the history nebraska blog

Neihardt Book Review

The Kansas City Journal-Post of February 28, 1926, informed its readers, “The Journal-Post has obtained the services of John G. Neihardt, the ‘Middle Western Homer,’ to write a weekly survey of the newest books and to review the more important books. Mr. Neihardt’s comments and reviews will appear each week on the book page, beginning next Sunday.”



Neihardt’s March 7 column in the Journal-Post included his assessment of contemporary popular literature and the bookselling and advertising industries. Neihardt said, “The rapid expansion of the reading public in America within recent years may be shown to coincide with our industrial expansion. It was not primarily a matter of increasing popular culture, . . . It was due primarily to the problem of production and consumption in all fields, including that of reading matter.



“Formerly a few conservative publishers issued such books as the relatively small and relatively cultured reading public would buy in keeping with what were then regarded as fairly respectable literary standards. . . . Consumption of literary products has been increased by the same methods that a manufacturer employs in creating demand for any of the many products that are not absolutely essential to life–by the systematic stimulation of desire where none formerly existed.



“Once a relatively small reading public went to the publishers for its books. Now many publishers, under the pressure of intense competition, have sought the crowd, creating a new and much larger reading public. By systematic modern methods they have acquainted large sections of the masses with the seductive delights of vicarious living through printed tales. . . .



“Shall one who loves literature deplore this? Not if he can see beyond the end of his nose. . . . If the application of modern commercial principles to the vending of books should serve for the moment to familiarize the many with [the] physical act of reading, it would be justified in the long view, and it is doing vastly more. It is only through the process of reading that men can hope to come in contact with the larger environment that alone can humanize.”


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