When Publishers Had A Sense of Humor

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There was once a time when we thought of the book industry as less under siege. In that time, people were more prone to pulling the legs of the powers that be. Including the bestseller lists. In the mid-1950s, a radio host who would go on to write the short stories that formed the basis of the movie A Christmas Story, a man named Jean Shepherd, decided to manufacture a bestseller. His listeners began demanding that their booksellers order a non-existent novel called I, Libertine. So consistent was their clamour for this book that a publisher (specifically, Ballantine books) finally commissioned a book to meet the demand.

To hear Jean Shepherd tell the story, click here. Those of you who do not live in New York will find his observations about the New York publishing culture’s fetish for lists entertaining. He credited the success of his hoax to the fact that, “the people who believe in lists are asleep” at the hours at which his show was broadcast.


Michelle Dean has written for a variety of places, including The Awl, ELLE and Bitch. More from this author →