BETWEEN COVERS: A Short History of American Book Publishing by John Tebbel

BETWEEN COVERS: A Short History of American Book Publishing

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This 475-page abridgment of the author's scholarly four-volume edition, while not exactly bedside reading, is a thoroughly documented and lovingly compiled narrative and sourcebook. Reading this one-volume history, it's hard to imagine where Tebell could have come up with enough information to fill three more. There's that much detail. Be. ginning with the first presses in the New World, imported from England, and the Puritan tracts they produced, Tebell comes all the way to 1985 and the rumored possibility of a Doubleday sale. The book has four chronological divisons: up to the Civil War, 1865 to 1919, ""The Golden Age Between Two Wars"" and ""The Great Change"" thereafter. In each section he keeps a running log of all the major houses and the people who run them. He also examines industrial changes like the rise of paperbacks before the Civil War and after and the great fiction boom between 1890 and 1914. The secondary topics explored include censorship, erotic books, the rise of book clubs and of children's and young adult books. Of course the book is most interesting when anecdotes manage to bring authors and editors alive. There are good profiles of Max Perkins and Alfred Knopf, Jr. And learning the noteworthy gaffs in publishing is always a laugh, like Harper & Row's rejection of Alice in Wonderland, or William Styron's refusal, as a McGraw-Hill reader, of Kon-Tiki. Interesting, too, to discover what kinds of books have sold well at different periods in American history, like the now unknown escapist novel Anthony Adverse during the Depression, and war fiction during WW II. But most of all Tebell, a traditionalist, mourns the post-war changes that have made American literature ""processed, stylized, serialized, Hollywoodized, networked, televisioned, merged and high-priced."" Dense with information, a who's who and who was who to the publishing industry, Between Covers is authoritative and smooth reading. It will appeal both to those inside the industry and those outside with a keen fascination for it.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press