Monday, November 22, 2010

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/20

Another week has passed, with six whole mail days, that brought me a massive stack of books, totalling...two. Not that I'm complaining, mind you: free books are free books, and even one is a fine thing. But it does make for a meager post. However, I can stretch it out slightly by talking about a book I actually paid money for, and so I'll jump into that one first:

The Mark Twain odds-and-sods collection Who Is Mark Twain? [1] -- which I reviewed as Book-A-Day # 9, way back in February -- teased the idea of a major Autobiography of Twain, written (actually dictated, mostly) in 1906, near the end of his life, and embargoed for publication for a full century after his death. I knew Twain died in 1910, and I'm able to do simple math, so I asked the obvious question there: so where is this Autobiography?

Well, it's here, or at least the first volume of three is. The University of California Press published Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 earlier this month, and I was happy to see that it's hit -- or should I say "was placed," since that's how the editors refer to the list? -- the New York Times bestseller list this Sunday, in a rare feat for an author dead for a hundred years. I had to get a copy for myself, and I was pretty sure that I'm not on UCP's press list. (I'd be thrilled to be proved wrong, though -- I'm happy to be on anyone's press list.)

So, on Tuesday, I mustered my best deal-making accouterments -- in honor of the all-American hucksterism of Twain, and to be detailed slightly later -- and made my way to my local Borders on the way home from work. After a bit of searching -- I found one copy on an end-of-aisle display unit, but it was the end facing towards the side wall of the store -- I grabbed the Twain Autobiography and went to buy it. One coupon (33% off), several Borders Bucks ($15, including $10 that were a special "use them within a week or lose them" offer), and the usual Borders Rewards additional 10% off later, I walked out with the Autobiography for the princely sum of $8.12. (An impressive discount from the list price of $34.95.)

I've only just started poking at the Autobiography -- it's huge, so I'll have to read it at home rather than while commuting -- but it's already impressed me with its scholarly apparatus and clearly deep commitment to textual accuracy and transparency. I'm looking forward to spending many hours reading rediscovered Twain very soon.

Oh, and the consumer note: there are a lot of books titled something like "Autobiography of Mark Twain," since he wrote reams of autobiographical stuff, and chunks of this specific Autobiography have been published in various forms over the last century. But this new series is complete in a way those earlier books couldn't be, and benefits from a century of Twain scholarship and work -- so look for the big hardcover with Twain emerging from darkness.

(As far as I've seen, there's no word as to when we can expect Volume Two -- though I don't mind, since I still need to read this one.)

To move to the actual mail, I did get one book that's almost as physically massive as the Twain Autobiography -- and this is commercial fiction, so even if the trim size is slightly smaller, it has more than a hundred pages more in the same bulk. That book is Towers of Midnight, the thirteenth and penultimate book in the massively popular "Wheel of Time" epic fantasy series, started by Robert Jordan twenty years ago and now being completed by Brandon Sanderson from his extensive notes. Towers was published by Tor at the beginning of this month, so I was clearly part of the second wave of publicity outreach. And that makes a lot of sense, since I haven't read any of the previous dozen books, so I'm not likely to dive into this one any time soon. If you, like me, haven't read this series yet, don't start here -- the first book is The Eye of the World.

The second book I saw this week, though, is something I am planning to read soon, since I did enjoy the previous book: Miss Don't Touch Me 2, like its predecessor from the French team Hubert and Kerascoet. (Miss Don't Touch Me, the original, was Book-A-Day #233.) This book collects the third and fourth French albums, and continues the adventures of Blanche, a young Frenchwoman of the 1920s who found herself in a high-level Paris brothel (as the "English maid," the no-sex dominatrix of the establishment) after the murder of her sister by a serial killer. The first book was both smart and exciting, with a mystery/thriller plot that bowed to logic and realism but still provided a nearly-happy ending for Blanche, and I hope that this second volume is equally strong. NBM will publish it in January.

[1] Twain is one of the very few writers whose archives are still producing interesting, vital work a century after his death; I'll leave the explanation as to why to the experts.

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