I like tiny books.

Left to right: Moure's Little Theatres and O Cadeiro (Anansi), Ondaatje's Elimination Dance (Brick), Ginsberg's Howl (City Lights), Everyman collection of dog poems, Russian-English Dictionary (Hugo), Kings and Queens of Britain (Collins), Shakespeare Criticism (Oxford), Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge and Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (CRW's Collector's Library), Atwood's Moral Disorder (Seal), Lawrence's A Bird in the House (NCL), Winterson's Weight (Vintage "Myths"), Derrida's Genesis, Geneaologies, Genres & Genius (Columbia, "European Perspectives"), Zizek's Violence (Picador, "big ideas/small books), Turgenev's First Love (Penguin, "Great Loves"), Orwell's In Defense of English Cooking (Penguin, "70th"), Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, Woolf's Orlando and To the Lighthouse (Penguin Modern Classics), Chekov's The Black Monk (Penguin, "60th"), Jonson's Plays, Vol 2, Works of Francois Villon, Catiglione's The Courtier, Elizabethan plays, Jonson's Plays, Vol.1 (Everyman), Jonson's poems (Routledge), DiCamillo's Edward Tulaine (Candlewick), AVI's Beginning of the End (Harcourt).

Something about them is incredibly seductive: their compact size (which usually gives them a dense and comfortable weight), their transportability, their tiny, pretty fonts.

Yesterday I picked up an old Routledge edition of Ben Jonson’s poems from a used bookstore. It contains the same contents as my Penguin edition, edited by George Parfitt, excepting the inclusion of Timber and the Conversations with William Drummond. But it’s such a cute little edition. I was entirely taken in. As usual.

I have a habit of buying tiny books — books I don’t necessarily need, but find too aesthetically pleasing to turn down. Poetry is some of the worst: as long as Brick and City Light Books keep producing palm-sized collections of Ondaatje and Ferlinghetti, I’ll keep buying them. Anansi also produces those square editions of Erin Mouré: they aren’t that much shorter than a new Penguin Classic (the black and orange editions), but their slim squareness never fails to appeal to me.

Vintage is also dangerous: their recent “myths” series is about the height of an older Penguin Modern Classics, though wider (the inside pages have some of the widest margins in the publishing world; this, in combination with the bright white paper stock, makes for a satisfyingly stark interior). Then there are those old Penguin Modern Classics: who can say no to a pocket-sized edition of To the Lighthouse, Orlando, or Down and Out in Paris and London? Though Penguin has a habit of producing tiny books that I buy for no reason other than their diminutive size:the “Great Loves” series, or the “Pocket Penguin” editions in celebration of the 60th and 70th anniversary of the publishing house have gotten the better of me on more than one occasion. Other series to beware include Picador’s “big ideas/small books” theoretical series and  Colombia Press’s glossy “European Perspectives” series: both series are devious little marketing ploys (they’re tiny — and they’re theory!). And children’s lit from all types of publishing houses produce beautifully drawn and set little square books (though children’s lit tends to be some of the most aesthetically pleasing literature, in general).

The most devestating, for me, are the little Everyman editions from pre-1960s. Tiny Ben Jonsons, Castigliones, Montaignes, Villions, and a whole host of other early modern editions abound (they have books well outside this time period, but I tend to collect the early modern stuff).

And I own stacks of ’em.

16 December 2009 ~ Hamilton


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