Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements | By Dwight Garner | Ecco | 288 pages | $26.99
Looking for that skyrocketing bestseller? For steamy sex between the sheets? Readers as far back as the 1900s were, too. In this odd but intriguing offshoot from his main calling of criticism, Garner, a former senior editor of The New York Times Book Review, gathers a century's worth of book advertising and notes its trends, decade by decade. During the Depression-era '30s, for example, readers were advised to "learn to relax" with "The Tired Business Man's Library of Adventure, Detective, and Mystery Novels," while the seemingly conformist '50s witnessed a slew of ads courting controversy (particularly in the case of Norman Mailer's Barbary Coast, for which, Garner notes, the majority of reviews were "scathing"). From the '80s on, Garner has a little trouble spotting clear trends; perhaps his own tenure as a critic has him a little too close to the subject. But it's those early ads that make this book shine. You might suspect "there's a thrill to the minute" in Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, but did you suspect "his strange wooing," touted in a 1914 ad? Or that in 1911 The Phantom of the Opera would be pitched as "The Best Selling Book in New York"? "This novel is one week old and famous the country over," bragged its ad in The New York Times Review of Books. Some things never change.
— Clea Simon
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