W. Somerset Maugham's Introduction to Modern English and American Literature

W. Somerset Maugham's Introduction to Modern English and American Literature

W. Somerset Maugham's Introduction to Modern English and American Literature

W. Somerset Maugham's Introduction to Modern English and American Literature

Excerpt

One of the minor, but delectable and innocent, pleasures of life is to wander about a well-stocked bookshop, looking at titles, taking up a volume here and there, and turning over the pages; and the pleasure is enhanced if there is in the store an assistant sufficiently well informed to tell you something of a book that has excited your curiosity or to suggest one that you did not know of on a subject that happens to be of interest to you. But this is a pleasure of which the vast majority of the inhabitants of the United States are deprived, for, relatively to the population, bookshops, real ones, I mean, are few and far between. They are clustered for the most part in the great centers of population. I myself know a city of now nearly two hundred thousand inhabitants in which the one place where you can buy new books is a gift shop, and the stock consists only of the season's best sellers. The inhabitant of a small town must be satisfied, if at all, with what reprints he can buy at his local drug store.

The need of the public is, however, further supplied by a number of organizations that have sprung up to sell books by mail to members secured by intensive advertising. These books are chosen for them by judges often of reputation, but of varying literary tastes, and the propriety of their judgment is determined by the number of books returned by customers who do not like them and by the increase or at least maintenance of membership. This is probably as good a way of buying books as can be devised for the large number of persons who are out of reach of bookshops and thus seldom have a chance to look at books for themselves and make their own choice; but it is naturally a limiting way, since you must accept the judgment of three or four persons upon what . . .

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