Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0022246, Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:21:03 -0500

Pale Fire, John Shade ...


The Most Beautiful Books of 2011
Matt Kish
A recent New York Times article described the effort of publishers to make printed books more handsome, in an attempt to pry readers’ hands off their Kindles (good luck with that). One publisher was quoted as saying, “If we believe that convenience reading is moving at light speed over to e, then we need to think about what the physical qualities of a book might be that makes someone stop and say, ‘well there’s convenience reading, and then there’s book owning and reading.’ We realized what we wanted to create was a value package that would last.”
I am not exactly sure what a “value package” is, but I’d like to think I know a beautiful book when I see it. Here are two that resist the diminishment of the printed page. And both are extremely clever riffs on classics, artfully approaching canonical fiction with a curious design sense that never diminishes the original work itself.
Pale Fire, John Shade - Pale Fire, the novel, is the 1962 creation of Vladimir Nabokov. That novel consists of a 999-line poem by the supposedly famous poet John Shade, with annotations by Charles Kinbote, these latter consisting of the novel’s actual plot. I have always found the poem itself to be Nabokov at his most acrobatic in the English language, and the footnotes to be at his most tedious. A similar sentiment was voiced by Ron Rosenbaum over at Slate, who called the footnotes shackles on the poem. Thanks to Ginko Press of Berkeley, Calif., and artist Jean Holabird, my idiosyncrasies can be satisfied with an arrestingly beautiful box set that includes only the poem and the note cards that, according to Kinbote, Shade used to compose the poem (there is also a small book containing essays by Nabokov expert Brian Boyd and poet R.S. Gwynn). The notecards are an especially fine touch. Though 2009’s The Original of Laura - an unfinished Nabokov - also toyed with that media, no book I know has so handsomely reproduced Nabokov’s (and Shade’s) method of composition. On the cover of the booklet that contains the poem is - as you may have guessed if you are a lover of Pale Fire - a waxwing.

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page, Matt Kish - Ingenious stuff from a Columbus, Oh., artist who some years ago decided to try a “nakedly ambitious” project. Well, it can’t get much more ambitious than a version of Melville’s masterwork that replaces words with pictures. And as far as I can tell, that ambition has paid off in spades: Kish captures the violence and mad glory of Ahab’s quest with his abstracted, full-color drawings: from the Pequod swallowed by the waves to the “Leviathan...rushing through the deep,” Kish expands on Melville’s original without bastardizing it. Reminiscent of Zak Smith’s Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow, another Tin House production, though Kish, unlike Smith, includes page references to the original, which you could conceivably leaf through this beauty of a book and claim to have read the original. You would be best served by reading both.


Sandy Pallot Klein

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