Saturday, February 1, 2014

High quality reading.

When I read The Hound of the Baskervilles last September, I had a choice to make. Since it was originally serialized in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, the book has been printed literally millions of times, in more editions world-wide than most of us would care to count. And these days, the text of the novel can be found in a dozen places online. Reading Hound is not hard to do. Picking which version of it to read? Well, that can be a little more complicated.

In September, I picked the version in The Original Illustrated 'STRAND' Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Facsimile Edition, in order to get back as closely as possible to the original experience for a low, low cost. Not sure how I came by this particular edition, published with a "Mallard Press" imprint of the BDD Promotional Book Company, Inc. and copyrighted by Wordsworth Editions, Ltd. It's a very cheap edition, with the paper a grade that's a sort of slick newsprint. But it got the job done.

Today I got a flyer for a new edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles from The Easton Press, a publisher that markets to collectors. With new art by Matthew Stewart, the new Easton edition comes fully loaded. Leather bound, gold inlays, sewn pages, fabric-covered slipcase, limited hand-numbered edition, signed by the artist, etc., etc. If you can think of a luxury option to use on a book, the Easton edition pretty much has it . . . well, they didn't use the tanned hide of an actual demon-hound to bind it, but let's not get crazy here.

Anyway, this pimped-out copy of Hound can be yours for the low, low price of three monthly payments of $89. That's $267 total cost to read a novel that you could read for free, if words are all that matter. But we do love our books. If you've got a few hundred bucks laying around, I don't think anyone would begrudge you a high quality book to sit in your wingback chair next to your marble fireplace and read. Of course, if you have a marble fireplace, you might want to be considering a $3,000 UK first edition. For the cost of Easton, you can only get an American first edition, which is, sadly, not anybody's idea of a luxury reading experience.

The funny thing is, no matter what we do on the outside of our reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, where we sit, what we hold in our hands, what surrounds us . . . a few minutes after we start reading, all of that fades away, and we are transported to Baker Street and the moor. We enjoy our time there, and when it's done, one might even feel the need for a trophy. And since the mounted head of the Hound himself isn't available, sometimes one more copy of the book is what will mark the occasion for us.

Sometimes I get a little socially conscious when a high-priced luxury item like the Easton Hound comes out. Is Easton taking advantage of obsessed hobbyists? Are book-buyers wasting money on frills when they could be feeding kids in third world countries? Yes, and yes. But we are, at heart, imperfect creatures with odd little urges like trophy-gathering. And in the space of any given moment, sometimes adding a special tome to our shelves might be an easy, fun choice.

And then, later, when it comes time to re-read The Hound of the Baskervilles . . . hey, you've got a really nice copy to sit down with.


  1. Once I spent more money than was prudent on the Limited Editions "BSI" Edition and have never regretted it. The type, the binding, cover, copious illustrations, intros by prominent BSI---all perfect, yet simple. I return to it more often than any other edition for re-reading at home. Not something to throw into your carry-on for long plane trips, of course. But that question of the money we spend on unusual/luxury editions I don't find vexing, particularly. Of course, I don't do that sort of thing any more, what with the daughter in college and all.

    But I collect or did collect books of many kinds and frequently the ones I will mainly turn to are odd ones with nothing on the surface to commend them....other than the memory of the little shop where I first discovered them, or the friend or lover who gave them to me on some distant birthday. A thirty-five cent copy of Morley's Haunted Bookshop I found in a freezing junk store in Detroit in the winter of '71 with no illustrations, but an unknown child's pencil scribblings on the title page, remains my favorite edition of that much-loved book, and most people would give it away without a second thought.

  2. After your done reading, try watching the 52 different adaptations of HOUN mentioned in the recently posted essay series "Footprints on Film".

  3. It's the contents, not the packaging that's important. Not that there's anything wrong with a nice package. How many copies of the Canon can a Sherlockian have? Well, surely the Doubleday, Baring-Gould's Annotated, Klinger's New Annotated, Klinger's Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. I wish I had the Oxford. I have trade paperback facsimiles of The Adventures and The Memoirs and a trade paperback The Return as it appeared in The Strand. Aside from the Doubleday, it's the added value of the others--the annotation and illustration and textual variations that make them worth owning. As my Sherlockian books are well-thumbed, I doubt their value will increase despite any rareness.

    Like Curtis, I have a book whose value lies not in condition or packaging. On Amazon two or three years age I ordered a cheap copy of Guy Warrack's "Sherlock Holmes and Music". The dust jacket is ripped and worn (but not badly so) and the pages have the miasma of the dank basement it must have been stored in, but the inside back cover has the penciled notes of the previous owner listing facts about Holmes and the stories and three newspaper clipping from the 1950's (one from the Birmingham Post, Friday, January 15, 1954 headlined "Sherlock Holmes--Centenarian" about the Sherlock Holmes Exhibit). This was a well-loved book owned by a Holmesian who cared about his hobby. I value the contents, but when I pick up the book, I subtly feel this Briton's presence and our common bonds.

  4. All my trips through the Canon are via 'The Complete Sherlock Holmes' (with preface by Chris Morley) that I received for Christmas 1968 - but if that wears out I'll go to Half-price Books - it's the content that matters most.