July 26th, 2008

Discussion Question: Favorite Classics Publisher?

I'm not sure if I'll get to a review today, since I'm feeling rather jumpy (three hours sleep + 3 cups of coffee has that effect) so let's have a round-table discussion.

What publisher do you prefer for buying your classic books?

I was thinking about this early after having flashback memories to high school summer reading lists.  I remember frantically searching the library for The Scarlet Letter, The Sun Also Rises, and Wuthering Heights so that I could do last-minute homework, and head-banging frustration when all the copies were checked out.  Often, the local used book stores would have faded, highlighted copies for a few dollars, but I've never been one to write in books, and it drives me batty when someone else's notes are already there.   In the end I'd always end up running to Barnes & Noble and buy a new copy.

I remember getting a lot of Bantam Classics in high school because they were the cheapest.  I didn't much care for them.  Cheap, mass market paperbacks, they were really easy to wear out.  A single reading would leave multiple spine creases in my copy of Jude the Obscure (wonderful book, by the way) and pages would fall loose if the book spent too long at the bottom of a backpack.    (In my experience this is true of Dell books in general.)
Signet was more durable, and for mass market paperbacks I think they're still my favorite. In fact, my entire Shakespeare Library is Signet mass markets from the 1960s and 1970s.  I just love the cover art.    As a general rule, though, Signet covers tend to be pretty bland.  But the books work quite well when I'm poor.

Penguin Group publishes the Signet books, so it's not much of a surprise that I really like the Penguin Classics, too.  I liked them back when they had that bold yellow border and spine and I like the new, sleeker black bar they have now at the bottom of each cover.  The text is always printed clearly and the introductions and notes from the translators are quite insightful, without overloading on notes and analysis.  (I'm lazy.  I don't want to analyze books most of the time.)  They have a very polished, professional look and look lovely lined up on a bookshelf.

But I think my favorite of all classics publishers is Dover.  They are quite inexpensive and I can count on them reprinting some quite obscure texts.  The books aren't as pretty as Penguin; in fact, some of the bland clip art they use on covers is quite ugly.  They don't have a lot of extras, either; it's usually just the straight text or translation and brief introduction. 

But compare the prices for Moby-Dick:
Signet: $4.95
Dover: $5.00
Penguin: $13.00

If you want a trade paperback, it's Dover all the way!  (Though, to be fair, the Penguin is 300 pages longer.  I wonder if the Dover is abridged?  That may not have been the best example.  Oh well!  Too late!  Already written. )

That's enough out of me.


What do you think?