“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” So said Henry James, who would doubtless recommend spending some of those sunlit hours with a good book or two. Whether you enjoy escape fiction or literary fiction, check out the home pages of the following small publishers. I confess to deeply admiring their commitment to older or neglected writers, which explains why a few titles from New York Review Books, the Folio Society and Tartarus carry introductions by me.
New York Review Books . Overseen by Edwin Frank, this is the classiest of all paperback imprints. Titles range from J.R. Ackerley’s “My Dog Tulip” to Stefan Zweig’s “The Post-Office Girl” with many, many others in between, including the nearly complete oeuvres of two master prose stylists, novelist Henry Green and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. The latter’s only novel, “The Violins of Saint-Jacques,” has just appeared with an introduction by James Campbell of the Times Literary Supplement.
Haffner Press . If you have any interest in pulp fiction, this is the publisher for you. Stephen Haffner issues substantial hardback volumes devoted to the magazine stories of Edmond Hamilton (creator of Captain Future); the crime fiction of Fredric Brown; the early work of Leigh Brackett (whose later credits include the screenplay for “The Empire Strikes Back”); and the occult detective stories of Manly Wade Wellman. One recent title, “The Watcher at the Door,” is the second volume in an ongoing series devoted to the weird tales of the versatile Henry Kuttner. Its foreword is by Robert A. Madle, a Rockville, Md., book and magazine dealer, who may be the oldest living person to have attended the first World Science Fiction Convention, held in 1939.
The Folio Society . Are these the most beautiful books being published today? This English book club specializes in honoring classics of every sort with newly commissioned art work, decorative bindings and introductions. This spring, for instance, the society offered H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu & Other Stories” with a preface by comics superstar Alan Moore and illustrations by Dan Hillier. Other 2017 titles include Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” prefaced with a brilliant critical essay by the late Helen Dunmore, and J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece, “Empire of the Sun,” introduced by William Boyd.
Poisoned Pen Press . Since 2014 this small press, specializing in older mysteries, has been issuing American editions of the addictive British Library Crime Classics. Most feature excellent short introductions by Martin Edwards, president of England’s Detection Club. The latest, however, does not: Lois Austen-Leigh’s “The Incredible Crime: A Cambridge Mystery” is enthusiastically introduced by Kirsten T. Saxton, who makes clear that this 1930s whodunit is witty, ironic and entertaining, as befits a great-great-niece of Jane Austen.
Wildside Press . While its books aren’t fancy, this Washington-area publisher maintains an enormous backlist of classic, contemporary and off-trail works of fantasy, science fiction, adventure and horror. Wildside also issues new works of criticism focused on these genres, most recently Darrell Schweitzer’s “The Threshold of Forever.” In these easygoing and astute essays, Schweitzer reflects on the comic side of Robert Bloch (best known for his novel “Psycho”), Randall Garrett’s “The Queen Bee,” often regarded as the most sexist short story in the history of science fiction, and the work of idiosyncratic horror writers such as James Hogg, William Beckford and Sarban.
Europa Editions . The publisher of Elena Ferrante and much literary fiction in translation, this trade paperback house is also known for its championship of major European crime novelists, including Jean-Claude Izzo, whose Marseilles trilogy is one of the masterpieces of modern noir, and Maurizio de Giovanni, whose Commissario Ricciardi novels — the latest is “Glass Souls” — are set in 1930s fascist Italy.
Centipede Books . Located near Denver, this press specializes in sumptuous hardcover editions of supernatural and fantasy classics. “Writing Madness,” for instance, gathers Patrick McGrath’s “New Gothic” short stories, with an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates, artwork by Harry Brockway, and an afterword by scholar Danel Olson. More visceral is Centipede’s Vintage Horror line, which just brought out the first hardcover of a legendary paperback thriller of snarling terror, Jerrold Mundis’s “The Dogs.”
Cadmus Press . Specializing in translations of Eastern and Southeastern European literature, Cadmus’s best-known author is Zoran Zivkovic, named this spring as a Grand Master by the European Science Fiction Society. The latest volume in the Zoran Zivkovic Collection is the short novel “Hidden Camera,” about a neurotic undertaker’s surreal adventures.
Anyone who enjoys books about books is probably already familiar with Oak Knoll Press — one spring title is “Growing Up Bookish,” by Richard Wendorf, director of the American Museum in Britain —and the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia. This latter has just reprinted “Books as a Way of Life,” Gordon N. Ray’s reflections on collecting and textual scholarship. Dedicated more specifically to contemporary literature, Zerogram Press deserves plaudits for bringing out a major work of criticism, “My Back Pages: Reviews and Essays,” by Steven Moore, who has read more fiction than anyone alive and writes about even the most demanding works with an infectious zest.
Tartarus Press and Valancourt Books . If you enjoy what Robert Aickman called “strange stories,” these two publishers should be bookmarked on your computer. Tartarus authors, such as Mark Valentine, Rosalie Parker, R.B. Russell and Reggie Oliver, simply write beautifully about the eerie and unsettling; for proof, see Oliver’s recent, “Holidays from Hell.” Valancourt’s extensive backlist covers the whole range of Gothic fiction and includes, as well, many underappreciated works by LGBT authors.
Let me close with a recommendation for the inevitable vacation car trip: Almost any title from Naxos Audiobooks . My own kids grew up on Benjamin Soames’s soft-spoken but powerful narrations of the Norse and Greek legends. I myself am looking forward to listening to one of my favorite modern fantasies, Alan Garner’s “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen,” read by the incomparable Philip Madoc.
Michael Dirda reviews books on Thursday for Style.