The popular refrain "Everything old is new" again seems to characterize increasing segments of book publishing since the turn of the millennium. Thanks to Loyola Classics, for example, a character named Mr. Blue, a contemporary Francis-esque gallant monk without an Order has emerged from a coma and once again spends most of his days atop a certain Manhattan skyscraper. Blue was created, by the way, in 1928. Other volumes in that series include Viper’s Tangle, by François Mauriac, and A. J. Cronin’s The Keys of the Kingdom. I don’t recall who came first - and it really doesn’t matter - but several publishers have hit pay dirt in providing today’s reader-on-the-run with special reissues in new format, short biographies and compendia of selections from notable writers (mostly of the dead variety).
It is worth pointing out some significant anniversaries. For one, there was the 10th anniversary in September of the death of Henri J. M. Nouwen, Dutch priest, professor, L’Arche chaplain and prolific author of books on the spiritual life. In commemoration, Orbis Books has released Remembering Henri: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen, edited by Gerald S. Twomey and Claude Pomerlau. And thanks to the recent cleanout of an old library office at America House, I am in possession of a number of (dusty and timeworn, but oh so sure to make a collector salivate!) early editions of classic American (and English) literature. The oldest in my cache is a 1906 edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. This is available today from, among others, Bantam Classics. Three octogenarians likewise occupy pride of (hidden) place: Willa Cather’s best-loved and best-selling novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop; and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as well as The Torrents of Spring.
A notable anniversary is being celebrated now by Knopf/Random House, whose Everyman’s Library has turned 100. With 100 volumes, its founder, Joseph Dent, once wrote, a man may be intellectually rich for life. Surely the precursor and model for many series that blossomed in ensuing decades, the Library publishes significant world literature in specially designed and bound editions. It is distinguished by quality, consistency and faithfulness to the vision of its founder, a London bookbinder turned publisher. The Library’s backlist features the likes of Austen, Chesterton, Dickens, Joyce, Dostoevsky and Woolf. Contemporary writers who have entered the canon include Chinua Achebe (the recipient of America’s Campion Award in 1996), Toni Morrison, Graham Greene and John Updike (Campion winner in 1997).
This month marks the 780th anniversary of the death, in 1226, of St. Francis of Assisi. The Gospel radical, advocate for simplicity, peace in all things and troubadour for the Lord - and that doesn’t even tell the full story - is perhaps most often invoked as the patron saint of animals. He is called upon by many people: pet owners, environmentalists, conservationists and caretakers of wildlife.
Seizing a potentially lucrative opportunity (pace Francis), publishers have been issuing plenty of animal books over the past few seasons - which I am sure is attributable to the mega-success of a book called Marley and Me, by John Grogan, the author’s account of life with his rambunctious, wired, uncontrollable yellow Lab, who happens also to be just plain lovable. Ranging from the amusing to the affecting to the informative, these new and recent books obviously feed a widespread craving.
I would personally recommend a memoir entitled A Three-Dog Life, by Abigail Thomas, chronicling the aftermath of an accident that crushed her husband’s head, changing at once the shape of their life together. Her dogs are only the supporting actors in this play, but the operative word is supporting. Over a period of five years, their presence and companionship played a key role in the author’s transformation and resumption of her writing life.
Now for a complete about-face (unless you count the donkey who will later play a part in this story). New Line Cinema has teamed up with Pauline Books & Media on a film called The Nativity Story, scheduled for worldwide release on 7,000 screens on Dec. 1. This deserves fuller treatment in America, and you can count on that. But for the moment, I want to mention that as one of their tie-ins, Pauline Books is publishing The Nativity Story: Contemplating Mary’s Journeys of Faith, edited by Sr. Rose Pacatte, director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles and consultant on the film. More about that book in the not-too-distant future.
What good news to be announcing!