The Persistence of Hardcover Books

I like books as objects and books as art and so I love a good hardcover book, even when they’re heavy, bulky and hard to carry around. I’ve also worked in book stores and I know that fans prefer hardcovers as keepsakes and that people prefer to give hard cover books as gifts.

But I wasn’t aware of the economics, spelled out here at Mentalfloss. Hardcover book buyers like me are giving publishers better margins. So now I can feel good about hoarding them, too.

Books! by Chris Lawton

Of course, you can sometimes save money by buying them remaindered. As I recall from my book shop days, a lot of unsold hard covers are torn apart and remade as trade paperbacks, that hybrid form that separates literature from trashy reading.

Like a lot of people, I’m reading more on apps lately. I do like being able to make notations and to share them on Goodreads. But I miss the feel of a hardcover book when I read that way. Also, and this is the worst, nobody has figured out a way to get your first edition ebook signed, and you can’t loan an ebook to friends.

Long live the hardcover.

Apropos of Nothing

Last spring, The New York Times published “Woody Allen Pitched a Memoir. Publishers Weren’t Interested.” The idea here is that Woody had been effectively cancelled and this came on the heels of Amazon censoring his very fun film A Rainy Day in New York (I saw it in Amsterdam last fall). Allen warned that the Times had the story wrong. Publishers were interested, he said. Well, it turns out that Grand Central Publishing bought the rights to it two months before the Times story ran.

In bookstores April 7, 2020!

Hopefully, this means that American culture is ready to re-embrace one of its best and most prolific artists. It also hopefully means that A Rainy Day in New York will be released in the U.S. soon and that the upcoming Rifkin’s Festival will also be available to Woody’s fans.

Epic Theatre in Pre-Literate Societies

Fascinating article today about Milman Parry, the Harvard scholar who worked out how pre-literate societies like the ancient Greeks were able to compose, memorize and perform epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey. Parry found examples of this type of storytelling in other cultures, including the Bosnia of the 1930s. As with so much else, the capacity for Homeric storytelling seems to be a universal human trait.

Milman Parry at Harvard University.

What we’ll never know, but is fun to imagine from my perspective, is how these stories changed when told by different bards. I’d imagine each bard had their own style, based on their politics, religion, philosophy or homeland. I’d bet some were quirky and some serious. Some were angry and some were in awe.

How many ways can you tell the story of Odysseus’ voyage home? How many ways can you explain the motivations behind the invasion of Troy? What about all of the other Homeric hymns and the lost stories? Was their an epic Homeric universe?

Of course, we’re still retelling these stories. Over the last two years, I’ve read a bunch of these new takes on old tales and I recommend them all:

  • The Siege of Troy by Theodor Kallidatides (translated by Marlaine Delargy, Other Press, 2019)
  • The Odyssey (translated by Emily Wilson, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (Little, Brown and Company, 2018)
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Ecco, 2012)
  • Wake Siren, Ovid Resungby Nina MacLaughlin (Macmillan, 2019)
  • Eurydice by H.D. (from: Collected Poems 1912-1944 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1982: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51869/eurydice-56d22fe6d049d, though the poem was originally published in The Egoist in 1917.)

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