Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America (Henry McBride Series in Modernism and Modernity)

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9780300082135: Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America (Henry McBride Series in Modernism and Modernity)

In post-World War I America, teeming as it was with magazines, newspapers, radio broadcasts and movies, many feared that the survival of traditional, serious books was in peril. This concern led to a publishing boom in fine editions; books valued primarily for their beauty, craftsmanship, extravagance, status, or scarcity. Beauty and the Book is a lively cultural history of the explosion in demand for these deluxe books during the 1920s and 1930s. Megan L. Benton argues that the clamour to own fine books reflected the anxieties and desires of those who mourned the rise of a modern mass culture. For them, such volumes not only affirmed a preindustrial ideal but also imparted social distinction and cultural superiority. Benton combines new archival research with a close examination of three hundred fine editions of the period. In theory, fine bookmakers were devoted to beauty and quality and were unwilling to compromise with machinery, popular taste, or concern for profit. But such ideal standards were nearly impossible to maintain. Paradoxically, fine publishers' ostensible indifference to commercial considerations was one of their most prized and lucrative products for sale. This book illuminates the interplay between the ideal and real nature of fine publishing as well as the complex nature of American cultural ambitions during this pivotal era.

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About the Author:

Megan L. Benton is associate professor of English and director of the Publishing and Printing Arts Program at Pacific Lutheran University.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Benton (English/Pacific Lutheran Univ.) explores the clash between cultural purists and preying capitalists in the publishing worlds mad rush to create deluxe editions of distinguished authors during the 1920s and '30s. In this boom of fine editions of literary classics, was the goal of the post-WWI publishing industry to illuminate the darkened masses, to finesse the egos of a wealthy generation of parvenus, or to preserve the art of the word for a self-determined cultural elite? Benton answers this question by interrogating the historical record of the publishing world and the lives of the men and women who directed it in the early years of the 20th century. With witty anecdotes that enliven and sharpen her narrative, the publishing giants of yesteryear come alive, complete with the personality wrinkles which line their character. Firecracker Beatrice Ward, stodgy Porter Garnett (who made his employees work under a depiction of Gods eye), and mercenary Bennett Cerf, among others, participated in an unparalleled publishing phenomenon: the marketing of exquisitely handcrafted books, selling for outrageous sums to customers wealthy enough to afford them. Reacting to the mass industrialization of the world around them, these printers worked to create an artistic form for books that mirrored their delicious content. Noble objectives notwithstanding, filthy lucre never fully disappeared from the purity of the projectthis paradox reaching its height as publishers cashed in on the supposed anti-commercialism of their project to sell more and more titles. Bentons lucid prose exposes this fault line between vision and reality with good humor and rigid research, resulting in the most readable of scholarly tomes. A fine book about fine books, Bentons study will delight bibliophiles with its clever mix of history, anecdote, and analysis. -- Copyright 2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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