What if...

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What if...

1Django6924
Mar 13, 1:05pm

This post was prompted by my thoughts upon receiving the latest Folio Society prospectus. I was a Folio Society subscriber from 1980 until a few years after Sue Bradbury stepped down as the presiding director, and the course the new director was taking it was one I didn't like. That course is very evident in this new Spring collection: over half the titles are in the fantasy-science fiction genre, mostly titles which have been published fairly recently, and includes several deluxe editions reproducing comic books--the Marvel Comics in particular with the newest being Captain America.

I am not saying that these works don't have merit; I like the science fiction of some authors such as Ray Bradbury (I love my Limited Editions Club editions of Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451), H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and I will say that many of the comic books I read as an adolescent had wonderful artwork, but...I couldn't see myself paying $125 US for a compilation of Captain America comics. Nor any other comics, for that matter, because I find them of evanescent interest. Admittedly, I am a geezer and those who are much younger may feel very different about this, and their opinion is every bit as valid.

I do know that when I look back on some of those comics (such as "The Flash," which I did in 1980 when I was doing visual effects for the original TV incarnation of the speedster), I still admired the artwork, but I got nothing more out of the stories than I did when I was 12. I had grown, but the work had not, and its concerns were no longer mine. On the other hand, a few years ago I re-read Anna Karenina, and am currently re-reading Jane Eyre--both of which I read in college almost 50 years ago. Although I admired them then, I am enjoying them even more today, as my experiences and increased general knowledge have opened my eyes to beauties and truths in them I did not recognize in my early 20s. I think this is the true definition of a "classic."

Anyway, the "what if..." is something I have been pondering: if the Limited Editions Club were re-incarnated today, what sort of works should it publish? The Folio Society obviously feels that to keep going as an institution it needed to change direction from the "classics," to the taste of a much younger audience. Would a new Limited Editions Club also need to publish books such as Dune, Planet of the Apes, and Captain Marvel to be sustainable?

There are many 20th century works that I believe are classics in the traditional vein which have not received a fine press edition. While I would not pay $125 for Captain America, I would be willing to pay $300 for a beautifully-printed, illustrated edition of A Bend in the River or From Here to Eternity--or Monkey ( Journey to the West ). Considering the Schiff model, what about commissioning a graphic artist to do an original work--somewhat along the lines of Lynd Ward's graphic novels such as "God's Man"? This of course would not have stood the test of time, but as an experiment, and original graphic novel using original art prints--woodcuts and engravings, original lithographs, even giclée prints from original art created on the computer--would be something that might be worthy of a revived LEC, and would at any rate be something that might shake up the fine press world.

While I think the direction of the current Folio Society is not appealing to me, I also don't think it wise to keep re-publishing just the Western canon. We really don't need another fine press edition of Homer, Virgil, Decameron, Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, etc. Some "classics" have seemingly outlived their relevance: Morte d'Arthur, Utopia, de la Faontaine's Fables, and Imaginary Conversations (all of which I own in beautiful LEC editions but which I will never re-read). Though it be sacrilege, I re-read for the third time recently when my book club re-read it, Paradise Lost--and I found it less relevant, more irritating, and not very entertaining at all. I concur with Pococurante's opinion (in Candide) about it being "10 books of harsh verse rehashing the first few chapters of Genesis." Although I still admire Milton's sonorous language, I think it's put to a bad use "justifying the ways of God to man" and am convinced his real masterpiece in Samson Agonistes (and why has there not been a fine press edition of that? Shocking!).

Well, excuse this rant, all who disagree can take comfort in the fact that publishers don't listen to my opinions at all, and if any feel up to it, perhaps they could suggest what a resuscitated LEC might publish and still survive the first year.

2abysswalker
Mar 13, 2:13pm

Even the LEC did some pop lit releases—such as Anthony Adverse, forgotten now but at the time, I gather, it was considered less highbrow than the standard LEC fare. I suspect any commercial operation needs some releases to keep the lights on, which George ended up doing mostly with the various Heritage sub brands as the underlying economics shifted. The alternative would be some form of subsidy, either through another part of the business or some non-market dependent funding. I think Arion might receive some subsidy for maintaining the Grabhorn legacy, though don’t quote me on that.

I agree some works seem over represented in fine press editions, and many worthy possibilities underrepresented, even within Western classics. Personally, I can never have too many editions of Paradise Lost, assuming the printing brings something new and interesting to the table, and I suspect I’m on the low end of the age distribution for the participants on this board, so for me at least it’s not lack of desire in exploring new possibilities.

