Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Awesome and the Less Awesome

While scanning Amazon and drooling over books I can't afford, I was surprised to see that the pre-order mention for Arturo Pérez-Reverte's new book are up. (It's actually a few years old; only the English translation is new.)
The first thing that caught me as the badass title. (I'm currently swayed by the Levant's badassery due to reading Edward Whittemore's Jeruseleam Quartet at the moment.) After the title and thinking how awesome the story would be in the hands of the most capable author I noticed the font of the title and the author's name and placement--and loved them both. The above has me super stoked for this book.

Then I looked at the cover itself-from a distance if you will. I hate that dumb-ass picture; and the series had just recovered from travesty of blandness in, The King's Gold to the uber-awesome, The Caballero in the Yellow Doublet.


(Said transitory awesome.)

Artwork aside--and no, I don't plan on a regular commentary on book covers--the king of all awesome was the only 'blurb' I could find about the book, Pirates of the Levant. Having read much of Pérez-Reverte's work before, I can't help but think this comes directly from the author himself:

This was a time when Spain was revered, feared, and hated in the easterly seas; when the devil had no color, no name, and no flag; and when the only thing needed to summon hell on earth (or sea) was a Spaniard and his sword.

September second is my new Christmas.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purple and Black by K.J. Parker

In this long short story Parker creatively explores ideas of leadership and power; idealism versus reality; book knowledge against real life experience. Two friends, both around thirty, have recently come into leadership positions and through a series a letters that comprise the narrative they share their triumphs and learning experiences.

The setting seems to be modeled after ancient Rome. Nico is the newly crowned emperor and Phormio is his newly appointed general assigned to quell insurgency in a distant region. Though the book has a feel of antiquity you'll find none of the flowery, affected historical prose of Arturo Pérez-Reverte or other such stylist. The two characters jest, swear and talk politics in language that we hear today; full of fragments, and run-ons, that add realism to their speech.

As the two bicker at the start, the plot slips in very subtly much like the details of their past. Everything about their letters feels real. Both have to deal with morality, one being an active general, the other a politician signing death warrants. By the end, their definition of morals may need a few amendments, yet it is in their seemingly shared philosophy concerning government and power that the story is built on.

It's not the book of military and imperial rule you're expecting, rather a story of relationships and how they develop over time. The story is too delicate to speak of without spoiling. Suffice it to say the phrase, 'a kiss on the lips and a dagger in the heart' comes to mind upon completion.

There is a jarring moment midway through as both characters seem to obsess over someone previously mentioned all of two times. The story shifts drastically and considering the subtly of Parker's narrative, and work's overall brevity, this particular change of direction is extremely blunt.

Not that I'm sensitive to profanity, but I did think it was a bit overused to the detriment of a few passages that may have been strengthened had Parker held back. Readers familiar with Robert Graves I, Claudius and Claudius the God may find a little something extra in Parker's possible homage.

It reads at a fast pace, and can easily be conquered in one sitting. It will stay with you a bit longer. A big thanks to Terry Wenya as I'm now a K.J. Parker fan and have a lot of, hopefully, equally pleasant reading ahead of me.

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.