On my last couple trips to the bookstore I've been taken with a new series of six paperbacks which have positively leapt out at me from their cardboard stand. The writers themselves are familiar--Cather, Melville, Tolstoy, Crane, Wilde and Dostoyevsky--but this sextet of colorful, fits-in-your-blazer's-pocket books has managed what publishers only dream of: the successful repackaging of literary treasures which you may very well have, and easily can get, such as you want to buy them again.
And so it is here. Never has your dusty, dog-eared copy of Bartleby, the Scrivener, asmear with collegiate observations that look perposterously facile in hindsight, appeared so unpardonably shabby. Kudos to the full set of Harper Perennial Classic Stories, or perhaps more rightly to graphic designer Adam Johnson who designed the covers, which appear in several bold colors with black and white cutouts of the various authors hovering between two black blocks of text.I traded a few emails with Johnson on the occasion of these books to get a bit of insight into his process. "The plain backgrounds were primarily to make a very graphic and vibrant impact on the book browser," he says. "And perhaps to intrigue an audience who had not previously tackled some of these masters."
Clearly convincing anyone that Tolstoy knew what he was doing isn't much of a task, so Johnson tried instead to parlay the author's image, as opposed to his reputation, into attracting readers. "I think we especially wanted it to come across that these guys were real characters," he told me. "They had crazy beards, and were pretty interesting—a possible hook to explore some of their writings."Harper Collins added a bit of a hook as well, a new story at the back of each collection by a contemporary writer. It strikes me as an overt bit of marketing, but it certainly doesn't detract from the object either. I'm off on vacation starting tomorrow--ah the wilds of Maine!--and heading to New England makes me want nothing more than to reacquaint myself with the great Americans. Bartleby, glowering photo of Melville and all, will most assuredly find his way into my day bag.