As publishers who seek a happy medium between championing writers or artists who have been erroneously overlooked and the brilliantly considered Familiars series which reintroduces us to the classics – it is safe to say that Four Corners Books know their stuff. The wonderfully original interpretations include illustrated books for adults, Dracula and Vanity Fair being notable, and some great referential art book editions – like Eduardo Paolozzi and Sister Corita. We invited Richard Embray, one half of the Four Corners duo, to pick five books from his shelves and in turn, offer an insight into their own publishing motivations.
Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov, published by Putnam’s
I have a fondness for books that masquerade as one thing while being something else entirely: Nabokov’s novel, possibly his most beautifully written book, is in the form of a long poem with extensive editor’s notes that combine to tell a story of their own. The narrator also makes a compelling case for buying two copies of the book – something that all publishers can admire.
Brewer’s Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics (An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through The Ages) William Donaldson, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Another book that pretends to be something else. Its title, and original jacket, proclaim it as a reference book to be placed alongside the same publisher’s Phrase and Fable, but what you actually get is a brilliantly written, very funny and highly partial account of the lives of con men, East End thugs and members of the Conservative Party. There is also a delightful approach to indexing – the entry for HRH Elizabeth II ends: “See also: MISERS.” A very good biography of the author is also in print, with a great title: You Cannot Live As I Have Lived And Not End Up Like This.
McSweeney’s Quarterly Various authors, published by McSweeney’s
Short story collections always sell badly compared to novels, but publisher Dave Eggers found an ingenious way of selling anthologies to a new generation, through the quirky (sometimes self-consciously so) packaging of the quarterly journal that always delights. Whether publishing the entire volume as a pile of junk mail, or as a clothbound hardback with a comb on the inside front cover, these prove that beautiful books can be humorous, even silly.
Ways Of Seeing John Berger, published by Penguin
This is so well-known that I feel a little guilty for including it, but it was the book (along with the accompanying TV series, well worth tracking down on YouTube) that got me interested in art history as a teenager. It is full of big ideas (many taken from Walter Benjamin’s Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction) all presented clearly and succinctly.
Bestiary Julio Cortazar, published by Harvill
Borges, Carver, and Barthelme all have very good anthologies of their short stories available in the UK, but Cortazar is a wonderful writer who seems to have been a bit overshadowed by his contemporaries and this volume (his collected stories) is long out of print. The most famous of his stories influenced 1960s films (Antonioni’s Blow Up, Godard’s Weekend) but the originals are better than any of the movie versions. (Still in print is a smaller, but excellent collection: All Fires The Fire)