Hammett: The Too Big Book of the Op

While the appearance of The Big Book of the Continental Op late last year was a boon to Hammett readers, who had been unable to easily get their paws on texts for the stories — much less pure texts derived from the early pulp appearances — the book did prompt some complaints.

Biggest complaint of course was the format as a “Big Book” in that series of footcrushers, when more serious collectors would have preferred a hardcover edition, maybe two or three volumes.

In the It Is What It Is category, I didn’t mind the Big so much — frankly, it is kind of pulpy, a modern cousin to the now rotting pulp magazines where the stories first saw the light of day. Yeah, the book is too big with too many pages and is going to fall apart before you finish reading it (unless you are very, very careful), but finally all the Op is out and about, so what the hell.

But people do complain, and here are some comments that have drifted into my inbox.

First, Tenderloin Terry Zobeck, the Prince of Pure Texts here on the Mean Streets, reacting when he initially heard about it, before seeing any kind of notice: “What is the title? 750 pages in softcover can be an awkward read. I worry about creasing the spine.”

Then Terry saw a notice: “The Big Book of Continental Op Stories. Yech!”

Next I heard from another pal who is a major collector of books and pulps, Kevin Cook, who wrote:

I am terribly disappointed with The Big Book of the Continental Op, not in the least by the fiction it contains, but in the very format of the book. I dislike floppy trade paperbacks to start with, and this one is especially awkward to handle and hard to read. I would guess that the best way to read this book would be to lay it flat on a table and hunch over it, not at all the way I like to read, while sitting back in a chair. In any case, I quickly gave up the idea of reading the complete Op in order in this book and instead I am just reading the stories not included in Crime Stories, and the serializations of the two novels. Don’t get me wrong here: I am extremely pleased that the unedited unabridged Op is finally available, but I really wish there had been at least a limited hardcover edition.

This fat book almost beat Kevin down: “I have just about given up on The Big Book of the Continental Op. The thing just keeps flopping around when I try to read it. I think that my frustration with the packaging is affecting my opinion and enjoyment of the writing. I struggled through the pulp version of Red Harvest, but only started The Dain Curse before I gave up on the book.”

Kevin kept plugging, however, and ultimately reported: “I did finish reading The Big Book of the Continental Op and I found that I liked The Dain Curse better in the pulp version than I remembered liking the book version.”

And just yesterday my fave comment so far rolled in from Hank Carstensen, a long time pal of the Hammett Tour, who liked that all the stories are grouped in order of publication since his early “acquisition and reading was certainly not in order as written.”

And then Hank added: “Only thing, it’s somewhat difficult holding and paging thru a phone book with only 2 hands.”

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