A Brief History of the Mass-Market Paperback

Smithsonian Magazine has a short post on the origin of the paperback book in the United States:

Robert Fair de Graff realized he could change the way people read by making books radically smaller. Back then, it was surprisingly hard for ordinary Americans to get good novels and nonfiction. The country only had about 500 bookstores, all clustered in the biggest 12 cities, and hardcovers cost $2.50 (about $40 in today’s currency).

De Graff revolutionized that market when he got backing from Simon & Schuster to launch Pocket Books in May 1939. A petite 4 by 6 inches and priced at a mere 25 cents, the Pocket Book changed everything about who could read and where.

Per Wikipedia, the first ten numbered Pocket Book titles were:

  1. Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  2. Wake Up and Live by Dorothea Brande
  3. Five Great Tragedies by William Shakespeare
  4. Topper by Thorne Smith
  5. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  6. Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker
  7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  8. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  9. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  10. Bambi by Felix Salten

An important note: the Pocket Books were the first paperback books in the U.S.  But it was Albatross Booksa German publishing house based in Hamburg. that produced the first modern mass market paperback books.

Albatross was founded in 1932 by John Holroyd-Reece, Max Wegner and Kurt Enoch. The name was chosen because “Albatross’ is the same word in many European languages. Based on the example of Tauchnitz, a Leipzig publishing firm that had been producing inexpensive and paperbound English-language reprints for a continental market, Albatross set about to streamline and modernize the paperback format.


: How the paperback novel changed popular literature (also from Smithsonian Magazine)

Stephen King on Successful Novels

Stephen King was blown away by The Lord of the Flies when he first read it as a child. In this interview in The Telegraph, he goes on to explain how he found the novel and why it appeals to him. But the biggest takeaway are his thoughts on what makes a successful novel (emphasis mine):

To me, Lord of the Flies has always represented what novels are for; what makes them indispensable. Should we expect to be entertained when we read a story? Of course. An act of the imagination that doesn’t entertain is a poor act indeed. But there should be more. A successful novel should erase the boundary line between writer and reader, so they can unite. When that happens, the novel becomes a part of life – the main course, not the dessert. A successful novel should interrupt the reader’s life, make him or her miss appointments, skip meals, forget to walk the dog. In the best novels, the writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality. It glows, incandescent and furious. I’ve been espousing these ideas for most of my life as a writer, and not without being criticised for them. If the novel is strictly about emotion and imagination, the most potent of these criticisms go, then analysis is swept away and discussion of the book becomes irrelevant.

This is why I read fiction.

Hat tip: @matthiasrascher