The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 6

(6th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

It was just one of those things,
Just one of those crazy flings,
One of those bells that now and then rings,
Just one of those things.

When I saw it on the library shelf, tucked modestly among those pretentious editions, its confident, sophisticated restraint was alluring. Sized like a trade paperback (4.75" x 7" x 1.125"), but with slightly supple boards, it nestled in my hand like a prayerbook. It opened coolly, exposing smooth, light-cream paper and a classically tailored, sewn binding. One look at its typeface and I was smitten. This edition had a font that felt warm and generous, unlike the self-conscious, condensed fonts of its "hipper" rivals. These letterforms were soft, open, ... zaftig! I was on the threshold to the magical world of sensual delights that most men dare not dream of. I brought it to my place to get better acquainted.

It was just one of those nights,
Just one of those fabulous flights,
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings,
Just one of those things.

It came to this country in 1995 from the small German publisher, Könemann (since acquired by publishing powerhouse Tandem Verlag). My head was spinning. This book defied the laws of physics—630 pages, with less-than-average show-through, weighing a mere 17.5 ounces. No illustrations or extraneous commentary. ...and that irresistible typeface! I couldn't take my eyes off of it. (See the Typeface Tally post.)

Visions danced in my head, of enchanted January nights together in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Could this be the one?

So what if it didn't have a table of contents—the Etymology and Extracts were there! It was charmingly continental in the way it marked a footnote with a cute dingbat () in the margin, and gathered the actual footnotes at the end of the book. And if the editors mixed their own notes in with Melville's originals, I could learn to live with that, I told myself.

If we’d thought a bit, of the end of it
When we started painting the town,
We’d have been aware that our love affair
Was too hot, not to cool down.

Then I happened to notice that Cetology is headed "Chapter XXXIIC". (An endearing quirk!) And hey, what was that extra paragraph break on the first page of The Spirit Spout? (Geez, that foreign accent is getting on my nerves.) And why are there no chapter-title headings on any of the pages? (I'm starting to miss that table of contents.)

One idle evening I innocently glanced at the section A Note on the Text in my comprehensive first love, the Penguin paperback, and my heart began to break.

Recall that in 1988, seven years before my German beauty was born, Hayford, Parker, and Tanselle published the now-standard "Northwestern-Newberry Edition" of The Writings of Herman Melville. Their work (summarized here by Library of America) corrected hundreds of errors and variations in the accepted text(s). My Penguin's "Notes" listed many of these corrections. After checking a few in the Könemann edition I knew my fling was flung. Clearly meine Liebchen had never even seen the corrections of Hayford and Parker's 1967 "Norton Critical Edition," much less the Northwestern-Newberry!

Picture yourself at the Whaling Museum's podium reciting "...and the knot slamming against the wall...," or "...all four boats were diagonically in the whale's immediate wake...;" or referring to Queequeg's island of "Rokovoko"—just a few of Könemann's coy requests.

I had to break it off. (Can you blame me?)

I escorted my seductress back to the library; the less said the better in these situations. The comely volume slipped silently into the "Returns" slot, and out of my life.

So beware—don't let this Könemann make a fool of you, too. Somewhere out there is an edition with beauty and brains.

So good-bye, dear, and amen.
Here’s hoping we meet now and then.
It was great fun but it was
just one of those things.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful post! It reminds me of film noir, Tom Waits, and of course Cole Porter.