Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cortázar: Hopscotch (Signet)

This Signet edition of Julio Cortázar's most famous novel was the first American paperback publication, issued in December 1967. I don't know if the cover art depicts an actual George Segal sculpture or just a deliberate rip-off of his style; in any case the book credits neither the designer nor the artist. It's a fairly generic piece of art; perhaps the salient point was that the woman is naked and lying in bed, as the publishers were eager to punch up the erotic angle of the book, which is prounounced "an underground classic" on the cover. The words above the title read LIFE | LOVE | SEX, which I suppose is one way of summing up what Rayuela is about. Just in case anyone missed the point it's spelled out again on the bottom of the back cover: “Hopscotch / a game of / LIFE, LOVE, SEX.”

The blurbs are pretty hilarious: Harvey L. Johnson of the Houston Post promises “Sexual bouts, drunken orgies … escapes into hallucinations and trances, emphasis on sex, unmindful frankness … shocking and sordid … crude or amusing … Hopscotch will not soon be forgotten,” while the Baltimore Sun simply promises that it “leaves you limp.”

Cortázar apparently first saw the cover by accident in June 1968, in an unlikely part of the world:
And since we're on the subject, in Tehran (of all places) my wife came across, by pure chance, in a supermarket, Hopscotch in the paperback edition. She bought it and gave it to me as gift. I stood aghast to read the bit about LOVE/SEX: by the author of Blow-Up, etc. Eventually I realized that all pocket-books are the same, and that on the other hand the edition was a good one and didn't, I think, have any major errors. But that naked couple (made out of clay, no less) depressed me quite a bit. It's unbelievable how "mass-market" editions can debase a work that tries to aim much higher. Every day I hate consumer societies more (which is why in Argentina they catalog me as a dangerous Red, and from that point of view they're right, what the hell).
(From a letter to Gregory Rabassa, in Cartas 2 (2000 edition); translation mine.)

Eventually this edition was superseded by Bard's, which had a much better cover. In addition to Hopscotch, the New American Library (of which Signet was an imprint) apparently also bought the paperback rights to The Winners at the same time, but I've found no evidence that a Signet edition of that novel was ever issued.

Update: Below is the Plume edition (another NAL imprint) from 1971, which I haven't seen before. I can't say I care much for it.

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