Review: Dracula and Frankenstein: Penguin Clothbound Classics

I spotted these Penguin Clothbound classics on Amazon, and I decided to take a look at them.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

I’m a voracious reader. I always thought I would be the last person to embrace the new trend of eBooks. I still write some of my books on paper before I type them up, and I do all my planning on paper, too, and type that up. There’s something reassuringly solid about a nice book, with pages that can be turned. However, there’s distinct advantages to ebooks when you read in the quantity that I do. If you only have 1 chapter left, you don’t have the dilemma about whether to cram 2 books into your handbag for the day, or whether to risk having nothing to read at lunchtime. Physical books take up far too much room if you can’t afford a large house. Before I moved in with my husband, I moved around a lot, because I didn’t really have anywhere permanent to live, which meant that about once every three months, I would have to fill up a stacking crate or two with books, and carry them (I didn’t own a car) to a charity shop. I feel sad when I think of all the books I no longer have, books I liked, and would like to read again, because I simply didn’t have the space to keep them all. I still remember dragging those heavy boxes of books, my arms nearly falling off under the weight, to make sure they found a new home.

I had a very strict rule, though; if I couldn’t carry it, I couldn’t keep it. That was borne from being homeless and destitute a few too many times, because when you get somewhere to live after being homeless, especially if some charitable agency donates clothes or books to you, it’s easy to accumulate a lot of things again in a short space of time, but not necessarily the most useful or appropriate things. You feel bad about getting rid of them, though, and so I wouldn’t. Then, every time I ended up homeless again, usually because my mother hadn’t paid our rent, or she’d threatened to stab the landlord/lady who owned the place we were living in, or she’d been offensive or violent toward another resident in wherever we lived, we’d end up homeless again. And when there were so many objects, it was hard to know what to take when we had limited space and only very short amounts of time.

As an adult, then, I held fast to that rule, and because I had to move so frequently for work, I found it difficult to let the books go, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions when you haven’t quite found a place where you and things go together (shameless Breakfast at Tiffany’s reference… another book I no longer have).

Then, one day, about six and a half years ago, I found a place where I and things might go together, only my husband had already filled it all with his things and there wasn’t really any room for me and I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything. So about eighteen months later, when we had to move to a different city for teacher training, we upsized and rented an enormous house, many times the size of the one we have now. That house had about 4800 feet of floor space excluding the garages which the landlord retained. It had two kitchens, a laundry, servants’ quarters (we kept the bunny down there), and the sort of staircase with a huge sweep to it. We accumulated a lot of stuff but I was still reluctant to indiscriminately bring things into the house. I will never forget the time I came home from a long day and found that my husband had ordered eight enormous bookcases to turn one of the huge rooms of the house into a library for his 2000 books. To match, he added a handmade wooden dining table which seated twelve. I was initially apoplectic at all this unexpected furniture, but I got used to it.

This was when we had money, and prospects, and all sorts of other wonderful things (like a future). Those things have all been in extremely short supply for the last few years.

We moved to this (much smaller, but still fine for 2 people, at 600 feet square) house in late 2013 and because we were both working 14 hours a day, five days a week, we had to move overnight (we did it ourselves as we had no money for a removal van) and we literally just moved everything with no thought as to what to keep. I put in a lot of hard work clearing out our house over the last couple of years to declutter it of all the things we had accumulated when we lived in that proper house. One of my hardest tasks was to read the first three chapters of every single book in my husband’s 2000-book library to decide which ones were worth keeping. I pared it down by about 60% (and ended up reading most of the books we kept). The thing is, those 2000 books (now about 800) were all sci-fi and fantasy novels, of varying quality and noteworthiness, so we didn’t have copies of quite a few very common books, but we did have duplicates of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, amongst other things. Since my husband came with such an enormous library, I haven’t felt able to buy books for myself. Ebooks came to the rescue, on that score, and before I got Kindle for PC/iPhone, I missed so many new book releases because I felt bad for adding to the unmanageable collection of books we already had.

So with all that in mind, it feels a little bit ridiculous that I recently realized the value in having a nice set of decorative novels around the house. So when I learned about the Penguin Clothbound Classics, I was very taken by the design. I took a look through the list to see which books had been clothbound, and imagine my surprise when I found they’d picked Dracula and Frankenstein.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Frankenstein is a book that made a big impression on me when I first read it at fourteen (ditch the popular version retold a thousand times in film). It’s about a construct whose story reflects the otherness and isolation of trying to live in a world which often seems as though it’s made for a different type of person.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

What I really love about this version is it has anatomical drawings on the cover, of hearts, but they’re not pretty puffy hearts, they’re biology diagrams of hearts. I thought that was especially appropriate for the subject matter.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a story I started reading on my Kindle for iPhone about a year ago. I love that you can get free ebooks of all the great classics, but the Kindle version of Dracula that I got was really badly formatted and I gave up after about 30 pages. I think some books are better suited to being in paper form, so I’ve bought this version. The cover is all black, and while the design is not as inspired as that on the Frankenstein, I still rather liked it:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Here’s the title page inside each book:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula bram stoker

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula mary shelley

Here’s a page at random from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to show the text size and layout quality:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula mary shelley

I’m really looking forward to reading Dracula next!

