Select one of the keywords
Editorial April 2001
Perennial Books

By Hilary Williamson

As tender tulip buds and early daffodils peep tentatively out of the frozen soil, my thoughts turn to books that have a perennial appeal. Some of these are re-issued by publishers, not quite yearly, but often enough that they can be purchased or found at lending libraries. But what about the others, those that disappear into dark corners of second-hand bookstores or end up in cobwebbed basement boxes?

For older books, readers are dependent on the whim of publishers (sometimes blocked by tangled copyrights) to bring old favorites to modern attention. We've added a few re-issued titles to BookLoons shelves recently ... Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Smilla's Sense of Snow, The Ozark Trilogy, Tau Zero and the magical Chrestomanci series. But others, including some of the best of their genre, are hard to find. Some of those whose copyright has expired, like Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche, are being made available as ebooks on sites like Project Gutenberg. Information on others, like the works of James Branch Cabell, is being posted by organizations like The Lost Club. And we have started to mention a few at BookLoons, for example Leslie Barringer's superb fantasy Gerfalcon.

It is good to see these books reappearing, or at least information about them that might prompt some of us to search harder for second-hand copies. But it's a shame about the ones that are becoming endangered in our collective memory ... wonderful historical novels like Patricia Finney's Shadow of Gulls or Cecelia Holland's Firedrake; great early science fiction like Eric Frank Russell's Wasp, or classics like Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung series. Even some more recent books, for example R. A. MacAvoy's excellent Lens of the World fantasy trilogy, seem to fade undeservedly into out of print obscurity.

Once books migrate to electronic format, we have the potential for a sea change, wherein book sales will become driven much more by reader demand and less by the latest selections of the major publishers. Individuals will be able to create a renewal of interest in old (and new) favorites by word of mouth or net, with a consequent pull from readers to purchase them. This seems to me to be the most significant impact of the evolution of electronic publishing, much more so than the adjustment from reading ink marks on paper to pixels on a screen.
Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.