Monday, November 17, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

I’ve noticed an increase in the publication of reprint books. Apparently books that are out of print are being picked up by publishers and sent out to attract a new audience. The most obvious publisher is probably New York Review Books, but I think Europa Editions is also pretty popular. Of course, I have a special place in my heart for Hard Case Crime. Their line combines classic hard-boiled paperback fiction with some of the best new stuff by people like Max Allen Collins, and the new books get convincing classic-style paperback covers.

Okay, Hard Case isn’t one of the publishing giants, nor perhaps should it be. The company has a very specific focus and can narrow its selections to please one specific audience. They don’t need to try to find the big summer blockbuster like the big names do. If you like what they like, you’ll want to buy them all anyway, so each book markets the others.

But why are reprints so popular now? Does it imply that modern writers have forgotten how to write what we want to read? Maybe it’s more accurate to say that what we really want can’t get thru the eye of the needle at big publishers these days. Or it may be that the big guys demand a specific length – fatter books for fatter prices – whereas in the case of the best hardboiled stuff, writing tight was the rule and novels tend to be shorter. You can blow thru a Mickey Spillane and even most Hammett or Chandler books in an evening.

If your taste runs to more traditional mystery you might be a big fan of Persephone Books, an English publisher that reprints fiction written by British women written between the wars. A good share of that work is mystery fiction, although they are broader – and very selective. It’s almost like having a publisher serve the purpose of curator in a literary museum. Local bookstores used to do this, and in some enlightened part of the world still do.

I must admit that even to my eye, the classic authors that Persephone publishes all seem to have a gift for storytelling that I don’t see in much contemporary work. Books like Dorothy B. Hughes’ The Expendable Man and The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding are crime novels , but also so much more. It's tough to think of a contemporary match for them in terms of sophisticated use of the language.

So if you’re looking for that next great read, and you’ve read all the work of my fellow bloggers here, you should consider revisiting the past with one of the recent reprints.

And BTW, do you have a favorite classic mystery that you wish was back in print??


Logan Lamech said...

Nothing like the classics. Even in film, the old B&W's seem so much better written, took more time with it I guess.

Logan Lamech

Austin S. Camacho said...

Like the classic novels, the old time film makers seemed to tell a lot more story in a lot less time - trim and concise. We writers can learn a lot watching them.