Thornwillow’s business model seems the closest attempt at trying to satisfy this niche at some degree of scale, but they may be trying to surmount too many challenges simultaneously (like relying on all or mostly all in-house artisans rather than contracting work to established specialists as George did). And, arguably, Kickstarter is a better way to calibrate supply and demand for a product with a smaller market, though it lacks the inertia of being a subscriber to a club such as the LEC (inertia being a good thing in this case, probably, as it provides some degree of built in audience for more experimental releases). Apart from Thornwillow, maybe the only competition in terms of business models is Suntup with the rights train, but Suntup makes this work by full press pop genre lit, apart from the occasional exception, which is clearly not really what a modern analogue to the LEC would be. Also, Paul doesn’t seem to prioritize educating his customers to appreciate the printing crafts.

I do think one needs an individual with a specific and compelling vision, and good taste, to rise above a genre niche (Suntup, Centipede, the Folio trajectory) or another collection of classics. Any modern attempt would probably leverage social media in some way as well.

(I buy, at least occasionally, from all the publishers still operating that I mention above, and probably will continue to do so; my intention is analysis rather than fault-finding.)

3RuefulCountenance
Mar 13, 2:52pm

Good timing with this thread, as it is a topic I have been thinking of a lot lately. I am quite new to the Limited Editions Club but have amassed a large collection quickly and have greatly enjoyed not just the beauty and artistry of the books but also the texts, almost all of which I have been reading for the first time ever. As background, I am 47 and a lifelong lover of reading but for most of my adult life I put literature on the back burner. There were many classics I am almost ashamed to admit I had never read until acquiring their LEC versions, like Don Quixote. Better late than never, I suppose :)

Anyway, I have pondered the possibility of a modern-day LEC revival and, like Django, wondered what it would publish, and if it could possibly be economically feasible. I know nothing about the book publishing industry, let alone fine press publishing, so I will keep my thoughts very general. I think the recent success of Suntup shows there is an opportunity for an LEC 2.0, along with other developments since the heyday of the LEC, like the internet and advances in publishing. Suntup's choices have been in the vein of fantasy/scifi/horror, and I think most of us would want a broader range of genres in a new LEC. Still, I have no doubt there are marketable titles across a wide range of genres. Recently on the Folio Society board on LT there have been some good suggestions for the high-quality treatment, like A Canticle for Leibowitz (yes, it's scifi but I think it is worthy) and Pale Fire. I think, in this current environment especially, Invisible Man would be outstanding. And also Colson Whitehead. It's exciting for me to think of all that could and should get the fine press treatment but never has. There's definitely an opportunity for an ambitious, and brave, publisher.

It would all come down to dollars and cents, of course, and that's where I need to leave this discussion. I don't know that 1,000-1,500 subscribers would be willing to plunk down $300+ month after month. The quality might have to be more like Folio Society's $100-$200 books. Features that we are accustomed to from LECs like letterpress and extra-special materials like leather might have to be eschewed. The illustrators might not be big names. Maybe books aren't published monthly but instead every other month. Suntup has a de facto subscription model and they always sell all of their numbered editions (and lettered) for many hundreds of dollars each month, but then their limitation is 250-350. But as Django indicated, a really nice production around $300, maybe every other month ($1,800 total a year) ... I could get on board with that. I have to think worldwide 1,000-1,500 others would as well. It's certainly an intriguing thought! I am hopeful that someone will see what Suntup has been doing and see the possibilities.

4RuefulCountenance
Editado: Mar 13, 3:04pm

>2 abysswalker: We posted simultaneously, but you brought up a good point with social media. Being able to interact with your audience in a more immediate and robust way than LEC ever could would be a big advantage. I know LEC would ask its members what they wanted published, but there is so much more that can be done today. One thing Folio does well is to use short videos to give an inside look at the production of their books. How cool would it have been if Macy had a video of Fritz Eichenberg creating a woodcut, or if Shiff had one of Fahrenheit 451 being bound? That would be a valuable marketing tool today.

5abysswalker
Mar 13, 3:24pm

Tangent to expand briefly on my offhand comment about Arion subsidies: the press is associated with a nonprofit organization (The Grabhorn Institute) that has a little over 2m in net assets and about 100k net positive yearly cash flow. The mission of the org is to educate about and preserve traditional printing techniques, which looks like it includes maintaining the historical printing equipment (still used by the press?), operating a small museum, funding paid apprenticeships, and some related goals.

Source:

https://www.causeiq.com/organizations/grabhorn-institute,943363125/

Unclear whether the National Trust for Historic Preservation status applies to the operating press.

