Saturday, April 08, 2006

Incoming Book: 8 April

I didn't buy this on purpose, but the next Library of America book landed on my doorstep this afternoon. (And the box was quite soggy, too, with all the rain New Jersey had today; luckily the book was wrapped securely in plastic inside.)

It is Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972, containing When She Was Good, Portnoy's Complaint, Our Gang and The Breast. I'll probably be in the mood for some literary non-fantasy after I finish up my WFA duties, so I might get to it in the late fall. (Looks more closely.) Well, it appears that The Breast is a fantasy of some sort, so perhaps I just can't escape from The Weird.

I'll also note that this book isn't even 700 pages long; Library of America books have definitely been getting shorter recently. (I'd wondered a bit about LoA volume length in my complaints about H.P. Lovecraft: Tales last fall, and this book is noticeably shorter than that one.) The next of Roth's novels -- the one that could have been included at the end -- is The Great American Novel from 1973. Great American is 400 pages in its original hardcover, but that would come down in the Library of America format (it looks a bit puffy to my eye, but a lot of mid-70s books do). Assuming it would still be about 300 pages, that would have made this book about 1000 pages total -- a big book, but not out of line for the Library of America of a few years ago.

I do wish that they'd start making bigger books again, but I strongly suspect that it was a choice between doing shorter books or raising their standard prices, and the LoA chose the former. I won't say that is always a bad choice, but it tends to lead one down the path of shortening and cost-cutting, and it's hard to emerge at the end looking anything like one did at the beginning. (Ask American comics, which started out at 64 pages and a larger trim size, but cut away bit by bit over the years to maintain a ten-cent price point -- which then had to be abandoned in its turn.) This is still a swell book, but I'm uneasy at the direction the LoA is going, and I have to wonder about their financial stability.

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