Our book today is one I’ve waited a long time to recommend to all of you: the very first Open Letters Monthly anthology, collecting some of the best, most interesting, most thought-provoking stuff we’ve published in the last three years.
“It’s always strange to be born/Just before the cusp of some new age” – so Sommer Browning writes in “Either Way, I’m Celebrating,” one of the many poems John Cotter (also the anthology’s editor) assembled from his days as Poetry Editor on the site, and it’s hard not to think of that line’s sentiment when looking at the print world today. Not only are publishing houses merging and shuttering offices, but newspapers and magazines are either shrinking or eliminating their book and arts coverage. Increased environmental awareness has brought the whole process of printing, shipping, returning, and pulping books under awkward scrutiny, and the ubiquity and popularity of e-readers grows hourly. Open Letters itself is and always will be a paper-free online endeavor. We may well be seeing the end of printed books as we’ve known them.
But while they’re with us, they’re more with us than anything – they’re our debate opponents, our listening ears, our sanctuaries, our respites from boredom, ignorance, even grief. If printed books are indeed on the cusp of some new age, Open Letters Monthly now has one foot firmly planted on each side of the divide: our content changes every month (and every day) online, and now we offer you a printed book, a slim, pretty anthology to put on your actual physical library shelves.
You’ll take it down from those shelves too, often, because there’s a lot more here than some great poetry. There are lively, funny, quotable, definitive essays on such a menagerie of subjects that no reader will go away empty-handed. The poetry of John Donne, the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, the politics of George Eliot, the gossipy fiction of Fanny Burney, the pugnacity of Norman Mailer, the weird genius of The Last Samurai … all these things are gloriously illuminated for your reading pleasure. The navigation of Christopher Columbus, the desperation of treaty-making with Hitler, the endless fascination of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the verbal fisticuffs of the Founding Fathers … these thing and much more are given thorough, thought-provoking examinations.
And there’s one other intense point of light here: this anthology of necessity enshrines some beginnings, and those beginnings should compel your curiosity: Here is the first publication of the long-form multi-book fiction dissection that Sam Sacks already does better than any critic alive; here is the brooding, authoritative essay-voice of Adam Golaski still at the dawn of his career; here is the heartfelt but unsparing political commentary of Greg Waldmann seen before it becomes the scourge of the mighty; here is Phillip Lobo for the first time passionately demonstrating that we must make room for the new art form of video games; here, at last in print, is John Cotter writing about Anthony Burgess. The world of open letters in twenty years will know these names with a reflexive, ironclad regard – and that world will marvel that so many of them started here, together. Take it from me: assemblies like this don’t come along often in publishing.
We have no idea when the next Open Letters anthology will come along. Perhaps by the time it arrives, Sommer’s new age will have dawned, and we’ll no more consider printing and binding a paper volume than we would carving one in stone or scoring one onto vellum. Perhaps this will be the only such printed anthology that ever happens.
But in any case, it’s the first, and its supplies are limited. The thing’s clean, pretty design is the brainchild of Maureen Thorson, and the price is an everyman $12. I earnestly recommend you go here and order a copy. As I’m inclined to say here when my heart is leaping with a reader’s joy: you’ll be glad you did.