6blue.eyes
Editado: Mar 13, 4:09pm

To begin with, a resuscitated LEC need not publish one title every month. Three titles an year would probably suffice. At most four, but not more than that. People seem to have less time for reading books now than they did earlier.

What titles should be chosen? A few thoughts:

With respect to American authors, many deserving books were not published by the LEC for god knows what reason. A farewell to arms, the sun also rises, and a moveable feast ought to all have been chosen for publication by the LEC.

I recently asked a retired American newspaper columnist for a list of classics authored by American authors that one ought to read, and this is his list (many of these were published by the LEC, but not all):

-- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
-- Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
-- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
-- The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
-- The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, by Emily Dickinson
-- The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
-- The Crucible, by Arthur Miller
-- Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
-- The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales, by Edgar Allen Poe
-- The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
-- The House of Mirth, by Edith Warton
-- How the Other Half Lives, by Jacob Riis
-- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
-- Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
-- The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
-- Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
-- Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane
-- On the Road, by Jack Kerouac
-- Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
-- The Things They Carried, By Tim O'Brien
-- Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
-- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
-- Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
-- Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
-- Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell
-- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
-- One flew over the Cuckoo's nest by Ken Kesey
-- The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Some consideration can also be given about whether some classic detective stories (like 'Red Harvest', 'The Glass Key' and 'The Maltese Falcon') can be published as fine press books. Obviously only a few select books of this genre type can be included for the purpose we have in mind.

Further, several of the post-George Macy LEC books were of relatively poor literary quality because of poor translations. One only has to compare the amount of care and effort that went into the production of the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky books (the translations were in most instances revised for a superior literary production) with what was the fate of most of the Jules Verne books which were all published by the LEC after George Macy's demise. A good critical review of the Kingston translation of 'The Mysterious island' which was the one used by the LEC and the Heritage Press may be found at this page of the north american jules verne society (najvs):

http://www.najvs.org/works/V013_IM.shtml

For a review of Mercier Lewis's 19th century translation of 20,000 leagues under the sea (the one used by the LEC and Heritage Press) one may read this:

http://www.najvs.org/works/V006_VL.shtml

See also:

https://19thlevel.blogspot.com/2012/08/jules-verne-translations-that-dont-stink....

Besides the literary shortcomings of the Kingston and Mercier Lewis translations, it is particularly illuminating to know that they changed Verne's political orientation (which surely no translator has a right to do). A particularly glaring example is given in the review of the 'Mysterious Island' at the najvs site whose link i have given above.

Finally, it would not be hard to look for other classics, written by non-american authors, which were not published by the LEC. More on this in a later post.

---

7Comatoes
Mar 13, 4:40pm

If the LEC was suddenly resurrected as George Macy (and his wife/son) envisioned it so many decades ago, it would be a place to find unusual titles and illustrators. He seemed to like to experiment with original materials, presentations, and designs. His books are unique because he was a visionary. He wanted to bring awareness to book collecting to a small audience. He understood that retaining interest required dedication and a close connection to its users. In marketing, this is called interacting and showing your customers you value them by providing great service. He personalized his business model by providing monthly letters, and this interaction created a following. I'm guessing he would look for works from multiple genres that are classic, timeless in the message, but innovative.

I think the new LEC would have been a contender for Folio Society because he too liked to use various techniques in book design. He used slipcases, glassine dustjackets, letterpress, limited/signed books as a way to make books special and coveted. Books are special when people see you put a lot of thought behind them, and not for a "money grab". I think he would become a publisher of "neo-classics", books that are recent but are in a position to be future classics or relevant to the modern world now.

With that being said, I don't think a publisher will be successful without popular titles and genres. The only exception to this would be University presses as they do more research and non-fiction titles. Customers/scholars/colleges who purchase University press offerings are a rare and select few but enough to keep the presses operational. But for other publishers, no interest from customers means a bankrupt company. You need people interested in your offerings are you will not be successful. This always goes back to marketing. Marketing is what drives society and is not a new concept, it just went from nomad to bartering to social media in several centuries. The basic concept is to provide something of value to potential customers. Folio Society's shift to those Gen X, Millennials, and the Y's and Z's and beyond may annoy people, but they must do it to keep innovation going. How many Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. can you put out without becoming a snooze fest? I personally want to see more indigenous and writers from countries you never hear from. For example, how about some science-fiction from South America? How many Ray Bradbury's are we going to exhaust? I like Ray Bradbury, but it's becoming boring when every publisher is putting out the same books. I like Jane Eyre like the rest of the world, but how many editions do we need of this work? I would prefer book publisher's to not become lazy. We need new translations and fewer rehashes from the past. If it has been done several times, it's better to move to other titles. If a publisher wants a particular "classic" author, then publish a title that no one has done yet (something you mentioned in your post).

