Monday, August 19, 2013

Omnibuses Versus Regular Books

I don't feel comfortable with omnibuses, related novels or works put together in one or more whale-sized volumes. I don't like hefting 700+ pages to get to favorite scenes. It makes books feel weightier than they need to be. They should be balloons, not anvils. I realized this while on page 144 of More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, the second of his celebrated masterwork series, this paperback edition a Harper Perennial 2007 reissue.

I love the Tales of the City series, knowing Mary Ann Singleton, Brian Hawkins, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Mona Ramsey, and, of course, Anna Madrigal, the grand lighthouse landlord of 28 Barbary Lane. In fact, with two weeks left before my family and I move to our new home, a neighborly, pleasant, peaceful forest of an apartment complex in Henderson, I've checked out of the Whitney Library the bulk of the Tales of the City series to reread them and decide which ones I want to buy for my permanent book collection after we move. My widescreen TV is becoming the living room TV because I want bookcases in my room once and for all, and the Tales of the City series should be part of that.

I don't like omnibuses because they clump stories together in a mass. An introductory page does separate each novel, but you're holding the previous novel while you're reading the next novel. I understand the convenience of referencing a scene from a previous novel that relates to a current novel, but it's not for me. If I want to check something in the previous novel, I can dig into my collection and pick it up, on its own. Every book needs its own space, its own mass.

Back in Santa Clarita in May of 2012, I bought an enormous book containing the first three Tales of the City novels: Tales of the City, More Tales of the City, and Further Tales of the City. I had been thinking about the series again, as happens many times a year, and I wanted to spend some time in that San Francisco again. So there I was, with those three novels, and I enjoyed the experience as I always have, but I didn't feel entirely comfortable. It was because of that book. I wanted Mary Ann and Brian and Michael separate from those different times in their lives, not those times pressed so close to each other.

Yes, compared to omnibuses, the separate novels take up more space on a bookshelf, but there's such deep, harmonious pleasure in looking at those novels, proud to know they are yours, thinking about which one to read again. But there are exceptions. I have huge volumes of all of Neil Simon's plays, and I'm happy to have his genius comedy and wit all together. And it feels right to have all of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels together too in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The universe is awfully vast, and that book makes it look slightly more manageable, but only just.

I bought Tales of the City two weeks ago for my permanent collection. That has to be with me. And I reread Michael Tolliver Lives and Mary Ann in Autumn, the latest two installments, around the same time as I bought Tales of the City. Those are on my list to buy after I move. And maybe I will end up buying the entire series. But I want to be absolutely sure. I also want the pleasure of visiting with these wonderful people again.