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Posts Tagged ‘Modern Library’

Happy 100th, W.H. Auden

Today marks the 100th anniversary of famed poet W.H. Auden, and PW Daily’s Dermot McEvoy has a nice piece on Auden’s work and publishing history (and Ron says not to miss Adam Kirsch‘s appreciation at the NY Sun).

Although Auden’s work has been published by Random House since 1934, there’s been, in the words of Auden’s literary executor Edward Mendelson, a sort of literary tug-of-war between the US and UK for who gets first dibs on him. This old dispute seems to be mostly over by now,” he said. “Readers on either side of the Atlantic who prefer Auden’s early poetry—before he left for America in 1939—tend to think of him as British; readers on either side of the Atlantic who prefer his later poetry tend to think of him as American.”

Though the centenary will be “low key,” there are a number of new volumes in the pipeline. Modern Library and Vintage have published COLLECTED POEMS and SELECTED POEMS, respectively; Princeton University Press, which has six Auden titles, will publish Volume III of THE COMPLETE WORKS later this year. “The complete works editions are primarily for an institutional market and libraries,” said PUP editor Hanne Winarsky. “But the volumes are also bought by enthusiasts as they become available. That’s one reason we’ve done some things out of the complete works series, such as Lectures on Shakespeare and Juvenilia—these are newly published works that general readers want to see.”

As part of the promotion for the Selected Poems, Mendelson will be taking part in a five-city tour. He will also be taking part in the 92nd Street Y’s panel on March 5 as well as a Yale event tonight. Speaking of tonight, the Cooper Union has assembled an all-star lineup to celebrate the centennial, including John Ashbery, Michael Cunningham, Katha Pollitt, Francine Prose, and scads more literary talent.

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The Everyman’s Library Turns 100

everyman.gifThe Wall Street Journal’s Tom Nolan focuses attention on the centenary of the Everyman’s Library, founded in 1906 by bookbinder-turned-publisher Joseph Malaby Dent to preserve great works of literature. The books found a fan in Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta, who read them while growing up in post-colonial India. “They were cheap, they were accessible, one found them in bookstores,” said Mehta. “If you were given books as gifts, they tended to be Everyman’s…..A lot of my early reading with classics — though one didn’t even know they were classics, I mean whether it was Dumas or Jules Verne or anything else — that’s what they tended to be.”

Which is why, as competitors like the Library of America and Modern Library encroached the market and paperbacks made classics even cheaper, Everyman’s fell into the hands of UK publisher Tom Campbell in 1990 – who needed an American partner, which turned out to be Mehta. A revived line, with an initial 46 titles (Austen to Zola), was debuted by Random House UK and Knopf in the U.S. in 1991. Since then, the Everyman’s Library — with old and new incarnations celebrating a combined 100th anniversary in the year just completed — has done 500 titles and sold 12 million books.

One avowed fan is Joan Didion, whose seven volumes of non-fiction were recently collected in the Everyman’s edition WE TELL OURSELVES STORIES IN ORDER TO LIVE. “I don’t know if you remember what it was like,” the California-born writer asked recently by telephone from New York, “to first have a book in your hand, whenever it was that you first bought a book? A whole lot of [its appeal] had to do with the way it looked and felt. I remember very distinctly: Somebody gave me a merchandise award at a bookstore in Sacramento, and I bought a Modern Library of Emily Dickinson and the collected poems of T.S. Eliot. And the Eliot had a smooth yellow cover; and the Emily Dickinson had sort of a classic Modern Library cover…pink and gray and black. I mean, it was the physical appearance of these books that meant a whole lot to me, then.”