I’m very pleased to announce the forthcoming publication, in paperback, of all three volumes of my award-winning critical anthology, The L.M. Montgomery Reader (Volume 1: A Life in Print; Volume 2: A Critical Heritage; Volume 3: A Legacy in Review) from University of Toronto Press. This project took up the bulk of my professional life over a five-year period, so I’m thrilled that all three volumes will be available in paperback soon.
Once again, the best way to order these books is from the University of Toronto Press website. Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 are also available in hardcover and ebook formats.
Those of you who follow this site on social media (specifically on Facebook or on Pinterest) have a sense already of how fascinated I’ve become with a phenomenon that has involved not only Montgomery but also any other still-popular author whose work is in the public domain: cheap reprint editions, either in print or in ebook form. Sometimes it seems as though new cheap editions of Montgomery’s books become available on Amazon every day, many of them offering numerous titles for 99 cents, most of them with cover art that is completely random and, as such, entirely unsuitable, with this recent cover of an edition of Rilla of Ingleside as just one example:
In other cases, creators of these cheap ebooks take art from existing editions, which could mislead readers about what edition they are buying. A couple of months ago, one such edition of Rilla of Ingleside appeared with the cover art from the restored and annotated edition that Andrea McKenzie and I edited for Penguin Canada in 2010. Because most of the editions do not identify any creators or publishers and simply have the line “Sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC,” it is impossible for consumers to know who is behind these editions. Thankfully, though, when we reported this edition to Amazon, it was soon taken down all its platforms.
But now a new twist has occurred, evident in the following screen caps taken yesterday:
While it is true that these books are in the public domain and that anyone anywhere can reprint them or make ebook versions of them, these editions are most definitely not Norton Critical Editions or part of the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics series (which is now called Penguin Modern Classics) or the Oxford World’s Classics series. These are all existing covers, although the cover for The Story Girl is actually from one of eight abridgements done for Zonderkids over a decade ago. Although one would have to buy these Kindle editions to assess the extent that they are “annotated,” my sense is that, if these editions were sufficiently annotated for publication by Norton, Penguin, or Oxford, they would not be retailing for $3.73. Not to mention that the editor of a critical or annotated edition is always identified, since it is that editor’s expertise in the subject matter that is of paramount importance.
And then, of course, is this recent ebook, which appears to be an L.M. Montgomery title no one has ever heard of: Bev’s Childhood. It is actually The Story Girl.
So what do you make of this new trend? What should be most important in terms of the book market?
Recently, while searching for L.M. Montgomery’s long-lost short stories on a variety of digital archives, I came across an ad for Anne of Green Gables in The Nation, a New York magazine:
This ad is unique for several reasons:
First, it makes no mention of the type of book it refers to (fiction? non-fiction?), let alone what the book might be about or what readership it targets. There’s also no mention of the book’s publisher, which is highly unusual, given that in most early ads for Montgomery’s early books, the “From Page’s List” logo appears prominently almost always.
Second, the first appearance of this ad that I’ve found is in the 9 July 1908 issue, which is less than a month after the book was published (on 13 June). That means that the designation “cleverest book of the year” seems a bit premature.
Third, this ad appeared again and again in the months to follow: on 20 August 1908, 17 September 1908, 8 October 1908, and 15 October 1908, and then again on 15 July 1909, 5 August 1909, 2 September 1909, 16 September 1909, and 7 October 1909. Not only does it seem odd for this ad to be deemed the “cleverest book of the year” in two separate years, but the later ads show no awareness of the publication of Anne of Avonlea, early in September 1909.
In short, while this ad campaign breaks from a number of advertising conventions, clearly it was deemed to be effective, or else it wouldn’t have run for a minimum of nine times over a fifteen-month period. These ads may not have given anything away in terms of the book’s contents or form, but by using the term “clever,” thus commenting on the book’s literary quality, this ad campaign would have appealed to readers searching for “clever” fiction who may have turned away from ads proclaiming the book’s staggering popularity.
