Saturday, September 12, 2009


I am in dire need of some decent reading copies of my favorite books. The paperback copies of some of my favorites are ridiculous: falling apart, in limp brownish pieces, fluttering out of my bookcase when I go hunting. I wanted to reread Busman's Honeymoon the other day and was forced to do sneaky Look Inside! things on Amazon to print out the missing first 12 pages (I took screen grabs--you can't print them out directly--and cropped them). I have filled in the reading copy gap for some writers with good contemporary softbound editions (like the Moyer Bell versions of Mapp & Lucia) or not-too-valuable/expensive hardbound, but some contemporary editions are kind of off-putting aesthetically, plus the older editions can be better.

Raymond Chandler has been a particularly difficult writer to find good used/old copies, in my experience. Too popular. And too valuable when they are old--contributes to the expensive old edition/cheap reprint phenom. Some of the old/reprinted versions are awful aesthetically too, though--more than that. The absolute worst cover I have for any book, period (other than the tampon-commercial covers for some Anthony Powells and the dustjacket for the 70s reissue of Mapp & Lucia) is this cover of The Long Goodbye. Too hilarious. I think this is supposed to be Earl, the crazy kinky cowboy, but why there's huge cobra there or whatever, I don't know. (Is there a snake in the book? Is this just supposed to be all Evil n shit?) And if that building is supposed to be Dr. Verrenger's then it looks a little more like the Golden Door. Plus--Earl! Heh! Why Earl? The whole effect is very Hunter S. Thompson + Tom of Finland + Rockford Files, not to mention misses entirely what the book is about, with all its intense elegiac mood. You can almost see some freelance illustrator being given a list of stuff, picking "cowboy," then spending days coming up with something that's just kinda wrong.

I actually quite enjoy awful book covers on some level, the way I enjoy awful blurbs that make it clear nobody read past the first chapter. They're kind of fun. Bad book design is pretty much just as fascinating as good. But oh I need a better copy of this book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Come now, really? The internet has made old editions practically free. To wit:

A 1954 hardcover edition from the Drowsy Owl Bookstore for $2.00; a 1973 paperback by Ballantine for $2.00 (a whale of a deal!)

Now would seem to be the best of times for the collector of old books: there are tons of old books out there, and lots of people who have cataloged them and put the information on the internet, and then after all that work they're selling their books for a pittance.