Choosing a book for leisure reading can be very easy. You just like a book and buy it. Read it. Donate it. Put it in a corner of your room or just forget it on your bedside table. However, choosing a book for your academic needs is a difficult task. You cannot put your academic books on a table and forget, even after your student life is over if you are a student of English literature (or literature in any language for that matter). If your career choice is teaching, you will need to refer your academic books often and sometimes, perhaps, more than you may have done during your days as a student. So, books for your academic purposes are important and you should get your books wisely. In this article, I will tell you how to choose the best possible editions of novels, poetry collections and also plays for your studies or teaching purposes.
In short, here are some methods to ensure that you get the best edition of a novel, a collection of poems or a play:
- Look for the introduction: In any book, you are about to purchase, look for the introduction section. For example, if you are buying Far from the Madding Crowd by Hardy, you should see whether the edition has an introduction. If it has, who has written it. If you can physically see the book before purchasing, read a few lines and take an overview to ensure it has merit, authenticity and perspectives that you can rely upon for your academic needs. Generally, Oxford, Norton, and Wordsworth Classic editions offer an introduction before the text begins. However, it is not limited to the above-mentioned publishers.
- Look for the publisher’s name: Once you realise the introduction is worthy, scholarly, authentic and has some authority, you should look for the publisher of the book. A publisher’s name, in most of the cases, tells you about the text in a book – whether it is authentic, reliable or otherwise. For example, if you are satisfied with the introduction and the publisher is Oxford, you can get the book without any trouble. Wordsworth Classics, Cambridge, Norton, Penguin, Blackwell, Longman etc are some of the publishers which are known for providing authentic literary text. In India, Rupa Publication, Atlantic Publication and also Worldview Classics are some of the names that provide reliable text. Do remember, only if you like the introduction, check the name of the publisher. However, if you don’t find any reliable text with introduction, you can go for text only if you can source other study materials related to the text.
- Look for critical notes, opinions, reviews and annotations: In a poetry collection, notes have huge importance. For example, a beginner who begins reading (or studying) poems by John Donne will certainly need help. And this help is supplied by the publishers through notes that they get prepared by the editor of the collection. Norton Critical editions will be helpful for such purposes. They usually offer a wonderful introduction, the most authentic text and also annotations, critical notes and concluding notes. In short, if I may say, Norton editions of literary texts offer you the best package for academic purpose. However, it does not mean that other publishers cannot offer you something better. You need to check, understand what’s right for you and then make your wise choice.
- Don’t go for ‘big brand name’ trap: I have seen that many students (or even teachers) buy books by Penguin just because it’s popular. However, they only find a few lines (not more than 20 in most of the cases) of ‘author introduction’ on the very first page and then the text – plain text without any notes or other study materials. So, this is my last advice. Don’t go for the publisher name. If you are shopping online, read the introductions, book details, also the reviews. Read reviews on Goodreads or search for reviews on literary websites. Make wise, informed and assured decisions – which might delay the process of purchasing a book by a few minutes. However, it will save you money, time and struggle in the long-run.
So, this was my 5-step guideline to getting the best edition of a literary text when buying for academic purposes. If you have any question, do let me know in the comment section and I will do my best to get back to you. All the best! Keep reading and keep browsing English Literature Education website for more.
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Written by Alok Mishra