Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Can And Do Choose My Books By Their Covers.

If you go book browsing and see something you like but there are several different editions, do you take the cheapest one, or do you go for the more exotic and colourful one that will add colour, size and general variety to your bookshelves?

For example: Wes Anderson's new movie...

... has a dedication at the end to the writings of Stefan Zweig. Zweig is one of those early to mid 20th century writers who have been rediscovered of late (late 10 years or so) and make you wonder how many other exceptional writers are out there, their stars dimmed only by time and the lack of making it to school reading lists, who deserve to be cherished and read for all time but are lost in the seemingly exponentially growing flood of newer books and the screaming white noise of the best-sellers. As a Stanislaw Lem character pointed out in His Master's Voice "Today, in the flood of garbage, valuable publications must go under, because it is easier to find one worthwhile book among ten worthless than a thousand among a million."

Wes Anderson has no hesitation in admitting his indebtedness in this interview in the The Telegraph. Very impressed.

Several of the smaller presses (twee hipsters?) have done a sterling, sterling I say, job of bringing a lot of these literary needles out of the, um, literary haystacks, and thence to my jaded attention at last. They seem to have been publishing his English translation since the mid-noughties. Also Penguin have had an edition of his novella Chess out since only 2006 - which I read a few years ago as it was referenced in some other book about chess somewhere.

So there I am in Kinokuniya Singapore, killing time while a cheap leather worker fixes my expensive but friable Timberland belt, and having seen the movie last weekend, and having been perked up at the end of this pushing at an overdose of twee movie when that "Based On The Writings Of Stefan Zweig" dedication at the very end came up (my friend noted a change in my attitude) and I thought, Respect!, and therefore I had to grab another/all of his books then and there to read on next week's trip to Australia ("work" - am expecting maybe 6 hours face-time with customers over four days.)

But which editions to buy? There was a New York Review of Books copy of Journeys To The Past, but I had the NYRB copy of The Post Office Girl in my bag. NYRB books all look the same - a rectangle just above middle of the front, plain colour spine, fonts always the same. Cute when you only have a few spread here and there, but they are starting to create their own bloc European in my library, particularly in the Russian section (Victor Serge [unread], Andre Platinov [reading], Vasily Grossman [unread], Yuri Olesha [read]). Reminds me of the fields of Penguin orange that once were triumphant across the shelves when I was a beginner bibliophile.

So instead I chose two collections of his short stories/novellae from Pushkin Press (who have comprehensive list of alternative/forgotten/ignored geniuses as well): Letter from An Unknown Woman and Amok because the covers rock!

Cute, different, uncool, awesome, heh? Bound, as it were, to be great.

It's no quite the same as using the jockey's colours to bet on horses, but it's fun and breaks up the monotony.


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