Aug 6 2012 5:00pm

Handsome Covers, Awesome SF: B&N’s “Leatherbound Classics” Series

Handsome Covers, Awesome SF: B&N’s Leatherbound Classics SeriesI was browsing my local Barnes & Noble recently and happened upon a display table of their new, “Leatherbound Classics” library-edition series. They’re stunningly lovely books—but what caught my eye was the sheer number of speculative writers and genre “classics” included in the series, right next to Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, and Crime and Punishment. Collections like H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction were sharing space with an omnibus edition of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods with Anansi Boys, and that one was catty-corner to Sense and Sensibility.

Of course, it’s not only the inclusion of a ton of SF books in a series of handsome, sturdy library editions where normally they wouldn’t be present, though that’s great for the collectors and book-gifters out there. (And, frankly, aren’t we all at least a little partial to pretty versions of books we already love?) The delightful, handsome covers that graced them—and the equally delightful prices, ranging from $20-30 dollars, in most cases for multiple book omnibuses with quality bindings—were triply awesome.

The cover illustration for H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction was the first thing that I noticed on the display table, and I’ll admit, I bought a copy. Generally, covers of Lovecraft collections go for images of the tentacular horrors contained within, or disquieting paintings of atrocities. Not so, here. This photo doesn’t quite do the cover justice, because in real life the cosmic image is subtle foil, and seems not to leap out at the eye but draw one, inescapably, in—eerie, and perhaps the first time I’ve found a cover for a Lovecraft collection truly appropriate.

Then there’s the interior fish-people illustration, which brings the art full circle.

But wait, there’s more!

C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia:


Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy:


A three-novel collection of Stephen King, including Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining:


Seven novels from H. G. Wells:


Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys:


Douglas Adams’ Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:


Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and The Golden Apples of the Sun: well as Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, seven novels by Jules Verne, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and a handful of mythology collections, including Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and a book of Arthurian legends.

I don’t often wax poetic about book covers, but this lot is handsome and affordable; a great way to build up a library of classics, science fiction and otherwise.

Brit Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. Also, comics. She can be found on Twitter or her website.

1. KarraCrow
These are beautifully designed: the covers and the endpapers are gorgeous, but they're a nightmare to read. I own the Lovecraft collection and were it not for the fact that it has the nifty unpublished "Shadows over Innsmouth," I wouldn't have bought it.

The silver edging on the thin pages looks really lovely -- but it comes off on your hands, your shirt, your book support, your cat -- pretty much anything it happens to come in contact with. And it sticks.
Chris Hawks
2. SaltManZ
I love my B&N edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes. It's gorgeous, and the gold edging doesn't seem to have the issue that Karra mentions.

I would kill for a B&N edition of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun + Urth of the New Sun.
rob mcCathy
3. roblewmac
I don't know I'M not a serious book collector and have read all those stories except lovecraft. I know from lots of comic book/strip reprints that I DONT' like the high class hardcover format. do I want to read Terry and the Pirites from 1940-1943. Yes! Do I want to read it in a 50 dollar hardcover so big it warps space and time? NO!
John Coulthart
4. John_Coulthart
I'll just poke my nose in to say that's my drawing of Dagon and co. on the Lovecraft endpaper. Dunno whether I receive a credit as B&N never sent me a copy!

SaltManZ: Centipede Press have been doing special editions of Gene Wolfe's New Sun books. Don't know whether they're still available, however, their books sell out quickly.
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
I just bought the Lovecraft one a few weeks ago & replaced my tattered mass markets!

2. SaltManZ

A man after my own heart; though I think you could just say "a gorgeous omnibus edition of The Book of the New Sun" & get the same effect. This is after all, maybe Tor will have a nice big fat omnibus! (For my money, I say leave Urth of the New Sun out, not because I don't like it but because I think it is best enjoyed as an apocryphal coda)
Chris Hawks
6. SaltManZ
@3: The B&N editions are only $20, though. And I've seen sales where you can get like 2-for-$20 or 3-for-$25 or whatever.
Chris Hawks
7. SaltManZ
@5: See, I've got the SFBC BotNS omnibus already. Would I buy a nice leatherbound hardcover of just the four-part BotNS? Totally. But including Urth would just make it that much more worth it. Ideally, I'd also tack on Andre-Driussi's Lexicon Urthus as an appendix, but that's where it starts getting a little ridiculous. :)
Heidi Breton
8. AnemoneFlynn
I own the Asimov collection pictured above - and love it.
Shoshana Kessock
9. ShoshanaK
You discovered one of my guilty pleasures - I have several of the leatherbound editions, including the Narnia, Asimov, and Lovecraft editions. Not only are they beautiful, they're amazing to read from, the artwork is lovely, and htey just feel like osmething you want on your shelf forever.
Mordicai Knode
10. mordicai
7. SaltManZ

No one could lift that tome! By the way, if you are a fan of the Lexicon-- I see that you are!-- Andre-Driussi wrote a GURPS New Sun that is totally worth picking up. I'm not a GURPS player but the information in it is succinct & adds to the eternal conversation with Wolfe's text.