Back to the reconstituted LEC, no I don't think LEC needs comics, etc. but it needs to think outside the box and introduce book collectors to new authors in favorite genres. Fiction as a group outpaces non-fiction. Within fiction, science-fiction and fantasy hold premium spots. The numbers don't lie, if people are reading these genres and a book publisher is trying to go against the grain and stay "classic", well you know what happen to the dinosaurs. We need "classics" and everything in-between if a publisher can cater to many interests it will work out well for them.

But I think the question we need to ask is what constitutes a classic? I've been asking myself this question. It will always be different for everyone. But what actually is the classics, and why is it important to keep this "concept" going? Is reading classics better than reading something new this year? Do classics stand the test of time, can EVERYONE relate to them? What is the difference between a classic from Norway versus a classic from Japan? If someone doesn't read a classic, how will this affect their life? Can we reject certain classics and choose our own individualized classics?

8jveezer
Mar 13, 5:05pm

I just finished The Martian Chronicles for a book club and had no idea there was a LEC edition out there. I am a little irritated by my library's lack of edition info, although it could be user error, in that I try to select an edition that is at least a quality paperback if not a hardback book. The last two books I've checked out were in the smallest, cheapest paperback edition and definitely affected the reading experience negatively. I'm not sure a re-read of the Bradbury is in my future or I would seek out the LEC. Looks beautiful in a quick check on-line.

I'm also tired of the same old classics but would be definitely happy with a LEC-like press that published world classics. I use the word classics loosely, and if it was my press, it would be literature that is still read or should(subjective, I know) be read 50 years later, and especially literature that a lot of readers would say deserves a re-read, it would include world classics in translation, and it would make up for the neglected masterpieces of women, people of color, and indigenous and native people. (Aside: there was an interesting award a few years back called the Daphne Awards. It went back 50(?) years and, with 50 years of hindsight, picked the best book in fiction, poetry, non-fiction, & children's books. So in 1964 The Ice Palace won instead of The Centaur and Requiem instead of Selected Poems of John Crowe Ransom)

My first series, edition of 600, bi-monthly, by fixed subscription price:

The Awakening, Petals of Blood, Waterlily, A Mind at Peace, Journey to the West, The Dirty Dust

Ha ha, that part of surviving the first year, though....

9blue.eyes
Mar 13, 6:30pm

>7 Comatoes: No 'new authors' for me, thank you. More than 200 years ago, Voltaire had written:

I keep to old books because from them I learn something. From the new I learn very little.

This seems particularly true today given the steep decline in literary standards. There seem to be no Tolstoys, Dostoevskis, Twains, and Hemingways today. Why this has happened is something worth reflecting upon in my opinion.

10abysswalker
Mar 13, 6:57pm

>9 blue.eyes: Voltaire would have missed out on all the other authors you cite, given that from his perspective they would have been yet to come, had he followed the advice you quote.

Personally, I prefer to read both time tested and new works.

11abysswalker
Editado: Mar 13, 8:08pm

>7 Comatoes: "Can we reject certain classics and choose our own individualized classics?"

I think the answer is no. Obviously, everyone has their own taste and can read whatever they choose. But what constitutes a classic, like language itself, is a collective phenomenon. We can choose which direction to shine our small spotlight, but even those of us with the largest platforms can shift cultural meanings only minimally. Oprah might sell a lot of books through a recommendation, but Kurosawa chose to remake Shakespeare over and over again in his films. Who ultimately has more influence over what counts as a classic? There are certain books that will remain classics for the foreseeable future because one is simply unable to make sense of the cultural landscape lacking engagement with them. Imagine trying to understand Nietzsche lacking some familiarity with the Bible. And people that don't actually read the classics directly will continue to be influenced by them, but without understanding how or why.

None of this necessarily matters to someone trying to run a business, but George Macy chose to engage at this level by bringing a perspective that appreciated the aesthetic achievements of the past while incorporating the work of contemporary artists (many of which seemed unpleasantly modern to some of his subscribers, based on how he writes in the monthly letters and as recounted by Grossman's history of the LEC).

A spiritual successor to the LEC would probably cast a wider net in some regards; the world is smaller now, and there is so much more access to knowledge. But that doesn't mean something can be made important and influential just by saying so, even if you pay a lot to say so very loudly. Some large number of people over time need to care enough to champion the classics of the future and reflect appreciation of them through echoes in subsequent works.

