It's About Time | Newberry

It's About Time

Now, as pointed out hereintofore, books at this mighty book binge are sorted by subject, more or less. Some books, when you find them on the shelves, will have been sorted by author within their subject, generally by the first letter of their last name. (We DO get people who ask, every year, if we have alphabetized books by title, by author’s first name, or by some other obvious-to-them method. There are volunteers who would willingly spend all their days sorting books into smaller and smaller categories, but I have directed these people to the library school of their choice. I believe these are the people who wind up at the Library of Congress creating subject headings like Ottawa, IL—Journalists—Motherhood—Fiction. The rest of us try to stick to subject and maybe a little subsorting (we do try to put all the knitting books together under How To, or the JFK conspiracy books under Law.)

HOWEVER, as I can think of no Book Fair rule that lacks an exception (including this one?) there are a few books sorted FIRST by publisher. The Lakeside Classics, about which I have blogged, should always be found in Collectibles. Books published by the Franklin Mint or the Easton Press—those are the big, heavy ones with solid leather covers—will also be found there, along with things published by the Limited Editions Club.

There is also a publishing line which tends to get sorted into one area: the recycle bin. We would rather not do this, and when we do get a copy we can sell, we set it out in its own category: usually Literature, though it can also be found in History, Humor, Sociology, and who knows what all else. If you find a copy of one of these books on a shelf at the Book Fair, treat it with care and respect. It is a survivor.

And it comes from what was really a nice set of books, published in the early to mid 1960s. Time-Life, looking around for another way to keep the printing presses and the reading public busy, came up with the Time Reading Program. These were solid paperbacks, bigger than mass market paperbacks but smaller than hardcovers, and a good quarter century ahead of the boom in what we now call the Trade paperback. If you belonged to the Program, you would get some of these every month: books deemed worthy by Time Magazine’s chief book reviewer, and packaged anew just for you, with a wraparound art cover and frequently a new introduction, sometimes by the author. Graham Greene and Vladimir Nabokov, among others, added comments on their own work. Looking over the list from here, it’s hard to pick out any real losers (though this is partly because appearing in the Program helped the book’s reputation, and Time could choose leading lights from the get-go.) The Greek Way, The Screwtape Letters, Walden, Out of Africa, Three Men in a Boat…the list of classics goes on. Maybe a few books have been rendered obsolete by the passage of time, maybe Time itself chose the safest instead of the best book by some authors: but by and large, the books in the Time Reading Program would still present a pretty good library today.

If only so many of them didn’t to make it to the shelves.

See, Time wanted their books to be not only distinctive but durable. They opted for a plastic-reinforced cover. This cover was a triumph in many ways: it will not crease or wrinkle, avoiding the marks and problems to which a normal paperback is heir. These creases are not the worst thing which can befall a book, though. Especially as the TRP covers age they will, if bent, simply snap. This is especially obvious if you, say, open the book to read it. Open too quickly, and you will find yourself with the book in your left hand, and the detached cover in your right. Besides losing you the nifty artwork designed just for this edition of The Martian Chronicles, it makes for an awkward reading experience.

On the plus side, if you DO find one of these special editions at the Book Fair, they generally run around one dollar. No one wants to risk writing anything more complicated inside, and breaking the cover. Brings a whole new meaning to that old college brag, “I never even cracked the book.”

Add new comment