The answer is-there are some lists which will be most useful in this
discrimination, while there is no list which is infallible. Mr. F. Leypoldt's little
catalogue of "Books for all Time" has nothing that any library need do without.
Another compendious list is published by the American Library Association. And
the more extensive catalogue prepared for the World's Fair in 1893, and
embracing about 5,000 volumes, entitled "Catalogue of A. L. A. Library: 5,000
vols. for a popular library," while it has many mistakes and omissions, is a
tolerably safe guide in making up a popular library. I may note that the list of
novels in this large catalogue put forth by the .American Library .Association has
the names of five only out of the twenty-eight writers of fiction heretofore
pronounced objectionable, and names a select few only of the books of these
As for the later issues of the press, and especially the new novels, let him skim
them for himself, unless in cases where trustworthy critical judgments are found
in journals. Running through a book to test its style and moral drift is no
difficult task for the practiced eye.
Let us suppose that you are cursorily perusing a novel which has made a great
sensation, and you come upon the following sentence: "Eighteen millions of
years would level all in one huge, common, shapeless ruin. Perish the microcosm
in the limitless macrocosm and sink this feeble earthly segregate in the
boundless rushing choral aggregation!" This is in .Augusta J. Evans Wilson's
story "Macaria", and many equally extraordinary examples of "prose run mad"
are found in the novels of this once noted writer. What kind of a model is that
to form the style of the youthful neophyte, to whom one book is as good as
another, since it was found on the shelves of the public library?
I am not insisting that all books admitted should be models of style; even a
purist must admit that one of the greatest charms of literature is its infinite
variety. But when book after book is filled with such specimens of literary lunacy
as this, one is tempted to believe that Homer and Shakespeare, to say nothing
of Thackeray and Hawthorne, have lived in vain.
Never fear criticism of those who find fault with the absence from your library of
books that you know to be nearly worthless; their absence will be a silent but
eloquent protest against them, sure to be vindicated by the utter obIivion into
which they will fall. Many a flaming reputation has been extinguished after
dazzling callow admirers for six months, or even less. Do not dread the empty
sarcasm that may grow out of the exclusion of freshly printed trash, that your
library is a ''back number." To some poor souls everything that is great and
good in the world's literature is a back number; and the Bible Itself, with
immortal poetry and sublimity, is the oldest back number of all. It is no part of
your business as a librarian to cater to the tastes of those who act as if the
reading of endless novels of sensation were the chief end of man. As one fed on
highly spiced viands and stimulating drinks surely loses the appetite for
wholesome and nourishing food, so one who reads only exciting and highly
wrought fictions loses the taste for the master-pieces of prose and poetry.