A Retelling of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” & Cover Art of Classics

I am reading Rena Rossner’s  brilliant fantasy novel, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.   It also has elements of fairy tales, myths, and Jewish stories and folktales.

Naturally I must reread Goblin Market.  Finally I found my copy: a tiny used Everyman’s Library Pocket edition which does fit in your pocket.

And so, on this lovely Indian summer day, I sat on a bench and read Rossetti.  The book is so tiny that I was confident no one would see what I was reading.  (I only see people reading phones; I wonder if books are outlawed.) Fascinating to note Rossner’s mimicry of Rossetti’s style and content:  she alternates chapters from the two sisters’ perspectives,  Liba’s in prose, Layla’s in poetry. (They are Lizzie and Laura in the poem.)  And Rossetti’s and Rossner’s fruit-sellers are equally seductive.   Rossner is not primarily a poet, but it is a very clever undertaking.

I never seek out the pocket classics editions of classics, but they are quite nice.  Though they don’t have intros or footnotes, they are handy and sturdy.

I recommend the Everyman’s Library pocket copy of John Updike’s The Maples Stories, a slim collection of interwoven stories–some of Updike’s best.  They delineate a young couple’s relationship through the early married years,  adultery, divorce, and post-divorce. Fascinating and moving!

WHAT OTHER EDITIONS OF CLASSICS SHOULD WE CONSIDER?  Madeline Raynor reveals in her article,”These Book Covers Are So Terrible You Won’t Believe They’re Real” at Electric Literature, that she is not a fan of Wordsworth Classics. She writes,

They’re known for their cheap price: one of these paperbacks costs a mere £2.50 (they’re available in the U.S. for a comparable sum). They’re a great option if you love the classics but live on a tight budget, but there are sacrifices. The paper quality isn’t great. The introductions and supplemental essays don’t exactly pass muster. But worst of all are the covers, which are so offensively terrible that it makes you question whether the cheap price is worth it.

I thought, What’s so bad about the covers?  I’d never seen anything untoward.  But there has been a redesign.  Fortunately, these redesigns are not available in the U.S.

Here are three different Wordsworth editions of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, starting with the new redesign.

Ye gods!  Who are these women?

Here’s the edition I now see at Half Price Books.

Not great, but not terrible.

I actually prefer an earlier Wordsworth edition with a blue background.

Sometimes a publisher goes to hell with redesigns.  For instance, I prefer older  incarnations of Penguins and Oxford paperbacks.When did they change? In the early 2000s?  All that black on Penguins  can be gloomy, and the white on the Oxfords too pretty-pretty.   That said, I especially love Penguins.   But the print size is absolutely perfect in the Oxfords.

Look at the cover art.  Here are  new and old Penguins of Daniel Deronda.  Which do you prefer?

Here are the new and old Oxford editions.  Which do you like?

And, let me add, I see nothing wrong with snapping up cheap Wordsworth copies.  The cover is not the main factor, and the text is all there.  I have a used 2012 Wordsworth edition of Selected  Works of Virginia Woolf I bought for a trip. Yes, it was long enough to last for a week (or more).   F— art!  (Except for the portraits of Woolf and friends at the National Portrait Gallery. )  Well, I don’t mean that, but this cover is fine with me!

How important is cover art to you?  And are there covers that put you off ?  And, most important, does price matter?

Two Books for Fall: Zola’s “Germinal” and Stanley Middleton’s “Valley of Decision”

I retire early to bed with books these days.  What do I recommend?  Zola’s Germinal and Stanley Middleton’s  Valley of Decision.

Zola’s Germinal is not for everybody.  I was perusing James Mustich’s new reference book, 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die, and surprised to find Germinal named as Zola’s masterpiece. IT IS the most over-the-top book ever written!   When I read it at 21, I found it so depressing I raced through it just to be done.  And I’m a Zola fan.

What do I think many, many years later?  Well, it is gloomy. Set in a coal-mining town in France, it details the harshness of the work and everyday life.  People  live like animals, they sleep in shifts in crowded houses, they beg, they starve, they fornicate practically in public.  The main character is Etienne, the son of the alcoholics in Zola’s L’Assommoir (The Drinking Den). He arrives at loose ends and takes a job in the mines.  The focus is largely on Etienne and the Maheu family.  All of the Maheus, except the wife and youngest children, work in the mine, and the conditions  are horrendous.  Etienne preaches radical ideas and organizes a strike.  And the strike is a disaster, because the miners have no power.

Everybody dies.   Almost everybody.

I kept exclaiming out loud, “Poor horse!”  “Poor Catherine!”  Did I weep?  I think so.

I prefer Nana, The Ladies’ Paradise, and The Conquest of PassansGerminal is brilliant, but I can’t survive it every day.

Stanley Middleton’s Valley of Decision is melancholy but upbeat after  Germinal Middleton won the Booker Prize in 1974 for Holiday.  Set in the Midlands, Valley of Decision is a beautifully-written novel about musical careers and a marriage on the rocks.  David and his wife Mary are happy.  They have a lot in common:  David teaches music and is an amateur cellist; Mary is a former opera singer.  When she  is offered a gig in the U.S. singing opera on a two-months’ university tour, David and Mary agree she should do it.  It is an opportunity for Mary, though she doesn’t want a professional career.

While she is away, David begins to perform with a prestigious quartet.  It takes up time, and he loves it. Middleton’s descriptions of the rehearsals, conversations about music,  and the concerts are fascinating.  I’m not even musical.

Mary is a hit in Handel’s  Semele.  But suddenly she stops writing to David and won’t answer his phone calls. She is not in touch with her parents or David’s parents, either.  David  is worried.  He continues with his music, and that is a saving grace, but he becomes depressed.

Where is Mary?  we wonder.

A brilliant little novel, the kind of thing that might get overlooked now.  Personally I wish there were more short, pitch-perfect (no pun intended) novels like this.

AND NOW WHAT WILL I READ NEXT?