Post by James Nicoll
The Sad But Inevitable Trend Toward Forgotten SF
Since it's summer, I have limited access to the computers I usually
use these days, which block most .com addresses, so while looking at
Google Groups I actually followed this link.
For any as *haven't* followed the link: The OP found a list of <New
York Times> bestselling books for the week of his birth, and noted
which his local public library had. It was a depressingly short list,
six books out of sixteen.
Many of the comments featured the lists for the weeks of the
commenters' births. I was interested by one aspect of this: while
your oldest commenter may be older than the oldest person here, you
had *lots* more Gen X and even Millennial commenters than I'm aware
In another aspect, though, the comments were deficient. Nobody, I
think, did what you had done, and ran their lists past either the
Kitchener Public Library or their own.
So I decided to.
Everyone can play along if y'all want to. To download a week's list
for example for me
So here's my list, only ten books:
1. <The Arrangement> by Elia Kazan. It had been 1st the previous
week too, and had been on the list for 31 weeks. *
2. <The Chosen> by Chaim Potok. 2nd, 18. *
3. <Night Falls on the City> by Sarah Gainham. 5th, 6.
4. <The Eighth Day> by Thornton Wilder. 3rd, 24. *
5. <Washington, D.C.> by Gore Vidal. 4th, 19. *
6. <A Night of Watching> by Elliott Arnold. 7th, 8.
7. <The Plot> by Irving Wallace. 8th, 16.
8. <Rosemary's Baby> by Ira Levin. 6th, 16. *
9. <An Operational Necessity> by Gwyn Griffin. 10th, 3.
10. <A Second-Hand Life> by Charles Jackson. 9th, 3.
The asterisked books are those Worldcat claims the Seattle Public
Library owns, and as an added bonus, SPL actually still owns all
five. Its copy of <The Arrangement> is on a closed shelf, though, so
only accessible to someone who thinks of looking for it. In contrast,
its several copies of <The Chosen> are all in use, possibly because
SPL has decided that this is a YA book. Some copies of <Rosemary's
Baby> are also in use. Anyway, I think 5/10 is clearly better than
6/16, but see also below.
Some notes on the list: It does nothing for this list's credibility
that the only change from the previous week is some musical chairs.
Was publishing this episodic in the 1960s, new books coming out only
one week per month, so this would look believable?
The people whose decisions affected the list seem to have liked books
about Jews (2, 3, 6) and about the Third Reich (3, 6, 9, but not,
despite its remit, 5).
It is unusual for the decades I think of as "mid-century": it has a
speculative novel on it. It's also usual for those decades: several
of the plots clearly aimed to be just sexy enough to sell, but not
enough so to get censored, a moving target back then.
OK, so am I really able to read only half my list? No. SPL may only
have that many, but SPL is not the extent of my resources. The King
County Library System - the libraries of King County, Washington,
minus Seattle and a couple of hamlets - has *nine* of these ten books,
and the University of Washington, in the form mainly of the library
within which I sit typing this, has eight. KCLS and UW between them
cover the whole set, but there are also copies of several at Seattle
University (5), North Seattle College (4), Seattle Central College (2),
and Seattle Pacific University (5), to name only libraries I've used.
I got all this, of course, from Worldcat. Worldcat also shows that
many of these have been reprinted since the 1960s. Latest reprints:
1 - 1985
2 - 2016 (50th anniversary hardcover)
3 - 2012 (in Britain, where the author lived).
4 - 2014 e-book or 2011 Library of America
5 - 2000
7 - possibly the 1980s in the UK, but Worldcat's relevant records
look dodgy; otherwise 1973 Canada
8 - probably 2019, possibly 2018, certainly no earlier than 2017
9 - 1999 (in Britain, whose citizenship the author held)
Fewer appear to be held at Worldcat in electronic form, but I didn't
investigate how many Amazon, for example, offers.
Much of the plot summary of 8 looked familiar, but my book catalogue
claims I haven't read it. (I'm quite sure I haven't seen the movie.)
I owned that and 4 until 2016, both as mass market paperbacks; I got
4 and also a copy of 2 as stripcovers circa 1980 when I took out a
bookstore's trash, for what that's worth, but can't date the
paperback of 8 anywhere near so well. I've read other books by the
author of 4, but not 4; ditto 5; the authors of 3, 6, 9 and 10 were
unknown to me; everyone else was in between.
Half these individual *titles* have English Wikipedia entries (1, 2,
4, 5, 8); all the authors do. Most aren't their authors' most famous
books (the exceptions are 2, 3, and 8); more are by authors past
their prime than by new ones (same list, plus 5). The <Kirkus>
reviewer of 7 commented "The publishers are featuring this as
Wallace's longest book. It certainly is." (7 and 8 are the two the
UW doesn't own; 7 is the only one no library in Seattle admits to
owning, the only one for which I'd have to go to a suburb. 10 is the
one KCLS doesn't own, the one a suburbanite would have to come into
So from where I sit the impending doom of mid-century literature is
very much unproven. I suspect, however, that my situation is as much
an outlier as the OP's (who claims to have no access to inter-library
loan ). Without someone in an arguably more typical situation -
most obviously someone in the suburbs of a less bookish city, with
less of a research library, but with access to ILL - pitching in, we
can't get very far on this. But cross-checking may help.
So how many of my list are at the Kitchener Public Library?
2, 4, 5, 8. 40%, near enough the 37.5% of the OP's list. The eight
years between us don't seem to make a difference to the KPL.
And to how many of his list do I have access, and where?
SPL - 1, 2 (e-book only), 3, 4, 5 (print only), 6 (print only), 8,
10 (print only), 15 (print only). 9/16, slightly *better* than
my 5/10, but more are in closed shelves.
UW (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (in storage), 7 (and yes, in
the Latin), 8, 10, 11, 12, 14 (in storage), 15, 16. 14/16, again
slightly better than my 8/10, but again more in storage.
KCLS - 1, 2 (print only), 3 (e-book and audio only), 4, 5 (print only),
6 (print only), 7 (print only), 8 (e-book only), 11 (print
only). 9/16, *far* worse than my 9/10.
NSC (print by default) - 2, 4 (also audio)
SPU (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7.
SCC (print by default) - 1, 3, 4
SU (print by default) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 12, 13, 15, 16.
This leaves 9 (<Pomp and Circumstance> by Noel Coward) un-found; it
looks like I'd need to go to a university in Tacoma for it, Note
the role reversal in the religious Seattle schools: the Catholic
one has Taylor Caldwell's <The Listener>, while the evangelical
Protestant one has <Winnie Ille Pu>.
So this cross-check does make something of a case for entropy; KCLS
isn't the only library that did worse, and one of your books did fall
through the cracks.
I wanted to give this post more than Ira Levin for on-topicness,
by running similar analyses on Hugo-nominated novels for 1959 and
1967 (as the nearest thing we have to a spec-fic bestseller list
that far back). But I'm out of time for today.
 The OP says he no longer has access to inter-library loan; it's
more complicated than that, but the claim is substantially true. See
In particular I call attention to the page's emphasis on reciprocal
borrowing arrangements; I wasn't sure those existed (let alone had
the same name) north of the US border, but that's what allows me to
borrow from KCLS. For most things I research, these arrangements
don't make much difference to me, but they make a huge difference in
K-dramas where I live, and evidently in English-language fiction old
but in copyright. Without more work than I care to do, I can't sort
out how many of the OP's list, or even of my own, would be accessible
to him via such arrangements. NB, KCLS is *not* the only arrangement
I can take advantage of, just the most convenient; SPL seems to have
deals with most of Western Washington, and some of its partners seem
to have deals with most of the state.
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>