February 22, 2011
My Tax-Time Present To Myself…
I have always, always wanted to join the Folio Society. I remember being maybe 14, 15 and hoarding one of their little fliers (which came, I think, in a larger batch of junk mail) in the back of my diary for months, years, planning and underlining and circling my future purchases. Then there was some talk a while ago about splitting a membership with a friend or two, both of us buying a few books to make up our obligation without breaking the bank. But it never happened.
In more recent years I have visited their website a couple of times a year, always telling myself “I’ll join when they publish that thing; that shady, unknown future thing that I absolutely have to have. I’ll know it when I see it. That’s what I’ll join.”
That day has finally come. I signed up this weekend, and this is why:
The other thing I’ve always, always wanted is a full set of all of Andrew Lang’s coloured Fairy Books. I lived and breathed these books when I was a child (it’s amazing the violence and misogyny didn’t scramble my brains, but this is a testament to a child’s ability to get exactly what they want out of a story and discard the rest) and thought as a young adult they would be the simplest things to collect; not so. The original Coloured Fairy Books are extremely expensive to come by despite being fairly common (as far as collectible Victorian books go) – the first volume, the Blue Fairy Book, might run as high as $10,000 and subsequent books are still going to cost in the $2000-$4000 range.
Subsequent editions aren’t very pretty. Hardcover “library editions” were reprinted all through the 20th century but without the lovely gilt covers or, really, anything else to recommend them. Currently, you can buy the whole series from Dover Publications for like $15 a pop – which I did – but they’re exactly as ugly as you would expect a Dover edition to be (sorry, Dover).
The new Folio Society editions, on the other hand, are beautiful. As with all Folio editions, these are well made, beautifully printed books bound in hardcover with decorative bindings and a slipcase apiece. For this series Folio has also commissioned a different contemporary artist to illustrate each volume. If I had any hesitation it was obliterated when I saw that the first volume, the Blue Fairy Book, was illustrated by Vancouver artist (and bookmaker) Charles van Sandwyk. The five artists so far lined up to illustrate the Red, Yellow, Green, Violet & Brown books are no slouches either. I’m mad with anticipation to see who they get when (hopefully not if) they do the rest of the series.
My husband was slightly more skeptical then me – “So this is like Columbia House for books” he guessed. I got my back up a bit over that. Yes, it’s a book club that requires certain obligations of the member (in this case, buying 4 full-priced books over a period of time). But they aren’t out to scam you, and the product is very high quality. Further, though copies turn up in used and rare book stores fairly frequently, joining is the only way to really guarantee you’ll get these exclusive editions. (And I should note some Folio Society books turn up more frequently in bookstores than others – it is certainly the case that there are some books which are more rare than others.) They also publish books that are unavailable in any other edition – a quick glance notes Count Belisarius by Robert Graves, The Complete Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl and Robert Lewis Stevenson’s The Isle of Voices and Other Stories.
And don’t get me started on the limited editions! Right now I’m just pleased as punch that I’m a member and can, for one year at least, buy lovely books at my leisure. Next on my schedule is their illustrated Possession by A.S. Byatt to replace my hideous movie tie-in copy. I can happily spend the rest of my year browsing the website and making wish-lists. Happy tax-time to me!