Feb 22 2013
All the gloomy talk about the supposed death of the publishing industry is overstated and spurious. Yep, e-books have upended the publishing paradigm and, true, far fewer people read books of any kind than watch TV and movies, surf the Internet, fulminate on Facebook and tweet-tweet on Twitter, or do all manner of things on their smartphones. That being said, there is no substitute for a well produced conventional book; that’s why a significant chunk of the book-buying public still likes acquiring them and prefers them to any electronic alternative. And a lot of these people own e-readers. Another thing about traditional books: they’re actually easily portable.
The poster child for the magnificently executed (and, all things considered, pretty reasonably priced) print-and-paper, physical book is the Norton Annotated Edition. Let’s say you want a dependable classic like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Wind in the Willows. Each of these is easily available in a number of varying inexpensive paperback editions. Buy one of these paperbacks and you’ll get a nice edition of the original text with some additional notes and, almost always, a newly commissioned foreword tossed in. Maybe there’ll even be a few illustrations, original drawings, what have you. Your average cost’s going to run about, say, $12 to $16. Not bad. Double that amount, though, and you’ll score a keeper: a permanent hardbound addition to your library, one that you can pass down to your children, nieces, nephews, good friends — anyone you love who’ll appreciate a book that will weigh more in every sense than a simple paperback. A little extra money was never better spent.
Norton Annotateds are oversized, deluxe hardcovers; most of them are priced at $39.95. Pick one up and leaf through it and you’ll be surprised the price is this low. These books are beautiful and meant to keep over a lifetime. Each is copiously illustrated and impeccably designed, but it’s the annotations that really seal the deal. As we said, you can read a classic anywhere in any old format, but when you go with a Norton Annotated Edition, you get all the power of the original text amplified by an exhaustive, illuminating battery of auxiliary commentary compiled by scholars who specialize in the source material. These people have devoted their lives to learning everything there is to learn — and uncovering even more — about a particular author and his or her most famous book. Thus, when I picked up my Norton copy of The Wind in the Willows, within the first few pages alone I learned so much more about that ageless novel than I did by reading the (perfectly serviceable) Penguin Classics edition of it I originally bought a few years ago. The entire reading experience was enriched a hundredfold. And then there are those illustrations and photographs, all top-drawer. Enough of my persuasions. The books themselves do the best talking.