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Bringing Back Bradbury
(and a Rant Against Irritating Publishing Practices)

by Neil Walsh

[Cover] Recently, I was lucky enough to acquire the SF Site review copies of a few Ray Bradbury reprints from Avon Books. Now, you have to understand, I had to fight to win these books. And I only got them after I promised my editor I'd review them. Well, truth to tell, I'd feel rather silly reviewing collections of classic short stories from as much as 50 years ago or more! I mean, what could I possibly say about "The Wonderful Ice-Cream Suit" (first published in 1958), for example, that hasn't already been said?

Except this: for the past couple of years Avon Books has been reviving Ray. Not only are they publishing new material from the master, like his most recent short story collection, Driving Blind (hardcover, Oct. 97), but they're also reprinting many of the old classics. And they're doing a beautiful job of it.

(There is, however, a But, which I'll come to in a moment.)

[Cover] [Cover] A Medicine for Melancholy (trade paperback, Feb. 98) and I Sing the Body Electric (trade paperback, May 98), for example, are beautiful books. Delectable! Not just the stories -- which are classics for what they are, rather than simply because you've heard of the guy who wrote them -- but these trade editions put out by Avon are beautiful editions. High quality cover art, clean, nice new-book smell, they even feel sweet in your hands. It's hard to pick one of these beauties up without wanting to own it. Same can be said for their mass market paperback editions, like Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (mass market, Mar. 98) and Quicker Than The Eye (mass market, Oct. 97). Ditto for Avon's hardcover editions of Bradbury.

(Now the But.)

[Cover] [Cover] But... But why? But why the different formats? I'm not just a reader, I'm a collector. And I like my collection to look neat on the shelf. Why offer me The Golden Apples of the Sun (Nov. 97) and I Sing the Body Electric in trade, The Martian Chronicles (Feb. 97) and The Illustrated Man (June 97) in hardcover, and Something Wicked only in mass market paperback? I can't be the only collector who doesn't already have a complete set of Bradbury. And surely I'm not the only collector who cringes at the jagged top edge of a row of books on my shelf caused by different sized, different format editions. I'm not the only collector who would like to see these beautiful reprints of Bradbury's classics all in the same format -- am I?

I believe there are two kinds of readers: readers who read a book and don't really care whether they keep it afterwards; and readers who need to own the books they read. I suppose both types of readers will buy books, at least on occasion. But it's the collectors, the ones who love books not just for what's in them, but also for what they are, how well they are bound, how they look and feel and smell, who are going to get excited or annoyed by what the publishers are doing with regard to format. And it's the collectors who are going to fork over the dough for the hardcover or trade editions. And it seems to me that publishers either don't understand or simply don't care about the collectors, who could and should be their bread and butter.

[Cover] [Cover] [Cover] Example: Bantam Spectra. They published Robin Hobb's Farseer series in very handsome trade paperback editions -- for the first two. But this new author far exceeded the publisher's expectations and they decided to cash in on her popularity by putting out the third Farseer book in hardcover. Why? Many readers, who only want to read and not collect the books, are going to wait for it in paperback anyhow, or borrow it from someone if they can't wait that long. Many collectors, on the other hand, are only going to be annoyed that the hardcover sitting on the shelf beside the trade editions looks like it belongs to another series. Why annoy your customers just to make a few bucks?

Oh, wait a second. I've just answered my own question, haven't I. It's the money that counts, after all, not the books -- or "units" as they are alarmingly and increasingly referred to by the bookselling industry. Personally, I think booksellers calling books "units" is as appalling as it would be for doctors to refer to their patients as "meat."

"Hi honey, I'm home."
"Busy day in ER, dear?"
"Yeah, we moved 40+ pieces of meat through there on my shift."
Yuck! Now compare that imagined conversation with these words, which are very close to what I actually overheard at a bookstore not too long ago:
"These units aren't selling. Strip 'em and ship 'em back to the publisher. We need this shelf space for more marketable units."
Which conversation makes you more queasy? If you pick number two, or even if you have trouble deciding, you must be a book lover and you know what I'm talking about.

I could go on about how frustrating it is that by the time book 5 of a series arrives, books 1 and 2 are already out of print. I could go on about how frustrating it is when books 1 and 2 are published simultaneously in hardcover and trade and then from book 3 on, the publishers only put out the rest of that series in hardcover -- and never remainder the first two in hardcover, no matter how many tens of thousands of copies they have stockpiled away, just waiting for the poor slobs who bought 1 and 2 in trade to fork over the 60 bucks more to make their collection look like a collection. Oh, I could go on, but if you are a book collector, I don't need to. You already understand, don't you. Well, what will it take to make the publishers understand?

[Cover] [Cover] (Sigh).

I guess I'm a little off track here. I promised my editor a review of a couple of Bradbury reprints, which I haven't delivered. Instead I've ranted about how publishers just don't understand us collectors. (Well maybe reviewers don't always understand editors, either. Sorry, John. Hope you'll forgive me.) Really, all I wanted to say is that I think these reprints from Avon are a good thing... But. Bradbury's stories, even the ones which may seem dated, are still relevant and more often than not fresh even 50 years later, as they no doubt will continue to be in another 50 or 100 years. These Avon editions are quite handsome and look very fine on my shelf. But they'd look a lot better if they were all the same format.

Forthcoming Bradbury Titles from Avon Books
Green Shadows, White Whale coming in trade paperback, Sept. 98
Driving Blind coming in mass market paperback, Oct. 98

Copyright © 1998 by Neil Walsh


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