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In This Issue:

» Modern Myth

» Antiquarian Ulysses

» Shelf Talk: The End of Books?

» On the Site

» Contests


Take our survey on the new Avid Reader and win a LibraryThing subscription.

Those of you who are used to receiving the Avid Reader will have noticed a change. We're excited to introduce a new design and a more focused 'raison d'etre' for our newsletter. Simply put, we want to show you books we love. We also want to give you books. Every month you'll be able to enter to win at least one of the books we feature. And we want to know what you think about books, so as you read, please feel free to comment.

The re-launch of our newsletter is a new beginning and also, in a sense, a reinterpretation. We believe this is as good a reason as any to look at some of the best modern interpretations of the beginning of literature: myths.

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Men and Gods by Rex Warner


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Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition by by Seamus Heaney


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Myth in a New Millennium

Men and Gods - Rex Warner
Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition - Seamus Heaney
Canongate's Myth Series

The wonderful thing about myths is that they are not mere archival relics of eras that have long since vanished. In the hands of talented storytellers, myths are constantly re-born.

The New York Review of Books has just re-released Rex Warner's classic, Men and Gods: Myths and Legends of the Ancient Greeks. Originally published in 1959, it is illustrated with whimsically dark drawings that only Edward Gorey could produce. Warner enhances the inherent drama of the stories by weaving in quiet, poignant moments of daily life. While Daedalus creates wings of wax and feathers, we see young Icarus, with the familiar curiosity of a child, playfully press his thumbs into the balls of wax that will soon melt and send the boy plummeting to his death.

Beowulf, the bloody epic foisted on many a reluctant high school student, received a brilliant re-introduction to contemporary literature in 2001 with Seamus Heaney's new translation. Heaney's style is ideally suited to this retelling, being both rough and restrained; emotional, yet perfectly balanced. He deftly ushers forth Beowulf's most intense, gory and glorious moments without so much as a hinting at melodrama. The illustrated edition shown at left includes a beautiful pictorial survey of Scandinavian artefacts.

Canongate's Myth Series is easily one of the most intriguing and successful contemporary mythological projects. It calls upon celebrated modern authors to reinterpret myths with total freedom and innovation. In The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood considers Odysseus's wife Penelope and her twelve ultimately slaughtered handmaids. Jeanette Winterson's interpretation of Atlas moves us to reflect on the times, often inadvertent or compulsive, that we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Victor Pelevin takes us on a surreal, cyber-exploration of the dizzying labyrinth that is our mind as he recreates the Minotaur in The Helmet of Horror. Each book in the series thus far has been utterly unique and powerful.

Rex Warner best explains why we continue to revisit myths: "In first place, the stories are beautiful and satisfying in themselves. In the second place, they have deeply affected our own literature."

If you've read any of these books, let us know what you thought.

Canon- gate Myths Series

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
The Penelopiad
Margaret Atwood

Weight by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson

Lion's Honey by David Grossman
Lion's Honey
David Grossman

The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin
The Helmet of Horror
Victor Pelevin


Ulysses by James Joyce


A Collectible Epic

Ulysses - James Joyce

James Joyce's Ulysses is perhaps the quintessential example of the power ancient myth has to inspire radical innovation in literature. A cornerstone of Modernism, Ulysses, with its groundbreaking experiments in prose, has in turn influenced generations of authors.

The gorgeous edition featured at left is available for 27,500. It is listed by Peter Harrington Antiquarian Bookseller; the bookseller's description is as follows:

"First Edition Printed in the UK, First Impression. From a total printing of 1000 numbered copies, this is one of 100 printed on hand made paper, specially bound and signed by James Joyce. From the library of the author Simon Jesty with his ownership signature to the front free endpaper. 4to. Original white vellum, titles to spine gilt, 'Homeric' bow device designed by Gill to boards, top edge, others uncut. With the original Curwen paper slipcase. Housed in a dark blue quarter morocco solander box made by The Chelsea Bindery. Trivial spotting to the fore edge as usual, minor abrasion to the front free endpaper but a superb copy in the somewhat rubbed and tanned slipcase."

Find more fantastic treasures in our Rare Book Room. Currently featured: Collecting Books of Hours.

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Death of the Book?
by Richard Davies, our PR manager and resident Brit.

People have been forecasting the end of the book for as long as books have been around. Recent threats include cinema, television, video games, and the Internet. And you know what? It’s all a myth.... the book is alive and well, and bigger and better than ever.

A few weeks ago, I pulled into a gas station, filled up the car and walked in to pay. There was a teenage girl behind the counter and she was reading a book. And she wasn’t simply reading, she was completely engrossed. I recognized it as A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. She held the book in one hand and operated the till with the other. She barely looked up from the text as she accepted my hard-earned cash and handed over the change.

"Are you enjoying the book?" I asked.

"’s great," she answered. "It's all about an addict and how he tries to get off crack." She was 17 tops. Working a gas station is probably a tedious job at best but I’m sure her Saturday morning was flying by. I could have filled up and driven off without paying, and she wouldn’t have noticed. As I drove away, I wondered if I had ever seen anyone more fascinated with a book. I bet that teenager surfs the Web, plays computer games, watches TV, and goes to the movies. But she also reads books.

I used to love sitting on the Tube in London and looking at what people were reading. If they read Nick Hornby, did they like football and music? If they read Bret Easton Ellis, were they a bit twisted? I love plane journeys. No children, no work, no distractions – just me and my book. In my job, I encounter buyers who are passionate about books and sellers who are passionate about books. AbeBooks connects them together and helps fuel their passion.

We regularly see reports that books are threatened and reading is declining. There have been two major ones in recent months and the media is always quick to seize on these stories. But you know what? I think the death of the book has been greatly exaggerated. The book remains arguably the most perfect - and most comforting - of all technologies. We don’t see that changing any time soon.

More words about books have been scattered on Reading Copy, the AbeBooks Blog.

The Book. Here to stay, or on the way out? What do you think?

Traditional Books vs Electronic Devices

It's old vs. new, tradition vs. technology. Can electronic devices ever usurp the classic book? Is there a place for books in our brave new world?

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Bestsellers for December

  1. Eat, Pray, Love
    Elizabeth Gilbert
  2. The Pillars of the Earth
    Ken Follett
  3. Three Cups of Tea
    Greg Mortenson
  4. World History: Connections to Today
    Elizabeth Gaynor
  5. The 8:55 to Baghdad
    Andrew Eames

See the whole list on our homepage.

Most Expensive books sold in December

  1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
    JK Rowling - $12,874
  2. Eloise Set
    Kay Thompson - $12,754
  3. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection
    Charles Darwin - $10,808
  4. Winnie the Pooh
    A.A. Milne - $7,500
  5. Andrew Wyeth
    Richard Meryman - $5,698

See the whole list.

Current Promotions

Best Buys on Books - At AbeBooks our mission is to help you find any book, from any bookseller, anywhere in the world! But that's not all; we also want to connect you with cheap new (and as new) books. Many of our booksellers offer remainder and overstock books at greatly discounted prices, meaning you can get a new book for the fraction of the original list price.

Our featured Best Buy is Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.

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Current AbeBooks Contests

Speak Your Mind

A newsletter shouldn't be a one way street. Have you read any of the books we reviewed? Let us know what you thought. Disagree with our editorials? Tell us where we went wrong. Ideas, suggestions, ponderings or reflections? Send them through! We'll publish reader feedback in upcoming issues.

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"Tis the good reader that makes the good book."     -RALPH WALDO EMERSON

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