The Folio Society: Celebrating Literature

 

I have never understood why we readers treat literature so poorly.

We confine our classics to cheap paperbacks, five-dollar hard copies, bulk versions, and we throw them in bargain bins alongside fake biographies of yesterday’s celebrities.

Worse, sometimes we even add zombies to them…

Why aren’t readers more shocked by this treatment? These are our Rembrandts, our Van Goghs, our Monets. Basically, the classic books are what makes literature art, and yet we treat them so utterly, utterly horribly. It’s like we take them for granted; we even dare write in their margins and use highlighters on them! (Okay, I did that too in college, but you get where I am going with this.)

Yes, I understand the argument that these cheaper editions of classics make them more accessible to the everyday reader, but when they are the only versions available at the bookstore, it becomes kind of a moot argument. In a way, we are all forced down the cheap road.

I remember, after reading Middlemarch by George Elliot for the first time, I wanted a nice hardcover edition of it. I wanted to display it proudly at the top of my bookshelf with my other favorites. But after weeks of looking at stores all I could find was a collection hardcover, with a bad illustration of the author on the cover that I am certain was drawn by a teenage family member of one of the editors of the edition. (No true painter would want to take credit for that.) Yes, I am sad to admit that I did buy the book, and I am still bitter about it today, as you can see.

Books are important to me, and in my house we have numerous different bookshelves, each with their own importance and order to them. There are books on each I am happy to own, but my special books are all in one perfect location; visually for me the center of the room, the heart.

From my signed-first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebird to my gold-plated 50th Anniversary edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with all of the author’s illustrations, to my nine Oxford hardcover editions of Charles Dickens classics, to my complete set of hardcover Jane Austen, and even to my new obsession, hardcover editions of P.G. Wodehouse… These books are my treasures, and I showcase them like others would art…

Correct that, they are art.

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I remember the first moment I truly realized the wonderful gravity of owning a special edition of a loved book.

I was a teenager and through a teacher was handed the home address of Ray Bradbury. I am still awed by this amazing gift. To this day, I have no idea what I was hoping to get from the correspondence. I was not so naive to think that from a letter he would introduce me to his agent or publisher; looking back now, maybe I simply just wanted to take a few bricks out of the wall between me as a dreamer/writer and the possibility of literary greatness.

The grand Ray Bradbury responded with a moving letter and a signed copy of one of his books. I will never forget what he wrote to me on the inside cover of the book:

 

Scott! Onward! Charge!

 

… and I’ve been charging forward ever since.

I have had the honor of being published on a few occasions (My Problem With Doors, a literary post-modern time traveling tale, and Megan, an introspective fantasy, being two examples), and there is nothing like the thrill of holding your completed novel in your hand.

So, yes, there are many different layers in my love of books.

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Almost a year ago, I started a writing blog.

My original hope was to spur my own creative voice forward, but the experience has grown into something so much more. I feel part of a community of like-minded writers, I have an outlet to share my own writing experience and knowledge, and I have discovered a new “podium” to shout my love of literature and books to any that would hear me in this mad pop-entertainment obsessed world.

Recently, I argued that we writers on our blogs should do more to celebrate great writers (“Writing About Genius”). I still firmly believe that. We don’t do enough today to put these creators and works of art on their pedestal. (Sometimes I get the feeling that the masses would rather wait for the movie or mini-series version.) So as you can probably imagine, I was pretty moved and inspired when I discovered The Folio Society for the first time.

The Folio Society is a British publishing house that specializing in creating beautifully illustrated books. Actually, to say beautiful, doesn’t do it justice. They celebrate literature the way literature ought to be celebrated. Since 1947 The Folio Society has been honoring the artform that too many of us take for granted. Seriously, we should all be put to shame in comparison.

Their books remind me of… Okay, you know how when you watch a TV show with a rich tycoon or lord of a manor (Downton Abbey, for example) they always have a personal library; and that personal library is filled with walls and walls of bookshelves? Those are the libraries I dream of having one day, imagining myself walking up and down the book-lined walls, my fingers tracing each of the bindings, feeling through the touch the history and art so close.

No, there would be no paperbacks in my dream library, but beautiful hardcovers lining each inch available. The Folio Society makes the books that would be on my dream shelves.

I was honored to receive a copy of the Folio Society’s The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (with an introduction by the brilliant biographer/actor Simon Callow). And while I would love to drown you in adjectives around the copy, all I want to express is that this is exactly how books should feel; this is simply just right, from the weight to the font to even the smell of the paper (yes, I smelled it). Frankly, this has become the gold standard I will be holding all future books I buy up to.

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The Folio Society’s website has become kind of an addiction for me. I admit it. I might have to seek help.

I go to the website every few hours and drool over the books and editions they have there. And in each visit I find something new, for the serious to the more pop reader. For example:

  • Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy introduced by Terry Jones of Monty Python

  • The absolutely stunning edition of Fahrenheit 451 by dear Ray Bradbury

  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (a book I had once stolen from my high school library)

  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne (I’ve been looking for a good hardcover of this for years!)

  • And then my current favorite in their collection The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Sorry, I’ve got to go to the website now… I need my fix. Just a second.

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Granted, these books are not for the everyday reader or the college student on a budget, and I can’t imagine really sitting down and reading one of these copies casually at a restaurant (something could spill!), but for a lover of literature, a collector, these can almost make you weep. And shouldn’t art, frankly, cost a little more, be a little more special?

What I think is the most moving about The Folio Society is that at its core, it shows that we lovers of literature are not alone, and someone in publishing gets us.

Truly gets us.

They are only a click on the website away.

…Now, if I can just convince The Folio Society to check out a Southard book then all will be right with the world.

Scott D. Southard is the author of My Problem With Doors and Megan, two award-winning novels available via amazon.com and Google Play. His novel, A Jane Austen Daydream, is set to be released as an eBook in December of 2012 by the John Lynch Digital Publishing House. Scott is also the creator of the writing blog “The Musing and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” at http://www.sdsouthard.com (where this article originally appeared). Currently, on the site he is sharing a new novel/literary experiment which is being written in “real time.” That new work is entitled Permanent Spring Showers. You can find out more about him and his writing via the site.

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