Friday, April 20, 2018

FFB: WORKS IN PROGRESS, the Doubleday/Literary Guild periodical anthology series, edited by Martha Saxton

New American Review had the strength of reflecting editor Theodore Solotaroff's wide-ranging interests, and such other emerging and continuing magazines and periodical books as New Directions, The Paris Review and TriQuarterly and Winter's Tales similarly had their niches (or died quickly as did The Dutton Review), as did the freshet of fantastic-fiction anthology series (there was a perhaps surprising lack of crime-fiction series in the US, but the UK had Winter's Crimes as well); if there was a  "bookazine" which was bridging a gap between these series and the rather more demotic selections of Book Digest (much less Reader's Digest), it was this rather wide-ranging, somewhat expensive loss-leader anthology series from Doubleday, and primarily meant for members of D-day's "prestige" book club The Literary Guild, the more upmarket cousin of the Doubleday Book Club (which had begun as the Doubleday Dollar Book Club) and its more thematic corporate family (the Mystery Guild, the Science Fiction Book Club, etc.), meant to be a direct challenge to the Book of the Month Club. 

Works in Progress lent itself, as a result, to excerpts from the more sophisticated upcoming and soon-t0-be-released books, but didn't make any effort to avoid those things which were more likely than a new collection of poetry to land on the bestseller lists. Alix Kates Shulman's Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen, for example, was excerpted at length in the sixth volume, the first one I read (as a teen), and the excerpt was much the best part of that notable but now obscure feminist novel. Other contributors to that 1972 volume included Muriel Spark, Thomas Berger, Don Delillo, Anne Tyler, George MacDonald Fraser and D. H. Lawrence...along with those such as Otto Friedrich, whose readership today isn't what it was forty-six years ago. Editor Martha Saxton received no credit in the first volume (there's even an unsigned editorial, and headnotes to each contribution, as there would be in successive volumes, but at least Saxton and art director Joel Snyder are credited on early pages, occasionally also associate editor Andrea Starr, in the other volumes I have before me: 3, 4, 6 and 7; as far as I know, volume 8 was the last issue)(I'm pretty sure I have #5 kicking around here somewhere, though I don't think I yet have the second or the last). 

So, this anthology series wasn't making too many discoveries, in the manner of, say, Discovery (or New World Writing or the other anthology series of earlier years), nor quite unearthing the mix of relatively obscure reprints and more or less rare work from familiar names that Short Story International featured, or that the Pushcart Prize volumes would tend to seek out. But in its three-year run (the first volumes were issued in 1970, only the last was published in 1973), the series did more than an easily-dismissed job of attempting to draw attention to good work from those who picked up the volumes through the Lit Guild, or paid the rather stiff prices for the nicely-produced books on the paperback racks in those months (cover prices ran from $1.45 to $2.50 in a period when most mass-market paperbacks were floating about 95c, to $1.50 for the very fat ones). They are a nice mix of intelligent work from their time, and might point today's reader in a few directions they wouldn't otherwise know to follow. The last volume has a flow from "Horatio Alger, Jr." to Brian Aldiss's critical history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree (as it would be published, without initial article, in book form), to Francine Prose.

Indices to follow! (Particularly since they seem to be unavailable elsewhere.)

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.





















































































































































































































5 comments:

Walker Martin said...

Every other magazine that you mention I was aware of and reading but this hardcover series slipped by me. I guess I assumed that it was just excerpts from books and of little interest to me.

George said...

I actually bought and read these WORKS IN PROGRESS volumes way back when. I stopped after six volumes.

Todd Mason said...

Well, Walker, some few of the books didn't actually arrive, I think. These were paperbacks.

Almost a pity you didn't get the preview of the Aldiss in V. 8, at least, George!

Paul Fraser said...

This one reminds me of the dreadful SF Digest, hiss . . .

Todd Mason said...

Well...a bit better than that was, by the testimony of most of its readers! (Or a fair amount to A Lot better...)