The Book Find Club (1946)
Found this mailer card in an old book.
Here’s a little history>
The Book Find Club (1946):
In The Cultural Front, Michael Denning identifies the Book Find Club as a Popular Front institution. Its eclectic selection of books in 1946 covered the left side of the political spectrum from New Deal liberal to Stalinist. It also included books by writers not considered particularly political and was heavy on political exposes.
Its founder, George Braziller, fits the profile of the “proletarian intellectual.” He was a decade younger than most of the cohort and forced to drop out of high school in the tenth grade during the Depression. When he started the book club in 1940, he was 24 and working as a shipping clerk. According to an article on book clubs by John K, Hutchens that ran on the front page of the New York Times Book Review on March 31, Braziller’s initial capitalization was $25 and an inventory of remaindered books. By 1946 his club had 70,000 members and his eye for books allowed him to guarantee publishers a sale of 60,000 for the titles he chose, according to Hutchens. He would rent the plates and then manufacture his own editions, keeping costs very low. The article noted that he was offering his May selection, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Jackson to members at $1.35, less than half the price of the Little, Brown trade edition.
The April selection was Theodore Dreiser’s novel The Bulwark about the deleterious effects of material success on a Philadelphia Quaker family. It had been published posthumously. Dreiser was definitely to the left politically and John Howard Lawson, cultural commissar of the Hollywood wing of the Party, claimed to have won his deathbed return to the Communist Party, which he had left some years earlier. This week The Bulwark was on the Times best seller list although most critics agreed it was not the equal of the author’s best works.
Braziller had served in the Army in Europe. According to his later recollections his first postwar choice for the club was Arthur Miller’s novel Focus, the club’s February selection. This story about anti-Semitism was a first novel from Miller, who would soon become a famous playwright. At this time Miller was very active in left-wing cultural groups like Stage For Action. Charles Poore in the above linked New York Times review found the novel more a lecture on Antisemitism than a satisfying work of fiction. The display ad that ran in the Times for the club edition offered new members the additional free choice of one of the other recent club selections. They included:
Cross Section 1945, an anthology edited by Edwin Seaver of previously unpublished novelettes, stories and poems by 35 American authors. Cross Section came out annually between 1943 and 1948. Seaver was also an editor at Direction, a member of the literary left, a writer and advocate of the proletarian novel.
These Are the Russians a sympathetic but balanced profile of the Russian people by Michael Lauterbach, who had been the Time magazine Moscow correspondent in 1943 to 1944 after the Soviet defeat of the German Army. Here is the Time review.
A dual selection of The Folded Leaf, a critically hailed novel by New Yorker editor William Maxwell, identified in the ad as a coming of age story of a “sensitive boy” and Dark Legend, a true story by psychiatrist Frederick Wortham of a 17 year old who murdered his mother. The Folded Leaf is still in print. Wortham was famous for his later attacks on comic books as a cause of violent behavior in impressionable children.
The Plot Against the Peace was a piece of left wing political paranoia by Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn that warned that Nazis with friends in high places in the US were setting plans in motion for a third world war that would return them to power in Europe. This scenario was promulgated as fact at many meetings of the Far Left in 1946. This was the Stalinist conspiracy theory to counter the Right Wing conspiracy theory that saw the Communists running the State Department. Essentially it suspected anyone who criticized Stalin or the Soviet Union ‘s foreign policy of being in on the Fascist plot.
An ad that ran in May noted that among the books that had been Book Find selections in the past were:
Strange Fruit, Southern writer Lillian Smith’s controversial 1944 novel about an interracial affair. Jose Ferrer had directed a stage adaptation of the novel that had closed in January after a brief run on Broadway.
Undercover by John Roy Carlson (the pen name of Avedia Derounian) was an expose of anti-Semitism in the isolationist movement. Selections had appeared in several magazines before it was published as a book. Carlson’s investigation had been sponsored by the Friends of Democracy, a church group that sought to expose extremism on both sides of the political spectrum, and the Anti-Defamation League. Carlson had posed as a pro-fascist, anti-Semitic Italian-American and infiltrated a number of America First groups. His book linked the anti-Semites to several isolationist Senators and congressmen who retaliated by demanding that Derounian and the sponsoring groups be investigated as un-American. It was the top non-fiction best seller of 1944. In 1946 writing again as John Roy Carlson, Derounian published The Plotters. His brother Steven Derounian was a conservative Republican congressman from Long Island during the Nixon era and ardent supporter of Barry Goldwater.
George Washington Carver, a biography by Rackham Holt, was an uncritical hagiography that was published in 1943, the year the educator died, and helped enshrine his image in the postwar world.
Argentine Diary: The Inside Story of the Coming of Fascism was by Ray Josephs who had been a gossip columnist and news magazine stringer in Buenos Aires, While living in Argentina, he befriended a young actress, Eva Duarte, who became better known as Evita Peron. He used his inside connections to report on the political turmoil inside this ostensibly neutral country. He later became a prominent PR exec.
The Cross and the Arrow was a 1944 novel by screenwriter Albert Maltz about a Gestapo investigation of a minor act of sabotage in a small German village. In 1946 Maltz would become an unintentional center of controversy among his fellow Communists. In the February issue of New Masses he had written an article meant to be a refutation of the cultural policies of the recently deposed party leader Earl Browder. However, the article seemed to imply that Communist writers should have greater artistic freedom than they had under Browder. This greatly infuriated the rigidly Stalinist Party leadership. Maltz was subjected to a reeducation session conducted by John Howard Lawson and the rest of his Hollywood cell for daring to even suggest such a thing. Fully chastened, he recanted in an article published in both New Masses and the Daily Worker that April. Lawson’s group, including Maltz, became known as the Hollywood Ten when they were dragged before HUAC and then imprisoned for failing to cooperate with the committee.
The Book Find Club was one of many niche book clubs in the Forties that sought to emulate, on a smaller scale. the success of Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. Book clubs accounted for much of book sales in 1946, particularly outside the major cities. Their influence extended well beyond their membership since club promotions usually turned their selections into top sellers in bookstores and department stores as well. The Book Find Club was among the more financially successful alternative clubs. In 1948 it had a big hit with Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead.
In 1955 Braziller, having sold the club to Time-Life, went on to found George Braziller Inc., a highly prestigious publishing firm known particularly for its books on art and architecture and for the acclaimed international writers in its stable.
(Taken from the interweb> In Progress New York City April 1946)
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