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October 12, 1986|John Espey

THE BOOK OF THE MONTH: SIXTY YEARS OF BOOKS IN AMERICAN LIFE, edited by Al Silverman (Little, Brown: $19.95; 335 pp.). Al Silverman, now chairman of the Book-of-the-Month Club, joined its staff in 1972 as editorial director, a position that put him in charge of the Book-of-the-Month Club News. He began browsing through its back issues and then found himself "going through the News systematically, from the first issue of April, 1926, right up to the present." This collection is the result of his reading, arranged by decades and controlled by Silverman's personal taste. Its subtitle indicates the difficulty of classifying it. It is certainly not a formal or complete history of the club, and discussions of books that were not main selections outnumber those that were. It is a rich omnium-gatherum of reminiscences, brief reviews, long reviews, profiles of judges and authors, one-liners from readers, and transitional links. Silverman is a generous editor, admitting the committee's fallibility, but never in relation to a particular individual. The reader gets a vivid picture of how the club functioned from the start and how the News as well as the number of alternate titles grew.

A few footnotes would have added a little spice without malice. What was the month's selection when Henry Seidel Canby alone voted for "The Grapes of Wrath"? But why cavil? After all, this is very much Silverman's personal book, an ideal volume for other inveterate browsers.

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