Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Bibliofilia: Overlook Press

Ironically, one of the few books that got me started collecting fantastical books is one that I haven't read yet. I'm talking about the hefty, lovely-looking Overlook Press' Gormenghast omnibus novel by Mervyn Peake, which I asked my father to order from The Book of the Month Club abroad when he was still a member.

(For those not in the know, Peake's story of a gigantic, sprawling castle and its denizens is as old as J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and is considered a landmark in the field of Fantasy. Sadly, Peake's masterpiece is not as popular as that tale of hobbits, wizards and magic rings.)

Alas, as I get older, I've realized that reading is also a process and certain books that you may not appreciate now may be one that you will value later on. Ergo, I am waiting when I could truly savor Peake's opus. You could say Peake is one of my reading Holy Grails.

However, not reading the book doesn't mean I don't appreciate what I have. Having been suitably impressed by Overlook Press' production values, I immediately snapped up Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion (another landmark, a telling of medieval Welsh mythology) when I saw it in the now-closed-down Aeon Bookstore in Katipunan. And it was this-- plus my finding Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia (an unknown classic in the created world fiction) in a dusty bookstall in the 2nd floor of the U.P. Shopping Centre-- that made me realize that I have upped the ante for my love of books.

Given that Overlook doesn't seem to be mainstream or as well-known publisher as its US counterparts here, they still come out with wonderful titles that interest my fantastical perspective. Currently, I also have the expansive Worlds Apart, the Russian SF/Fantasy anthology edited by Alexander Levitsky, as part of my developing Overlook library.

And there are others I'm pining for. For example, I've barely heard of John Cowper Powys but his masterpiece Porius (about a period in historical Wales with characters like Arthur and Merlin in the cast) looks like a must-have for a fantasist of the first order. Well-regarded American literary fantasist John Crowley has his convoluted Aegypt series (The Solitudes, Daemonomania, and Love & Sleep) available in Overlook with the last book Endless Things set for Spring 2007. Recently, there was also Robert Irwin's cult-classic surreal Arabian Nightmare (about an English spy in Cairo afflicted by the said title and meets the Father of Cats), which I saw a copy in Booksale Edsa Central last month. Lacking money, I wasn't able to buy it and lost my chance.

Quite a surreal serendipity in that, that my experience with Overlook being bookended by an unread book and a lost one.


Eldritch00 said...

You and I have pretty much the same exact experience with regard to the Overlook edition of Peake's trilogy. It's one of my "someday...someday..." books, too.

Another reason that Overlook Press interests me is how they've taken to publishing the fiction of Charles McCarry and Robert Littell, not just releasing new titles by these two American spy fiction writers but reissuing pretty much almost their entire body of work.

Anyway, just to end with two unrelated remarks:

Every time I think of Aeon Books, I feel sad. (This happens to when I encounter a phrase such as "strange eons" when reading Lovecraft for example.)

For obvious reasons, your mention of The Arabian Nightmare caught my eye. Reading the synopsis made me smile given how I'm currently reading London Revenant by Conrad Williams at the moment.

banzai cat said...

hey andrew, good to see you online man. How's life? :-)

actually, i have a number of books that's in the same category as peake, i.e. crowley's little, big, gene wolfe's urth. it's just that the peake is the oldest of the lot. time is also a big factor here in that i want to be doing absolutely NOTHING when i dive into it.

i agree with your assessment of overlook: like with the spy fictionists, the crowley aegypt series are also reissues though given that it's been some time he'd written the earlier books (and are now impossible to find), the reissues come in handy for completionist collector/reader. ;-)

on the matter of bookstores, unfortunately, I get a kind of chill given how I feel like the age of the independent bookstore has quickly come and go. look at aeon and ex libris in market2. and then there are the few booksales here and there that have been attritioned. weird enough, it does seem like the age of 2nd-hand bookselling-anywhere-you-like. (have you checked out bookay-bookay in maginhawa?)

oy, how's london revenant? did you get that in powerbooks?

Don said...

there's a new second hand book shop at SM Manila. I forgot the name though. And I think they're not exactly 'new'.

banzai cat said...

Really? It's not Chapters & Pages?

Don said...

Eh hinda ata. It has a catchy name eh pero i forgot.

banzai cat said...

Garr. Another bookshop to hunt down...

Eldritch00 said...

Life is great, BC, if rather hectic. (No more 4 to 6 novels read in a month for me, as I barely finish two!)

Funny how you mention Crowley and Wolfe:

My wife just bought me Novelties and Souvenirs; despite how many comments are made about Crowley being a better novelist, it was his short story "Snow" that I read ages ago, nearly moving me to tears, so I'm glad to have this collection.

As for Wolfe, I just read (and loved) The Book of the New Sun a few months ago and have also read every short story of his I own (around 13 scattered in several anthologies).

Incidentally, I've yet to read the Peter F. Hamiltons I bought from you aeons (hey!) ago.

And to include another "someday...someday..." book, there's also Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost, a thousand pages of fictionalized CIA history. My hardcover is literally too heavy for casual reading!

Sadly, I haven't checked out that Bookay place. How is it? I can no longer go splurging as often as I want, although I plan to do so at the Book Fair.

I started reading London Revenant at the beginning of the month and have just barely reached halfway. It's wonderful so far, lean enough to be reminiscent of, say, The Course of the Heart (especially given the seamless juxtaposition of fantasy and gritty urban realism). I've been a big fan of Williams since Use Once, Then Destroy.

Is that SM Manila shop called Buy-The-Book? How is it, Don?

Don said...

@sir andrew- haha. yes. Buy-the-Book! Well i saw some rather interesting titles and I bought a HC of Three Days to Never and a TPB of The Carpet Makers. I also saw a TPB of Iron Council.

Didn't have much time to look around tho.

Speaking of Wolfe, I saw a HC of Soldier of Sidon at NBS Cubao marked half off.


banzai cat said...

andrew: Haha good to hear. Though I sympathize with the slower pace of reading material. Ah, those were the days when we could breeze through x number of books a year. No wonder we get picky-grouchy when we get older.

WRT Crowley, I still haven't started with any of his books though I kinda feel my appreciation of his works will grow exponentially more as I grow older. So yes, I'm waiting for a little aging! (Ironically, I appreciate Gene Wolfe better at my current age than say 3 years ago.)

Bookay-ukay is a wonderful place because some finds are very rare indeed. Need a copy of the Necronomicon or the Malleus Maleficarum? Found it there (but didn't buy alas.) I did get my first and only copy of Adolpho Bioy Casares. A friend did say the only drawback is that the owners know their books (unlike Booksale) and know how to price them. Drat!

Alas, Conrad Williams' books here are still too costly for me so must wait until I get better pay or I win the lottery somewhere...

don: Heh yeah I've seen other Buy-the-Book branches around. Some goodies there but alas, I'm more circumspect of my book-buying nowadays.

Speaking of which, how is the Carpet-Makers?

Don said...

dunno haven't read it yet. the last book I read was, uh, something embarassing.

btw, am interested in that coopy of malleus maleficarum. pero baka wala na yan. haha.

and speaking of necronomicon, I recently bought the TPB commemorative edition. Man, its huge! And it has all the essential HPL stories. Its a bit hard to read tho. It has awesome illustrations by Les Edwards.

banzai cat said...

Eh? What was it?

And yes, the Malleficarum was gone and I suppose was the Necronomicon. Mind, the latter wasn't written by HPL but supposedly by the Mad Arab.