12kdweber
Mar 13, 11:45pm

I'm quite pleased with the Folio Society's spring catalog and was happy to order A Man on the Moon and Creators, Conquerors & Citizens. Both of these titles seem in keeping with the tradition of the old Folio Society. I also don't agree that there is no need for another edition of the Iliad or the Odyssey (I own eight). I'm currently taking an online alumni course of the Iliad (UPenn) using the Stanley Lombardo translation (trade hardback) which I've never read before. I don't own a copy, but I am interested in Caroline Alexander's fairly recent translation of the Iliad. This book is a timeless classic. Likewise, I would love to own the translation by John Daley with Page duBois of Sappho that the Arion Press published. I haven't bought the AP edition because I hate the artwork. I enjoyed the FS multi-color The Sound and the Fury and the Thornwillow multi-color Genesis. My point is that there is still life in the old classics but I agree that no modern press will be successful only publishing such fare.

Suntup is successful with their $400-$800 offerings because they are almost entirely genre fiction. Thornwillow seems to have switched to chap books and broadsides. I think the 1000-1500 subscribers for $300 per book is a difficult niche particularly if letterpress. Clearly the market supports $400 - $1000 books for 100 - 300 subscribers. I subscribe to the Foolscap and Barbarian presses.

I'd love to see fine press editions of Catch 22 (can't stand the FS cover) and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (non-bowdlerized version).

13abysswalker
Mar 16, 2:07pm

So here’s a question for the collectors and enthusiasts here regarding a modern take on the LEC. How important to you is the scarcity aspect of the limitation? Assuming the possibility of reprinting was explicit to begin with, would it bother you if a publisher of fine press books produced a second numbered run of an edition for which there was still demand? Something like: first print run numbered A1–A300, second print run numbered B1-B200 (or whatever, I’m just making up limitations to have a concrete example), and so forth. With the quality maintained across limitations, so it wouldn’t be like one deluxe edition followed by a trade-style edition, and without varying the bells and whistles or bling.

Put another way, is quality enough of a draw for you, or is exclusivity also required?

14RuefulCountenance
Mar 16, 2:30pm

>13 abysswalker: At first I thought it wouldn't bother me but after thinking about it more, it would. On the one hand I would want LEC 2.0 to be financially successful. But then I think if you are establishing yourself as a publisher of fine limited editions, you are choosing to put a cap on your revenue. It feels wrong to try to have it both ways. Instead, maybe borrow a page from LEC 1.0 and do a second, different version of the same title, a la Don Quixote and Brothers Karamazov. Or a compromise in which they offer a non-limited version of the same title with lesser production qualities and a lower price (like Suntup does). Macy got a lot of mileage out of the Heritage line and I don't see why that option couldn't be offered.

15JedediahG
Mar 17, 5:59pm

>13 abysswalker: For me, it's purely the quality of the productions. If the LEC books had been produced in unlimited quantity and were correspondingly cheaper I'd be even happier collecting them. All I care about is having the best possible version of a book to read. If there's a Heritage Press version of a book that was produced at the same level of quality as the LEC, I'm happy to buy that version instead if it's cheaper. I just really love reading beautiful books! (I get a little bit of enjoyment from the signatures and a little bit of enjoyment from the limitation but not nearly as much as the enjoyment I get from the quality of paper, printing, illustrations, binding etc.) If a new LEC started with no limitation at all but books of great quality at an attainable price, I'd sign up. But I'm probably not the norm—it seems like a lot of the potential customers for these books care about the limitations. Heck, I'm also okay buying LEC books in less than fine condition if they're clean and the binding is tight because then I feel more comfortable reading them around the house. I treat them carefully but I want to use them and not leave them on the shelf so I almost like a little preexisting "character" so I don't have to be overly paranoid. I do have some finer copies and I feel like I have to be so careful with them that I haven't even read some of them yet.

16Django6924
Mar 17, 6:21pm

>15 JedediahG:

I think there are many here who think the same--myself for one. After all, if I only had to keep a single Limited Editions Club publication, it would be the Shakespeare set, which isn't signed and was in a much larger limitation.

The very first HP Gulliver's Travels and the first HP Beowulf are examples of the kind of quality I want to have, and I understand the first HP Crime and Punishment is similar (if only I could find a copy in Fine condition, I'd swap the Limited Editions Club version for it).

Beautiful illustrations, letterpress printing and fine quality paper--these matter more to me the limitation and the signature.

