Best annotated literary recommendations?
April 22, 2016 9:01 AM   Subscribe

What are some excellent annotated versions of already excellent books?

I love the combination of story + editorial notes in annotated versions of books. What are some stand-out options to explore next? Alfred Appel's Lolita was the first that I had read and really enjoyed, and I followed that with Leslie Klinger's Dracula. Where to next??

Extra points for a great layout without too much awkward page-flipping between the novel's text and the notes.

Double extra points for annotations that make a difficult-to-read book accessible.

No genre preferred, just an enjoyable story.

posted by amicamentis to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Charlotte's Web had an annotated version, but it was very meh.
posted by Melismata at 9:04 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice
posted by baf at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

The Annotated Alice is a true classic of the genre and a new edition just came out late last year.
posted by town of cats at 9:06 AM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Since you mentioned the awesome Leslie Klinger, you should also check out his annotated Sherlock Holmes volumes, which are fantastic.

The annotated version of The Hobbit is also pretty great.
posted by jbickers at 9:12 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're buying an annotated Sherlock Holmes, make sure you get the one you want. Baring-Gould did an annotated set in which the annotations get near Pale Fire levels of insanity.
posted by praemunire at 9:22 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, they are starting on a large-format annotated Proust that looked pretty good when I glanced at it. Yet I suspect you wouldn't want it for your first reading, as it would inevitably detract from the immersiveness.
posted by praemunire at 9:24 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

The annotated Pioneer Girl is great (and we discussed it at FanFare, too!).

The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, brought out for the 100th anniversary of publication, is absolutely fantastic. The notes on symbolism and themes are great, and the background for the literary references LMM uses really illuminates the text. Lots of interesting culture notes on PEI of the time too, sometimes that make you suddenly get very funny asides that flew over your head when you didn't know a song or whatever.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love the idea of that annotated Proust, which I hadn't known about; here's the first volume, for anyone who might be interested.
posted by languagehat at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

After having read Pride and Prejudice, oh, about a thousand times, the good ladies at The Ripped Bodice bookstore pointed me toward this annotated version. It's pretty wonderful. Reading it in paperback, the annotations are laid out nicely with no unecessary flipping back and forth. (No idea how it looks in the Kindle edition.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:55 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, and this is a very nice annotated (and lavishly illustrated) edition of Joyce's Dubliners.
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Baring-Gould Sherlock Holmes.
posted by baf at 11:05 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

How do you feel about fake annotations? Like Nabokov's Pale Fire, or Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves?

And there's a fabulous book that is almost ALL annotations: The Annotated Topography of Chance by Daniel Spoerri.

I also loved the annotations to Alan Moore's graphic novel, From Hell.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Nabokov, the Annotated Lolita (annotations by Alfred Appel, Jr.) is quite good.
posted by trip and a half at 1:57 PM on April 22, 2016

I have an old Penguin edition of Moby-Dick with a 300-page commentary by Harold Beaver, who seems determined to find deeper meanings on every page of the book. It's both informative and enjoyably excessive. The commentary is at the back of the book and notes aren't indicated in the text, so you do have to do a fair bit of flipping back and forth. (Penguin publishes a different edition these days, without Beaver's commentary.)
posted by Gerald Bostock at 2:10 PM on April 22, 2016

The author of the Annotated Pride and Prejudice David Shapard has also done most of the other Jane Austen books. I believe the eBook versions have the notes at the back rather than side by side.
posted by poxandplague at 2:57 PM on April 22, 2016

I'm reading that Penguin edition of Moby-Dick right now! But it wouldn't have occurred to me to mention it here, because it's more a scholarly edition than the kind of popular annotated edition the poster seemed to be asking for; also, many of the annotations are frankly loony—Beaver is completely sex-obsessed.

> Speaking of Nabokov, the Annotated Lolita (annotations by Alfred Appel, Jr.) is quite good.

As mentioned in the question itself.
posted by languagehat at 2:59 PM on April 22, 2016

To give an example I just ran into: in the famous "Whiteness of the Whale" chapter, on p. 289 of the Penguin edition, Melville (as Ishmael) mentions a sailor who referred to the albatross as a goney. Beaver's annotation reads, in full:
A goney, he replied Itself a mystic sign hinting at 'flutterings and throbbings', the very name expressing 'supernatural distress'.
In the first place, I have no idea what Beaver's talking about. In the second place, he doesn't mention the one thing you'd want an annotation to mention: that "goney," usually spelled "gooney" (its primary sense is, to quote the OED, 'a booby, a simpleton'), is more familiar in the phrase "gooney bird."
posted by languagehat at 3:11 PM on April 22, 2016

also, many of the annotations are frankly loony

That's half the reason I like it! But yeah, perhaps not quite what the OP is looking for.
posted by Gerald Bostock at 3:46 PM on April 22, 2016

Another novel with fictitious annotation is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
posted by mattholomew at 7:11 PM on April 22, 2016

This edition of Huck Finn is amazing
posted by colin_l at 7:43 AM on April 23, 2016

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