• I've always enjoyed good book design. Covers, in particular, have interested me every since I bought a stack of Ace scifi paperbacks because I was thrilled with the cover imagery back when I was working at my first bookstore job in the late 1960's. 

    As I grew older and understood more of what went into designing and publishing a book, I began to understand that sometimes the designers were only creating a cover image that they thought would sell the book regardless of whether the image had anything to do with the story.

    The covers for Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy of books (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) have caught my attention because they really do reflect the story that the author has written. Published by a literary publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) who rarely venture into genre publishing, the designs for the American covers are vibrant and strange using a single thematic image for each book. Created by noted artist Eric Nyquist, they get several things right: the size of the story/theme, the color palette for all three books is spot on with the mood and the single image represents a telling moment in each individual novel 

    Mr. Vandermeer has put together a Flickr gallery of cover's from different countries (U.S., UK, Spain, etc). I am particularly fond of the UK covers as I think they capture some of the idea of structure in each of the books. Couldn't find the name of the designer, but if anyone who is reading this knows, please email me so I can update this post.

    The Japanese covers are fabulous with just the right mix of lurid/strange and formal design. They are my favorites of all of the cover designs.  

  • front cover of the New Annotated HP Lovecraft
    I've been anxiously awaiting Les Klinger's The New Annotated Lovecraft, which I'll dive into as soon as my Vandermeerism wears off. 

    Happened to catch the modern novelist, Charles Baxter's, screed on Lovecraft disguised as a "review" in the very intellectual New York Review of Books (12/4/2014). 

    Among other predictable complaints about Lovecraft (terrible writer with no sense of style, appeals only to adolescents, a racist, shut in, et al) Baxter tries to understand why Lovecraft is still so popular and comes up with the partronizing notion that Lovecraft only appeals to like-minded people (morbid, paranoid, suspicious). 

    Oh, brother...

    Here are few "gems" from this so-called review (little mention of Les Klinger's annotations; no mention of Alan Moore's introduction). 

    "His narrators cannot calm down; the fever never breaks. Accordingly, simple human decency, kindness, and generosity have no place anywhere in the stories. Their emotional range is limited to dread on one end of the spectrum and hysteria on the other".
    "In my judgment, Lovecraft’s true staying power as a writer can be attributed to his chilling depictions of death-in-life, the one subject in which he could claim genuine expertise". 
    "After both world wars and the atrocities of recent history, Lovecraft’s horrors seem like quaint, construction-paper toys created by someone who did not get outside much—he never went to Europe—and who built his puppet theaters out of whatever was lying around."  

    Thankfully, we have S.T. Joshi's brilliant reply to Charles Baxter's review. Joshi is a Lovecraft authority and has written extensively on the "Weird Tale" tradition that Lovecraft drew on as a writer. He's also written the definitive biography of Lovecraft (I Am Providence).  

    front page of STJoshi.org

    Here are some lovely quotes from this well-written riposte to Baxter's awful review. I chose comments that focused on racism, the adolescent claim and his (Lovecraft's) connection to the Weird Tale tradition in American Literature: 

    "Charles Baxter appears determined to pigeonhole Lovecraft as a writer of interest only to “adolescents.” While it is true that a substantial number of Lovecraft devotees initially read him as adolescents, a fair number of these fans grow up to be reasonably mature writers in their own right who continue to draw upon Lovecraft’s writings for aesthetic inspiration"

    "Baxter goes on to assume—based on a stray comment made early in his career (“Adulthood is hell”)—that Lovecraft himself remained an arrested adolescent. In fact, he was largely successful in overcoming the severe psychological damage resulting from his early upbringing (he was raised by two parents who were borderline psychotics) and became a surprisingly well-adjusted and outgoing individual, and one who exhibited a keen interest in the world around him."  
    "There is also the question of exactly how much racism enters into Lovecraft’s fiction. Baxter maintains that it is central. Another reviewer of the Klinger book—John Gray, writing in the New Republic—offers a different opinion: “Fortunately, the core of his work has nothing to do with his social and racial resentments.”[7] I am inclined to agree with Gray. Such things as atheism,[1] devotion to science, and love of the past are all far more central to both his philosophy and to his fiction than racism." 
    "The upshot of all this is that Lovecraft developed, in the course of a relatively short career spanning less than twenty years, a highly coherent aesthetic of the weird and developed a prose style that he believed was appropriate to its expression. Whatever one may think of Lovecraft’s prose, I would suggest to Mr. Baxter that he be a little less intolerant when assessing work that doesn’t accord with his own presuppositions." 
  • I've just picked up a gorgeous edition of Russian author Nikolai Gogol's The Collected Stories, published by the Folio Society and illustrated by Peter Stuart. I'm always impressed with Folio Society publications, but with this one they seem to have out done themselves. 

