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Homage to Everyman

Some books are just friendlier than others. They feel good in the hand, they have wonderful paper and a typeface that lets the eye glide. Someone has given them a thoughtful page design and maybe a useful amenity like a ribbon bookmark. A few days ago at Dovegreyreader, I greatly enjoyed the short homage to the reader-friendly editions of the Everyman’s Library:

It just remains to put all unfinished books onto a reading hold over Christmas and become a one-book wonder this week because Bleak House is proving to be positively all-consuming.I’ve opted for the Everyman’s Library edition with the lovely smooth paper, the lush burgundy cover and the ribbon bookmark.You know how easily impressed I am by a ribbon in a book.Then that beautiful little inspirational quote ‘ Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, in thy most need to go by thy side.’ I have a growing collection of Everyman’s Library, I’m starting to gather my most favourite reads in this very special edition.

everyman-endpapers.jpg Endpapers from Everyman’s Library, 1912.

This reminded me of the final pages of W.G. Sebald’s Vertigo, when the narrator leaves London’s National Gallery, where he was studying Pisanello’s painting of St. George, and wanders for miles to the western edge of the city. Tired, he enters the nearby underground station, which he likens to the entrance to Hades. As the train pulls out “past the soot-stained brick walls the recesses of which have always seemed to me like the parts of a vast system of catacombs,” the narrator contemplates his fellow passengers – “a defeated army” – and the dismal city where they work. Then, hoping to change his mood, he takes up his book. “Idly I turned the pages of an India paper edition of Samuel Pepys’s diary, Everyman’s Library 1913.” As he reads he starts to drowse and the London of Sebald and the London of Pepys blur together. He suddenly imagines that he is fleeing the Great Fire of London:

Is this the end of time? A muffled, fearful, thudding sound, moving, like waves, throughout the air. The powder house exploded. We flee onto the water. The glare around us everywhere, and yonder, before the darkened skies, in one great arc the jagged wall of fire. And, the day after, a silent rain of ashes, westward, as far as Windsor Park.

And so the book ends. (I love the over-punctuated, breathless phrasing.)

I have long looked for a 1913 Everyman’s Library edition of Pepys, but I’m beginning to feel that Sebald made up that particular edition. 1913 is a symbolic year in Vertigo and Sebald manages to find any number of ways to reference that specific year, some of them rather suspect. In the end, I settled for a two-volume 1912 Everyman’s Library edition, which is, technically speaking, a reprint of the 1906 edition (London: J.M. Dent and New York: E.P. Dutton). I’d like to think that this was the edition that Sebald’s narrator held in his hands as his train plowed into the year 1666.

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As Dovegreyreader notes, the Everyman’s Library continues to produce books that like to be read. Now published by Random House’s distinguished Alfred A. Knopf imprint, their pages of warm creamy paper are sewn and bound in tactile cloth. The one I pulled off the shelf, not surprisingly, was printed and bound in Germany. In fact, I think I’ll just move to the couch and re-read Gabriel Josipovici’s Introduction to Kafka’s Collected Stories.

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