Saturday, April 02, 2005


The Midday Wallace

In a previous post I wondered aloud who the most known but worst selling writers were, versus the bestselling but least-known: Kierkegaard, who never topped 300 copies on the sales of any one book, seems a pretty good candidate for that first category. So does William Faulkner, who -- according to Rick Moody in this month's Believer -- apparently never topped 5000 copies before finally getting a Nobel Prize.

This week's newpapers present two fine examples of the opposite situation. Writing in TLS, Michael Caines says of 1920s mystery writer Edgar Wallace:

Wallace wrote 173 novels, twenty-four plays and 200 short stories. During the 1920s, one in four books sold was one of his; only the Bible outsold him. “Have you read the midday Wallace?”, went the jibe.... An undemanding, formulaic approach makes Wallace something of a guilty pleasure (Bertolt Brecht was once caught reading a Wallace under cover of Das Kapital’s dust jacket).

Amusingly, Wallace's career started disastrously when he personally ran a prize contest for any reader who could solve his, ahem, fiendishly difficult mystery. Turns out pretty much everybody could, and it nearly bankrupted him.

Meanwhile, the Guardian takes a brief look at another massive seller you (or least I) have never heard of:

In 1960 Dr Hessayon - a graduate of Leeds University, with a PhD in soil studies - first published The House Plant Expert, a guide to, well, house plants and their discontents. Since then his book has sold 14m copies, been translated into 22 languages, and become the most popular book on gardening ever written..... Written in a stern, no-nonsense style, Dr Hessayon's books are almost unrecognisable when compared with many modern gardening books, which, with their glossy display photographs, look more like works of art than how-to guides. Dr Hessayon's books, on the other hand, are not meant for the coffee table. Their design could be best characterised as "1980 East German tourist brochure", but without the exuberance.

So I guess I'll be turning to In Search of Lost Roses for my nightstand reading instead.

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