Thursday, September 23, 2010

Franklin 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. For previous comments on Easton Press, Everyman's library, and what I deem "The mass market Hardback" please see the respective links.

In talking about the Franklin Library a few things need to be said up front: all Franklin Library books are out-of-print, they can't be purchased, 'new.' Furthermore, there are three very distinct classes of Franklin Library books: full leather binding, faux leather also called 'leather-ette', and the quarter bound. This commentary is specifically dealing with the faux leather collection.

These books were printed as a price alternative to the Franklin Library full leather editions, which had a great deal in common with Easton Press. Franklin Library printed lots of 'classics' as well as series of pulitzer prize winners, and even some contemporary fiction (contemporary as off 2000 when the company closed) among other collections. The books are wrapped in a vibrantly colorful cloth that has the look and feel of leather. They also have a decorative etchings on the cover and spine--which I hesitate to call gold or silver, and my research has turned up nothing definitive--as well as gilt page ends for protection and visual beauty.

All come with decorative endpapers, sparse illustrations that range from 'stunning' to 'more bland than white bread.' The binding is solid, sewn not merely glued, the paper is archival quality, and there are raised bands on the spine that really set off the title and author's name--as if they were framed--when viewed on a bookcase.

The faux-leather books by Franklin Library are very easy to acquire on various second hand markets and the price point is very friendly. I'll spare you my speculation as to why these books aren't around today, all that can be said is that it's a shame that they aren't.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories by Daniel Abraham

Quality and diversity are what to expect in Abraham's first short story collection. Personal conflicts mirror global ones, redemption is sold at a very high price and a minor Shakespearean character finally gets to take center stage.

Reading this collection marked the third time I'd read 'The Cambist and Lord Iron' and I still smiled at the clever scenarios characters are presented with and rejoiced in the manner of their resolution. The story is about a man who is asked to objectively evaluate the value of money, life, and a person's soul at great personal risk should he not get things right. I don't think 'The Cambist' was the strongest in the collection but it is worth it's accolades and a great introduction to the author. Rightfully, it was chosen as the first story in the book.

The title story, 'Leviathan Wept,' would be my personal favorite. It brought themes of futility of violence and raging against death together with the human desires for reparations and vengeance. What stood out to me most was the plot device, slightly sci-fi, a connection within a group of people; similarly explored in the story 'Exclusion.' The idea was simple enough: communication with a group or individuals without the need of being with the person or group or a device as a phone; a mental link. Yet what sold me on the idea was the complete lack of the author feeling the need to expand on how it was possible. It was presented once, stated as fact and then he moved on; I, as a reader, had no choice but to follow and accept what was given. Perhaps it's only the nature of a short story but I found pressing forward much better than the backstory and exposition that some call 'world-building.'

'The Hunter of 'Arin-Qin' was the only story to be completely forgettable. It was easily the least ambitions of material Abraham worked with featuring a hunter on a quest to kill a monster and save child. (And you thought I'd say 'princess' didn't you?) There were a few deviations from the formula but the pace, alteration of past and current events and near complete lack of dialogue made for some very stiff reading.

I felt 'The Curandero and the Swede' had more narrative cohesion problems than any other, but on the grounds of entertaining the reader it succeeded. The story tells alternate tales of a man who breaks out into large talking bumps and another man's encounters with a ghost. Reconciling past events to relieve their immediate situations is the unifying element. There is an abrupt point where the story switches between the two narratives. Furthermore story is 'set' in Atlanta, Georgia only to serve as a vehicle for abundant cliches: two men in the south, on a back porch, drinking sweet tea, on a hot summer evening, swapping stories. Yeah, those kind of cliches.

'Flat Diane' is an excellent reason to not get comfortable reading Abraham. What I assumed to be a story of family separation and growth became disturbingly real with a child in peril and blood to be shed. I could easily levy the abrupt change of events charge on this story as well; only it was more unified and without the divergent character narratives 'Flat Diane' had a much stronger effect on me than 'The Curandero and the Swede.'

Abraham has a quality that many writers seem to be imbued with upon 'graduation' from many of America's short story clinics. Editors Renni Browne and Dave King called them 'beats': added action for the sake of showing the passage of time (which is admittedly really difficult), to slow down hurried dialogue, or keep readers aware that others things are happening other than what characters are talking about. Making mention of someone washing dishes and interrupting dialogue to merely mention the clink of glasses, for example. You can see it coming when it's employed even when it's well done; almost a cliche unto itself. In Abraham's case I felt it distracted from tension that he had built into his writing. Perhaps it is only because so many very good short story writers are going to similar 'schools' and applying similar principles that it is readily apparent to me. Or perhaps it is something that I am supersensitive to. Either way, it is certainly not a criticism I level exclusively at Abraham.

There was at least one sentence in every story that I had to read twice. Something of his prose was jarring enough to muddle my comprehension. In this situation he is not helped in anyway by Subterranean Press as I found more than a few typos. Which seems extra odd considering the 'Limited Edition' nature of this book.

The remaining stories were all fun but lacked the star power of those mentioned here in greater detail. Solid writing, great entertainment, and occasional depth of thought; each can be found in less time than it takes to watch a re-run of whatever sitcom you're contemplating. I eagerly await his next collection.

Friday, September 3, 2010


I was killing time before meeting a friend for dinner last night and accidentally ended up in a bookstore. Knowing how many unread books I already have and my financial situation being what it is, I am not allowed to go into those institutions. But it felt so nature that it never crossed my mind as wrong.

I escaped with three books. They were all from the bargain bins and I put back four others at that. I fought the urge of A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book for the umpteenth time and only spent twelve dollars. (Yes, I am justifying my purchase.)

Joe Hill's short story collection 20th Century Ghosts will be my introduction to horror fiction. Joshilyn Jackson is one of the most delightful authors I've had the pleasure of meeting and The Girl who Stopped Swimming will not be a book languishing, unread on my shelves for long. The final purchase was a hard one for me: A Betrayal in Winter by Daniel Abraham. It is everything I regularly swear off and rail against: epic fantasy and a story that needs more than one book to tell it's tale. It would seem I'm a junky who keeps coming back…

Quartet's have been all the rage in my reading and ever-growing TBR pile as of late: The Jerusalem Quartet, The Long Price Quartet, The Kingdom of Thorn and Bone, and The Alexandria Quartet. Thus far I feel only one of those series has needed four books, but then again I've only read one and a half of the four quartets mentioned.

It's too bad Jackson's book didn't come out today and could possibly capitalize on a currently series of books starting with "The Girl who…" Perhaps it would boost sales? Perhaps she doesn't need boosted sales? Either way, regardless of how I feel about the book, as a southerner I will read Jackson's other novel Gods of Alabama because of the awesomeness of the title alone.