Only a few months after the publication of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami's short story The Strange Library has just been released in an exciting fully-illustrated single volume. The story is a revised tale Murakami originally wrote in 1982, bulked up with affecting illustrations of old-fashioned academic curiosities. The story follows a boy's visit to the local library and his subsequent imprisonment in the library's labyrinthine basement. On the heels of the maturity of Colorless Tsukuru, readers will find The Strange Library to be vintage Murakami at his best (and worst): talking sheep, peculiar similes, and confoundingly literal magical realism. These quirks are lavishly illustrated throughout the book: talk of the "new moon" results in a page of old moon phases, and talk of being trapped inside a jar full of caterpillars gets an excerpt from an old entomology encyclopedia. It's an easy, fun read (cover-to-cover in about thirty minutes), but at around only $12 for the trade edition remains worth the price of admission. What's more, the US and UK editions are illustrated differently: Chip Kidd takes the US edition for a spin, and the UK version is full of found images from the London Library. Really interesting to see these geographical differences and consider how they might affect the book.
As expected, a limited edition was made of The Strange Library and it's really quite a nice piece. It is refreshing to see Harvill Secker tone it down for a change: their last two limited editions had retail prices of over $1000 each, and in my opinion sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the concept, landing on something too nice for a bookshelf but not nice enough for a gallery. However, I think they nailed it with The Strange Library: the book is little more than a specially packaged, signed and numbered trade edition, but those little differences transform the book into something special.
This is the outer case. Curiously, that "2014 02 12" surrounding the "Strange Library" insignia is the exact publication date.
The edges of the clamshell have some nice marbling:
But it's not a typical clamshell: the front boards open up to reveal the book set inside a cut-away base. The marbling from the edges looks beautiful as full endpapers.
Sliding the book out, you can tell that the library pocket on the front (also stamped with 2014 02 12) has something inside.
Instead of a tipped in signature page or something bound inside the book, the pocket card is signed by Murakami and signifies the edition number. This is number 50 of a worldwide edition of 100.
I think the simplicity of this is absolutely lovely: the retail price of the book was 100 GBP before it sold out, and I think that's entirely appropriate. The humble design doesn't try to make a trade edition anything more than it is, but embraces its innate characteristics and overall vibe to transform it into a striking volume, perfect for the strange library of any collector.
J by Howard Jacobson
Currently listening to:
Tom Waits, "Real Gone"