12 MARCH 1932, Page 18


(To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.) SIR,--The Book Society has recently been subjected to hostile criticism, mainly both vague and anonymous, from different quarters. The Book Society does not object to criticism ; it does, however, object very strongly to misrepresentation. The following account of its aims and organization will, we hope, put an end to misrepresentation and at the same time satisfy the curiosity which the success of the Society has aroused.

The Book Society is a, private limited liability company, which does not claim, and has not claimed, to be anything else. It sells books and service to its members, to whom its methods are fully explained.

The Selection Committee of five people, hold no shares, and have nothing whatever to do with the business direction of the Company. They are paid a stipend for reading manuscripts and deliberating upon them, for recommending books to members and for reviewing those books in the Book Society's monthly periodical. In no instance hai there been any cool- munication between the Committee and business representa- tives of the company about the advisability or otherwise, of choosing or recommending partictdar books.

The Committee's aim is to provide a selection of interesting reading matter each month. Their judgement and opinion cannot coincide with everybody's, but they make bold to presume that their names are a reasonable guarantee that no bias enters into their collective decisions. The Committee has remained unchanged until a month or two ago, when Mr. J. B. Priestley resigned, under the friendliest circumstances, owing to the pressure of new work which he had undertaken.

The Book Society is not, and has never set up to be an Academy of Letters in any sense of the term. Nov, does it characterize any book chosen by its Selection Committee as " The best book of the month," or even as " The book of the month " ; it confines itself to stating that the book is the Committee's choice for the month, made for its own 10,000 members, one third of whom arc overseas, a half of the re- mainder being in country districts not immediately served by booksellers.

Its recommendations are made solely for the Book Society's members, who are as free to resign at any time as they are to send back the novel or biography or whatever it may be, chosen each month'by the Conunittee, and to ask in exchange for a book of their own selection. We should like to say here, too, that no criticism of the choice of the month can be valid unless the recommendations which cover all schools of litera- ture are also taken into account.

Our method of working is as follows: Publishers forward to the Selection Committee the proofs only of such forthcoming books as they themselves consider suitable for the Book Society's lists. This, in itself, constitutes an effective first sifting. All proofs so despatched are considered personally by more than one of the Conunittee members, and the resulting selections by the Committee meeting as a whole.

A proportion of books sent by publishers are inevitably eliminated for reasons of (a) price (at the desire of members no book is chosen which costs more than 10s.) ; (b) subject ; and (c) some obvious offence against taste.

Comment has been made upon the fact that books from some publishing houses have been chosen and recommended more frequently than have those from others. This is inevitable. It is accounted for by the fact that some publishers issue ,many more novels and books of general interest than others do ; and that in a few instances publishers have not submitted to us certain works 'which we should have liked to consider. There has been no favouritism or prejudice with regard to the pub- lishers. We are entirely uninterested ill the names of the publishers, their books are our sole concern.

Finally, reference has been made to the dual aim of the Book Society in guiding opinion and making profit, as though them were something unusual about this. Sir, such a dual function is exercised by all published criticism, whether of books, pictures, music, politics or sport, whether in book form or in the Press. Every critic is employed with the intention that his name and work shall add to the profit of the paper which employs hintor of the publisher who publishes his hooky and he is paid at the same time for stating his honest and dis- interested opinion. That precisely is the position of the Selection Committee of the Book Society.—We are, Sir, &c., HUGH WALPOLE, GEORGE GORDON, EDMUND


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