(Too little, for sure. And all of it arguable.)
I have learned that Harper Torchbooks, a non-fiction softcover imprint of Harper & Row from 1956 to 1979, are of such generally excellent quality that they should always be looked for when buying used books, especially if browsing library and yard sales, and given a specific personal interest, they can be purchased in preference to other imprints with one exception, Pelican Books, an imprint of Penguin from 1937 to 1984, and the best the British had to offer despite the prejudices of both imprints for the pervasive left-wing political interests of the mid-twentieth century.
It is the consistent quality of the writing in the many titles of both imprints that makes all the difference, whether it is Jacob Bronowski or Robert Graves, George Gamow or Karl Popper. I am currently reading something in a Pelican edition that I stupidly resisted for many years, Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals. At the risk of my own credibility with purists, I now wonder if the sister was the better writer. But that was in some part the mission of the editor Collette Clark as she created a continuous text of extracts, Home at Grasmere, in the context of the brother’s poems. And at the very least I wish I might have trodden those paths of Westmoreland before the tourists came.
One aspect of both imprints is usability. For most titles, the bindings are superior, as well as the type styles and sizes. The British paperbacks often suffer from cheaper paper which has yellowed with age, as well as slightly smaller type, but they are generally smaller in physical size making them easier to carry in a pocket or purse, and until recently, cheaper to buy. As with all things excellent, they have become collectible, and because the Torchbooks used better paper, more have survived the rigors of age.
Had an average college student of the boomer generation spent a few hundred dollars over four years on the best Pelicans or Torchbooks covering any given field, instead of going to college and incurring that onerous debt, while investing the difference between their book purchases and tuition in the stock market, every one of them would have started their adult lives far smarter and far richer. And one side benefit would have been in meeting the better quality of people browsing in bookshops.
There is a good reference for the Torchbooks here: https://www.publishinghistory.com/harper-torchbooks.html, and a good one for the Pelicans here: https://penguinchecklist.wordpress.com/pelican-books/pelican-main-series/
One recommendation I can make to all those poorer and I hope now somewhat wiser Boomers is that they finally start reading them. Make the time. Find out what you missed. There isn’t anything on the computer nearly so good. All the pleasure of the written word without the noise, or the ‘Karen’ telling you what you should think about it. Sure, you can listen to a podcast while driving to and fro, but at home, or in a chair on vacation, take the opportunity of a lifetime. Yours. And in no time at all, the time will make itself.
(more of this to come)