    My only complaint is that they use the old Constance Garnet translation. A good article on her various flaws as a translater can be found at the New Yorker. It would have been marvelous if the Folio Society had comissioned a new translation from that genius team: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have completed changed our notion of Russian writers like Tolstoy, Dostoevesky and Bulgakov. 

    In any event, the Garnet translation is certainly readable, so it's not a deal breaker. Where the Folio Society have scored is in choosing Peter Stuart to illustrate the volume. Amazing work by a remarkable artist. Here are some examples of his illustrations from Gogol's The Collected Stories

    Peter has also illustrated several other books for the Folio Society, most notably Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Robertson Davie's The Deptford Trilogy. For more of this brilliant animator's work, try is website peterstuart.com

    You can purchase Gogol's Collected Stories via the Folio Society website or any good indie bookseller. I recommend Tattered Cover in Denver, CO. or Powell's Books in Portland, Or. Of course, if you have a great indie store near you, go there!
  • I recently acquired four new Ross MacDonald vintage paperbacks and wanted to share them. Ross MacDonald is one of my favorite American mystery writers. He was the first mystery author to receive a front page review in the New York Times Book Review (Underground Man, reviewed by Eudora Welty) and he was instrumental in taking the mystery genre out of the pulps and into literature. I still think he tops Chandler and Hammett in his writing skills. You will be richly rewarded if you venture into your local used bookstore and pick up one of his Lew Archer novels.

    You can find more about Ross MacDonald here

  • I can't seem to stop reading the remarkable trilogy of novels by Jeff Vandemeer collectively titled The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance). The one volume hardback edition came out last week and I've dived into it with no lack of enthusiasm considering it's my third reading.

    That's how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.
    ― Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

    What makes these books so fascinating? They are beautifully written for one thing and a pleasure to read. The depictions of nature (the southern Florida landscape/seashore) are remarkable and crystal clear. Plus, the story is so involving/moving that the characters and situations are becoming part of my own life memory. 

    There are scenes in these three novels that will shock you, creep you out, amuse you, move you and anger you (among only a few reactions to the characters/story). And the characters are like Lovecraft channeling Henry James: they are characters with many levels and a complex inner life. 

    The books are about death, obsession, how our modern culture is despoiling nature, first encounter with aliens, obsession and abuse by government. And the monsters...ah, well, you have never encountered anything like it.

    These are novels whose stories make the hair stand up on your neck. I urge you to pick up the one-volume hardback, or the first volume in the trilogy: Annihilation. You will not regret it. The journey in these novels is unlike anything you have ever read.

  • I enjoy browsing in the Iliad Bookshops paperback section because you find so many interesting covers. Here are four recent covers that caught my eye. The SATYR cover is pretty strange. That smudge at the right of the satyr character part of the actual cover. I like the design of A TOWN OF MASKS and the lurid colors make me want to find out what the story is behind the cover. Be sure to click the thumbnail for the larger image.

  • Although December is not one of my favorite months (too involved a story to tell you why), I do like looking through end-of-the-year lists, especially of books. One of my favorite book blogs is "Stuck in a Book". I love the fact that not one of the books listed on the blog comes from 2013. Not that there aren't good books published this last year (I'll be listing mine soon), but the list at Stuck in a Book is more personal favorites of the year. That's how I like to look at the "Best of" lists that come out at the end of the year.

    I'd love to read all of the books on the list, but I decided to pick one: Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet. I've always been fascinated with people who have large book collections and this book looks like a delight.

    the stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com challenge
    I also decided to take up the "A Century of Books" challenge that Stuck in a Book issued to readers. The goal is to read a single book from each year of the 20th century. I'm going to try to do it in a year, but with all of the other reading interests I have it may take a little longer. So far here is my list for the years 1900 to 1010. See my complete list on the side panel "My Century of Books" page.

    My Century of Books list (first decade):

    1900     The Wallet of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah
    1901     The Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud
    1902     The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar
    1903     Ideas of Good and Evil by W.B. Yeats
    1904     Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton
    1905     The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
    1906     Botchan by Natsume Soseki
    1907     Dead Love Has Chains by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
    1908     Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
    1909     Three Lives by Gertrude Stein
    1910     Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman

    Most of these titles I'll be reading in the e-book format, but a couple I already have in my library. My sources will be Gutenberg.org and OpenLibrary.org for the e-books and primarily the Iliad Bookshop for the p-books.

    The wikipedia has a very nice page on events and book releases for each year of the century. It was fascinating to follow the links and read up on authors and titles. Difficult to decide which book to choose for some years, which is why there are two titles listed for 1905 and 1907.

    Thanks to Stuck in a Book for the idea. Look for my reviews here of each title and we'll see if I'm up to the challenge!