Nova & Vetera Books is a project to create new, attractive, and inexpensive print editions of old books that readers can still enjoy today. These old-books-made-new will include classics of the English spiritual tradition, works of fiction (both classic and popular), as well as works that give glimpses of the American past. These books will be produced entirely using freely available sources and tools in the hopes that they can provide an example of what can be done with frugal means to produce attractive, affordable books and, I hope, encourage others to create good-looking new books of their own. For this reason, each volume will contain a colophon detailing the resources I’ve used to produce the book.
But these books are being produced for readers, not book designers. That’s why, in addition to painstaking proofreading, layout, and design, I will write a brief introduction to each book to orient readers and, in some cases, may include other aids, such as background essays, discussion notes, etc.
An Eclectic Collection
The fact is, Nova & Vetera Books will be an eclectic collection governed only by my own whims and interests. The project is a personal hobby that I hope will appeal to readers, but it’s also a fun way for me to use talents I’ve been accumulating for forty years.
I call it a hobby because, if I allowed myself to think differently, this project could easily eat up all my time and attention (i.e., I might obsess about it and forget all about my paid employment as a freelance editor). I’ve wanted to be a book designer since I was about twelve years old. Once I started working as a book editor, whose clients are primarily indie authors, I knew I would offer book design as well as editing services. Nova & Vetera Books started as an idea to produce some portfolio pieces that I could use to help marketing my design services, but it quickly grew to be more than that.
One of the themes that will recur in my Nova & Vetera selections will be the English spiritual tradition, bridging the great rupture caused when Henry VIII usurped control over the Church in England and covering both sides of the great divide created thereby. The first millennium of English Christianity was Catholic in every way, and is full of luminaries who wholeheartedly embraced and spread Christianity; after the Great Rupture usually called the English Reformation, there is a century or two of religious chaos as some struggle to figure out how to continue the faith of their forefathers while others are eager to change and “improve” upon their spiritual legacy — my attention will focus not on the innovators and “purifiers” but on the strand of continuity.
I hope I will be able to choose books that will also interest others. If you have suggestions to make about books that I might publish under the Nova & Vetera label, feel free to suggest them in a comment on this website — but keep in mind that it must be something in the public domain, without too many decent, inexpensive paperback editions available. Life is too short to keep lugging coals to Newcastle.
All in all, the titles I publish from the English spiritual tradition will include mystics, monks, and missionaries, as well as both Anglicans and Anglo-Catholic converts. For example, some of the titles I’m already working on as I write this are the shorter version of Julian of Norwich’s account of her mystical experience, William Law’s eighteenth century A Call to the Devout and Holy Life, and Robert Hugh Benson’s fictional tale of a mystic, The History of Richard Raynal, Solitary. Many more are either planned or already in the works, but these three will be among the first.
Another general category of books will be those aimed at younger readers, which can also be enjoyed by adults. The nineteenth century, for the most part, produced many wonderful stories appropriate for children and what we now call “young adults” but should more accurately be referred to as “older children.” Although there are some rather awful, and awfully condescending, stories for the very youngest readers, most stories published in the nineteenth century assumed their readers would include youngsters and oldsters and everyone in between.
However, I use the term “juvenile literature” to indicate stories that feature children as their central characters. These children often have adventures just as thrilling, and often as trying, as anything in more “adult” tales. I want young readers to see that books can be exciting and thrilling without having to be dark, gruesome, or “transgressive,” as so much “young adult” fiction is today. And I want to give adults a chance to revisit some old favorites of their childhood, if they were fortunate enough to have read some of these great old tales, or, if they were not so fortunate, to experience some great stories that kids of yesteryear cherished.
Some examples of works in this category include Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha (already published as I write this), Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill (and its later companion Rewards and Fairies), Tom Brown’s School Days, and a prose translation of Homer’s Odyssey.
Books of the American Frontier
Since a lot of the books I hope to publish have a decidedly “old world” flavor about them, let me mention a third general category. This one, which I call broadly “Americana,” will include a variety of books that capture the sense of America as a place where civilized people could embrace a frontier mentality. I include Canada in this “American frontier,” as Canadian settlers and explorers were every bit as courageous as those from the United States. This is a rather loose category, defined only by what I, personally, find reflective of an elusive quality of pioneer endeavor.
Longfellow’s Hiawatha, which I’ve already mentioned, fits in this category, because it attempts to capture the primeval spirit of indigenous North American cultures, expressing that spirit in the long-established European form of the epic poem. Another title is Charles H. Sternberg’s The Life of a Fossil Hunter, the true story of how Sternberg went from being a Kansas prairie farmer to being one of the most prolific fossil hunters North America has ever seen. Sternberg had a vivid and poetic imagination that made the forgotten aeons separating the paleozoic era from our own disappear. I also have several other books in mind that present the life of our American forebears back when this was still a “new” land that presented all sorts of new possiblities — and trials — as well as fictional tales of adventure that capture the spunky flavor of American life before we got too comfortable and complacent to value a pioneer mentality.
Why Make New Books out of Old Ones?
I love books. New books — I’m a book editor and spend a lot of time helping writers get their new books ready for the world. But I also love old books. Forgotten books. Great books of timeless merit as well as not-so-great books that can still provide enlightenment and entertainment today. When I discovered that the Internet Archive has digitized versions of wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) old books from great libraries all over North America, titles that have long since fallen out of copyright and into the public domain, I realized that this was like discovering an old attic full of all sorts of dusty old memorabilia — some treasures, some merely cherished old memories, others oddities worth blowing the dust off and enjoying.
I love well-designed books. Over the past ten years, the Kindle and other e-readers have revolutionized reading and encouraged a lot of people to read more. But there are some books that are best enjoyed in printed form. A number of “public domain” publishers have taken advantage of the digitized book archives — some publishers create POD (print-on-demand) reprint editions of the scanned pages and charge two or three times what one should pay for a cheap, new edition. Others clean up the OCR-ed text and dump it into a one-size-fits-all page template, slap on a generic cover, and produce “newly typeset” POD editions that are so ugly they are hard to read, with tiny, squinchy, ugly type, narrow margins, lines that are too long and too close together for the human eye to track easily. Ugh. No reader would want to throw their money away for such things. These old books deserve better. They deserve attractive and appealing layouts that make them a pleasure to read and enjoy.
I’ve been enthralled with typography and book design since I was a kid and, although I worked for several years as a graphic designer involved in publication design, I never fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming a book designer — until now. Print-on-Demand technology now makes it easy for anyone to publish a book of their own design, and I want to take advantage of that. I also want to revive some of the wonderful old practices of book designs — printer’s ornaments and illustrations, and typography based on hand-cut letterforms, for instance. Inexpensive modern editions don’t have to look cheap — or even modern. I want to produce books that give us a feel for the wonderful old editions of yesteryear.
I’m a frugal designer with little money to invest. But good-looking books don’t have to be expensive to produce. Anyone who wants to can learn to do simple page layout and book design using tools that are either free or that a person probably already owns. Microsoft Word is fully capable of laying out a decent book of fairly simple design. Many wonderful, well-designed digital fonts are available at no cost. Innumerable vintage illustrations exist in the public domain and are freely available from various outlets on the Internet, including the Internet Archive and Wikimedia Commons — these can grace not only the pages but also the covers of inexpensive POD books. Free image manipulation and design tools, such as Inkscape (for vector images) and GIMP (the best of the free programs for bitmapped images) are more than capable of designing handsome book covers. I’ll include a detailed colophon in each volume, to give credit where credit is due and to encourage others to use easily-available means of producing decent-looking books.