Brain Pickings

The First Ads for Famous Books

by

Because even genius needs share of voice to succeed.

In Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements (public library), New York Times book critic Dwight Garner offers “a visual survey of book advertisements, plucked from yellowing newspapers, journals and magazines large and small, from across the United States during the twentieth century” — more than 300 of them, to be precise, including some of modern history’s most beloved literary classics by favorite authors like Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Anaïs Nin, and Ray Bradbury. What emerges is a curious alternative history of literature and its parallel evolution alongside twentieth-century communication arts and advertising. But, perhaps most importantly, it serves as a necessary antidote to the genius myth, demonstrating that icons are very much made, not merely celebrated for their “God”-given talent.

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Garner writes of the new visual language of the 60s:

Author photographs, in the 1960s, were increasingly put to bold use. Susan Sontag pops out of a 1963 ad for her first novel, The Benefactor, glancing provocatively from the page as if she were an intellectual Cleopatra.

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