Monday, November 21, 2005

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan PoeThe Book of the Week is the Armed Services Edition of Selected Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1945.

Like Mary Shelley last week, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) was a great influence on two different genres (three, if you count poetry as a separate genre). He is best remembered today for his horrific imagery, which inspired later horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, but he is also credited with inventing the modern detective story, beginning with "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

The Armed Services Edition run of paperback books was printed between 1943 and 1947, exclusively for distribution to American servicemen overseas. A huge number of these books were printed and so many are still in existence, but they are difficult to find in good condition - American G.I.s were notoriously rough on their books, being understandably preoccupied with other concerns such as not getting their asses shot off. Copies in fine condition of the most desirable ASE titles, including The Adventures of Superman and Tarzan of the Apes, thus command very high prices.

The peculiar sideways format of ASE books resulted from the fact that the American publishers who agreed to make these books at well below their usual profit margins as part of the war effort (at the request of Army Librarian Ray Trautman - any relation?), used presses designed for magazines. These presses required wide paper, which then had to be cut into squat little rectangles in order to be small enough to fit in a G.I.'s pocket. Why didn't they have paperback presses, you ask? Because mass-market paperbacks were still a very new concept in the early 1940's - indeed, the success of the ASE program helped the idea to catch on in the late 40's and early 50's. Next week's Book of the Week will be the very first mass-market paperback, Pocket Book #1.

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