If there’s anything more embarrassing to writers than revisiting their early works, it’s finding out just how much their neurotic second-guessing of their younger selves is worth in cold hard cash.

Or so claimed some of the writers who were milling around the bar at Christie’s on Tuesday night before “First Editions, Second Thoughts,” an auction of 75 first editions, marked up by their authors, which was held as a benefit for PEN American Center.

“It’s not pleasant to read what you wrote a long time ago, but you just have to grin and bear it,” said Malcolm Gladwell, who had annotated a copy of “The Tipping Point” for the occasion. As for just how awkward it is to see one’s work valued in real time, he added, “I’m about to find out.”

Jay McInerney, represented by “Bright Lights, Big City,” was comparatively sanguine about that novel — “I think it holds up,” he said — but was more interested in laying odds on how the auction’s two unofficial (and absentee) stars, Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, would fare.

“I love ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’” he said. (Mr. Roth had also donated a copy of “American Pastoral.”) “But my gut says ‘Underworld.’ DeLillo just went to town with those annotations.”

During the preview, the crowd of about 200 had been able to inspect the often elaborate inscriptions — “intellectual graffiti,” PEN’s president, Peter Godwin, called it in his introductory remarks — before the books disappeared into the hands of private collectors. But once the auction kicked off, the drama was mostly in the prices, which were displayed on a screen in several currencies.

“Those are just numbers,” the auctioneer, Tom Lecky, the head of Christie’s printed books and manuscripts department, reminded the crowd at some point after Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” ($16,000) was stomped by Robert Caro’s “Power Broker” ($26,000). “The really interesting stuff is over there,” Mr. Lecky said, pointing to a second screen that showed sample pages from the books themselves.

Still, the numbers, with their implicit reputational stakes, were impressive. Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours,” supplemented with taped-in notes, photographs and even a rosary that had hung on the walls of the study where he wrote it, fetched $21,000, ahead of Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” ($18,000) but behind Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad” and Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping,” which each hit $24,000. (“The Tipping Point” fetched $3,500; “Bright Lights, Big City” sold for $7,000.)

And the unstated headline match up did not disappoint. Bidding on “Underworld” — “a spectacular performance of annotation,” Mr. Lecky said — shot immediately to $30,000, then quickly leapfrogged to $57,000. “There’s a Ph.D. to be written on this book,” Mr. Lecky declared after bringing the hammer down. (Christie’s waived its usual fees on all sales for the evening.)

But Mr. Roth’s two-fisted strategy paid off, as the sucker-punch of “Portnoy” ($52,000) was followed by the knock-out of “American Pastoral,” whose $80,000 closing price was the evening’s highest by a wide margin.

“It’s a no-brainer,” one woman in the crowd whispered to her neighbor of the prices fetched by two books, which came inscribed with lengthy prefatory comments but no other markings. “Everyone knows he’s going to win the Nobel.”

As the crowd filed out, the evening’s most important number was announced: $918,000 raised for PEN, topped up to a million by a donor — well ahead of the roughly $680,000 raised at a similar auction held by British PEN last year, it was noted with some pride.

“They got a big chunk of that for J.K. Rowling,” said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of the American Center, referring to a marked-up copy of the first Harry Potter book that sold for more than $230,000. “But we had a deep bench.”

If any of the authors on that bench were angling for bragging rights after the event, it was mainly over who was more mortified by the spectacle. Colum McCann, whose “Let the Great World Spin” fetched $10,000, reported retreating into a back corner when his book came up. Paul Auster, whose “City of Glass” brought $8,500, arrived after the auction was over.

The poet Paul Muldoon’s first collection, “Knowing My Place,” published in Northern Ireland in 1971, the year he turned 20, went for $13,000 — not bad for a chapbook that was originally priced at 10 pence.

“It’s hard not to think, ‘Does this reflect my worth?” Mr. Muldoon said. “But this auction is really about people’s generosity to PEN. And at least in my case, the price is much more than I’m worth.”