I’ve got a bunch more of these on my mental wishlist, but at £11.99-£14.99 I could only let myself have 2 this time. Perhaps I’ll have the whole set before we emigrate, which is very likely to be August now, but probably not. There’s about 40 of them all told, which is £800-£1000, and there’s no way I can spend that much money on books!! I can’t talk about where we’re emigrating at the moment because it’s all working out, for the second time in my life something is actually working the way it ought to, and I don’t want to jinx it all, but I promise I’ll tell you all before we depart.

Here’s Dracula on Amazon.com. Apparently Frankenstein is out of print in the US but it’s here on Amazon.co.uk.

To PhD, or not to PhD? That is the question.

Dear The Internet,

My birthday was a lovely day, but I had to still work over some of it, as well as the day before/after, so my actual birthday time didn’t last as long as I wanted it to. I am now officially a grown-up. Mostly.

Wow so it turns out I’m doing pretty good on my essay marks. Like… if I’d had these sort of grades on undergrad, I never would have worried about whether I was smart enough to do an MSc. The difference bipolar meds have made to my ability to achieve and learn things has been profound. I think the fact that my PTSD has receded a lot (compared to even last year) has made a big difference, too. There was a 21 gun salute going on for over 10 minutes beside the department, timed right in the middle of my Evolution class today, and I did not dive under a table. I wanted to… but I didn’t. I definitely got stressed and stopped concentrating, but I didn’t even need to stick my fingers in my ears or show any outward signs of how I felt. And that’s fucking progress.

I mean, I can’t not be happy with the grades I got today… I can’t actually get a higher grade at this point, so going for essay feedback was a strange experience, especially since the university is a lot more diverse now and 90% of the faculty aren’t former Oxbridge dons any more (the dons have mostly retired). So from not having gotten a poor mark, and not having the same type of staff, today (essay marks/feedback day) didn’t go as expected. I didn’t spend all afternoon sitting in various offices around the department being questioned as to why I bothered coming to university if I was going to hand in such complete shit. It was refreshing, but it also wrong-footed me, because I’m so used to getting everything wrong. Since when did the university get so touchy feely?

The thing is, the only thing that’s changed in the 7 years between undergrad and now is everything. Okay, that was a terrible hyperbole and also possibly a bit inaccurate, but y’all know how much I hate deleting sentences once I started them. I’m not sure I can quantify the changes. The university is more relaxed, that’s for sure, and there’s more friendly staff instead of grumpy ones. But their standards are inescapably higher than when I last attended. I don’t think they would let someone on to their undergraduate degree with my high school grades any more. There’s just too much competition for places (and only 1 in 30 got a place the year I applied), so it’s a bit surreal being on a course with people with 1st class degrees and high 2:1s, knowing I’m probably the very least qualified person out of the 140 master’s students in the department. And I’m still getting A-plus grades. Sorry, I’m not trying to gloat, but I know some of you were rooting for me to do this MSc and I wanted to, but I wasn’t so sure it was a great idea (and others of you were convinced it was only going to end in smoking ruins where the university used to be). So I thought it was worth an update.

I am pretty sure the reason I’m a better academic writer these days is down to having worked as a teacher, followed by my recent experiences in academic publishing. I read a lot of articles and I get to fix them and make sure they’re at their best when they get published. That makes a person better at spotting mistakes in their own work. I can’t deny that writing my romance novels definitely improved my overall quality of written work, as well. It’s easier to improve when someone points out specifically what you need to do to fix something, than when someone just yells at you for doing it wrong again, or ignores you.

So anyway, I went to a lecture this morning where one of the department’s more research-focused members of staff explained the procedure for applying for a PhD. And now I’m considering it. Is that such a bad thing? Yay women in science and all that jazz… Except… well… we were planning to move to Canada (or maybe New Zealand) next September, and if I’m doing a PhD for the next few years, that’s going to cause problems. Unless I do one in Canada. But their funding is idiosyncratic – some of the deadlines were in August which is probably fine if you’re on a two-year master’s degree but we cram them into one year over here. Anyway, trying to do my branch of obscure science in Canada makes finding a PhD all a bit more difficult because my subject is defined as something totally different in North America, and I don’t think the stuff I’m currently doing really exists over there, because whatever you think I do, it’s probably not what I do (except one of you. One reader knows what my research interests are, because we hang out sometimes IRL). Case in point: for my master’s thesis, I’m studying a supercomputer.

