Cambridge Ulysses edition let down by poor production choices

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I was very pleased to be given a copy of the new Cambridge edition of Ulysses as a Christmas present. In a handsome large format and weighing in at over 4kg, it’s an imposing volume. I’m a sucker for this kind of volume – a book about the making of a book: a facsimile of the original edition, accompanied by notes and other bibliographical references.

However, for all its grand design, I believe that the book’s overall effect is let down by some poor design decisions and use of inferior quality paper.

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You can see the basic design from the spread shown above. The novel’s facsimile is run in spreads on each side of the gutter, and the text of the annotations is in two, or sometimes three, columns underneath. It’s a neat touch to align the annotations with the left hand margin of the recto page of the facsimile. The numbers beginning with G shown in the left and right foredge margins refer to the line numbers of what Joyce scholars call the Gabler edition of 1986, widely regarded as definitive. These margins are also used for Joyce’s own errata notes.

However, you can see immediately the problem with the back margin. It is so small that the type is running into the gutter, and therefore difficult to read. This is a spread from roughly the middle of the volume, but with such a heavy book the effect is even worse on spreads near the beginning and end. In the meantime, the foredge margin is so generous that it has an acre of empty space on almost every page.

Showthrough IMG_4792 960px A quick glance at these shows terrible showthrough on every page, as can be seen above. Showthrough is a real problem throughout as can be seen again in the image below, which shows what happens on commentary section pages which have illustrations or maps.

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Because the commentary sections follow the same margin arrangement as the facsimile, the back margin is far too small, making it difficult to follow the text. Again, this problem is exacerbated in the sections nearer the front or back of the volume, as can be seen below:

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It would have only required a small adjustment of the back margins to improve the design and resolve the problem of the text disappearing into the gutter. I cannot be sure but it may well be that the problem may have arisen because of a decision to use the same back margin as the 1922 text, with its much narrower page width. An extra 5mm back margin could easily be taken from the generous foredge with no effect on the overall line length.

My final production point of disagreement may be linked. This concerns the difficulty of actually reading the book. When it is placed flat on a table, my copy only remains open when reading between pages 220 and 740. If I don’t hold the edge down when reading pages before or after this range, the book closes with a thump. This is caused because the book block is bound too tightly to the boards for its weight and size.

It’s sad that these design and production defects spoil the overall effect of what is otherwise a handsome and useful contribution to the chequered publishing history of what I’m told is a literary masterpiece. (See this article by Stacey Herbert for the book’s production history.) I read most of Ulysses in the summer of 1969, when the Penguin edition was published, but I confess I never got to the end. I am looking forward to finding the time to tackle it again sometime soon. I’m ready, my kitchen table is ready, and I will do my best to complete the project. Wish me luck.

Read more about this edition in this Irish Times article by its editor Catherine Flynn.

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Respect and respectability

I am reading and much enjoying Lynsey Hanley’s book, Respectable, about social class in Britain. Like her, I read Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy at quite a young age although with my solidly middle class background I did not feel, as does Hanley, that Hoggart could have been writing about my own childhood.

However, it’s not the content that I want to write about here. Rather, it’s the book production standards which display a slackness one would not have expected from a firm like Penguin. Here is a spread:

Just how did the quoted matter on the left hand page slip through the proofing process? You would think that anyone with half a book production brain would spot that it is set in Times – especially so when there is quoted matter on the right hand page, set correctly in Bembo. In case you think I’m being unnecessary picky, there are actually several instances of this in the book – I’ve chosen to show the one where there are two pieces of quoted matter on a double page spread.

The typography in the book is actually very classical in style and quite nice, and I’m glad to see that Penguin still provides the typeface name on the title page verso. Quite why the book is set in a typesize of 11.76/14.76pt is, however, a bit of a mystery. How would you happen on such an odd size?

Mass book production has always depended on fast turnaround but you do expect good practise from the firm whose high standards were set by one of the greatest 20th century typographers. Hans (‘Half-Point’) Schmoller would not have been amused.

The joy of the footnote

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Sorting out some old books a few days ago, I noticed this wonderful back cover on a paperback, The Establishment, published by Ace in 1962. No need for a blurb when you can quote paragraphs from four separate reviews in serious papers. Finest of these is surely that from the TES: ‘… amusing and in places brilliantly written… Dr Balogh’s footnotes are outstanding’.
As a devotee of the footnote, I was intrigued to check exactly what was so compelling about Dr Balogh’s piece. It is entitled rather grandly ‘The Apotheosis of the Dilettante: the Establishment of Mandarins’, and is a brief history of the creation and expansion of the UK’s professional civil service. Its footnotes are indeed interesting, many being used for the kind of digressions which have now largely gone out of fashion:

Establishment text loresIn the days of hot metal typesetting footnotes like these must have been a nightmare to sort out. But throughout the chapter, they are very precisely fitted – indeed, on one page the footnote takes up all but seven lines of the text. One might wonder whether the great economist was asked to cut or expand them to fit the pages, although I somehow doubt he would have got involved in such frivolity. In some places, the typesetter’s skill is obvious: on the spread before the one shown above there are two half-line spaces between paragraphs, doubtless inserted in order to bring the first footnote reference on page 90 over to this page.
Nowadays, of course, word processing and page design software do a lot of the work for you. But there is still some skill involved, manipulating the software, cutting or adding a word or two to push a reference forward or back. Here is a page from a local history journal which I designed recently, where each article had copious footnotes.

TOAS Journal loresMaking up pages like this is engrossing work, but very satisfying. I like to use footnotes rather than endnotes in anything I design because they are much the most reader-friendly way of providing references. A glance down the page to check something is a good deal easier (and quicker) than scrolling to the end of the chapter or book. So even if a client has used endnotes in their draft, I tell them I’m happy to change over to footnotes for the final product. Harder work for me, perhaps, but it makes me happy.
As a reader, what makes me very unhappy indeed is when a publisher cuts the footnotes completely from the printed book, telling you that you can go online to find them. A few years ago there was a phase when some firms tried to get away with this (one example can be seen in John Ramsden’s book Don’t Mention the War, published by Abacus in 2006). This mean, penny-pinching attitude and complete disregard for the reader should be countered at all costs.