|Jan/Feb 2004 Book Reviews|
In a place called Orchard Park, New York, a publisher named Don LePan has for the past several years worked to produce the most excellent, professional, readable and affordable copies of both classic books and overlooked gems of historic and literary importance in paperback from his Broadview Press, and its titles are slowly growing. You may not have heard of it; I did just because I'm lucky. Broadview's money goes to creating a quality inventory, not to retailing its titles all over the place and advertising them: I have not once seen a copy of a Broadview title in a non-textbook bookstore, or on Amazon. Yet slowly and quietly, this press, with its always beautiful and evocative covers and top-grade paper and print has become, in my considered opinion, the finest publishing company of its kind (or most others' kinds) in North America.
While considered an "academic" press, mainly because of the difficult and/or arcane nature of its list, I've come to consider Broadview as more than this; where its titles overlap with such mass-market large publishers as, say, Oxford Classics Paperbacks, the Broadviews are in every way superior and more readable. To name just five titles of this sort: Hard Times (Dickens), Jude the Obscure (Hardy), Persuasion (Austen), Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights overlap as "textbooks" and books the educated reader enjoys, the stuff of which movies are made. These (like all of Broadview's titles) are aesthetically second to none, are bound to avoid spine creases (which make pages fall out), and come with beautiful, glossy, artsy bookmarks. For the same price or (usually) less than the same classic titles from another press.
Now, take a book like Joseph Conrad's Nostromo (1904). According to many, it's his masterpiece, but Oxford doesn't even carry it. And Amazon doesn't offer the Broadview, as of the last time I looked (October 30), or they keep it hidden! But it's the best edition out there by default, this time, and yet fully up to the standards of the others on all counts, providing informative appendices at the back such as Norton does; but, unlike Norton, the notes and supplementary material does not insult the reader's intelligence, or take up half the space of the text.
Next, there are books that were once very popular but which now only have cult followings: the work of Wilkie Collins, for example (The Moonstone) and I could go on. I love this stuff. As a child I read these old books in my maternal grandparents' substantial library by the fire, but now they're dead and the house is sold and the books? Who knows? They'd run you about a million each in a Z-shop. Wish I had 'em. But, as a matter of fact, I do—from Broadview (and Mr. LePan, please put out R.L. Stevenson's Master of Ballantrae)!
And finally, okay, we have the truly arcane titles. Historical documents and gender race & class stuff. And these titles are so well presented they even tempt non-academics! I've seen it happen. Oh, and also the truly fun—right now, for Halloween, I'm reading Zofloya, a Gothic page-turner by Charlotte Dacre (1806), a cheesy and hilarious tale of a medieval Italian Noblewoman Nymphomaniac Sadist who takes up with (of course) a "Moor." More entertaining than Ann Rule, haha.
But there's more—while I've focused primarily on the "Literary" titles (well, the novels), Broadview also has a small but growing line of rare drama, history, political science, environmental studies, anthropology and anthologies. It's all listed with their contact information on their website—information I provide here, lest you might be unable to find them!
And while this is the first time I've ever done a review of a whole series of books, hey, I'm glad to do it in this forum. In fact, I think I'll review a "forgotten" title from them once every so often as if it were new, which in a way, it is—I'll start with Collins' Blind Love (just out; I've never read it). They just have to send me a review copy!
This magazine is called Eclectica, and Broadview is about as "eclectic" as it gets. If you teach, order their titles. If you're just a reader, still order their titles. May Broadview stay on the path suggested by their aptly chosen name, grow, and prosper.