John Lanchester on the Library of America

I spent most of my July 4th holiday afternoon napping or reading John Lanchester's novel, Capital.  Looking now at the reviews, I see him likened to Dickens, but nowhere what seems to me the most obvious comparison, Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities:  a Master of the Universe, (Roger Yount), brought low, with supporting characters from All Walks of Life..

Along the way I found this Short Cuts column from the London Review of Books on the Library of America.  I prize LOA editions when they are donated because they let me get lesser-known  titles by classic American writers, (Faulkner, Hurston), into the library's collection, where I would be unable to persuade the library to purchase them singly.  But I share Lanchester's reluctance to read novels in omnibus editions.
The books are lovely, lovely objects. They are about the nicest books I have. American books are in general printed to much higher standards than British books. (Ask publishers about that, and they always say that it’s to do with economies of scale: five times as big an audience equals higher print runs equals lower costs equals the possibility to make nicer books. So they say.) The Library takes that tendency about as far as it will go: it’s hard not to take the volumes down from the shelves and stroke them, like a Bond villain fondling a cat.What is really hard, though, is to read them. The books are so gorgeous, so marmoreal, that I find them unreadable. Not unreadable in the Pierre Bourdieu/Edward Bulwer-Lytton sense, and not unreadable in theory – I want to read them, I really do. It’s just that in practice, I don’t.

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