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Monday, January 03, 2011

A bookish complaint

Comparing...., originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

OK, here are two books of mine. One is the Bible, the King James Version. The other is the Riverside Shakespeare. OK? OK.

Now, I think I've alluded in the past that when I see a Complete Shakespeare on the shelves at the Library Book Sale, I often can't pass it up. And there is a Complete Shakespeare to be had, more often than not. This is why I now own, off the top of my head, six Complete Shakespeare's.

Now, these are all different in various ways. Two -- the Riverside pictured here and another one whose publisher I can't recall -- are clearly intended for students, containing within them numerous footnotes, background information, essays on Shakespeare, and so on. The other four are intended for readers; they have a lot less in terms of "extras", although one is lavishly illustrated with engravings throughout, and one is a Cambridge edition printed in 1906. I got this one because it's pretty and old.

Will I acquire any more Complete Shakespeare's? Maybe, maybe not. I won't be buying any that don't catch my eye for any particularly special reason, but I also don't rule out that possibility, either. And one craft-type thing I wouldn't mind doing someday is making my own hollow book, for the keeping of Various And Sundry Things. I could hollow out a Bible, but really, the only thing those are good for hiding are rock hammers, and I don't even own a rock hammer. (Yeah, a little light Shawshank humor there.)

But here's something that bugs me: I have never seen a Complete Shakespeare that wasn't something of a doorstop. This bothers me, especially when I compare a typical-sized Complete Shakespeare to the Bible. Look at the comparison in size there! You can easily carry a Bible around with you in your book bag; in fact, I suspect that many Bibles are printed in such a way as to encourage precisely that.

Now, a Complete Shakespeare does have quite a few more words in it than a Bible. A bit of Googling turned up these numbers:

Word count of the Bible: 774,746*

Word count of Shakespeare's plays: 928,913*

So, throwing in the Sonnets and other poetry, just to make a random guess, a Complete Shakespeare would have somewhere around 1,100,000 words. And that means that it would theoretically possible to make a Complete Shakespeare, using typography and paper stock, that is only half again larger than that Bible pictured above. I do own a Study Bible that is twice as thick as that KJV there in the picture (same dimensions of length and width); its extra thickness comes from all those extra materials that make it a "Study" Bible: maps, essays, sidebars, inserts, and so on.

So why can't there be a Complete Shakespeare that is printed like most Bibles? So I can carry it around? Why not?


M. D. Jackson said...

In a word: Economics.

The bibles are usually printed at a loss. They are given away as a "cost of doing business". They have to be compact to save printing costs.

No one is giving away the complete works of Shakespeare. If they print it in a compact volume the they cannot justify charging the exorbitant prices that they can charge for a giant beautiful edition. If they are in mass market format then they separate them out into the individual plays so that the publishers can charge accordingly for each individual play.

Despite not having to pay one dime to Shakespeare or his heirs, the people publishing the complete works of Shakespeare are in it to make money and they can't write off the cost of printing the way that the churches can.

BTW: Your new look -- WTF? David Caruso?

Jason said...

Hmmm. There's no technical reason why it couldn't be done, of course; the thin onion-skin paper and the leather (or faux-leather) covers are hardly rare materials. But now that I think about it, it seems that the Bible and certain other religious texts (the Book of Mormon and various other LDS books out here in Utah; the Koran) have cornered the market on that particular format. I'm not aware of any other books published in that uniquely compact, aesthetically pleasing, and yet still practical manner. I wonder if the publishing industry perhaps has some sort of taboo about it.

Of course, secular-humanist commie-pinko that I am, I think Shakespeare ought to be considered in the same category as religious texts, considering how many everyday figures of speech and shared cultural references come from both.

Roger Owen Green said...

I have a Doubleday edition of copmplete Shakespeare, 2 vol, each the size of a standard Bible. Not that small, but not a doorstop, like my wife's Riverside edition.

Lynn said...

Somewhat smart-alecky answer: Get a Kindle; then you can carry a complete Shakespeare, a Bible and a lot of other books in less space and weight than the Bible.

I do agree with you (and Jason) though, that there should be a leather bound, thin paged Complete Shakespeare.