17RRCBS
Mar 17, 6:27pm

>16 Django6924: off topic, but would you know the year of the first HP Gulliver’s Travels?

18kdweber
Mar 17, 6:58pm

19RuefulCountenance
Mar 18, 9:50am

Limitation matters to me because I like to know that my copy no. 1,500 is essentially the same as copy no. 1. With an unlimited print run, would the paper quality be the same? Would the print quality? The cover materials? What pushes fine press over the top for me is that a specific group of artisans joined together for a specific project and saw it through to the end. If there's no end, then for me it's not special. It becomes something more like Folio Society, producing very nice books but ones that (to me) aren't special, and ones whose production details can change over time with subsequent editions, often with a lessening in terms of material quality. And there's often grumbling among FS collectors about this, particularly since there's no lessening in terms of price. Now, a stateside FS would be awesome, if for no other reason than to save a bunch on shipping. But I'd rather see an LEC reboot adhere to the fine press tradition.

20abysswalker
Mar 18, 10:27am

>19 RuefulCountenance: that makes sense, but the hypothetical was assuming the quality and all production details, including the craftspeople signing their work, the numbering, etc., were maintained. And if such details couldn’t be maintained, that would determine the true end of the limitation.

I’m not sure someone has really tried this model.

21jveezer
Mar 18, 11:59am

I'm not sure the hypothetical makes sense, if we are talking about letterpress, as most of us envision this "new" LEC. Wood type, metal type, and even polymer plates degrade over use and time. So the first printing, say of 600 in my scenario, would probably be the best, but even within that printing the last impression might not be the same quality as the first. Storage becomes an issue both in space and cost.

So then maybe a second print run, or edition of 600 (or 300, or 1000), is decided upon. The type has been stored for some time, maybe there's been some degradation due to storage conditions, and the presses need to be reset up for the print run. The printer is not the same; maybe they are new and less experienced. Maybe a different paper is now being used that takes the type and ink differently, whether for aesthetic or financial reasons or simply because the original paper isn't available anymore. Maybe the binding has to change because the same bindery isn't available, or the same materials, or for a myriad of reasons. So the different print runs would be different in at least some subtle ways. I would be fine with that as long as the limitations were stated and the print runs clear.

So while in an book utopia, there would be 100,000 Arion Press Moby Dicks and LEC Ulysses' and Grabhorn Leaves of Grasses out there so I could buy a pristine copy for $50, that isn't really possible. I want my books made with care by people, and that means small operations, like the staff of Arion Press or Thornwillow (I wonder how many people were employed by Macy at his height?) or JWB's staff for limited editions at the Folio Society, or a couple people like Barbarian. And that probably means large print runs couldn't happen. The Barbarians probably aren't interested in printing another 100 copies of Pericles. They are looking to print something new, like the Curwen Press book or Metamorphosis.

I've had to "settle" for the Easton Press facsimile of the LEC Ulysses, the UC edition of the Arion Moby Dick, the standard states of Barbarian Press offerings, and trade editions of things like Wendell Berry's writings from Counterpoint when I missed out on the fine press editions from Larkspur or the Press on Scroll Road. At least we have this community and the internet so I might get to "see" those literary holy grails through another book lovers posts. This has opened up our enjoyment of these fabulous books that used to be on collectors and institutions shelves where most of us will never see them and they will probably never be read. An unread book is just sad.

All this being said, I would still sign up almost any reincarnated LEC in a heartbeat if it was affordable.

22RuefulCountenance
Mar 18, 12:18pm

>20 abysswalker: I understand. I'm simply doubtful everything could be maintained over what might be a period of many years. If your hypothetical could actually happen then, absolutely, sign me up if it means a lower price.

23Django6924
Mar 18, 12:46pm

The "affordable" is the answer that makes the question hypothetical.

First of all, I do believe that a revived, subscriber-based Limited Editions Club is possible printing books to a comparable quality as the old LEC--given that "affordable" would be books in the $300--$500 range and using Macy's "what we lose on the swings we make up on the roundabouts" formula. A longish novel such as, say, The Good Soldier Schweik would need to balanced out with a slim volume, such as Jerzy Kosiński's Steps and subscribers would pay the same price for both.

A book a month is unfeasible--4 books per annum seems the absolute maximum number. Even the LEC in its heyday sometimes had problems getting out 12 books per year which probably caused unnecessary financial deficits scrambling to find replacements.

