John Spiers, Ed. the Culture of the Publisher's Series. Vol. 1, Authors, Publishers and the Shaping of Taste

By Buchanan, David | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

John Spiers, Ed. the Culture of the Publisher's Series. Vol. 1, Authors, Publishers and the Shaping of Taste


Buchanan, David, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


John Spiers, ed. The Culture of the Publisher's Series. Vol. 1, Authors, Publishers and the Shaping of Taste. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 20ll. 264 pp.; 50.00 [pound sterling] ISBN 9780230284029

This book is concerned with the culture of the publisher's series worldwide and over several centuries. Eleven new studies examining many nations and contexts from the seventeenth century to the end of the twentieth century cover specific series in detail, including description of roles and relationships within the publishing industry (incl., publishers, authors, literary agents, designers, and wholesale and retail distributors) and analysis of issues and topics significant to contemporary literary scholars (e.g., market forces, canonicity, copyright, literary education, popular media, high art, and marketing in its many aspects).

In the introduction, John Spiers outlines the overall aims and methodology of the work. The stated aim is a critical examination of "the cultural work and impact of the series, its purposes, strategies and contexts" (2). The methodology involves case studies of "historically eminent series" (5) that make "connections between objects, their production and their influence" (2), with emphasis on understanding "publishing as a commercial, risk-taking, competitive, practical and entrepreneurial enterprise" (I). The focus on material approaches to and the economic understanding of literary history is important as both an introduction to book history and as a unifying framework for this diverse collection.

In the opening chapter, Wallace Kirsop analyzes market forces and modernization in the French book trade in the last century of the Ancien Regime and in the early nineteenth century. Isabelle Olivero follows in chapter 2 with an examination of the "principal steps of the 'paperback revolution' in France, in the creation, commercialisation and reading of popular books from 1850 to 1950" (73) by paying particular attention to the emergence and impact of the Bibliotheque Charpentier. Issues of production and reception relative to up-market and down-market audiences raised by Kirsop and Olivero, respectively, connect well with the next two chapters. In chapter 3, Gordon B. Neavill investigates issues of canonicity in relation to reprint publishing and copyright in the eighteenth century and Simon Eliot describes the early years of the Clarendon Press Series and the transition from learned printers to modern publishers in chapter 4. As such, the first four chapters address interconnected issues--the book trade, popular literature, canon formation, and the academic press--directly relevant to humanities' scholars working in academia today.

The next three chapters further indicate the variety of topics covered in this collection. In chapter 5, Patrick Buckridge considers personality, appreciation, and literary education in relation to Harrap's Poetry and Life Series (1911-30), teasing out distinctive aims, assumptions, and methods. Cecile Cottenet follows with a look at the excavation of original African-American pulp fiction for W.W. Norton's Old School Books Series, providing a unique view of the re-imagination of forgotten literature by a mainstream publisher aiming to open up new markets. In chapter 7, Kate Macdonald provides a riveting narrative of the relationship between Thomas Nelson and Sons of Edinburgh and John Buchan.

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