"Reader's Copy" of the "Author's Preferred Edition" of
'American Gods' that comes with the Limited Edition from
Hill House. Click Image for full-size version.
I'm in it
now, big-time. It's no surprise I find myself in this situation.
It was almost twenty years ago when I bought my first
limited edition reprint of a book then available as a paperback.
That was the Scream/Press edition of Clive Barker's 'Books of
Blood', and it's still one of my favorite books. But when I use
the phrase "favorite
books", like that, I'm not saying what is usually meant by
that phrase. Because, when somebody says, "Oh, that's one
of my favorite books!", the book in question could actually
be any version of the book in question. "Favorite books" usually
refers only to the content of the book; the words on the printed
page, not the pages themselves and the covers that contain them.
That's certainly the way it should be. Books are a mental construct,
which is why they're so much more powerful than other forms of
entertainment. They require and reward the efforts of the reader.
As you read a book, you build something in a very special part
of your brain, of your self, brick by brick, word by word. Nothing
can compare with that experience, and nothing should be compared
with that experience.
But if you're that enamored of the act of reading, then the vehicle
via which you read starts to take on some importance. It's
like a house for your reading experience. Sure, you could live
in any house; a couple chairs, a sofa, a kitchen, a bathroom and
a bed -- you're good to go. But to live in a luxurious house is
so much nicer. To live amidst sumptuous excess is, if you can handle
the guilt, a wonderful way to live. Like it or not, it makes life
you see is what you get -- if you you're quick. Hill House
may be out of the Christmas Pamphlet (right) by press time.
Well, the flowers aren't included either.
In much the
same way, a deluxe or limited edition of a book can make the
nicer. So when I say that the Scream/Press
edition of 'The Books of Blood" is one of my favorite books,
I mean not just the contents, but the presentation as well --
the actual physicality of the book itself.
Publishers have seized on this for ages, and in this age of high-pressure
marketing, readers can spend enough money to purchase several real
houses on castles for their minds. But all too often, there's not
a lot to the so-called limited edition of a book. It can prove
to be no more than the trade edition -- what you'd pick up at the
bookstore -- with an extra page pasted in which the author has
signed. For this privilege, the publishers will often want a premium
price that reader will pay, on the idea that a book is collectible.
God box. Always wanted one of these.
I'm not going to address collectibles here. I want to talk about
book-objects, in particular some of the most magnificent book-objects
I've had the fortune to happen upon in quite some time. I wrote
a news column about my discovery of the beautiful limited editions
of Neal Stephenson's 'Baroque' trilogy. Stephenson's work has never
been done up in deliberately limited editions before and I was
shocked at the amazing quality of what was offered by HarperCollins.
HarperCollins? Yes, they had actually released upon initial publication,
a 5,000 copy signed edition of 'American Gods', which was precisely
what I describe above; the trade edition with an extra page pasted
in, but at no extra cost to the reader, a welcome delight.
But the Stephenson limited edition was every bit as beautifully
Baroque as the material within. It was clearly not the work of
a major publishing house, at least not completely. A little detective
work scared up the goods; HarperCollins had passed the limited
edition work on to Hill
House Publishers, a small-press, limited edition publisher
I'd never heard about before. A little more detective work scared
up their home page, where the real shock and awe set in. Because
what Hill House had done for the physicality of the Stephenson
books, they've done for both the physical presentation and the
content of just about every Neil Gaiman book out there, starting
with 'American Gods'.
Hill House American Gods LImiteed edition book. Click image
to see full-size version.
Yes, you heard me right, Neil Gaiman's books. Content and presentation.
Not kicked up a notch. Launched into the American God-Damned stratosphere.
I'm going to give my readers a few minutes to gather their credit
cards. Credit cards were made for this sort of thing.
Got 'em? Cozy? Ok, settle back while I peel away the layers of
care, creativity and craft that make the Hill House Neil Gaiman
subscription a must buy for readers of all stripes and all income
Let's start with the obvious; the physical book. If there were
only the book itself, and nothing else but the book, you'd have
to buy it. Do you have your Demco white gloves on? Good. Once again,
Hill House sends the book in a cardboard box to protect the slipcase.
If this sounds like overkill, then you haven't opened the cardboard
box yet. Once you do, you'll find a gorgeous Japanese purple silk
slipcase. The color itself is the color of the sky somewhere just
south of sunset. There's a window cut into the slipcase to show
the print set in the cover of the book itself. And over that window
is a plastic pane. The spine of the book is intricately designed.
The slipcase includes a silk pull-ribbon, so that you can extract
the book from the case. You'll need it, because the book fits quite
snugly. Make sure that when you put the book back, you put it in
so you can use the pull-ribbon. Make sure that it's wrapped around
the book, or else you may pull the ribbon from the inside of the
slipcase when next you try to extract the book.
click for full-size.
