A curmudgeon’s literary paraphernalia

It has not always been so, but few aspects of online aspiring-writer culture are more irritating to me than “literary lifestyle” tips and paraphernalia. (Library-scented perfume. Dictionary wallpaper. Moleskines. Bookshelves fashioned of reference books pulled from library dumpsters. The onslaught is maddening.)

But every curmudgeon is at least something of a hypocrite, and I am no exception. I visit writers’ houses, read their recipes, and sometimes stop in at the White Horse Tavern, a bar that has nothing to recommend it apart from the fact that Dylan Thomas was served his last drink there. Last night A.N. Devers gave me a replica of Mark Twain’s pen knife. It’s sitting here on my desk next to — ahem — the Poe figurine.

And now I am going to recommend a book for your coffee table.

My friend Dwight Garner’s Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements, a revealing cultural history marketed as a novelty book, collects one hundred years of book ads, from the creatively manipulative to the hilariously misguided. Read Me shows, more effectively than any treatise could, how pitches to book-buyers evolved in the last century, and also that the marketing arm of the publishing industry has always had the capacity to be more than a little tone-deaf (as in the perky ad for Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, below).

It’s the perfect thing to pass around and read aloud from after holiday meals, while everyone is still drunk and merry and not wanting to contemplate the moment they’ll have to head back out into the cold.


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