A systems management approach to production would be necessary. Macy printed very few books in-house: Ulysses and The Holy Bible (and only the Old Testament at that--the New Testament was jobbed out). I doubt the Limited Editions Club ever employed more than 2 dozen people, mostly in administrative and clerical duties, as the bulk of actual book production was handled by the companies hired to produce the books: the illustrators, the type and paper manufacturers, the printers, and the binders. I'm not even sure if the actual Limited Editions Club staff were involved in mailing the books; there were probably packaging and shipping companies then as there are now (oh for a week in the Macy Archives at the Ransom Center to find the answers to these questions!).

The key to making a new Limited Editions Club possible are the technological advances in the past few years. Type can now be set on the computer, with far more control and a wider range of fonts and layout possibilities than ever. As far as degraded impressions with larger print runs, if you have a subscriber base of 900, you can easily produced 3 identical polymer plates at very little additional cost so no plate has to make more than 300 impressions (though from what I can gather, polymer plates are capable of far more than 900 impressions, even on a Colt Armory press, with no degradation).

At any rate, this is getting a bit off topic from my original musings which were not about the feasibility of a resuscitated LEC, but if there were one, what kinds of things would they publish.

24RuefulCountenance
Mar 18, 1:28pm

I apologize for my role in knocking the thread off topic - it's just so much fun to imagine what a new LEC would be like :) In thinking of what a new LEC would publish, great literature appeals to readers of all generations and, while one might prefer canonical classics, only the most curmudgeonly would loudly complain about the occasional Robert Heinlein or Ursula Le Guin or a contemporary writer of accepted literary merit. Just like only the most narrow-minded young reader would gripe loudly over the issuance of a contemporary version of Hemingway or Twain or a largely unfamiliar work like A Bend in the River. If a potential subscriber couldn't get on board with a range of authors and genres, then LEC wouldn't be for them and hopefully they would understand that and look elsewhere. There are several group members here who seemingly would be on board, and I have to imagine there would be hundreds more around the world. And the popular stuff of questionable literary merit could be left to Taschen and the modern-day Folio Society and others, and everyone should be happy :)

25Glacierman
Mar 18, 1:34pm

Now then, R. E. Howard's Hour of the Dragon would be fodder for such a club...well, then again, maybe not. But, perhaps The Name of the Rose?

26RuefulCountenance
Mar 18, 1:42pm

>25 Glacierman: I would definitely prefer the latter lol Rose would be excellent

27Django6924
Mar 18, 8:05pm

The LEC did not just publish the Western Canon classics (though that constituted the majority). One of the pleasures for me in going through the checklist was the works which I probably would not have read but for the Club's publishing of them: Batouala, Tartarin Of Tarascon, the works of Anatole France, Far Away And Long Ago, The Innocent Voyage, The Adventures Of Hajji Baba Of Ispahan, Frithiof’s Saga, and The Shaving Of Shagpat (I am only including those books issued while George Macy was alive).

And Macy occasionally would publish works which were comparatively recent--sometimes very recent: Ulysses (the 1935 Limited Editions Club edition was published the year after the first authorized edition was published in the USA), Anthony Adverse (a year after the first trade edition), For Whom the Bell Tolls ((a year after the first trade edition), The Grapes of Wrath (a year after the first trade edition--but a separate publication out of the regular series), and The Poems of Robert Frost, published in 1950 while Mr. Frost would continue writing poems another 20 years!

I definitely would not object to publishing genre literature, given high literary quality: my late wife, who was also an English major and had impeccable literary taste, thought Neuromancer and Hyperion were both exceptional novels. Since I am a mystery addict I would welcome an LEC Anatomy of a Murder and Devil With a Blue Dress (the Folio Society has already done fine illustrated editions of The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and the Ripley novels, which aren't really fine press but are plenty good enough for me). And let's not forget the horror/suspense genre: I Am Legend, Those Across The River, The Haunting of Hill House, The Kindred, and any of a half dozen titles by Stephen King, who I believe is the best writer in America (let's not start an argument about this--it's MY new LEC and this is what I want!!!).

28blue.eyes
Mar 19, 12:08am

>25 Glacierman: A selection of the best Conan stories of Howard would make for a good LEC book. They would be very suitable for illustrations in particular.

29blue.eyes
Editado: Mar 20, 12:05am

>27 Django6924: The LEC did not just publish the Western Canon classics (though that constituted the majority). One of the pleasures for me in going through the checklist was the works which I probably would not have read but for the Club's publishing of them...

The LEC published various good books from eastern literature, but I would like to read fine press versions of other classical books from the East. For example, 'The Tale of Genji' from Japan; 'Dreams of the Red Chamber', 'Three Kingdoms', 'Journey to the West', and 'The Art of War' from China; and 'Arthasastra' and 'Kamasutra' from India.

