Saturday, February 17, 2007


In Praise of Forgotten Books

The next Collins Library release will be out in a matter of weeks -- days, even! -- and it's made me think upon a few of the also-rans. I'm constantly eyeing old books wondering if they warrant reprint; of those thousands, I read a few, seriously consider even fewer, and actually print... well, it'll be six, so far.

So over the next couple weeks I'll be posting on a few books that didn't quite make it for the Collins Library. They're very worthy books -- well worth finding used -- and in each case 826ers and I seriously mulled over taking them on. Each landed awfully close to the printer's in-box, but for one reason or another didn't quite make it.


Sinister Street, by Compton Mackenzie.

A groundbreaking tale following a small boy up through young adulthood, this book was considered faintly scandalous when it came out in 1914, and praised by everyone from Henry James to F. Scott Fitzgerald. (George Orwell was once punished by a schoolmaster for owning a contraband copy.) It probably tells you something that of the two reviews on Amazon, one gives five stars and the other gives one star. It's a fascinating work, particularly in the early sections with a toddler's-eye view of the world and, looming over it all, his nanny.

It's not lost enough. Though this book is out of print and even battered used copies are pricey -- a good indicator of pent-up demand -- it does usually make some sort of reappearance every few decades. (Penguin even did what appears to be a surreptitiously small print run in 1992.) It helps that Mackenzie also wrote Whiskey Galore and the popular The Monarch of the Glen. So even if this particular volume has its ups and downs, Mackenzie remains a well-appreciated author. I suspect that it's only a matter of time before Sinister Street makes a return appearance.

Oh, also: the book's really long. And, did you know? -- I rather like to preserve my sanity from proofing a thousand pages.

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