Thursday, July 31, 2008

Little Oxfords

One of the reliable pleasures of buying at the Used Books Desk is seeing old friends. Here I don't mean our scouts and other regulars, though we are very fond of same. The old friends I mean are books we know and love. Yesterday we processed a little clutch of "The World's Classics" in hardcovers from the Oxford University Press. Among the titles were Selected Modern English Essays, Anna Karenina, Barchester Towers and Candide and Other Stories.

Though these are all good, tight copies, (sadly without dustjackets,) they are a little plain, dating from the late sixties and early seventies when the more elaborate bindings of earlier editions had gone for good -- as the series itself did not so long ago.

"The World's Classics" were the OUP's answer to Ernest Rhys "Everyman's Library," started in 1906 for the publisher J. M. Dent. The turn of the last century was a golden age of reading. The spread of literacy and general education meant a broad new audience for books. Rhys's mission was to publish the great books of world literature in attractive and affordable editions, the titles eventually totally 1000, though that number was not achieved until after Rhys's death. OUP, under Henry Frowde, bought out another publishers list and then began adding titles. One historian of the Press has described their selection as "whimsical," but most of the reliable masterpieces are represented.

I love these little Oxford editions because of their handsome look, at 3 1/2 by 6, their wonderfully compact size (perfect to "slip in a slacks pocket" as Helene Hanff might have said,)
and because they survive many readers. That's a well made book.

So hunt them out on our shelves. We don't see them too often, but when we do, we buy them. You should too.

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