Best Books of 2017 – Reprints!
Prior to looking at all the year’s new offerings, I like to look at all the year’s reprints, to navigate again the weird and often intensely personal vagaries that bring so many reprint volumes to market. It’s true that sometimes a publisher can simply be fulfilling a contract or keeping one eye on the main chance, but equally often a new edition of some older work hints at a personal passion that’s managed to talk itself through who knows how many editorial meetings and onto the printed page. 2017 was a very healthy year for such reprints. These were the best of them:
10. The New Annotated Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (WW Norton) – Our first book is no stranger to being reprinted! Mary Shelley’s iconic horror story must surely be one of the most-reprinted novels of modern times, and here the folks at WW Norton give it the deluxe annotated treatment under the expert handling of editor Leslie Klinger. Annotated editions usually find a way to annoy me, but this one was a delight from start to finish.
9. The World of William Joyce (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) – The pure gift the folks at Atheneum have concocted here is a lovely collection of uniform hardcover editions of the inimitable children’s picture books created by the legendary William Joyce, books including such classics as Santa Calls and Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures with the Family Lazardo. The beauty of his artwork and the whimsy of his storytelling are on full display in this beautiful set.
8. Culture Fever by Stephen Akey (Orchises) – It’s one of the rarest and sweetest pleasure of being an editor: seeing a talented writer you worked with early go on to a much-deserved larger audience, and here at the end of the life of Open Letters Monthly, in 2017 I got to experience that pleasure one more time – this time in the case of freelancer Stephen Akey, whose meditations on prose and poetry are a stunning combination of the personal and the oracular. Some of the essays collected in Culture Fever originally appeared on OLM, and they re-read even better than they read originally.
7. Collected Fiction by Mary McCarthy (Library of America) – The Library of America is never very far from my Best Reprints list every year, and the reason is simple: for every boxed piece of Kurt Vonnegut yak-crap they produce, they also produce a glittering gem like this set, collecting the lean, acerbic novels of Mary McCarthy in a format so much more durable than the pulpy drugstore paperbacks where I first encountered them. And once again, the re-readings were thrilling.
6. The Diaries of John Quincy Adams (Library of America) – A second showing this time around for the Library of America, here presenting readers with a beautiful boxed set of the enormous diary kept by John Quincy Adams for most of this life. Like many of the reprints on the list this year, this was a production that needed to happen, an enormous improvement over any other version of the work currently in existence. These diaries are the most remarkable document ever written by a US President, and now they finally have the edition they’ve always deserved.
5. The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick (NYRB Classics) – The essays of Elizabeth Hardwick have been the secret, precious currency of the literary world for decades, and now all those dog-eared copies of the original collection-volumes can stand down, since The New York Review of Books has produced a backpack-handy paperback for readers to dog-ear all over again. I’m already on my second copy, but it’s a bright joy to see her in bookstores again.
4. Prince Valiant Volumes 1-3 Gift Set by Hal Foster (Fantagraphics) – The sheer visual opulence of these Fantagraphics reprint volumes of Hal Foster’s initial run on the comic strip that made his reputation is, oddly enough, as much a call-back as it is an improvement; yes, the folks at Fantagraphics have done a stunning job of remastering Foster’s original colors and putting the whole thing on luminous paper stock … but the spread-it-out-and-lose-yourself size of these reprints was a part of the original Sunday comics experience, now as thoroughly gone from the world as is the medieval world of Val himself. Like so many of the entries on this list, this is more than simply a nice reprint – it’s a full-fledged restoration.
3. Thalia by Larry McMurtry (Liveright) – This hefty, formidable volume reprints Horseman, Pass By, Leaving Cheyenne, and The Last Picture Show, all set in the fictional Texas small town of Thalia, and all featuring McMurtry’s brilliance as shifting the register of his prose, from bleak, forensic character study to sweeping adventure narrative to – in four bravura scenes scattered throughout these three books – perfectly-executed slapstick comedy. A volume like this not only makes it easy for new readers to discover McMurtry – it also makes it easy for older readers to see that he’s worth re-discovering.
2. Powers of Darkness by Bram Stoker & Valdimar Asmundsson (Overlook Press) – In every year, at least a couple of reprints will be not only excellent but downright bizarre, and in 2017 that prize was claimed early and firmly by this painstakingly reconstructed English-language translation of the original Icelandic translation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. When Valdimar Asmundsson translated Dracula for Icelandic readers, he took increasingly hallucinatory liberties with the original text, producing an alien and – heresy! – dazzlingly entertaining alternate version of the book, here lovingly presented by the folks at Overlook Press.
1. The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope (Everyman’s Library) – This new Everyman’s Library edition of the last of Trollope’s Palliser novels likewise enters this list – and heads it – because it’s invaluably more than simply a nice-looking reprint of the original. When it came time in 1880 for Trollope to publish in book form the serial he’d run the year before, he cut great chunks of text from the manuscript, and this Everyman’s edition for the first time restores those chunks, giving readers The Duke’s Children as Trollope actually wrote it, over a century after the fact. Like so many other books on this reprints list, this one represents a genuine benchmark – as well as a great reading experience.