Although my work on the last volume of The L.M. Montgomery Reader is done, I still on occasion come across reviews of Montgomery’s books that I might have wanted to include in the volume. Just today I found the following review of Anne of Avonlea in the 16 October 1909 issue of The Congregationalist and Christian World, a Boston church magazine.
Would it be possible to follow a successful story for girls, extending over the period of school life, with a love novel of the heroine’s after experience? Miss Montgomery evidently does not think so, for she has declined the task in her Anne of Avonlea (Page, $1.50), which carries on the life of her delightful “Anne of Green Gables” only to the first glimmering dawn of her recognition of the day of quiet love. The new book cannot bring us the happy surprise of its predecessor, nor does it move in so well-marked a sphere of experience. From the dramatic unities it slips easily, however, into the pleasant task of chronicling the progress of a happy girl’s life. Anne is well worth knowing as schoolmarm of seventeen and village improver.
The touch is neither so unconscious nor so sure as in the charming earlier story, but the book is well worth reading by all Anne’s lovers, if it were only for her delightful bits of moral philosophy—her’s [sic] and the mischievous twin’s. It is the latter who says, after an escapade of compelling his prim and proper sister to walk the pigpen fence, “I feel sorry now myself, but the trouble is, I never feel sorry for doing things till after I’ve did them.” But it is Anne who counters on the man who believes in “telling the truth to everybody,” by saying: “But you don’t tell the whole truth, you only tell the disagreeable part of the truth. Now you’ve told me a dozen times that my hair was red, but you’ve never once told me that I had a nice nose.” The story is rich in such material of wise and humorous casuistry. It belongs both on the shelf for girls’ reading and among the books with which sagacious grown-ups refresh their souls.
What do you think of this assessment of Montgomery’s second book as good but not so good as Anne of Green Gables, as evidence of Montgomery finding it impossible to write the love story of the heroine of a story for girls? (This reviewer didn’t know that Anne of the Island would follow six years later.) Would this second novel have been more successful had the plot been anchored around resolving the love story of Anne and Gilbert?
Although reviewers were pretty much in agreement that L.M. Montgomery’s second book, Anne of Avonlea, was not quite to the standard set by the first, overall they were filled with praise for this second novel about Anne. For J.B. Kerfoot of Life magazine, however, the lessening of this quality had less to do with the fact that this novel was a sequel to the first but with the stage of life that it portrayed:
Any one who has to do with dogs knows that between their irresistible puppyhood, when humans of all ages love them, and their comradely maturity, when human grown-ups chum with them, there is an interval during which children avoid them, grown-ups lose patience with them and they would be quite neglected, did not idealistic youth lead them about with a string around their necks. So, at times, with books. Last year, we met “Anne of Green Gables,” an irresistible child-woman, and loved her. Some day – who knows? – we may meet her full grown and chum with her. But Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery, is Anne betwixt and between – a book for girls.
Today’s L.M. Montgomery ad appeared in The Boston Herald in September 1909 to coincide with the publication of her second novel, Anne of Avonlea. Note that it offers no details about plot except that it’s a sequel to Anne of Green Gables.
“Such delightful stories are much to be desired, both for their clean, wholesome influence and the fact that they are in utter contrast to the many silly, sentimental love stories of the day and the tiresome mystery and problem stories of exceedingly doubtful literary value. The reading public is surfeited with such stories. Let us hope to hear more of Anne in the not too far distant future – to say nothing of Gilbert.” —Robert A. Turner, The Des Moines News (Des Moines, IA)
Puffin Classics will reissue Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island on 6 August 2009 on the U.K. (available in Canada on 24 November 2009), joining their reissue last year of Anne of Green Gables with an introduction by Lauren Child. As you can see from the covers above, the authors of the introductions to the second and third books are to be confirmed, although Amazon suggests that Budge Wilson has written the introduction to Anne of Avonlea. I’ll let you know once I hear anything more.