Friday, February 16, 2007

Book design and other crimes against literature

In preparation for the summer publication of Krishna Winston's translation of Peter Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, I have begun to re-read My Year in the No-man's Bay.
There was one time in my life when I experienced metamorphosis. Up to that point it had been only a word to me, and when it began, not gradually, but abruptly, I thought at first it meant the end of me. It seemed to be a death sentence. Suddenly the place where I had been was occupied not be a human being but by some kind of scum, for which, unlike in the well-known grotesque take from old Prague, not even an escape into image, however terrifying, was possible.
The first and only time I read this was in its year of publication: 1998. It was slow going. Once the stirring opening pages were over - and they are extraordinary even for Handke - it became very difficult to concentrate. While even the most patient reader had to work hard to complete the book, I wonder how much this is due to its design. The German edition I examined years before the translation appeared is a small brick of 1066 pages. FSG's edition is crammed into 468 pages, averaging 450 words per page. One strains to read rather than scan the sentences. The latest novel is said to be even longer and FSG's coming edition is listed as 480 pages. One wonders had Handke written the kind of smug, falsifying novel over which the critics tend to wet themselves, it would be treated to a more readable edition.

What other authors have been let down by book design?

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