The book itself is also bound in purple Japanese silk with
a lovely lightning bolt print set in the cover. Inside, look
format -- 7" by 10" and a two-color text printing
process that renders chapter titles and other interstitial
purple, with the bulk of the text in a nice deep black. The
pages are evenly cut. The sunset purple coloring is carried
on in the
interior, for each of the part of the novel. What you have
here is nothing less than another gloriously designed work
Nothing less -- but quite a bit more.
In all the important ways.
The Hill House edition of 'American Gods' is not only a physically
beautiful book. It contains over 12,000 words -- about 40 pages
-- cut from the original novel for space considerations. We've
heard a bit about this recently vis a vis Peter Watts' novel, but
apparently it applies to bestselling writers as well. One wonders
if there's a sliding scale for number of words versus sales in
the tripartite world of today's major publishers.
Christmas Pamphlet for American Gods, an example of the
extras. Click image for full-size view.
But that's beside the point because there are no rules as far as
Hill House goes. The book's the thing. And the book is more than
a single thing.
One of the great posers of reading your beautiful editions is the
problem of Salsa Splatter. That is, you might relish reading your
book while eating in a Mexican restaurant or even at home, but
the very beauty that makes these books such a pleasure makes them
a hazard to read in the great, wide world. For that, Hill House
goes to an unprecedented length by supplying a very nice trade
paperback copy of the extended, expanded work you're reading in
your treasured hardcover. This is clearly a case of eating your
book and having it to. I've never in my many years of reading and
buying books seen a publisher go to this length to ensure reading
satisfaction. It clearly must be rewarded!
OK, put down your credit card. I'm *still* not done. Hill
House Publications are sort of like Christmas presents. Yes,
the main attraction, but the extras are well worth your attention.
For example, if you bought your limited Stephenson from the
publisher direct, you get a poster written in "Real Character" which,
if you can translate it, will give you instructions for claiming
a prize. The whole process is every bit as arcane as the
books themselves. Seems pretty fitting to me.
And if you buy the Gaiman, you get the book itself, the reading
copy and an additional story -- they call it a Christmas Booklet.
It's like finding a Walkman in your stocking. Here you get a parchment
setting of an interstitial story that was to appear in the novel,
but Neil himself decided not to use it. What more could you ask
than to have one of Neil's beautiful fables printed on vellum?
Well, you could start with a request that the publisher ship it
in such a way that it arrives unbent -- and they do.
This package has been living on my living room / dining room
display table for over a week now. It took me a while, frankly,
come down off my slack-jawed drooling high and even begin
to sound coherent about it. And I realize that this is not the
piece of critcism I've ever written.
That's the point.
This is book lust, the love of books as physical objects. There
are others out there, but right now for a match of form and content,
nobody is even in the same universe as Hill House. Now remember
-- this is the first of a series of Gaiman limiteds. Coming next
is 'Neverwhere'. While I can claim to have read the BBC trade paperback,
I didn't read the US version, which seemed markedly shorter. And
even the BBC version had some inexplicable jump-cuts. So getting
the restored, put-together version of this novel seems just as
important as getting the whole version of 'American Gods'. And
when it comes in a package as delectable as this, that *in itself*
is reason enough to buy it.
page from the story itself, click for full-size image.
But wait -- there's more. This is just the first of a series of Gaiman
re-issues. Hill House is planning this treat for 'American Gods', 'Neverwhere',
'Stardust', 'Smoke and Mirrors', and 'Coraline'. Their website will give the
details of what they call 'The
Neil Gaiman Subscription'. Each of the books will
be what they call "the author's preferred edition", which simply put means more words. But
Gaiaman has also edited and massaged the current content so expect, not only longer versions,
but better versions.
Buying as a subscription gets you not onoly goodies like the "Christmas Pamphlet",
it also gets you a screenplay which we've never seen. It's all simply mind-boggling
in a physical book sense.
Now look, I know: $200.00 seems like a lot of money. But really,
it's not. Not when you're getting something that is this
beautiful and has as much resonance as this. I mean, I just paid
a pair of damned shoes. Who cares about shoes? Surely not
I, not when there are books like this to be had. In point of
probably more leather in a some of the leather-bound books
out there than there is in my damn shoes, which are already falling
Life offers few chances for us to design perfect moments, slices
of time set aside for an activity that is god-damned guaranteed
to be rewarding on all levels -- visceral, mental, sentimental.
But limited editions such as these allow ardent readers to set
down a stake in time, when all aspects of reading -- the presentation,
the content, the extras -- are there, ready to assemble themselves
in the minds of the reader into something more than life, more
Who needs shoes anyway? I'm staying home to read.