Despite the usual electronics-fuelled panic about the death of print, print is thriving – as can be seen by one of the surest indices of publishing vigor: non-academic reprints for the so-called common reader. 2012 was a very good year for such reprints, some of which (see #7, for instance) have a kind of financial impetus but most of which are born in committee meetings out of the passion of one or two individual advocates. Of course The New York Review of Books line of idiosyncratic reprints is the big attention-getter in this niche, but here are the year’s ten best ghosts of Christmas past:
10. Horace: A Life by Peter Levi – the studied erudition of this masterpiece is matched – as it must be, in all books about this particular author – by the book’s richly personal tone. It’s one man’s definitive answer to Horace, now given a new life in an attractive paperback from Tauris Parke Paperbacks.
9. The King James Bible with Gustav Dore illustrations –Barnes & Noble.
8. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes – in the twenty-five years since Rhodes wrote his big, fantastic book, the world’s relationship with atomic weapons has darkly complicated; the national arsenal-balance of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. has been replaced by a Wild West of potential apocalypses; Rhodes’ account of how it all started has ironically never been more relevant.
7. Killing Them Softly (Cogan’s Trade) by George Higgins – The paperback reprint of Cogan’s Trade, issued to coincide with a new movie starring Brad Pitt, is not Higgins’ best work (see: everything else he wrote) and of course not a good movie (see: Brad Pitt), but it’s still a much-needed introduction for modern readers to a master of contemporary fiction.
5. Windhaven by George R. R. Martin – Long before he struck epic-fantasy paydirt with his “Song of Fire and Ice” series, Martin (and co-writer Lisa Tuttle) crafted this moving story of a water-world where the heroic Pony Express between islands is composed of wing-harnessed flyers, led by a memorable heroine whose life we follow. Wonderful that this classic has finally seen print again.
4. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, reprinted by the Library of America – Out of all the centennial glut of John Carter reprints (customers spent more, it turns out, on John Carter books than they did on himbo Taylor Kitsch’s big-budget “John Carter” movie), this one is the best – the sturdiest, most graceful portal to exotic lost Barsoom.
3. Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
2. The Marsh Lions by Brian Jackman, Jonathan & Angie Scott
1. Tottel’s Miscellany, Songs and Sonnets –The inspired decision by Penguin Classics (who else?) to reprint this seminal bestseller from 500 years ago is probably the ultimate expression of humanism over profit (although college English courses may find it a godsend). Here – in its first popular edition in over a century – is the volume that launched English literature’s renaissance in 1557, featuring genre-igniting poetry by Thomas Wyatt, the Earl of Surrey, and other trailblazers, presented in an attractive black-spined Penguin paperback with a lively, inclusive Introduction and Notes by Amanda Holton.