The problem is that one life time is not sufficient to read all the great books that have been written. So at some point of time you really do need to decide whether you should focus on reading detective stories, or horror/ghost stories (like the ones by Stephen King), or the sword and sorcery stories (like the ones by Robert E Howard), or the greatest books that have ever been written. I suppose it is also about one's speed of reading. As I have grown older my reading speed has decreased (although my power of analysis of what I am reading has increased).

One lacuna in the LEC books, it has been pointed out, is the lack of humor in the selected books with the exception of the Mark Twain and Voltaire books. The inclusion of some of the best works of P.G. Wodehouse would have rectified this to some extent.

30Django6924
Mar 20, 11:20am

>29 blue.eyes:

At an age where I need to be very selective of what I read, and what I want to re-read, I find that some highly-rated classics--Great Books of the Western World--are not compelling, whereas I have gone back with pleasure to Wodehouse, Dorothy Sayers, Conan Doyle, and Jerome (Jerome K., not St Jerome). I enjoy at least skimming through a new translation of the Odyssey when one comes out (every 5 years on average), but when Royall Tyler's new translation of The Tale of Genji came out to great acclaim, I did not feel the need to revisit it, as I had read Arthur Waley's translation in college after seeing Kon Ichikawa's film, and skimmed through Edward Seidensticker's translation, which was considered as "definitive" when it came out in 1976, finding that it did not add to my enjoyment or appreciation of the work. Specialists and experts may cavil, but I am neither: just a general reader who wants entertainment and enlightenment.

Without getting into an argument about what defines a "classic" I would just say that works which give pleasure on both initial and multiple readings are worthy of fine press treatment. Indeed, it's my opinion that the "greatest" works of literature are ones that, upon multiple readings, reveal new riches: as an example, I'm currently re-reading Jane Eyre and am convinced more now than I was 50+ years ago that it is a "great" book.

31JedediahG
Mar 20, 7:53pm

>30 Django6924: I somehow never read Jane Eyre until just a month ago and I can’t believe how good it was. It’s my favorite read of the year so far.

32blue.eyes
Mar 20, 10:08pm

>30 Django6924: Indeed, it's my opinion that the "greatest" works of literature are ones that, upon multiple readings, reveal new riches.

This is a very reasonable point.

Seniors should read based on their aesthetic preference. I recall reading somewhere that P.G. Wodehouse used to enjoy reading Erle Stanley Gardner when he was old. I also recall reading somewhere that Winston Churchill started readling many literary classics for the first time after he had become a senior citizen. However, there is one other point in this connection: I think a well read senior citizen should consider doing some writing so as to bequeath to posterity some insight into all the literature they have read.

33Jan7Smith
Mar 21, 12:51pm

>30 Django6924: Robert, I agree that Jane Eyre is a great book and Wuthering Heights is also. I would hate to pick one over the other. Two of my all time favorites.

34Django6924
Mar 21, 6:11pm

>33 Jan7Smith:

I don't know about you, but I would have really liked to know those sisters! (including Anne; one of these days I hope to getting around to reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall).

35Jan7Smith
Mar 21, 7:20pm

>34 Django6924: They were remarkable, especially the fact that they all died at a young age. Imagine their accomplishments if they had lived to a reasonable old age. I have noticed many high achievers live short lives.

36kdweber
Mar 21, 8:20pm

>34 Django6924: The Tenant of Wildefell Hall is on a par with the works by Anne's sisters. I can recommend the recent FS edition.

37Django6924
Mar 22, 1:18am

>35 Jan7Smith:
Did they all die of tuberculosis? That seemed the lot of artists who lived in straightened circumstances in England in the 19th century--Keats is another example.

>36 kdweber:
Thanks, Ken, I'll see if it's still available from the website!

38Jan7Smith
Mar 22, 12:45pm

>37 Django6924: Emily (1818–1848) 30 - Anne (1820–1849) 29 - Charlotte (1816–1855) 38 - all reportedly died of complications associated with tuberculosis.

39blue.eyes
Editado: Mar 22, 5:11pm

one other interesting person in this family was their brother Branwell (who also died young, presumably of tuberculosis). I wonder if anyone here has read the stories he is believed to have co-authored with his sisters before they wrote their famous novels.

40Django6924
Mar 22, 7:50pm

>39 blue.eyes:

No--I have seen reproductions of some of his art, for which he was recognized during his life more than for his writing, but I have never seen any of his literary works.

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