The Folio Society: Celebrating Literature

I have never understood why we readers treat literature so poorly.

We confine our classics to cheap paperbacks, five-dollar hard copies, bulk versions, and we throw them in bargain bins alongside fake biographies of yesterday’s celebrities.

Worse, sometimes we even add zombies to them…

Why aren’t readers more shocked by this treatment? These are our Rembrandts, our Van Goghs, our Monets. Basically, the classic books are what makes literature art, and yet we treat them so utterly, utterly horribly. Its like we take them for granted; we even dare write in their margins and use highlighters on them! (Okay, I did that too in college, but you get where I am going with this.)

Yes, I understand the argument that these cheaper editions of classics make them more accessible to the everyday reader, but when they are the only versions available at the bookstore, it becomes kind of a moot argument. In a way, we are all forced down the cheap road.

I remember, after reading Middlemarch by George Elliot for the first time, I wanted a nice hardcover edition of it. I wanted to display it proudly at the top of my bookshelf with my other favorites. But after weeks of looking at stores all I could find was a collection hardcover, with a bad illustration of the author on the cover that I am certain was drawn by a teenage family member of one of the editors of the edition. (No true painter would want to take credit for that.) Yes, I am sad to admit that I did buy the book, but I am still bitter about it today, as you can see.

Books are important to me, and in my house we have numerous different bookshelves, each with their own importance and order to them. There are books on each I am happy to own, but my special books are all in one perfect location; visually for me the center of the room.

From my signed-first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebird and signed Ray Bradbury to my gold-plated 50th Anniversary edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with all of the author’s illustrations to my nine Oxford hardcover editions of Charles Dickens classics… These books are my treasures, and I showcase them like others would art… Correct that, they are art.

Oh, wait, was I bragging there about my signed-first edition Vonnegut?… I didn’t even notice… And I didn’t even get to my Twain and Austen collection!

Recently,  I argued that we writers on our blogs should do more to celebrate great writers (you can see that piece here). I still firmly believe that. We don’t do enough today to put these creators and works of art on their pedestal. (Sometimes I get the feeling that the masses would rather wait for the movie or mini-series version.) So as you can probably imagine, I was pretty moved and inspired when I discovered The Folio Society for the first time.

The Folio Society is a British publishing house that specializing in creating beautifully illustrated books. Actually, to say beautiful, doesn’t do it justice. They celebrate literature the way literature ought to be celebrated. Since 1947 The Folio Society has been honoring the artform that too many of us take for granted. Seriously, we should all be put to shame in comparison.

Their books remind me of… Okay, you know how when you watch a TV show with a rich tycoon or lord of a manor (Downton Abbey, for example) they always have a personal library; and that personal library is filled with walls and walls of bookshelves? No, there are no paperbacks there, but beautiful hardcovers lining each inch available. Well, The Folio Society makes the books that should be on those walls.

I was honored to receive a copy of the Folio Society’s The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (with an introduction by the brilliant biographer/actor Simon Callow). And while I would love to drown you in adjectives around the copy, all I want to express is that this is exactly how books should feel; this is simply just right, from the weight to the font to even the smell of the paper (yes, I smelled it). Frankly, this has become the gold standard I will be holding all future books I buy up to.

The Folio Society’s website has become kind of an addiction for me. I admit it. I might have to seek help.

I go to the website every few hours and drool over the books and editions they have there. And in each visit I find something new, for the serious to the more pop reader. For example:

Sorry, I’ve got to go there now… I need my fix. Just a second.

Granted, these books are not for the everyday reader or the college student on a budget, and I can’t imagine really sitting down and reading one of these copies casually at a restaurant (something could spill!), but for a lover of literature, a collector, these can almost make you weep. And shouldn’t art, frankly, cost a little more, be a little more special?

What I think is the most moving about The Folio Society is that at its core, it shows that we lovers of literature are not alone, and someone in publishing gets us.

Truly gets us.

They are only a click on the website away.

…Now, if I can just convince The Folio Society to check out a Southard book then all will be right with the world.

If you liked reading the editorial, why not check out some of my published books? I had two novels published in the last few years, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here.  Thanks for reading!

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10 responses

  1. Wonderful post, Scott! I am also a fan of The Folio Society. They understand books and the beauty of them in a way that no other company today does, to my understanding. They come at a cost, surely, but any true book enthusiast would agree that the price is well worth it.

  2. Excellent post! And I fully agree with your opening paragraphs! It is odd that we tend not to respect the classics in the same way we would other forms of art.

    I’ve not joined the Folio Society yet, but have been able to pick up a few of their books at book festivals, and the quality of the volumes is astounding. Certainly considering joining now!

  3. Have just read your post, thanks to link from the Folio Society Couldn’t agree with you more about today’s attitude to books – buy one for the journey and chuck it in the bin when you’ve finished it. As to the FS itself, well my father was a member and I just followed his footsteps – and you are so right, they become an addiction. Every time I buy one, my wife sighs when I explain that they are more than worth the price when you compare them with a (dreaded word) paperbacks, and then I add, don’t they just look so beautiful on our shelves?

  4. Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:

    An extended version of this editorial (yes, writers can do director’s cuts of their articles) has been published on The Folio Society’s website. I’m really proud to be on the site and I hope you will consider checking it out (and buy a book while there, they are lovely). Here is the link: http://www.foliosociety.com/member_stories/the-folio-society-celebrating-literature/

  5. Pingback: My Time Lost in Books… | The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard

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