March 23, 2008

If CCLaP laid out a new classic book, which would you rather see?

Okay, somebody smack me if I've got my thinking wrong on all this; but my understanding is that if a book is to be found at the nonprofit organization Project Gutenberg, it means it has passed into the public domain, which means that I too could publish a copy of the manuscript at the CCLaP site just like Gutenberg does, as long as I don't charge money to people to download it. And I love laying out books in new and interesting ways, as longtime followers of my projects know, and especially want to start getting my design chops up again now that CCLaP's publishing program is finally about to start later this year; so I've been thinking, actually, about laying out one of the upcoming "classic" novels from the CCLaP 100 series in a new format, done in three different styles of PDFs (one for American laserprinters, one for European, and one for Sony Readers), as well as PDB for Palms and LIT for PocketPC/Windows Mobile, complete with a cool new contemporary cover using Creative Commons images found at Flickr, then putting all the files up here at the site for free public download long before I actually review the book itself. That way the project will hopefully do a number of things at once: promote the CCLaP 100 series, convince more of you to read one of the more obscure titles from the series, generate some publicity for CCLaP because of the "new edition," and more.

Ah, but which book to do a new layout of? It seems to me kind of beside the point to do one that is already famous; for a book like Bram Stoker's Dracula, for example, there are already plenty of options that exist as far as getting your hands on the manuscript, laid out in a modern way using modern typefaces so that it's not too difficult to actually get through the story. Of course, I don't want it to be too long or tricky a manuscript either, and ideally it should contain modern-enough language that I can sometimes perform a few design "tricks" on it too; all these criteria, then, have basically led me to two of the 15 books next coming up in the CCLaP 100 reading list...

The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The first is 1852's The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose proto-gothic thriller House of the Seven Gables has already been reviewed as part of this essay series (and who is much more famous anyway for his Puritan melodrama The Scarlet Letter). This is a now-little-known novel that I came across while doing research on Hawthorne for Seven Gables; what immediately attracted me to it is that it's purportedly a bitter dark comedy about the hippiesque antics of a group of mid-1800s Transcendentalists, who try setting up a utopian agricultural-based commune just to watch it all fall apart because of bitter infighting. And what's more, it's supposedly based on Hawthorne's real experiences hanging out with such proto-hippie mid-1800s Transcendentalists as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who really did try to set up a rural utopian society back then like the one described in this book, which Hawthorne really did buy into for awhile until getting disgusted with the group's lack of conflict-resolution skills and eventually quitting in a huff. As such, it seems to me to be a surprisingly modern kind of comedy, one that will hopefully still appeal to a contemporary audience (something harder and harder for a lot of Hawthorne's Victorian-Era work to do), which is why it's one of the two finalists for this project.

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain

And then the other is 1869's The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, who like Hawthorne has already had a book reviewed through the CCLaP 100 series, the 1876 "American Pastoral" novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; this second book, then, was one of the first of Twain's infamous nonfiction humor books about international travel, as well as the biggest-selling title of his entire ouevre when he was actually alive. See, for those who don't know, one of the things that Twain was most famous for among his first audiences was being a wry observer of the human condition, blending an over-the-top "Southern Charm" to his essentially bitter and blackly funny look at all the various ways people act like jackasses, especially when visiting cultures that aren't their own. The half-dozen books of this sort that Twain penned throughout his career tended to be wildly popular among the fans he had while actually alive, a fact becoming more and more obscure each year; I thought this was a good reason to make this first popular travel book of his the other finalist in the re-layout project.

Anyway, I'd love to have you chime in with your thoughts if you'd like; I set up a simple little online poll at, which you should be seeing directly below. (If you're reading this through an RSS feed or mobile device, you may or may not have to come by the website today to participate, at [].) If I decide to go through with this, then, I'll have the finished book online and ready to download by the beginning of the summer, with the eventual CCLaP review of it coming at the end of the summer. Thanks for letting me know your opinion!

If CCLaP were to publish a new layout of a classic book, which would you rather see?
Hawthorne's 'The Blithedale Romance'
Twain's 'The Innocents Abroad'

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:12 PM, March 23, 2008. Filed under: CCLaP 100 | CCLaP news | Design | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Literature:Nonfiction |