So the decision over whether to stay and get a PhD or emigrate and get a happier life is currently proving difficult. Britain is really shit right now for those of us with a foreign name, and I don’t see it maturing like a good bottle of wine any time soon, but if I want to do a funded PhD I would need to stay put a while longer. So I’m probably not going to get a PhD, which is a shame because there’s a past version of me who is yelling at me from the entire 90’s, because she’s very disappointed that I didn’t choose education/career over love. Actually, I’m pretty happy with my career and prospects at the moment, so she can shut the Hell up. My publishing placement’s going great and my writing’s mostly where I want it to be; I just wish I had more time for it but that was always the trade-off this year. I guess the PhD would have been utterly gratuitous. My husband’s probably right; I’d get bored in 6 months, and then I’d get distracted by writing again.

What happens after a publisher accepts your work?

There’s millions, if not zillions, of articles for unpublished writers, but what about for those people publishing their first novel, who don’t know what to expect? There are a lot less people whose work has been accepted by a publisher, so I guess less people can write about that with any degree of authority, not to mention the fact that less people want to know about it. I thought I’d start with talking about what happens after a publisher accepts your work for publication, giving people an insight into the publication process.

If you start by sending in a proposal, they will read over the proposal and they should either accept your proposal or decline it. If they’ve accepted it, they may suggest changes to make it more marketable. Mandatory changes should be made clear. After you have your proposal back, you can get on with writing (unless you’re really naughty like me, and start writing the bits you know will be fine while you’re waiting to hear back from them).

If you didn’t send in a proposal, you’ll either send in a sample first, or just a complete manuscript. If you did send in a proposal, the next thing you send them is the full manuscript. Make sure you’ve done as much editing as you can to the manuscript before you send it to them; I found this very, very difficult with my first book because I had no idea what needed doing to it. After they’ve got everything, it gets sent to a line editor. The line editor’s job is to go through your work and write notes on any improvements you need to make to your work; some improvements are optional, but some are mandatory. If you’re unsure about whether a change is mandatory or not, ask your editor and they will tell you one way or the other.

Once they’ve written those notes, they will send you back the annotated manuscript, or they’ll send you back the notes separately, and your job as the writer is to make the changes and improvements to your work. Some places give you deadlines for this, others don’t mind. After you’ve made your improvements, they will send your work to a copy editor.

The copy editor is the last person from the publishing house who will see your work; they go through it and format it to in-house style guidelines, and they generally use the Merriam Webster dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style as a reference for anything that’s questionable. They will also flag up typos and spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistencies (one minute she wears a red hat, the next minute she wears a blue bonnet), and factual errors. After they’ve done that, you should get your work back, at which point you either have to make the copy-editor’s changes or you have to have a damn good reason (“I don’t like that change” isn’t one) to reject their changes – the Big Five Publishers, and some of the smaller ones, will usually expect you to give references to support your reasons for not approving every change made by the copy editor, but check this before sending back reams of information, because some places don’t want that (my current publisher doesn’t). When the copy editor gets it wrong, you need to raise that with someone at your publisher (or get your agent to do this, if you have one).

Once you’ve approved or rejected (with references) the copy edits, you send the work back to the publishers and they start work on the cover. After you’ve seen the cover, it’s natural to get very excited about your forthcoming book. If you like the cover, let them know, and they will get the blurb written and the proofs made up, or if they’re an ebook publisher, this is when it will be prepared to be made available online.

At some point before the book is made available online, you should receive a contract (if you haven’t received one, let them know). The contract is the only thing that protects you from getting royally screwed over by your publisher, so read it carefully and get a lawyer (one who has seen other book contracts, not any old lawyer) to read it over if you’re unsure about anything. Sometimes publishers try it on with their contracts but you have to stand your ground, otherwise you’ll regret it when the book’s a bestseller and you’re not making any money. I got taken for a ride by one publisher, a few years ago, who published my unedited work, lied literally every step of the way, and never paid me the advance. Later, when I tried to get that sorted out, I discovered that I would have to go to somewhere on the East Coast of America to take them to arbitration to get my money back, and that I had to do this within a certain time period, which I’d missed, because they’d spent so long delaying in answering and I’d been too patient. If I’d understood this beforehand, I would have acted sooner to get it resolved, but it was my first book and I didn’t know what to expect from the publication process (hence this article).

If you’ve signed the contract AND RECEIVED THE ADVANCE (if you are in the habit of accepting advances – I am not) then you’re good to get excited about the release date. Many contracts have a clause stating the author must do their best to publicize the novel – there are a bunch of ways you can do this and I’ll talk about them in a future article.

Has your experience of the publication process been different? Let me know in the comments!