Sunday, May 24, 2015

La Pleiade

Ajuinlei or Onion quay in Ghent
Since a few years, second hand booksellers have appropriated the Ajuinlei  (Onion quai ) in Ghent on sunday mornings to display the titles of tomes looking for new owners. It is a lovely iniative, for on a fine sunny day, it offers a pleasant walk, browsing along the bookstalls in a timeless scenery.

Today, my wife and I cycled to the center of the city for our sunday morning stroll and picon vin blanc. Not looking for anything special, my eye was caught by a spotless Pleiade edition of Stendhal. It was the second part of "Romans et Nouvelles" which included the famous "La chartreuse de Parme", which I wanted to read since Daniel Mendelsohn lauded it in one of his reviews.

The price asked was 25 € for this unread, leatherbound, bible papered exquisite copy. I purchased it without thinking it over too much but I did check the price later at home. had only second hand copies available starting at 28 € without postage.

All Pleiade books offer a similar high quality appearance—leather bound, with gold lettering on the spine and bible paper, and they have a practical small format which makes them look like small Bibles. The use of bible paper allows the books to contain a high number of pages; it is common for a Pléiade book to contain at least 1500.

The leather covers of the books are also colour-coded according to period: 20th century literature comes in tobacco leather, 19th century in emerald green, 18th century in blue, 17th century in Venetian red, 16th in Corinthian brown, the Middle Ages purple, Antiquity green, spiritual texts grey, and anthologies red. The books are sold in a transparent rhodoïd dust jacket, and inserted in a white printed cardboard slipcase, although multiple volumes are often sold in a single slipcase.

The books are critical editions, with annotations, comments, manuscript and editorial variants and accompanying documents. The preparation of these critical editions can take many years for a team of specialists, which accounts partly for the books' generally steep cost. For works written in languages other than French, new French translations are usually created.

Pleiade books are very nice editions but usually cost a lot. So I guess I will keep an eye opened for other available copies in the future.