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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Find more Leslie S. Klinger and the Fine Art of Annotation
Leslie S. Klinger is an unassuming lawyer by day, but by night, he transforms into a literary-history-obsessed fiend, with a catalog of annotated volumes of some of the biggest genre works in history. This past spring, after he interviewed George R. R. Martin live onstage at StokerCon 2017, I had the chance to turn the tables on Klinger, an author who spends his time delving deeply into the lives and works of others, and got him to open up about himself and his process.
I wanted to know what drew Klinger to annotating instead of writing his own stories, and it turns out it began as a fascination with Sherlock Holmes. “When I was in law school, I received a life-changing gift: a copy of the massive Annotated Sherlock Holmes, by William S. Baring-Gould,” Klinger told me. He enjoyed the stories as a fan but was surprised by how entranced he became with the volume of amateur scholarship surrounding the world of Holmes. From that point on, he was determined to join that rank of scholars.
In the mid-1990s, Klinger wrote articles for scholarly journals aimed at the Sherlockian market when an editor at W. W. Norton contacted him, asking him to edit what became the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. What started as an intellectual hobby transformed into a critical and commercial success, leading Klinger on a hunt for other subjects. In the ensuing years, he has published new comprehensive and annotated volumes of works such as Dracula, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. The subjects are all fun to read on their own, with an intense built-in fan base, yet are still sufficiently rich and complex enough to merit lots of footnotes.
Klinger cautions, though, that “creating an annotated edition is about more than simply adding footnotes into existing works.” He sees annotated editions as providing an enhanced reading experience, for both the average reader and the hard-core fan. The footnotes he includes are of two kinds: “I didn’t understand that before” and “I didn’t know this—that’s really cool!” As a result, the notes include definitions, historical and cultural context, cross-referencing, referencing to external sources and allusions, and challenges. Personally speaking, Klinger finds the latter is the most fun: “Why did the character do this instead of that? Or why didn’t the character think of this, which is an obvious or simpler idea? Or did the author make a mistake? These are all questions readers naturally ask about their favorites stories, but my annotations go a step further and attempt to offer answers.”
Klinger’s newest book, The New Annotated Frankenstein, is long overdue—by about two centuries. We’re coming up on the 200th anniversary of this seminal tale, which is credited with birthing two modern genres: science fiction and horror. I asked Klinger why he thinks Frankenstein has stood the test of time, and he replied, “While Shelley’s thoughts about the dangers of failure to take responsibility for one’s actions—especially in science—are more important today than ever, it has also gained importance as a feminist work, the product of a 19-year-old girl struggling to be taken seriously, something that is certainly a highly relevant concern today. More than anything, though, I want the public to see the book for what it is: a work of genius considerably better than and different from the cheesy 1931 film.”
After Frankenstein, Klinger is scheduled to publish Watchmen: The Annotated Edition later in 2017. “Watchmen is highly literate and full of surprising historical and cultural allusions that bear explanation. I can’t wait to share it all with readers, both fans and novices alike.”
Klinger’s volumes have brought light to so many great works of literature—ones with huge, devoted fan bases that quite often do not get the recognition and accolades they deserve. His books are authoritative and critically acclaimed, yes, but they are also just plain fun to read. They are the result of the work of both a scholar and a fan; yet more important, Klinger’s bibliography stands as a testament to what we library workers see every day—that there is a great power in sharing a good read with someone.
Becky Spratford is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2012) and runs the blog RA for All: Horror (http://raforallhorror.blogspot.com).
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