Judging Books by their Covers (Round Two)

Can’t be arsed to read? DUNCAN STIBBARD HAWKES returns to tell you which Classics look best.

Books Christmas Classics Covers Dickens Homer Materials Oddysey Peace Pullman Tolstoy War

Classics are two a penny these days. No, three a penny. If you know where to look, you can get the complete works of Jane Austin for under a pound and, if you’re handy with a lockpick, the folio society Trollope collection is available for free from 13 St Edmund’s Terrace, Leamington Spa. Just mind the dog. ‘Surely, it’s a good thing’, you may be thinking, ‘that the masses can finally get hold of Wordsworth, Sartre and Proust’. But while the pearly kings and queens faff awkwardly through Plato’s republic, and the grimy proles leave grubby hand prints on the venerated pages of Tolstoy, we should all be lamenting the passing of the original raison d’etre of Classic Literature- as a bloody-minded mark of social distinction!

Have no fear though, for while publishers like penguin may practically be giving standard editions of the greats away, a new brand of classic hardback, the luxury edition, is available for those of discerning individuals amongst us who know that books furnish a room better than they furnish a mind. The Tab has taken the liberty of reviewing some of these because, like you, we know the importance of judging a book by its front cover!

The Odyssey

Homer [Possibly]

Penguin Classics

What has to be one of if not the most famous work of Greek literature, Homer’s quaint tale about a man desperately trying to get home before someone fucks his wife practically defines the term ‘Classic’. This breezy nautical romp has been published in more languages than you can count, more editions than this reviewer can be bothered to look up and is directly responsible for Joyce’s equally tiring Irish literary wankfest, Ulysses. One of the nicest editions available in your local chain bookmonger today is the Waterstones exclusive penguin hardback which features a tasteful blue duotone and a repeating pattern of waves in fitting with the preponderance of marine themes in the book itself. Simple, stylish, straightforward and not at all farfetched, this edition of The Odyssey is everything that the text inside isn’t!

Four Stars

A Christmas Carroll

Charles Dickens

Vintage Paperback

The undead, it seems, are the new ‘in-thing’, and while yours truly was happier with the more innocent wizard and pirate fads of the last decade, the success of the Twilight series is undeniable. Wherever you turn, pictures of anaemic teenage vampires glower from under their fuzzy eyebrows and, equally anaemic, nay, positively anorexic young nubiles swoon and dream about draping themselves round the emaciated necks of those parasitic casanovas. Part of the success of Meyer’s bestselling series is, I’m sure, down to their front covers which follow an elegant formula of a black background with a piece of vaguely red coloured organic matter pictured in the centre. If this is your kind of motif, then Vintage has just the thing to add to your collection. Their very twilight-esque Christmas Carol features a black matt finish, some red holly and a couple of tastefully gothic looking humbugs (geddit?). Marley may not have been as sexy as Edward but at least he was dead.

Three Stars

His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman

Folio Society Edition

Folio Society Books are certainly expensive. They’re made in limited quantities and sold at hefty premiums to paying members of the society, read; effete toffs with more money that sense. The cost of this luxury may certainly put a few of you off- folio society books are certainly not marketed at those strapped for cash. If, however, you’re like me, you’d probably murder your own brother to get hold of them. While it may not technically be a ‘classic’ yet, the sheer class of folio’s edition of Philip Pullman’s controversial trilogy would make it worth garrotting the whole brood. Sleek, black, boxed, with each book featuring a black and gold whole-cover illustration, there’s never been a more stylish way to annoy right wing Christian radicals. Guaranteed 100% Nicole Kidman free.

Five Stars

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Vintage Hardback

If you’re going to embark upon a book that’s been described as ‘vast as Russia itself’, you going to want three things- A) A lot of spare time, B) A good translation and C) A front cover that you’re not going to get sick of. If you can find time, then the Volokhonsky and Pevear Vintage hardback edition of Tolstoy’s magnum opus has you covered for everything else. Their fabric bound hardcover stresses simplicity with ‘War and Peace’ in English in white over ‘War and Peace’ in Russian in red over a grey background. Certainly, it’s no folio society edition, but at only £10, this is probably one of the nicest looking books you can afford. I can honestly report that the durable cover will stand up to the stresses of extreme cold, hitchhiking, being used as a computer stand, spillages and use as an offensive weapon. Sadly, I cannot yet say how well it endures being read to the end.

Four and a half Stars

To see Duncan’s previous round-up of books to furnish your room rather than your mind click here.