Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Aaron's Book of The Week :: Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Lost HorizonThis week's Book of the Week is Lost Horizon by James Hilton. Written in 1933 and successfully adapted to the screen by Frank Capra in 1937, Lost Horizon tells of the discovery of a lost civilization high in the Himalayas. Such lost world stories were popular in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, but the subgenre dried up as the notion of finding a civilization hidden from the modern world became absurdly implausible.

This edition of Lost Horizon is Pocket Book #1. Sadly, my copy is not the very scarce first printing, which you can tell from Gertrude the Kangaroo's presence in the lower right corner of the cover. Pocket created the Gertrude logo in May of 1939, shortly after the first copies of Lost Horizon were printed, and she continues to adorn Pocket Books to this day, although she's lost weight over the years.

Lost Horizon is often described as the first paperback book ever published. This is flatly untrue (I believe I warned you that book collectors are incorrigible liars), since for many years previously some publishers had released paper-bound copies, i.e. copies with the covers missing, of certain of their hardcover books. What collectors really mean is that Lost Horizon was the first pocket-sized, mass-market paperback, but then this is also flatly untrue, since it was preceded by a 1938 Pocket Books unnumbered edition of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, distributed in New York as a test market. Collectors will pay thousands of dollars for that edition of The Good Earth, calling it the real first paperback. But this is in turn flatly untrue, because Penguin Books had already started selling mass-market paperbacks in England in 1935. Next week's Book of the Week will be a Penguin paperback published before either Lost Horizon or The Good Earth came out. (I regret that I don't have a copy to show you of the unnumbered edition of The Good Earth, the single most valuable paperback book in existence according to my trusty Holroyd's Paperback Prices, but I did recently acquire one of the Top 5 most valuable paperbacks, which you will see in a future BOTW installment.)


Mercury said...

Alas, my recently discovered copy of "Lost Horizon" also has chubby Gertrude...but it is in pristine condition with minor spine folding. At the same establishment I acquired a near mint copy of "Tales Of The Incredible".

Aaron Hughes said...

That's a nice one. There is a niche collectors' market for comics in a paperback format like that, and I've never been sure whether the collectors who snatch them up are more book folks or comics fans.

Mercury said...

"Book folks or comics fans"...probably both. I'm not sure why people collect things it aesthetic or investment. In regards to the early Pocket Book Paperbacks, I was never certain why the front and back covers were made of a stiffer material: To protect the contents...ensure the durability of the product? That is a feature that quickly disappeared.