This is a digression from the normal course of this blog, but one that I hope visitors will appreciate. For me, it is an important thought — and also a tribute to a number of fellow literary bloggers whose thoughts I both enjoy and admire and who have inspired me.
This particular story starts a couple of days ago in the comments section of Trevor Berrett’s site regarding his review of The Great Gatsby. John Self from theasylum drew attention to a special Penguin series of six leather-bound copies of six classic novels including Gatsby, Room With A View, Brideshead Revisited and others. Pictures are attached, details here and they are on special at an incredible 60 per cent discount so you might want to consider — shipping to North America is quite reasonable. Mrs. KFC and I immediately ordered a set and an email today said they are on their way.
I did feel just a little bit guilty — spending $45 a book on books I already own, just because they come in wonderful leather covers with handsome jackets. And then I realized there was another motive, beyond my selfish one (which I fully admit) that was at play.
On her very popular website recently, dovegreyreader unlocked not one, but two, Pandora’s boxes. This post is an attempt to put those two boxes together — using my recent experience inspired by John and Trevor as the example. It is outside the normal mode of this site, but I think it does speak to all book lovers and especially those who visit KevinfromCanada.
The first of those boxes was dovegreyreader’s Inner Child project, where one weekend a month she revisits the literature of her childhood – think Edith Nesbit and The Railway Children, if you will. The wealth of comments – and suggestions – that followed served as ample proof that many adult readers still have an Inner Child, eager to return to those first books. They also want to share their own childhood experience. It is a sentiment that I share, but since I have no children it is one that had less immediate meaning for me.
And then the Folio Society, which publishes high-quality, well-designed, hardcover reproductions of classics from all kinds of literature (albeit expensive), wanted access to her audience and offered her some volumes. (If you don’t know them, browse away — it’s great fun even if you don’t intend to buy. And this is not a promo — I’ve paid for all my volumes.) Her first post immediately generated another host of responses. I am a Folio Society member and fan and not just of their work because there are certainly other publishers producing volumes of similar quality. But I do salute any effort to reproduce excellent works of literature in an equally excellent physical volume that heightens the reader’s appreciation of the work and that is designed to last for several lifetimes. In addition to adult classics, they have a most impressive collection of beautifully-designed works for younger readers. I’ve included just one sample of each to show the “outer” quality of their books — you cannot believe how impressive they are when you actually have them in hand.
I would like to suggest a personal project – or at least one that I have undertaken – that pulls together my recent experience inspired by John and Trevor (they are both young fathers) and those two incredibly strong themes that DGR (she is a young mother with adult children) has opened.
Any serious reader knows that one of the most important factors in creating a literate adult is to read to a child. And then to move on to introducing books to the child. And to keep that process going. We all have our own Inner Child; as adults we need to create others.
So, if there is any kind of child in your world – it doesn’t have to be a daughter or son; a niece or nephew or grandchild, or even neighbor is every bit as good – one way to help this process along is to begin by “gifting” them truly good books. Affordable volumes are certainly the centre of this but, as special treats, the children’s classics that Folio (and others) publish in heirloom volumes are the ones that I would like to address here. If you want, in the traditional sense, it starts the process of assembling a generational library of excellent books, published in excellent editions. One hopes that they will be passed on through a number of generations, not just one. Journeys Through Bookland is still part of my family — it was one of the most important parts of the house where I was raised.
The second part, in a selfish way, is perhaps more exciting – well, at least in the self-serving short term. One of the threads in the comments following DGR’s introduction of Folio works was that second-hand bookdealers sometimes regard them as expensive versions of Reader’s Digest condensed. That’s understandable – they aren’t, by definition, first editions; they are expensive, compared to the alternatives; and, except for collectors (that would include most of the people who might read this), they don’t represent good value. As a monetary investment, they don’t make sense.
But, for someone who is willing to create a Legacy Project, none of those things are relevant. Those of us who buy a lot of books are making an investment that is not expected to produce monetary returns but returns of the mind. And, if we have a young person – or more than one – in mind, what could be more appropriate than beginning now to build a library of truly wonderful classic books, wonderfully published, that would be part of our legacy for that child? They don’t have to be Folio books by any means – but these exceptionally well-produced volumes are a good example of what the project would involve. Revisiting children’s classics has enormous value in itself – as someone who has an Inner Child, can you imagine what it would have been like to be presented with unaffordable Adult Volumes as a legacy?
I will be the first to admit there is definitely a selfish aspect to this. Books like these are expensive and there are other alternatives – on the other side of the coin, the added pleasure of reading such a superbly done physical book has its own attraction. And there certainly is an element of not just enjoying (again) the particular book, but knowing that others will be following behind me. For my part, I don’t feel the least bit guilty that for a decade or two I will be enjoying the legacy of a collection that I intend to hand to my now eight-year-old niece or perhaps her brother or perhaps both – we’ll see who the reader is. And when she or he is ready to read those adult books – and have them on her shelves even sooner if she wants – I will be more than happy to begin the transfer, always of course with the proviso that I have return lending rights.
This idea had been percolating in the back of my mind for a while. It was only when I saw the outpouring of comments on DGR’s site – and when the post about the Folio Society books produced such a quick response – that the two streams merged as one (the Ohio and Missouri became the Mississippi, if you will). Maybe spending money on six leatherbound novels that I already owned was a factor — it certainly entered my thinking, but I don’t think my decision.
All serious readers know about the great historical family libraries which can never be recreated. We are in a different world now. One of the things that exchanging thoughts about books and literature on the net does is give us the chance to begin creating our own. We have so many more friends to give us advice on what should be there.