Sohrab Ahmari of The Wall Street Journal reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."
"Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, in thy most need, to be by thy side." These words will be familiar to my fellow obsessive book collectors. They at once conjure creamy, crisp pages; tight bindings of sumptuous fabric; elegantly designed dust jackets and the best fruits of Western literature.
I'm speaking, of course, of the Everyman's Library, the series of classic books that since 1906 has been providing English readers with affordable, durable and rigorous editions of all the very best that has been thought and written.
The series was conceived in 1905 by the self-taught British publisher Joseph Malaby Dent, the sort of enterprising, big-hearted Edwardian figure convinced that the West's timeless wisdom, encapsulated in its literary heritage, could transform the lives of men and women, whatever their social stature. Dent set himself the goal of producing 1,000 such hardcover volumes, each sold for a shilling, beginning with James Boswell's life of Samuel Johnson. By 1975, long after Dent's death, 1,239 volumes had been published; new titles ceased to appear for some time.
Today, Alfred Knopf and Random House have acquired the rights to the brand and titles, and they've proven faithful stewards of this remarkable legacy. Thanks to Everyman's Library, any book lover can acquire, usually for around $20, the most beautiful, lovingly made editions of the works of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, Stendhal, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Mann, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Cormac McCarthy, Salman Rushdie and on and on and on.
These books are powerful antidotes to our digital obsession; no iPad experience can compare to losing yourself to an Everyman's edition of a classic. Permit me this bit of gushing, but our civilization is better off thanks to these little hardcovers.