Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyBlue Monday

  • Sun, 01 Sep 2013 01:24:58    Permalink

    Raymond Chandlers Philip Marlowe was a jaded knight-errant with a taste for wisecracks. Dashiell Hammetts Continental Op, by comparison, was a blunt instrument. A dumpy middle aged guy, tough as nails, with an engine that wouldnt quit. Theyre both wonderful characters, and I know their voices as well as I know the voice of an old friend.
    Last Monday, in a restful moment following my lengthy road trip, I got a yen for yet another detectives voice the moody tones of Lew Archer, Ross Macdonalds iconic shamus. Archer prowled Southern California a generation after Marlowe. The scene had changed, and he saw it with different eyes. 
    Unlike his hard boiled predecessors, Archer was a sensitive man whod known failure in his own life. A divorce had left him lonely, and he often struggled to keep his anger from boiling over.
    Why did I want to hear that melancholy voice again? I dunno. Maybe because I was tired. Archer often worked himself to the edge of exhaustion. Or maybe because I was feeling blue about summers approaching end. In any event, I went down to Gloucesters public library in search of a Lew Archer mystery.
    There was not a single book by Ross Macdonald in the stacks of the crime section. A good selection of Grisham and Patterson, to be sure, and an abundance of the trendy new European writers who specialize in depravity and depression, but all I could find along the tidily alphabetized shelves was John D. MacDonald. I wasnt in the mood, that morning, for any of Travis McGees antics.
    As I was moping my way out of the library I passed the Large Print section. There, as if it had been waiting for me all morning, was The Blue Hammer. Published in 1976, it was a late Archer novel, perhaps Macdonalds last. Perfectly melancholy! On top of that, I was able to indulge in an extra dose of woe at the realization that this was my first and probably not my last experience with a Large Print - aka "Sight Saver" - edition.
    I went home and began following Archers investigations into yet another tortured family, and something strange and unexpected happened.
    The print got in the way.
    Those big, chunky letters, the puny margins, and the thoughtless, perfunctory page layout made Lew Archer sound like he had a bad cold. Or like hed gained 50 pounds. Or like he was being impersonated by an evil twin who knew all the lines but could not master the delivery. I managed to finish the book, but it was a tough pull. The story seemed inflated with buoyant gas. Whole chunks of it broke off and drifted away. The dark secret at the core of the tale was dark in name only. There was too much white on the page.
    Out of curiosity I reached up on my crime shelf and pulled down a book at random. A rather ratty copy of James M. Cains The Postman Always Rings Twice
    What a difference! The typeface, the layout, the entire design of the book put me right back in Cain's sweaty, squalid 1930s world of broken morals.
    At the end of the book was a long paragraph telling the reader about the origin and history of the typeface used.
    Book design is central to the experience of reading, and now Im wondering how electronic publishing will affect this vital element. As you may recall from earlier blog entries, my buddy Anthony Weller published his novel The Land of Later On with Amazon.
    Just like Knopf or Random House might have done, Amazon purchased the book from him and published it under their imprint. The book did well, selling more than 20,000 copies. But dealing with Amazon was unpleasant in the extreme. The final insult, Anthony says, was that Amazon never bothered to set the type for his book. They printed it in Times New Roman, straight from his Word Perfect file.
    A few months ago I posited a golden post Amazon age of self publishing, in which thousands of authors pool mailing lists and see to sales and marketing themselves. But Id forgotten the importance of the design of the physical object that carries the words to our brains. I dont know about Kindle, because I dont own one. But how effective can any text be if it lumbers across the page like the 16 point type in my "Sight Saver" copy of The Blue Hammer?
    Heres a book from our next catalog that features exquisite design.
    Blanckley, Thomas Riley. A NAVAL EXPOSITOR, SHEWING AND EXPLAINING THE WORDS AND TERMS OF ART BELONGING TO THE PARTS, QUALITIES, AND PROPORTIONS OF BUILDING, RIGGING, FURNISHING & FITTING  A SHIP FOR SEA... TOGETHER WITH THE TITLES OF ALL THE INFERIOR OFFICERS... WITH AN ABRIDGEMENT OF THE RESPECTIVE DUTIES...  Lon.  1750.  b/w engravings throughout. 4to. (8), 191 pp. An interesting and beautifully produced book, with a single vertical engraved impression in every margin, each with as many as a half dozen small engravings, plus the engraved entry words. The book predates Falconers Universal Dictionary by nearly 20 years, and was certainly a source for Falconer. Not in NMM Catalog. Roeding I, 118 calls it the best English nautical dictionary before Falconer. Scott p. 261. Craig pp. 12-13. Rare, being the first and only edition of Blankleys only book. Rebacked in calf over old marbled boards, with spine label. A very nice copy. $3000

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