Thursday, May 13, 2004


For the last few years, Savoy (Michael Butterworth, David Britton, John Coulthart), operating out of Manchester, England, has published some of the most beautifully-made books in the world--and not only beautifully-made, but classics. From a reissue of Voyage to Arcturus to Colin Wilson's The Killer to The Adventures of Engelbrecht, Savoy has made the statement that wherever truly original, truly inspired, and often quite surreal and daft books lurk, Savoy will be there to publish them in stunning editions (designed by John Coulthart).

But the story of Savoy is much more than just these past few books--it extends back into the era of Michael Moorcock's New Worlds magazine, when Savoy published paperbacks of work by Moorcock, Ellison, and others, and had a profound influence on the British publishing scene--not just because of the books they published, but because of their attitude toward those books, and their willingness to push the boundaries of what the English authorities in Manchester would deem acceptable to publish, and what they wouldn't. As a result, many thousands of books were, at various times, seized by the police, and Savoy threatened with going out of business more than once.

Yet they've soldiered on and, although their books no longer reach the broader audience of the 1970s, they've continued to be one of the best independent presses in the world. To my mind, based on the last five or six books I've seen, they are the best independent press in the world--considering the quality of the content, the quality of the design, and the quality of the materials used to make the books.

Their latest project may seem self-serving, but it isn't. A Serious Life, a 400-plus page book compiled by D.M. Mitchell, provides an overview and indepth examination of Savoy's history and its impact on popular culture, including music and comic books. Mitchell's approach is to combine interviews with Savoy's founders with his own commentary on the press in the form of interconnected essays. Some deal with the "theory" behind Savoy. Some deal with particular topics, such as Savoy's relationship to the music scene. Some serve to provide a historical backdrop. All are incisive and fascinating. While it is true that some of the claims made about Savoy's influence may seem extravagant, it really doesn't matter if they're accurate or not--the context in which they're placed is intrinsically interesting. Even if you don't care even a tiny bit about Savoy, you'll still enjoy this book.

Sections on Michael Moorcock and New Worlds are of particular interest, but there isn't a page--all of which include a plethora of well-placed photographs and illustrations--that doesn't provoke thought or further discussion. Blake, Burroughs, and all of your other favorites make appearances.It is the kind of book that's sharp around the edges, but don't worry if you cut yourself on it. It's a pleasurable kind of pain.

What I love about this book is that it portrays Savoy as unrependent, defiant, and still, after all of these years, committed to a subversive, idiosyncratic publishing agenda. Given the constant harrassment Savoy has suffered from the British police over the years, this is an achievement in and of itself. But what I love even more is that the book is an extremely way of saying fuck you to Savoy's enemies.

What better way to do that than with a book so lovingly made that it's likely to survive the Apocalypse?

A Serious Life
is likely to top my best-of-the-year list, and I can't think of any other book that you should hurry up and buy right now while there are still some left.


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