my personal collection of the Viking Portable Library, organized by spine #

There are few publishing ventures as wonderful as the Viking Portable Library.  While the Modern Library, for a long time offered low cost hardcover classics, they were all separate works.  But in the Viking Portable Library, you could sum up great authors in the scope of one book.

If you followed the wits of the Algonquin Round Table, you know that Alexander Woollcott often got the short end of the stick (he was savaged as the lead character in The Man Who Came to Dinner and when he looked at one of his own books and sighed “Ah, what is so rare as a Woollcott first edition”, Franklin Adams quickly replied “A Woollcott second edition.”).  But in the first part of World War II, remembering his days as a soldier during the first World War, Woollcott decided to put together a book of pieces from various American authors for servicemen to read.  He proposed it to his publishing house, Viking.  It would be hardcover (a flexible hardcover for durability and making it easy to put anywhere), but also small, compact, though with a lot of pages.  They had light paper and small margins, but were compact, and most of all, portable.  After all, they were being designed for soldiers. (more…)

the Scribners classic Fitzgerald books

“His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings.  At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred.  Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.”

Ernest Hemingway on Scott Fitzgerald  –  A Moveable Feast

Hemingway and Fitzgerald have long been linked.  They both rose up as masters of their craft in the 1920’s, both as short story writers and as novelists, both excelling in each form.  While Hemingway was the more successful novelist, making more money, making good money off the film sales and winning the Pulitzer Prize (an award which always eluded Fitzgerald) and Fitzgerald ensured his own financial survival producing short story after short story, their places in literary history are the opposite.  Hemingway’s stories include some of the most classic titles in any anthology: “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”, “Hills Like White Elephants” and it is Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that seems to contend with Moby Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Sound and the Fury for the title of the Great American Novel. (more…)

Harper Perennial Classic set - those that I own

If you ask any serious book collector about a series of classics that are about the size of a mass market, but are hardcover, with dust jackets, they are going to think you are talking about the Modern Library.  And normally you would be right, and later in this series, I will do several posts about the Modern Library.  But today, I’m talking about a set of books that I grew up with, saw every day, but rarely ever encounter in the book world.  They just aren’t found that often.  They are the original Harper Perennial Classic Series, printed by Harper & Row and released in 1965.

Their relative scarcity as compared to the Modern Library is part of the reason they aren’t ever discussed.  The other is that there is pretty much no information about them.  While there are books and web sites dedicated entirely to the Modern Library, it’s very difficult to find out anything about this pretty nice set of books.  I’ve been able to find a little on the Net, but most of what I know is from growing up with them. (more…)

Our complete Vonnegut collection

“Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.”  (Hocus Pocus – Kurt Vonnegut)

There’s a great Doonesbury strip from late 1977.  Mike and Zonker have moved into a friend’s dorm room to house-sit while he is gone for two weeks.  They start to get excited about being in a dorm again and Zonker says “You put up the Hobbit posters!  I’ll start making the cinder block bookcase!” and Mike replies, “In a minute!  I want to unwind with a little Vonnegut first.” (a reprint of the strip can be found in “Any Grooming Hints for Your Fans, Rollie?”)

This seems to pretty well sum up Kurt Vonnegut.  He’s one of the great writers of the 20th century, a master of meta-fiction, of black humor, of moral issues.  He is the quintessential writer to be discovered in college.  It’s simply not the same if you don’t read him before you graduate.  Of course, he ages better than many beloved college classics.  His Cat’s Cradle has already appeared in my top 100 and Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five will also be making appearances, though not for a while.

He is also one of the authors whom I avidly collect in First Edition.  So, to kick off my first piece on my For Love of Books series, I am going to be discussing Vonnegut and his books. (more…)