For some, like Nagasawa in Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, the only books worth reading are those that stand the test of time (in Nagasawa’s case, he refuses to touch a book unless the author has been dead at least 30 years). Thankfully, publishers have taken note and, over the past few years, have been releasing some eye-wateringly beautiful collections from the greats. Here are but a few for the lover of literary classics in your life.
As the senior designer at Penguin Books, Coralie Bickford-Smith’s covers have graced many a bookshelf over the years. But it’s her elegant clothbound series of classics such as Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Charles Dickens's Great Expectations that really got the blogosphere and booklovers talking. What’s great about the series is not only the textured cloth covers, but also how each book’s motif conveys something of the story, whilst clearly belonging to the wider set (for the design of Jane Eyre, for example, Bickford-Smith incorporated a leaf pattern to reference the lightening-blasted chestnut tree of the novel).
It’s impossible to truly appreciate how great these books are until you've run your fingers over them, but if you can try and picture a gloriously embroidered book, with raised stitching, sewn lettering and French flaps, you’re halfway there. The three books in this series – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Black Beauty by Anne Sewell and Emma by Jane Austen – were hand-stitched and designed by illustrator Jillian Tamaki (check out this blog post for a better look at the process). Tactile and textured, they’re like nothing else out there.
And now, something for a class of those who like even their classics to be classically and classily done (and no, we’re not above a bit of wordplay). The Everyman’s Library have a huge backlist of virtually every author you could hope for: Joyce, Borges, Waugh and Woolf, each with cloth bindings and jackets, ribbon bookmarks, and introductions by leading scholars and writers. The Jeeves of the classics world.
These Sterling leatherbound classics have got something of the old world about them, with their ridged spines, curling fonts, ribbons and gilt edges. While they come as individual books – Pride and Prejudice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – there are also some great collections for those who prefer to have the entire oeuvre, including The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Seven Novels by Jules Verne and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Other Stories.
More on the side of the modern classic, these rainbow-hued books were released by Vintage to celebrate their 21st birthday. The bright colours and matching sprayed edges really do make the series stand out on the shelf, especially if you buy a few (or even the whole lot!) for a classic lover. Just some of the excellent titles available include Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Anne Enright’s The Gathering and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Plus they're only $12.95.
And finally, continuing the move into more ‘modern’ classical territory are the Penguin Deluxe Editions. A variety of illustrators and designers have been commissioned to work on these, which means the covers have a strong, energetic graphic feel. Sure highlights include Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Voltaire’s Candide for their clever, brash panels. A unique take on classical literature.
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Jessica Au is from Readings St Kilda and is the author of Cargo.