HOST: You’re watching The Reissue Factor, a talent show in which out-of-print books compete for a second lease on literary life. Let me introduce you to our judges, each of whom has to the power to introduce a work to a new generation of readers.
PENGUIN CLASSICS: Don’t forget Morrissey.
HOST: Next, the precious stones lobby is furious with these guys, because they’re flooding the market with lost gems…New York Review Books Classics!
NYRB: We like to call ourselves the New York Review Bling Classics.
PENGUIN CLASSICS: Really, just how many neglected masterpieces can there be?
NYRB: You’re just bitter we scooped you on Stoner.
HOST: And finally, from across the pond, the exacting and ever acerbic Faber & Faber, home of the Faber Finds list.
FABER: I’d just like to state that T.S Eliot was one of our original directors. T.S. Eliot. And now here we are on a reality show.
HOST: Those are our judges, and I’m your host, Jonathan Lethem. Just kidding. He was booked. I’m Ryan Seacrest.
Our first contestant tonight is a mass-market paperback from the 1970s, Never Say Sometime, which describes itself as “read hard and put away wet.” Tell us a bit more about yourself.
CONTESTANT: Well, I guess I’ve always felt less than, worthless, unappreciated. I’ve never known the intimacy of a bedside table, nor the snug fit of a tightly-packed shelf. My first owner picked me up in an airport, then left me in a seatback pocket. I’ve had abandonment issues ever since.
PENGUIN CLASSICS: Yes, but why do you deserve to be republished? And more important, what are you actually about?
CONTESTANT: About? You want to know what I’m about? I’m about watching my best friend getting pulped in front of my eyes. I’m about cold porcelain sending shivers down my spine when I was used as bathroom reading during my teens. I’m about the shame of selling my wife to a seedy used bookstore to make ends meet.
FABER: No, no, no. I can only fault your unfortunate owner for placing you beside the toilet rather than flushing you down it.
NYRB: It’s a little melodramatic for us, so we’re going to pass. But don’t get discouraged — every book has a lost classic inside.
[Two crew-members escort the book off-stage and toss it into a Goodwill donations box, where, in a welcome twist of fate, Never Say Sometime is reunited with its long-lost wife, a failed contestant from a previous episode.]
SEACREST: Next up — and it’s understandably taking its time getting up on stage — is The Falkland Octet, a long out-of-print, eight-part saga tracking the fortunes of a Falkland Islander family from the 1830s to the outbreak of war in…
NYRB: We’ll take it.
SEACREST: Don’t you want to see it first?
NYRB: Nope, we just put it into production a few seconds ago.
SEACREST: Moving on then, we have an elegantly slim academic monograph: a revered cult study on the works of Milton Mutey, a woefully underappreciated figure himself whose own cult novel is set to appear on the show next week. First off, your title?
CONTESTANT: The Novels of Milton Mutey: A Critical Study.
PENGUIN CLASSICS: Catchy. And is that an Oxford book jacket I see?
CONTESTANT: I should certainly hope not. Cambridge University Press, sir, and worn proudly.
PENGUIN CLASSICS: Apologies. And in your dream scenario, who would write the new introduction to your book?
CONTESTANT: F.R. Leavis.
NYRB: I think he’s dead.
CONTESTANT: William Empson then.
FABER: Definitely dead.
CONTESTANT: I feel like Rip Van Winkle. Harold Bloom?
SEACREST: He, I know for a fact, is still alive. We lunched last week at Spago.
NYRB: One more question. What do you see your reissue bringing to a new generation of readers?
CONTESTANT: A timely critical study on the novels of Milton Mutey.
SEACREST: Anyone interested?
FABER: This could be the ghost of old Wonkypenky talking, but we love everything about you, from that old-timey donnish swagger to your Ex Libris sticker. Whatever “it” is, you definitely have it.
SEACREST: I believe we call it…The Reissue Factor!
Our last contestant, a memoir, evocatively depicts a society whose very way of life is threatened by environmental hardships, fearsome predators, and rival clans. Its frank account of the sex lives of early hominids caused quite a stir when it was first published on a cave wall in 50,000 B.C. Make no bones about it though: This Stone Age coming-of-age tale is more relatable today than ever.
[WHEELS SLAB OF PAINTED ROCK OUT ONTO STAGE]
PENGUIN: I’m intrigued, but are we sure this is in the public domain?
FABER: Sorry, it’s a no for us. Lacks emotional depth and the saber-toothed tiger subplot felt forced.
NYRB: We’re worried about the shipping costs.
SEACREST: Anyone know if Goodwill takes granite?
We hate to end the show on a sour note, but we’ve had some great finds tonight on The Reissue Factor. Tune in next week when our panel will include Melville House, Pushkin Press, and New Directions deciding whether to reprint a classic travelogue long forgotten because never written.