From the land between Wake and Dream. (sea_thoughts) wrote,
From the land between Wake and Dream.

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Book Rant

This rant has been simmering in my mind for a while and it seems that I always do this in the wee hours of the morning when I really should be in bed but my mind just will not shut up. It's a compilation of various issues with books and publishing that I, as a dedicated bookworm, have noticed throughout my life (yeah, I've only been reading books for around twenty years, but that's still enough time to have amassed some grievances). I would like to hear what other people on my flist think, particularly those of you who are librarians (kit_the_brave) or teachers (stmargarets) or just interested in literature generally (the rest of you, esp. jo_blogs).

1. Illustrations
Frankly, the state of book illustrations in the UK sucks right now. The market has certainly become more open to graphic novels and comics (it helps that most of the authors spearheading this revolution are British) but in 'normal' books, illustrations have become passé. Just twenty years ago, when I was in single digits, nearly every children's book I picked up was illustrated; even the 'big' books with chapters at least had chapter heading illustrations and often full-page ones. The cover illustrations were pen and ink, or watercolours. Nowadays, it seems like they slap together some CGI shapes and that's it. Not all books do that, of course. I applaud covers that are put together with some genuine thought. The "Definitions" series for young adults is a good example of innovative cover design. But all too often, style triumphs over substance. I recently bought the book Momo by Michael Ende, better known for writing The Never-Ending Story. The cover illustration depicts an angry street child against a grey backdrop. It's faithful to the book but it's not appealing. I was shocked to discover that all the other translations have the author's illustrations included and on the cover. Did Penguin not think they were good enough? That they were too childish? The edition I bought was new in that it had been newly printed, but it was still in the 'small paperback' format that all Penguin books used to be in (ah, those were the days) with an old-fashioned cover. Come on, Penguin! Why can't we have Ende's illustrations like everyone else? English children are not that different from French, German or Dutch!

2. Book Series
I'm sure I'm not the only person who's been sold short or left fuming because of the cavalier way some publishers treat book series and the authors of those series. Mixx, the company responsible for gathering the translated Sailor Moon manga into volumes, messed around the earlier buyers so much that it left them scarred for life. I got sold short last year when collecting the Paradise Kiss manga: the first four volumes were all published with the same jackets, a snazzy grey background and gothic script, a refreshing change from the bright colours that published manga (whether shoujo or shounen) tends to have in English. The fifth volume was COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: dark purple, different script, different illustration. WTF? What, you couldn't be bothered to publish the last volume in the same binding? Are you really that lazy?

Here's what I mean:

Vol 1; Vol 2; Vol 3; Vol 4

And then

Vol 5

WHY? It makes no sense! I know it sounds OCD but I can't help it, if I'm collecting a series, I like it all to look the same! Because it's a SERIES! You cannot just CHANGE the binding at the last moment!

Now onto normal books for those of you who don't read manga. One of my biggest peeves about book series is when publishers promote the first book of that series (see Anne of Green Gables or A Wrinkle in Time) as a 'classic', a book that everyone must have, then either ignore the rest of the series or make it really difficult for you to find the other books. And it's made doubly difficult if the books you're looking for aren't even available in your country or have had their titles changed.

With A Wrinkle In Time, you could go through much of your life (as I did) thinking that was the only book Madeleine L'Engle had written, because it's the only book that's ever promoted here in the UK. I only discovered the Austin books through a second-hand copy of Troubling a Star that I bought from a bookshop in Madrid. That's right, the capital city of Spain.

As for Anne of Green Gables, thanks to the vagaries of UK publishing companies, most people probably think the titular story is the only Anne story in existence. Even those enlightened people who have bought all the books available here still lack Rainbow Valley and Rilla of Ingleside, mainly because they don't know about them. Even if most people dislike these books, we should at least have the choice of reading them. As for the Emily trilogy, the two books about Pat or other, rarer Montgomery books, forget it. They might as well not exist.

Titles are also a problem. We all know about the bizarre decision to change "Philosopher's Stone" to "Sorceror's Stone" but it happens over here as well. For instance, over here in the UK, we have four "Little Women" books instead of three. Confused? In their infinite wisdom, the original English publishers decided to split Little Women in half and call the second half Good Wives (for those who are interested, our Little Women ends after John Brooke proposes to Meg). If you want to buy the original edition over here, you need to buy the Penguin Classic edition, which is nicely bound but not exactly appealing to a younger audience. As far as I'm aware, Jo's Boys and Little Men were not changed at all. Then, of course, we have the bewildering change of title for the first book of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: published as Northern Lights over here, but changed to The Golden Compass in the US and filmed with that title (no, they're not changing it back to Northern Lights for the UK audience). Okay, I agree that the second title suits the trilogy better but I think the original title is much more evocative (and the Alethiometer is NOT a compass).

And finally, we have the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. The first two volumes of this were published by Scholastic's short-lived 'Point Fantasy' section over here as Dragonsbane and Dragon Search. Now, I have to admit that in my opinion, as a title, "Dragonsbane" rocks and is much better than Dealing with Dragons. "Dragon Search" is just a more pithy verseion of "Searching for Dragons". But here's the catch: Point Fantasy did not publish the other two books! If I hadn't been browsing on Amazon, I would never have realised this was a quartet. I have cherished my two Point Fantasy editions of Dragonsbane and Dragon Search but now I'm faced with a similar dilemma to the one I had with Paradise Kiss. In order to complete my collection (and find out what the hell happens), I have to buy the final two books Calling On Dragons and Talking To Dragons, but they will look totally different and probably be a different size. It's so frustrating to think that because Point Fantasy didn't make enough money, I'll never get the 'full set' of books I wanted. But at least I can still get hold of these. Many Point Fantasy and Point Sci-Fi books have never been republished, which makes me feel both sorry for their authors and angry on their behalf. Point has republished some of its horror titles, so why not their sci-fi and fantasy ones? They certainly deserve a second chance!
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