A great new “Great Gatsby”

December 9, 2013
(Courtesy of The Folio Society)
Courtesy of The Folio Society.

Last week, The Post ran an interesting story about why children overwhelmingly prefer the tactile experience of bound books to the gee-whiz efficiency of e-books. I tend to agree with the kids on this, but it will be interesting to see if that preference persists over the next generation. (Children might prefer scrolls to codices, but who knows?)

No matter where you come down on the paper vs. electrons debate, there’s no denying the allure of a well-made bound book. It still surprises me that in their great battle with e-books, traditional publishers have made so little effort to exploit the potential advantages of their physical product. Most bound books are rather drab, utilitarian objects — as though any element of quality, beauty or whimsy would be downright unliterary. (Remember when Grove published “Gould’s Book of Fish,” by Richard Flanagan, in different colored inks? Those were the days.)

The Folio Society still remembers the pleasure of a well-made book. Its directors are like fine wheelwrights toiling away in the age of space travel. For more than 60 years, this London-based publisher has been reissuing classics, old and new, in fine editions at a relatively reasonable price. (You no longer have to be a member to buy individual books from the Folio Society.) Its newest offering is a striking reissue of “The Great Gatsby,” in a deep purple slipcase decorated with an Art Deco pattern ($44.95).

My friend and colleague Michael Dirda was too modest to mention it to me, but I discovered that he’s written the introduction for this new edition, and his remarks are just as smart and elegant as his many fans would expect. He provides a fresh appreciation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic and describes the unlikely path it took on the way to its hallowed place in American literature. There’s also a short note by Francis Ford Coppola about the time in 1972 when he was hired to produce a screenplay version of “The Great Gatsby” in three weeks. “I was astonished to realize that there was next to no actual dialogue between Daisy and Gatsby at all,” he writes. “I of course panicked.” (Continues below this ad.)

Illustration by Sam Wolfe Connelly. Courtesy of The Folio Society.
Illustration by Sam Wolfe Connelly. Courtesy of The Folio Society.

This edition — the third time the Society has issued “The Great Gatsby” –  contains a few moody illustrations by a young New York artist named Sam Wolfe Connelly. The most interesting one shows the party at Gatsby’s house with the famous host standing on the stairs entirely in white silhouette.

For anyone still recovering from Baz Luhrmann’s meretricious movie version, this might be just the thing, old sport.

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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Caitlin Dewey · December 9, 2013