Simanaitis Says

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IT’S GOOD fun to read the great books. It’s added pleasure to peruse them in annotated editions.


I didn’t realize how many of these I’ve accumulated over the years until I got them all in one place. Each of the 27 (!?!) enhances the reading pleasure of the original.


The Annotated McGuffey: Selections from the McGuffey Eclectic Readers 1836-1920, commentary by Stanley W. Lindberg, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976.

McGuffey Eclectic Readers weren’t the only American textbooks, but they dominated the school market for more than 75 years. First published in 1836, more than 122 million copies have been in circulation. In fact, though they’re no longer the pedagogical hot tip, the books never have gone out of print. Indeed, there’s even a McGuffey app.


There are six Readers of increasing difficulty, all designed for use in a typical one-room schoolhouse of the period. Image from The Annotated McGuffey.

Annotator Lindberg notes that their popularity, particularly west of the Alleghenies and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, was exceeded only by that of the Bible. Educational reforms after World War I eventually displaced many McGuffey applications.


The Annotated Jules Verne: From the Earth to the Moon, Direct in Ninety-seven Hours and Twenty Minutes, commentary by Walter James Miller, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1978.

Sharing format with other annotated editions, this Annotated Jules Verne has split pages, two-thirds original text and illustrations, one-third containing commentary.


Details are given of the “vehicle-projectile” used for the Moon visit. Image from The Annotated Jules Verne.

Commentator Miller stresses that this is the “only completely rendered and annotated edition,” important because previous English translations of Verne’s works were often abridged, “dumbed down” for kids, we’d say.


The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition, edited by Nicholas Frankel, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.

Its cover blurb says The Picture of Dorian Gray “heralded the end of repressive Victorianism.” Yet its 1890 first edition excised a lot of material—about 500 words—especially anything suggesting homosexuality.


Annotations address cultural as well as literary aspects. Image from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Notes commentator Frankel, “When Wilde enlarged the novel for the 1891 edition, he responded to his critics by further toning down its ‘immoral’ elements.” Now, more than 120 years later, this annotated version shares Wilde’s original intentions.

On a related note, editorial pal Larry Givens once told me a story of double features, one of the motion pictures being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Seated ahead of Larry and his sister at that long-ago Saturday matinee were four kids, the oldest of whom had evidently been delegated to shield his youngest brother’s eyes whenever the evil queen came on the screen.

None of the kids could have foreseen the end of the second feature, inexplicably The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I suspect that, all these years later, the younger brother is still having nightmares. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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