Sunday, July 11, 2010

Everyman's Library; a Book Review.

In this series I'm going to evaluate the quality of book manufacturing from various publishers. I intend only to focus on the quality of the physical book itself.

Everyman's Library, by Knopf, is Random House's high-end book press; specializing in reprints of classics works of fiction, philosophy, poetry, history and much more. The catalogue, so far as contemporary fiction is concerned, seems to focus on 'literary fiction.' Authors like Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Margaret Attwood (and a huge handful of others) are what you can expect in terms of recent additions. Everyman's Library has an emphasis on acquiring what they deem to be the very best fiction and publishing it in the very best of conditions. In terms of the physical book, they succeed quite admirably.

The high production values are evident if you look for them: cloth binding, silk page markers, off-white heavy paper, and sewn signatures. Yet there is nothing in the host of details Everyman's Library presents that would draw attention to itself. One of the primary things I like about Everyman's Library is the consistency in size of their books. There are, of course, no universal specs on book dimensions, but not all publishers manufacture books to the same dimensions and while it doesn't affect quality in the least bit it is a visual aesthetic that I'm sensitive to when viewing a bookcase. There is, however, a small intentional inconsistency in the print of Everyman's Library's books: the color of the cloth binding.

Each color represents a different designation of genre as defined by the publisher. Poetry is one color, while 19th century works are another. Not a issue or even a point of interest unless you remove the dust jackets; whose standard bar codes are the only thing that can really be said to mar an other wise timeless and universally appealing edition.

In reading the ten-fifteen or so books I own from this collection I have seen great differences in the font sizes used and spacing of the words on the pages. Perhaps it's my poor eye sight (or perhaps it is page count of certain books) but some volumes require a bit more squinting to read than others. That being said it is an issue I can't really fault the publisher for; it's a battle to elegantly publish the mammoth works of Dostoevsky and others and keep the amount of paper used at a reasonable quantity, and it's a task I would say they, overall, manage very well.

Everyman's Library should be standard fair in hardback book publishing. At the cost they sell for new, I can't believe that their extra efforts add that much to the cost of production. Sadly, their quality is not the industry's bar. Everyman's Library is nothing so special as to make one say, 'ohhhh, and ahhh.' Much as I said about Mount Gay Eclipse Rum Everyman's Library is merely everything done right yet nothing stands out: an exceptionally well-made book built to last, and by that virtue alone they are a cut above the rest.


Marion said...

I like what I've seen of this line a lot. I think you nailed it; high quality, equal quality,and no showiness.

Mal Smith said...

A hardback publisher *should* be faulted for using a font size that is significantly smaller than the paperback equivalent (compare Dostoevsky's Brother's Karamazov, for instance,...) Everyman should use the same font size throughout,and it should be largest they use at the moment!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

They choose their typefaces not to save money but in order to best get across the feeling of the text in question. Otherwise they could have gone with completely other methods to achieve that goal.
The choice of typeface for them is a nod to the time the book was written in many cases. Frankenstein for example uses Caslon which was relatively new and popular at the time Shelley wrote it. In the Collected Stories by Poe, they use Ehrhardt which – while still very legible – also comes across as a bit eerie and thus is a good choice for telling his stories.
They even go so far as to make it a point tell you about the typeface they used at the end of each volume. The text in triangle shape if you ever bother to read it…
Personally I think they handle typography very well.