Paperbacks printed years ago often contained promotions for other publications on the inside covers or at the back of the book. I read this material to see how many of those books published back then or their authors I even recognize. They are sometimes the most entertaining part of the book. Take, for example, the ads in my oldest softcover book printed by the American News Company in 1895.
Bought for a buck or two at an art and antiques show, I was attracted to it not because I was familiar with the title or author but because of the remarkable picture on the cover of the author, or as I am guessing she, Miss Laura Jean Libbey, might have called herself, the authoress. She is staring straight ahead. Her eyes are hypnotic, but it is almost impossible to concentrate on them because the gaze is drawn to the noteworthy hat that spreads wide over her head and has three visible plumes plus something else I cannot identify. The back cover shows a fuller, three-quarters view of the same picture, which shows that Libbey had an enviable bust and a waist, surely cinched in, that does not look humanly possible.
I was also drawn to the book because of its title—When His Love Grew Cold. Her other books that were advertised inside the covers showed that Libbey had a way with titles that at least attracted me: Miss Middleton’s Lover: or Parted on their Bridal Tour; A Forbidden Marriage: or in Love with a Handsome Spendthrift; He Loved, but was Lured Away; and Lovers Once, but Strangers Now. A couple of her titles at first glance were letdowns, but only until I read their descriptions. I learned about Olive’s Courtship that “the quiet title does not prepare you for the powerful story that follows. No living author has ever equaled it.” And the reader “will never lay down That Pretty Young Girl until you discover who killed the handsome, profligate Earl of Dunraven on his wedding night, and unravel the mystery which surrounds the beautiful, hapless Helen, whom to love—was fatal.”
Nearly as surprising as this body of work was to me was the conclusion of the preface. Libbey, after teasing her readers, as she had apparently done before, with the suggestion that this would be her last book, not only gives her name, but her address: No. 916 President Street, Brooklyn, where the four-story brownstone house still stands.
Other ads in my older paperbacks pique my interest. While I finished Libbey’s novel a whiIe ago, I am now reading in small doses The Sardonic Humor of Ambrose Bierce, which was printed in 1963 and published by Dover Books. It has an eight-page catalog of other Dover Books at the back of the volume. Three of those pages are for art books, including the intriguing Foot-High Letters: A Guide to Lettering (A Practical Syllabus for Teachers).
I only recognize a few of the authors in the “Entertainments, Humor” section. A book I am not familiar with, however, fascinates me: The Bear that Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin. Its description: “What does it mean? Is it simply delightful wry humor, or a charming story of a bear who wakes up in the midst of a factory, or a satire on Big Business, or an existential cartoon-story of the human condition, or a symbolization of the struggle between conformity and the individual?” Sounds like quite a book.
I recognize more of the authors in “Fiction,” but not always the listed books. I have read Tarzan and take certain pride that Tarzan has a Wisconsin connection. But should I now read Three Martian Novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs? Or the other Mars novels by Burroughs that are listed? Further down in “Fiction” I found the listing for Five Great Dog Novels and tried to think of five dog novels, period. Maybe you will recognize more than the only one I did: Call of the Wild by Jack London; Rab and his Friends by John Brown; Bob, Son of Battle, by Alfred Ollivant; Beautiful Joe by Marshall Saunders; and A Dog of Flanders by Ouida. Who knew?
My favorite, however, was the last listing: Gesta Romanorum, translated by Charles Swan and edited by Wynnard Hooper. “181 tales of Greeks, Romans, Britons, Biblical characters, comprise one of (sic) greatest medieval story collections, source of plots for writers including Shakespeare, Chaucer, Gower, etc. Imaginative tales of wars, incest, thwarted love, magic, fantasy, allegory, humor, tell about kings, prostitutes, philosophers, fair damsels, knights, Noah, pirates, all walks, stations of life.” I feel as if my education is sorely lacking for never having heard of this book. Surely, it has everything, and if I had read it, I would not have to read anything else ever again. Five hundred pages, and the list price: $1.85. Where can I find this remarkable compendium?