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February 7, 2019

When Old Books Are New Again

In December, I posted a photo of the book I was reading, Busman’s Honeymoon, by Dorothy L. Sayers (which I purchased at Sleuth of Baker Street), and my friend Leah (a Sayers fan) commented in disbelief that there existed a copy of a Dorothy L Sayers book that was brand new. “I bet the pages don’t even fall out of that one,” Sara added to our conversation, and they really didn’t. And as the only other Sayers novels that I’ve read before have been cheap and battered paperbacks (one that was withdrawn from the North York Public Library), I understood their amazement at my pristine, brand new, spine un-cracked, and with an attractive cover. What does it even mean to read a Dorothy Sayers novel whose pages aren’t held together with an elastic band and which doesn’t smell like mildew? Surely the experience is a little inauthentic?

But it really wasn’t. Great binding and legible text would only add to the experience of a novel that’s pretty enjoyable in its own right. A fresh book will be approached with a spirit of freshness as well, which was only further demonstrated to me when I received a copy of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence for Christmas later that month.

Of course, it wasn’t just any copy of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. I’d asked for the edition published by Toronto Gladstone Press (owned and operated by celebrated Canadian book designer Ingrid Paulson), a book I’d decided I had to have when I saw the image of the New York City map circa 1879 inside it. I am a sucker for maps in books, plus there were the opera glasses on the cover, and the beautiful, beautiful spine. Is it possible to fall in love with a book for its spine? Reader, I assure you that it is.

On her website, Paulson describes her mission with Gladstone Press as follows: “Old books aren’t always boring. They aren’t necessarily hard to read. They aren’t the ‘bran’ of literature (good for you, but not much flavour). They just end up looking that way. So I am trying to change that.”

I’ve never read The Age of Innocence before. Honestly, take an objective look at the covers of previous editions and ask yourself why I’d even want to. Because I felt like I probably should, mainly. (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1921!) But I’ve got a personal aversion to languid ladies lounging in chairs, and the 1993 movie tie-in edition makes me uncomfortable—what IS that man doing to poor Michelle Pfeiffer’s neck? But those opera glasses: that’s the book I want to read.

And I loved The Age of Innocence, reading it with a pleasure over a single day during the holidays, nothing bran about it. It was an absorbing story of a once-upon-a-time New York that was also timeless, and daring, grappling with problems of women’s liberation that we’ve still not got our head around a century later. Which is to say that there is nothing stale about this novel, and it was a pleasure to discover it in this beautiful edition whose design provides the freshness that such a book deserves.

5 thoughts on “When Old Books Are New Again”

  1. Lynn BLIN says:

    Hi Kerry!
    We met briefly on the streets of Toronto in September. I’m Beth’s friend who reads and enjoys your BLOG and who lives in France. So glad you liked The Age of Innocence. Edith Wharton is one of the best. Surely you’ve read “Roman Fever”- the short story of all short stories! She (along with Henry James) best captures the innocence of the New World, confronted with the past and the complexity of Europe. There’s nothing we (who have chosen to live in France) can do about it, even in 2019. We just have to forge ahead. Revolution in France mostly means demonstrating and striking so that things remain exactly as they are. Keep up the wonderful work. LOVE LOVE LOVE your BLOG. Lynn

    1. Kerry says:

      Lynn! Thank you for leaving a comment. I will check to the story. A complex history for sure. And if you are a Wharton lover, you should check out the Gladstone Press site. They’re doing really neat things.

  2. theresa says:

    I’m going to look for the Gladstone edition (with its beautiful spine…). I am a great fan of Wharton and like you, I read Age of Innocence in a kind of headlong heat. But I wish Wharton had let the lovers run off to, oh, Wyoming to live on a ranch and raise Appaloosas. I never liked May. She would have found someone else more suited to her and Newland and the Countess could have lived happy years together. This was my argument as I re-read the novel, a mutter of exasperation and impatience. But only because Wharton made it so vivid and created characters you could invest with both love and irritation.

    1. Kerry says:

      Yes, the other book of hers I’ve read is Ethan Frome and basically my life’s philosophy is Do What an Edith Wharton Character Wouldn’t Do. (But also, Newland would never had had the courage…)

  3. theresa says:

    (Or enough imagination to choose love…)

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