Bring Back the Mass Market Paperback!

I’d really like to see it happen. As I understand things, there are two possibilities for why this hasn’t already happened: 1) we as a reading public just don’t have the interest in serious fiction to support mass market paperbacks as a business proposition like we used to. Or 2) maybe publishers are missing a golden opportunity.

Either way, I love going to the used book store and seeing all the top-flight authors (e.g. Pynchon, Barthes, DeLillo, etc.) who got the mass market treatment. Over at The Constant Conversation, we’re having a big nostalgia-fest, jumping off of Scott Bryan Wilson’s excellent post (with pictures) on the mass market paperbacks he owns and loves. Here a taste of the discussion:

I’ve been an advocate for the return of this format for ages, because like all of us I discovered so much literature from bargain-bin paperbacks and books left in my parents’ basement. Everything from Pynchon to Kawabata, Mishima, Portis, and Marquez.

Problem is that so many of these books (with exceptions like the sturdy Penguin Pocket series) are crusty and poorly made, with miniscule print and condensed formatting. Hard to complain when you’re getting the book for free or nearly so–



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Oh, I absolutely love those old seventies paperbacks. I have a ton of them. A particular favorite that I own is William Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck. It was so weird to find that with the illustrated cover proclaiming it “Dazzling!” in bold letters.

The problem I see with bringing them back is that currently mass-market paperback is synonymous with “airport read” and the covers to all those books, from sci-fi to romance to thriller, are uniformly atrocious. Now, some of those old seventies paperbacks have goofy covers, like that one for DeLillo’s Players, but a lot of them have pretty great design. However, no one’s going to want to read the latest National Book Award winner if it looks like a James Patterson book, with all the super-large font and crap.

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