Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Incredible circa 1960 photo of paperback shelf at bookstore

This fabulous full-page photograph caught my eye while I was leafing through the January 1960 issue of the hardcover magazine Horizon. You'll want to click on the above photo to view a larger version and pour over all of the colorful covers that dotted one bookstore's shelf more than 50 years ago.

The photograph accompanies an article titled "The Culture Class War" by Eric Larrabee.1 The photograph is credited to Brentano's Inc.

Part of me wonders whether this bookshelf was specially arranged to complement the article's discussion of the dichotomy between mass culture and "high culture." I wonder, because there does not seem to be any thematic rhyme or reason to the paperbacks featured on these shelves. In fact, one might even argue that the theme is Jarring Juxtaposition.

  • Einstein is next to Aphrodite
  • Only a Woman ("the shocking ecstasy of forbidden love") is next to Dostoyevsky
  • Native Girl ("Lani was a She-Devil") is next to Dante
  • The Art of Mixing Drinks is next to Torture2
  • Ballet in America is next to Freud
  • Ibsen is next to Why Can't We Have a Baby?
  • The Bilko Joke Book is next to The Lustful Ape

I think my two favorite covers, from a graphic-design standpoint, are One Two Three ... Infinity and The Story of Jazz.

1. The article's subtitle states "It is waged hot and heavy by the critics of Mass Culture and the critics of Class Culture. Yet the co-existence of the two forms quite often serves to enrich and enliven the arts in America."
2. Take a look at Torture, which is in the center of the third row from the bottom. It looks like there is a different book behind Torture, which I think could lend support to the notion that these books were specifically arranged for this photograph.

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