Barnes & Noble, one of the U.S.’s largest booksellers, combining online and “brick and mortar” outlets, launched a new series devoted to the reissue of neglected books this month. As described on the B&N website:
Barnes & Noble Rediscovers brings back to print — in affordable hardcover editions — books of special merit in history, literature, philosophy, religion, the arts, and science. Many have been long unavailable or hard to find. Each is now reset in a modern design to welcome a new generation of readers.
The Rediscovers initiative is something of an extension to the Barnes & Noble Classics, which includes 200 well-recognized classics such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and David Copperfield in low-cost paperbacks with new introductions by contemporary writers and critics. However, unlike the Classics, the Rediscovers list is intended to be shaped directly by reader/buyer feedback: “The retailer will include customer feedback and online customer behavioral data as criteria for selecting books to publish through Rediscovers,” according to Retailer Daily.
The B&N Rediscovers series was launched with healthy kick, with 33 titles included in the first release. I am frankly impressed by how diverse and esoteric this list is. Here is a sample of what’s now available:
- • Darwin’s Century: Evolution and the Men Who Discovered It, by Loren Eiseley
- A study of Charles Darwin’s work and ideas within the intellectual context of Victorian England. More a scholarly than a lyrical work, written–as one Amazon reviewer put it–“while Eiseley was wearing his Professor hat instead of his Philosopher cap.”
- • The History in English Words, by Owen Barfield
- One of the books I included on my “Editor’s Choices” list when I first started this site, this is certainly the most approachable of Barfield’s books–but it has the same capacity to shake up your world perspective. Essentially a survey of how the etymology of individual and groups of English words can reveal not just where they came from, but the dramatic differences in how the world was seen and understood in other times.
- • Maimonides, by Abraham Joshua Heschel
- From the B&N site: “Originally published in German in 1935â€”the 800th anniversary of its subjectâ€™s birthâ€”Maimonides was Abraham Joshua Heschelâ€™s first important work. In it, the author combines an account of the life of this most influential of Talmudic scholars and most celebrated of medieval Jewish philosophers with a subtle introduction to his writings and their place in the broader tradition of Jewish thought.”
- • Physics for the Rest of Us: Ten Basic Ideas of 20th Century Physics, by Roger S. Jones
- The youngster on this list, dating only from 1993. Jones’ objective was, “To combine a conceptual approach to modern physics with an exploration of its deeper meaning and philosophical significance.” Thus, this book is not only a clear, well-written explanation of ten concepts of physics developed in the 20th century, but a reflection on the benefits and limitations of science itself.
- • Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, Goethe, by George Santayana
- Drawn from one of his Harvard courses, which could claim T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Conrad Aiken among its students, this book is the text of a series of lectures Santayana gave at Columbia University in 1910. At it’s also a pretty good demonstration of just how strong Barnes & Noble’s faith in the “if you reissue it, they will come” theory is. This is one of those titles that university presses usually trickle out in a few dozen copies a year over the course of a few decades–as it the even more intimidating Philosophical Sketches: A Study of the Human Mind in Relation to Feeling, Explored through Art, Language, and Symbol, by Suzanne Langer. Courage et bon chance, mes amis!
- • Alpha and Omega: Stories by Isaac Rosenfeld
- Rosenfeld has been something of an insider’s legend for decades. After publishing a well-received coming-of-age novel, Passage from Home, in 1946, he wrote some fine stories and influential reviews, labored at some unpublished novels, and eventually faded into complete obscurity. Coming on top of the release earlier this year of Steven J. Zipperstein’s fine biography, Rosenfeld’s Lives: Fame, Oblivion, and the Furies of Writing, Alpha and Omega should help revive interest in this classic neglected writer–although I suspect D. G. Myers got it right when he wrote in review of Zipperstein’s bio:
Rosenfeldâ€™s name remains alive for two reasons. First, because he impressed, with his personality and literary promise, the reputation makers of his generationâ€”Philip Rahv, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Eliot Cohen (the founding editor of Commentary). He was embraced as the â€œgolden boyâ€ of the New York intellectuals, and then died far too early to fulfill their dreams for him. As Theodore Solotaroff recalled, some of his friends spoke the name Isaac as if it were â€œa magic word for joy and wit,â€ others as if â€œit were the most poignant word in the language.â€ Second, he was Saul Bellowâ€™s best friend.
Bellow wrote the introduction to Alpha and Omega.
- • Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe
- Mezz Mezzrow was a clarinet-playing Jewish kid from Chicago who got into jazz back in the mid-1920s and played and hung out with most of the greats from that era–Armstrong, Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton. Unfortunately, his love of jazz was outmatched by his love of reefers. “Mezz” came to be slang for marijuana due to his own use, rather than vice-versa. As a musician, he was no great beans. But teamed up with the young and verbally-inventive Bernard Wolfe, he managed to put together a 400-page swim through more jazz lingo and life that you’ll find between any other two covers. Albert Goldman once wrote of the book and its subject, “Mezzrow was 1) the first white Negro, 2) the Johnny Apleseed of weed, 3) the author of a great American autobiography, Really the Blues, the finest eyewitness account of American counterculture ever published. The book is, likewise, the master-piece of the counterculture’s most characteristics literary medium: the slang-laced, jazz-enrhythmed, long-breathed and rhapsodic street rap and rave-up.” So pick up your shovel and dig it, man!
- • ABBA ABBA, by Anthony Burgess
- One of Burgess’ shortest novels, ABBA ABBA–whose title refers to the sonnet rhyme pattern–is a lively hodgepodge of historical fiction, literary criticism, original translations (and transformations) of poems of Giovanni Belli, and an excuse for Burgess to blow fine verbal riffs on the theme of writing and translation.
- • On Moral Fiction, by John Gardner
- Recently recommended by Maura Kelly on this site, On Moral Fiction was one of the more controversial books of 1978–and one of the best-selling works of literary criticism as a result. Gardner challenged modernism and the pursuit of literary invention for its own sake, advocating a return to the traditons of Dickens and Tolstoy.
Marcus Leaver, president of B&Nâ€™s publishing subsidiary, Sterling Publishing, suggests the initiative has much grander ambitions than the somewhat esoteric list of initial titles would indicate:
The Barnes & Noble Rediscovers series opens a new door for us and a new window for writers and estates who have earned no income on their works for years. We plan to expand the capabilities of the program to include both e-book and print on demand options.
This sounds as if Barnes & Nobles is taking a lesson from the Faber Finds venture, which has managed to push out over 400 titles in little over a year, thanks to diligent copywrite research and the magic of publish-on-demand. Both of which put the recently-announced AmazonEncore program (with a whopping one title, from 2006, to its credit).
Thanks to Robert Nedelkoff for passing this news along.