Today, when giant mega-conglomeration is the rule in publishing (as in so much else), it’s heartening to find that some independent publishers still continue to foster the individual spirit in the face of the pressures of mass production.
One of these — perhaps one of the best — happens to be just around the corner from me: David R. Godine, Publisher, operating out of offices in Boston and Jaffrey, NH. I’ve been a fan of this house since my high school days, which is when I first began to order and pore over publishers’ catalogs. High standards of design and production have always been a Godine hallmark, and surely played a role in shaping my taste for beautiful books and my late-blooming interest in graphic design.
Godine started out in 1970 printing letterpress, limited-edition books in an old barn in Brookline, Massachusetts. Though that endeavor grew and expanded into a more conventional publishing house, it has remained idiosyncratic and individual in its vision. I can’t say it better than the Godine website:
The list is deliberately eclectic and features works that many other publishers can’t or won’t support, books that won’t necessarily become bestsellers but that still deserve publication. In a world of spin-offs and commercial ‘product,’ Godine’s list stands apart by offering original fiction and non-fiction of the highest rank, rediscovered
masterworks, translations of outstanding world literature, poetry, art, photography, and beautifully designed books for children.
The Godine books I have acquired over the years are well-loved favorites, including The Chronicles of Pantouflia, a lost classic by Andrew Lang, editor of the Rainbow Fairy Books; an exquisite illustrated edition of Anne of Green Gables; and The Alphabet Abcedarium by Richard Firmage, a fascinating history of the alphabet as well as a gorgeous gallery of typography. All of these are sadly out of print, but the current Godine list includes many new and rediscovered treasures that are well worth a look. They were kind enough to send me a couple of titles from their current children’s list, both of which which represent their dedication to publishing uncommon and one-of-a-kind works in beautiful, lasting editions.
One of these is The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, a nonsense tale from the Edwardian age, with exuberant, fantastical illustrations by W. Heath Robinson. As the oddly garbed Uncle searches for young Peter, who has been stolen away by a wicked Bag-bird, his adventures over land and sea, and even into outer space, are told with a deadpan humor that will tickle young children. Meanwhile, the ornate, detailed Art Nouveau illustrations with their masterfully sinuous lines can be pored over for hours. The playful interaction of text and images is part of the fun, and this edition painstakingly recreates the typesetting of the original.
A very different aesthetic is displayed by a thoroughly modern picture book, The Lonely Typewriter, written by Peter Ackerman and illustrated by Max Dalton. Poor Pablo has to write a paper on penguins, but the computer is broken. What will he do? His mom’s typewriter, that has been stashed in the attic for years, comes to the rescue! An alliterative text and quirky color-block pictures will capture the interest of young readers, and very possibly pique their interest in antiquated office machines.
I hope that I have piqued your interest as well, and that the next time you’re browsing in a bookstore or library you’ll look for that DRG calligraphy on the spine or title page. It’s a sure sign of quality.
Review copy source: Finished books from publisher