Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Limited, Uniform and Distinct

I love a book in uniform. Nothing to do with military history. For the most part, I don't and can't read military history. The modifier crushes the subject for me. No. I mean any book appearing in a series of uniform size and design. I just love sets. So when a new book arrives as part of a set, if I already own or want some other, earlier volume in the series, then I want the new one, no matter mostly, if I actually don't.

Jewish Encounters, from Schocken, for example, started off on the right foot with me by being well designed, compact at about 5 by 7, and by publishing books by Rebecca Goldstein, (Betraying Spinoza,) Sherwin B. Nuland, (Maimonides,) and Adam Kirsch, (Benjamin Disraeli.) Besides the obvious, all were biographies. Emma Lazarus, by Esther Schor made me read Emma Lazarus, really for the first time. Hooray for Jewish Encounters! Then... Jews and Power, by one Ruth R. Wisse, and The Wicked Son, by David Mamet -- the Harold Pinter of American letters, and no, that ain't a compliment. No and no. The latest? The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner... and, I'm done. The only Jewish body that interests me at the moment belongs to Emile Hirsch, if Emile Hirsch is Jewish. A series of Jewish biographies by contemporary Jewish writers is to me, catnip. A series by contemporary Jewish writers on, what? Yiddishkite? Not so much.

Still, I bought the Mamet (and finally sold it.) But the series is now and forever to be incomplete on my shelves. It's annoying, but I can live with it.

Random House and Everyman published a lovely book of Christmas Stories a couple of years ago and I not only bought it, but used it for my Capote/Christmas reading three years in a row. It's a handsome little book, inexpensive at $15.00, and the selection of stories was wonderful. The editor was one Diana Secker Tesdell. Well, bless her. Then, in October, came Ghost Stories from the same team so same design and price, but edited by somebody else. Not so good. Famous ghost story writers, not always their best story, seldom their scariest, and some were just... dull. Trouble for the collector of a new series. But now, the otherwise unknown to me Diana Secker Tesdell is back this month with Love Stories, and the series is redeemed! From the wicked fun of the first story, by Guy de Maupassant, to Calvino, to T. Coraghessan Boyle, I know that I'm back in the hands of an editor to be trusted. Two out o' three, not a bad start for a series. Not great, but not bad.

My confidence in collecting series depends, particularly when speaking of anthologies, on good people like Diana Secker Tesdell, whoever she may be. Bless her. My taste is reflected in my affection for sets; limited, uniform and distinct. It may not be just, but there it is.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! Diana Secker Tesdell is a tallent. Christmas Stories and Love Stories are both beautifully edited. Couldn't ask for more, and couldn't put them down. Ghost Stories doesn't measure up.