26 September 08 | Chad W. Post

From The Guardian blog post by Michael Caine about the recent (or not so) surge in reprinting “lost classics”:

Take a closer look at this recent publishing wheeze, and it soon reduces to digging out the obscurer works of not-so-obscure writers. If you listen carefully you’ll notice something that sounds distinctly like the bottom of a barrel being scraped, but the key to it all is that a Name can be marketed. Take a look at some recent covers from Hesperus. Each one makes it tastefully but absolutely clear that their authors are familiar to you – Bronte, Dickens, Shelley – even though the titles are not. It’s only a short step in cover design to a volume with JONATHAN SWIFT emblazoned in gold across the front. TOM CLANCY, eat your heart out.

Little commercial courage is required to publish everything Jack Kerouac ever wrote as a “modern classic”, but it’s harder to give Jane Collier’s An Essay on the Art of Ingeniously Tormenting another chance. (For this point to stand up, you need to say “Jane who?” some time around now.) Without succumbing to obscurity for obscurity’s sake, I think the novels of Robert Bage should be out there, in WH Smith, discovering new readers. And so should the plays of Hannah Cowley. And the curious works of Brigid Brophy. But how would those names look embossed in gold?

All that said, I still think NYRB (and others) have done a fantastic job in uncovering more obscure writers in addition to the “names.” And it’s still great to have more obscure books by known authors available. W


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