...we are...kind of getting off topic. I guess my point is that, in many cases, the B&N editions are public domain, which goes a long way towards "cheap." New Sun is a bit away from the public domain. Wait a minute...are there Borges B&N editions? That would be a thing of beauty.
Mordicai Knode
11. mordicai
4. John_Coulthart

While you have your nose here-- if you poke it back in-- I should add that your more "dragony" Cthulhu in Starry Wisdom is my personal favorite.
John Coulthart
12. John_Coulthart
Thanks, mordicai. That Cthulhu adaptation is also in my Haunter of the Dark collection which is where B&N saw the Dagon pic.
Ashe Armstrong
13. AsheSaoirse
I have the Poe collection, Dracula, the Lovecraft collection, and American Gods/Anansi Boys. I REALLY wish they'd put out a Robert E. Howard set, though I have the first Conan collection and his horror collection in trades. I still need to get the HhGTG, the Anne Rice book, the Jurassic Park/Lost World book, and well, ALL of the sci-fi ones really. Plus a copy of Grimm's and Arabian Nights. I adore these books.

As for the Lovecraft book, I've not had any problems with the leafing rubbing off (mine's gold from the first edition too) and I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking how utterly appropriate the purple & blue was as well as the cover image, which makes me think of Yog Sothoth. And then the interior, oh, so wonderful.
Melissa Shumake
14. cherie_2137
these have been out for a while, i snatched up the narnia collection ages ago and love it. it has all the original illustrations from the books as well, which made me super happy. and it was way cheaper than buying each book individually.
16. Travller
Agreed, the H.G. Wells cover just doesn't work. Compare that to the absolutely stunning one for the Verne collection.
18. Clister
I would love to see the complete Barsoom works in one like this.
I have the HP Lovecraft, the HG Wells, and the Bram Stoker's Dracula from this set. Very pleased with all.
Robert Kehl
20. idleprimate
what is the print size like on these? I often see handsome looking editions of books that call out to me, but because they have gone for an omnibus overload, the print is tiny, or worse, tiny and collumns. its the reason the word "complete" in a title often just turns me away.
Allana Schneidmuller
21. blutnocheinmal

Seeing as there seems to be some questions on these, let me pull out my copies...

The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories - Hans Christian Andersen
The type is not too bad, I'll dub this size 'default'. There are no interior illustrations, though the color inside pages in front & back is a nice pastoral of a castle.

Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales
Type is default. Gorgeous forest illustration under the covers, and many b&w and color illustrations by the excellent Arthur Rackham. Much recommend this one.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
As might be expected, it's rather like a bible inside. Columns of tiny text. It's not nearly as bad as I was expecting when I first opened it, but of course there's no helpful notes like in the editions one reads in school. No illustrations.

Charles Dickens - Five Novels
(Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations)
The type is a bit smaller than default, but larger than the Shakespeare by far. No illustrations.

The Iliad & The Odyssey - Homer
Type is default, a bit wider on the spacing. Inside the covers is a stylish and stylized map of the Meditteranean, with lots of locations marked.
No illustrations.

The Arabian Nights - Translation by Sir Richard F. Burton
Type is smaller than default, larger than Dickens. The inside is quite lovely, with lots of design work that complements the cover. Full page color illustrations throughout. The illustrations according to the info page are "Wissen Media Verlag GmbH, Gutersloh/Munchen" whatever that means. Also, if you weren't aware, this book is hilariously sexist and racist by todays standards.

The Divine Comedy - Dante (Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Type is default, centered and broken up every 3 lines. Chock full of the amazing B&W Gustav Dore illustrations.

HP Lovecraft - The Complete Fiction
Text is the same size as Arabian Nights, smaller than default, not as small as Dickens. No illustrations, though the aforementioned cover and inside are gorgeous.
Keep a lookout though, the first edition had an extensive list of mostly small typographical errors. I waited to get mine when the reprint came out. Look for the one with silvered pages, purple bookmark, and the notation on copyright page stating "The publisher would like to thank Martin Anderson for his help in the preparations of this edition."

I love these books, they're sturdy, gorgeous, and cheap. Still want the Asimov, Narnia, Hemingway, Gray's anatomy just for the heck of it... I already have other editions of Sherlock Holmes and Poe, but I'm severely tempted to get those as well.
22. Pdelangen
These books are incredibly lovely. However, you should also check out Folio Society,
They have gorgeous illustrated books and some of them include classic fantasy and horror books such as Dracula and The Gormenghast Trilogy.
24. jshillingford
I really wish they'd release a verion of The Phantom of the Opera. I don't understand why it's so hard to find in hardcover, let alone editions like these.
25. Torsten Adair
The Hitchhiker's edition was based on the "Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide" edition published by Random House/Grammercy (9780517226957). It was a $50 gilt hardcover in 1997, which was later reproduced in a "regular" bargain edition.

It was one of the first volumes in this B&N series when they started it about five years ago... and one of the few non-public-domain works.

Meanwhile, Library of America is expanding into genre fiction. A bit different trade dress and design, but well worth the cost! Otherwise, Penguin Classics has a few genre titles in their "black" classics. No idea if Random House (which owns Bantam Doubleday Dell) has pulled titles from their F/SF list for inclusion in their "Everyman's Library" (either paperback or hardcover).

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