The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion

A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks

THE Everyman Library was evolved in England, and to this day its format shows its British origin. The Modern Library (Random House, 95 cents), on the other hand, has been from the start a New York product. It was the plan of its originators, Boni & Liveright, to print a pocketsize, inexpensive edition of ’the classics that have stayed modern and moderns that have become classics.’ The little books first appeared in 1919, bound up in an imitation leather which had been treated with castor oil. It was not realized that when this binding was exposed to the sun the oil turned rancid and the odor of sanctity became the odor of skunk.
When the Library passed into the hands of its present proprietors its dress was changed to a balloon cloth, silky and odorless. The sale of the series jumped immediately. A total of ten million copies have been bought and paid for since copy number one left the press. The Library to-day is selling at the rate of more than a million a year.
There are 215 volumes in the series, half of them as modern as the twentieth century. Ten new books are added to it every year, and the editors, fearful lest the series become too unwieldy, drop from their shelf those titles which have lost the public’s interest — authors, in short, who are in a blind spot. The five books most in demand to-day are Of Human Bondage, The Brothers Karamazov, The Magic Mountain, Tom Jones, and Green Mansions. But a decade ago you would have found these three at the top: Madame Bovary, The Red Lily, and Dorian Gray. The hot shots, of course, are ever changing: Hemingway and Lawrence replace Cabell and Dreiser, and are replaced by Faulkner and Caldwell. But the proven classics go on their way serenely.
Five years ago the Modern Library turned some of its profit into a series of Giant volumes, fat omnibus volumes ($1.10 each) holding, whenever possible, the complete works of an author. There are thirty such Giants to-day; to launch a new one calls for an investment of from $5000 to $10,000. The Complete Works of Jane Austen and the Complete Poetry of Keats and Shelley lead the field. Sir Walter Scott is the least popular of the Giants, and even he sells 8000 copies a year. It is good to know that Americans have such a keen appetite for books that last.