Monday December 7th, 2009

Neglected Eyesores

portable-parkerJoe Queenan notices something about the books he hasn’t read:

I recently scrutinized my library to see how many unread books had disgusting covers. The results were staggering. In one bookcase sat rows and rows of beautiful Penguin classics. Beneath them sat my favorite works of fiction, all of which had very nice packaging . . . And beneath them were a few dozen gorgeous art books.

But in the next room, in the cabinet where I keep my unread books, I was stunned to realize how many of these neglected works were eyesores. Some were bland or ugly because they dated from earlier eras or because they came from England. Particularly ghastly was the 1951 Modern Library hardcover edition of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which looks like a trash-bagged Malevich drawing; a putrid aquamarine collection of Patrick White stories called The Cockatoos; and an uninspired 1976 Portable Dorothy Parker, adorned with a photo that made Parker look like the least amusing woman that ever lived, with the possible exception of Ayn Rand.