Tag Archives: books

From Collins to Braddon to Radcliffe to Walpole

I love the way Wikipedia and public domain ebooks have taken surfing to a whole new level. A random thought can lead to a month of reading material. I no longer need to be content with hunting down summaries and snippets, then deciding if a bigger investment is needed. Instead, I can just download whole tomes and read as much or little as my interest merits.

I finally finished The Lady in White last week. It’s been on my to-be-read list for about five years. It took me four years to get the book, then another year to pick it up and read it. This weekend, I read the introduction and all the other related material that came with my spiffy edition. Lo and behold, I had just read my second sensation novel. Who knew there was a literary movement that happened entirely during the 1860s and 1870s in Victorian England? Just take Gothic story elements and put them into what, at the time these books were written, was a contemporary setting. It sounds a bit like the paranormal romance or urban fantasy of its day.

This all led to my next discovery: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, first published in 1862. It’s one of those titles that seems familiar, but I had never placed the book in any context, nor imagined that it was a wild success in its own time, nor thought that it’s the product of a highly prolific author. Braddon apparently wrote 75 novels. She scribbled out 14 of them before the typewriter was even invented.

Then Wikipedia led me to its more elaborate entry for the Gothic fiction. I downloaded two books here. The first is The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe from 1794. This is apparently the quintessential Gothic romance, complete with swooning damsels and never-ending landscape descriptions. The second is The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole which was first published in 1764. This is billed as the book that started Gothic romance. Walpole claimed that the story was a translation of a work by an Italian author, who later turned out to be as fictional as the rest of the book, but it does still make for an amusing–if not quite true–introduction.

It’s this last book that caught my attention for now. It’s amusing, though perhaps not in ways intended. It’s the literary equivalent of bad acting, yet still groundbreaking. All around, it was a great afternoon of not just researching these books, but getting to dive into their full text… a few seconds after discovering them. Collins led to Braddon led to Radcliffe led to Walpole. It might be three years before I finish all these books, if that ever happens, but with paper I’d still be debating which one–if any–I should buy first.

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High Quality Is the Future of Paper

The Woman in White by Wilkie CollinsI’ve been reading The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins for the last few weeks. It’s one of those massive tomes that’s been on my to-be-read list for years. Last Christmas, I got a copy of it in a recently re-released, and super fancy binding. I pulled it off the shelf a couple weeks ago, then got fed up with the tiny text in the paper book and switched to the free Kindle version.

Then I got tired of that, and switched back to the paper book. I went back and forth for a while, but at the halfway point through the book, paper wins. I love this binding, a solid stitch that shows no sign of tearing.  I like the rough feel of this book’s cover in my hands. The book is a bit on the heavy side at almost 700 pages, but has wonderful thick paper. Each page turn matters. I also like the extensive footnotes, and the silk bookmark. All around it’s a much more fitting experience for this 150 year old text.

One other thing: I had no idea that I have a terrible reading habit until after I started reading on Kindle. At the beginning of a chapter, I like to flip ahead to see how long that chapter will be. This works for sections of a book too. The Woman in White is broken into three massive sections, and getting to the end of one is an accomplishment to be much anticipated. This quick flip ahead, and then return to current page, is almost impossible with the Kindle. Books there are one long endless stream of text, which is a bit intimidating when reading a brick like this one. Also Collins, like many of his contemporaries, could be a bit overly verbose in his descriptions. Those sometimes require a quick scan ahead too.

This edition of The Woman in White is  part of the fantastic series of Penguin hardback classics designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. I love these books! They’re the future of paper. Nice, clunky things with solid bindings and creamy paper. Though yes, the text would do well to be a bit bigger.

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Bye Bye Twice Sold Tales

Closed SignThe flood of bookstore closings doesn’t seem likely to let up, at least not soon. Now that I’ve transitioned to the dark side, I wonder how much time I’ll spend in good old-fashioned, paper bookstores. Borders has garnished much attention lately, with the most recent news in their ongoing saga that they are about to be delisted from the NYSE. They’ll be closing a hundred more stores, at best. At worst, they’ll go out of business entirely and take all 650 bookstores with them.

I’ve always felt that one grand exception to this trend will be second-hand bookstores. They’ll continue to sell all the books that are already out there. They can specialize in limited and collector editions, and all around remain a bastion of paper. So I was dismayed to read that one of my favorite second hand bookstores in my hometown of Seattle, Twice Sold Tales in the U District, will be closing. I used to shop there almost daily when I worked at the neighboring University Book Store. I couldn’t afford many new books, even with my employee discount, so was always on the prowl in Twice Sold Tales. (Though the U Book Store did give me great benefits, and I read a ton while actually at work… those were the days.)

Twice Sold Tales will be missed, but I can take some heart in that it’ll continue online. And the owner seems to be making out nicely as he relinquishes his location to Chase. Really? Is this the state of the book world these days? Banks are chasing away bookstores. Also, what will become of the kitty cats who inhabit Twice Sold Tales? I’ve always thought that would be a grand way to be reincarnated, as a cat who lives in a second-hand bookstore.

Must I dash this dream too?

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How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Arnold Bennett, British Novelist

While reading the remarkable series on changes in publishing by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I came across her mention of Making the List: A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900-1999 by Michael Korda. This book deserves a whole post, but for now I’ll let the title speak for it.

This post is about one–just one of what I suspect will be many–gem that I discovered through this book of lists. In 1912, the eighth nonfiction bestseller had a fantastic title: How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day by Arnold Bennett. He was one of many bestselling fiction writers that the book spotlights, though like Fannie Hurst has since fallen into relative obscurity. In addition to fiction, he made a splash with some of the first self help books. This one has just 69 short pages, and is well worth the time.

And according to the book, that is indeed saying something:

Yet it has been said that time is money. That proverb understates the case. Time is a great deal more than money — usually. But though you have the wealth of a cloak-room attendant at the Carlton Hotel, you cannot buy yourself a minute more time than I have, or the cat by the fire has.

Who knew cloak-room attendants were so well paid in 1912? Bennett may be out of time, he died in 1931, but he seems to have made good use of the years he was allotted, at least judging by his prodigious output. One of the things this little book drives home is that we’re far from the first generation to feel that life moves a bit too fast, or that things don’t make quite the same sense they did before. This guy had the industrial revolution, then a world war, then a big old depression to contend with during his lifetime. If he had been granted more time, he would have seen… well, another world war.

Our lives are insanely simple compared to all that, and yes 24 hours a day is plenty. I loved this passage:

The supply of time is truly a daily miracle, an affair genuinely astonishing when one examines it. You wake up in the morning, and lo! your purse is magically filled with twenty-four hours of the unmanufactured tissue of the universe of your life! It is yours. It is the most precious of possessions. A highly secular commodity, showered upon you in a manner as singular as the commodity itself!

For remark! No one can take it from you. It is unstealable. And no one receives either more or less than you receive.

Talk about an ideal democracy! In the realm of time there is no aristocracy of wealth, and no aristocracy of intellect. Genius is never rewarded by even an extra hour a day. And there is no punishment. Waste your infinitely precious commodity as much as you will, and the supply will never be withheld from you. No mysterious power will say: — “This man is a fool, if not a knave. He does not deserve time; he shall be cut off at the meter.” It is more certain than consols, and payment of income is not affected by Sundays. Moreover, you cannot draw on the future. Impossible to get into debt! You can only waste the passing moment. You cannot waste to-morrow; it is kept for you. You cannot waste the next hour; it is kept for you.

The book is now public domain and can be found for free on Google eBookstore and for the Amazon Kindle.

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