And suddenly a red one

They’re 9½ cm wide and just over 14½ cm long and they’re usually yellow. So when I saw a red Reclam book in a friend’s shelf I was curious.

My little yellow Reclam books – Reclam Verlag being a German publisher – are soft and familiar and contain miniscule marginalia. If you ever studied German at university, you’ll be familiar with the tiny font size and the soft pages, like ancient newsprint.

My small collection of Reclam books, with a member of another branch of the family over for a visit.

But here was Mr Familiar in a new coat I’d never seen. And it was in English. Mini-Sagas: An Anthology of Fifty-Word Short Stories. My friend said she’d bought in Berlin, the perfect companion for shortish train rides. I borrowed it. Some of the stories are a bit meh. Some are quite affecting. Some are funny.

How the stories are didn’t feel like the point though. It was the redness that counted. One splotch of colour out of synch and you find yourself doing a whole Google thing. So this is what I’ve learnt about Reclam:

  • It’s been going since 1828.
  • In 1921 it became the first company to introduce book vending machines. Book vending machines? My knees feel wobbly at the thought.
  • There is a colour code. There had to have been for the red to make sense.
  • Yellow: contains classic works in German.
  • Red: classics in their original foreign language.
  • Orange: bilingual books in German and the original language.
  • Blue: study guides.
  • Green: original historical sources with explanations (no, I don’t understand either).
  • Magenta: non-fiction.

I’m not likely to ever want to read Gyges und sein Ring by Friedrich Hebbel or Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s Emilia Galotti again, but these books appeal to me too much to ever dump them. So I put Heinrich Heine’s – and Eduard Mörike’s – Gedichte on top of the pile, because those I’ll peruse.

And I’ll return the little red one to its home, and thank it for pushing me towards my little Reclam moment.

  • The Reclam website is another design triumph in all its yellow and white simplicity. Check it out here.

Posted under: Indiscriminate Devotion

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