In any age, the percentage of people who read, intelligently and patronize the best literature remains about the same. The number who buy books varies widely. In the light of this anomaly, the rejoicings of the publishers Tuesday, at the convention of their National Association, is not conclusive in the examination of America's culture. They felt, however, that the millennium is approaching, and took for their keynote the familiar word "prosperity", the prosperity that leads people to buy books if it does not make them read. The woman who in Addison's day filled her library with the worthwhile books done in wooden blocks with deceptive backs, can now afford the actual volumes. Whether she finds time or inclination to read them is an important consideration. Mr. Dodd, President of the Association said that she does, that the public is learning to discriminate instead of buying "best sellers because everyone is reading them," and that "the enormous increase of interest in non-fiction" is a most favorable sign. Agreeing heartily with this optimism as it did, The New York Times complained editorially of the worthlessness of much of the publishers' output.
The books of non-fiction, of philosophy or psychology, of travel or biography, that have struck the popular fancy recently, although usually validly interesting, have attained remarkable sales entirely unanticipated by their publishers. Surprised, and hopeful of repeating the successes, these gentlemen have responded by setting a horde of hack writers to work at mere compilation and redaction. The result has been a flood of matter that excells the pamphlets of former centuries only in that it is better bound and more expensive. Uneasy under the searchlight of critics, the public has been self-consciously seeking knowledge, but it is impossible to expect it to consume all the indigestible efforts that now bury bookshop counters. The burden of a profitable business, they must go down in red ink on the ledgers of men who abandon discrimination because they fear to reject a work that might parallel the phenomenum by Will Durant. And the better authors, in a struggle to keep their heads above water in a sea of competitors, must produce more often if not as well, to hold public interest.