Nights of Rain and Stars

by Maeve Binchy

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(Penguin Signet) $9.99

ON THE COVER of Maeve Binchy's latest paperback novel, Nights of Rain and Stars, there is a large comic-book-style explosion that has text in it, which reads "Specially designed for comfortable reading!" and, as someone who has never read Maeve Binchy's novels—although I have often whiled away a minute or two dreaming of becoming Mr. Maeve Binchy just for the pure sound of it, Maeve like a verb describing some action taking place across a diagonal plane, Binchy like an approving adjective that cautiously maintains a detached distance from its subject—I feel vaguely repulsed not just by the statement, which seems to imply that reading is an ergonomic disaster and bad for the lumbar spine and the neck, or that people howl out in pain while reading some mammoth-spined text ("Martha, this Infinite Jest is killin' me over here!"), but also by the crass commercialism of the statement, which is revealed by grade-school mathematics: Most of Binchy's readers are older, and although I do not have the figures in front of me, let's say the demographic is women, 40 to 65 years of age, who consider the $7.99 price-point of Binchy's other titles a Major Plus; and it occurs to me that the publisher, trying to milk a few more dollars out of their mid-list standard, ruled against making Nights of Rain and Stars a $14.99 trade paperback but instead stretched the mass-market about an inch taller, with one-and-a-half line spacing in the text, priced the book at $9.99, and then plastered the word "comfort"—a word that is heinously overused and incredibly effective when marketing to older people—across the cover to explain away the fact that they're trying to Rip Old Folks Off with Clever Marketing, and all the while the booksellers laugh and joke about how just when they thought they'd seen everything...