the newest modern library series

Matthew Buckingham mdbuckingham at
Sat Jun 21 03:24:46 EDT 2003

Perhaps I should take this opportunity to say what I LIKE about the series, which is actually a whole lot. I have almost no quibbles with the title selection, for instance. Let's be honest: the original ML had way more turkeys than the new series, simply by virtue of the fact that what was viewed as genuinely "literary" changed drastically over the life of the original series, which included two world wars, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, Vietnam, etc. , and it's changed a lot since then, too. Does anyone out there believe, for instance, that the Modern Library should revive all six of the Anatole France titles that were published by the series in the 1930s?

As for the new books, consider the Cormac McCarthy titles (Blood Meridian and Suttree), The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, and the aforementioned Rimbaud Complete, which from a design standpoint appears as if from another planet compared to the rest of the series. One of my favorite novels of all time is also represented for the first time in the new series, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, which to the best of my knowledge is the only unabridged hardcover edition in print, other than the Folio Society edition, which is a beautiful bit of bookmaking but substantially more expensive. Where else, too, can you find the incomparable Murray Kempton in hardcover and in print?

The only segment of new Modern Library I hesitate to collect is the Chronicles series, which I consider a bit lightweight (every book in the series falls in the 200-page range) and a poor value to boot, at nearly 20 bucks a copy. This is part of what I see as a troubling trend in the new ML: gradual price creep. Whereas the series was always economically priced in the early years of its 1990s revival, many of the latest books are priced almost as high as full-blown trade editions.

From: Richard Ugland 
  To: modlib at 
  Sent: Friday, June 20, 2003 12:41 PM
  Subject: the newest modern library series

  I share some of the concerns recently expressed about the production 
  quality of the volumes in the latest modern library series, which 
  resurrected our beloved ML in 1992.  But what really delighted me about the 
  message was that someone was talking about the new series at all.  Sure, 
  there have been comments on it from time to time, but for the most part the 
  series seems to be greeted by those on this list--a couple of exceptions 
  noted--with indifference at best and disdain at worst.  Thankfully, Henry 
  does pay it deserved attention in the price guide.

  I for one have been thrilled that the ML is back.  Sure, I quibble with 
  some of the title selection, and, yes, it took some time to accept the 
  jacket design, which apes the Library of America jackets for pedestrianism, 
  but we should cheer the multiple printings many titles already have had, 
  and wish the new series well.  For even if one doesn't collect it, one can 
  hope that it will spark interest in a new generation of collectors for the 
  older series.


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