three billion years ago cleaved away a great portion of the young planet's crust, which formed into the moon through the long ages of its orbit. The lunar rocks are only Earth rocks by another name; however astronomical their price on the market, they have only come home.
Matthew Battles is a freelance writer in Jamaica Plain, Mass.