Quill and Quire

Book culture

« Back to
Quillblog

Best book ads ever?

Quillblog recently stumbled across a New York Times slide show of book advertisements from their so-called “Golden Age,” 1962-1973.

Why those dates? The books – and the ads for them – were terrific: fresh, pushy, serious and wry, often all at the same time. There was a new sense of electricity in the culture and in the book world.

Each ad, scanned from a dusty magazine, is accompanied by a paragraph of droll commentary. Highlights include the ad for Cormac McCarthy’s 1968 novel, Outer Dark:

It’s a grinding story about a woman, Rinthy, who bears her brother’s baby, only to have him leave the infant in the woods to die. You don’t get a sense of the novel’s dark subject matter in this perky advertisement, though. It focuses instead on McCarthy’s rugged good looks (he was 35 at the time), and even “pops” his head, giving this ad an ironic, cheerful, proto-Spy magazine feel.

The ad for two Tom Wolfe books, also from 1968, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Pump House Gang, has a couple sitting side by side, asking “Which bestseller should you read first?”

“Honey, my Tom Wolfe book is more zeitgeisty than your Tom Wolfe book.” “Yes, dear, but mine has so many more exclamation points. I counted.” “It’s nice to be both literate *and* happening, isn’t it?” “Do you want to make out?” This advertisement … resembles an ad for coffee, cologne, or condoms as much as it does a typical book ad.