Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vintage Contemporaries: An Irregular Series

Later today, my post on Bright Lights, Big City will go live, launching a new irregular series of posts here on Antick Musings. Instead of burdening that post with a load of explanatory nattering, I'm moving it all here, so I can refer to it as needed as the series rumbles forward, and readers can safely ignore it as much as they want.

The Vintage Contemporaries series was launched in September of 1984, thirty years ago, by editor Gary Fisketjon, with an initial list of seven titles. It never had a mission statement or other reader-facing definition, but it was clear what it wanted to do: present the best of contemporary writing, both originals and reprints, in a striking and modern series design, to both codify and define the great writers of that time. (There's a good oral history of the series from 2012 available online at Talking Covers; interested folks should go there for more details.)

I was a young man in the heyday of the VCs -- I'd just turned fifteen earlier in 1984, and I read a fair number of them over the next few years, as I finished up high school and went on to get a BA in English from Vassar in 1990. A few were supplemental reading, but most of the VCs I saw I just bought because they looked interesting -- I discovered Steve Erickson (the original one) and James Crumley that way.

Like all successful publishing projects, the VCs changed and mutated as the years went on: there was a redesign around 1988 that moved to full-bleed art and eliminated the emblematic dot-grid pattern, and then the tight series look itself started to dissipate entirely in the early 1990s before the series itself faded into the larger Vintage paperback empire. But there were four years of the original VCs, tightly series-branded, with forty or so books published over that period.

What I aim to do with this series is revisit as many of those books as possible, as closely to the thirtieth anniversary of their initial VC publication as possible. Luckily, the mid-80s were another era in publishing, and it looks like the VCs were originally published in seasons -- after that first burst of seven in September 1984, the next cluster didn't come along until what was probably the spring season.

Bright Lights, Big City will be first, as it must be: it was the original in that launch list, and its huge success bootstrapped the whole series. After that, I want to at least read all of the originals, and as many of the reprints as I can, balancing re-reads (like Bright Lights and Crumley and Erickson) with writers I've never encountered before (especially women, like Gladys Swan and Emily Prager and Janet Hobhouse, since the holes in my reading history are larger there).

These posts won't go up at any specific time or schedule; the next few will slot into the larger Book-A-Day structure for 2014, but I expect I'll continue reading VCs through at least 2018, and likely longer than that. All of them will be tagged "Vintage Contemporaries" so they can be found easily. If anyone has any particular favorites -- or books they loathed and want to talk about -- please add your comments; I'd be very interested to hear about them.

Edit, six months later: This series has landed in a pattern of one book a month, generally on the last day of a month -- though sometimes delayed to day two or three of the next one. I expect to maintain that pattern through 2018 or so, gawd willing and the creek don't rise.

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