THE BEST SELLERS OF 1855
What do you think was the best-selling nature book of 1855: Walden? (Published 1854.) And the best selling novel: Moby Dick? (Published 1851.) Best-selling book of poetry: Leaves of Grass? (Published 1855.) Fact is, apart from a bit of negative notoriety, those three classics bombed at home for half a century after they were first published. It took that long, and a lot of murky water under the bridge, for the general perspective to come round to these visionary ways of looking at the world.
Few people in the present day see the world the way top-ranked authoress Lavinia Braithwaite did, in her runaway best-selling nature book of 1855, The Truth in God’s Word as Manifested in the Geometric Flower Garden for all Mankind, Who Should Dress in Black.
Nor can much of today be found in the best-selling novel of 1855, Black Hats, Black Suits and the Wrath of Paradise, a gripping saga of irrepressible redemption, wherein author Livingston Hornthorn explored the salvational possibilities to be found in dark garments, tight collars, cold water and daily prayer at home with mother and father.
And there’s less now than ever in the best-selling poetry tome of 1855, Three Posies and a Nosegay in Black Crepe, a leatherbound heartstopper by author Pangborne Thorogood, who epically visualized for all of his contemporaries a world of funereally pale virgins dressed in black holding a lock of hair of the deceased and some violets, loitering among the lilies in a graveyard, a veritable heaven on earth.
But now that we’ve gotten through all that, and are here at last in the comparatively loosened up and more organically responsible future with its burgeoning Henry-Herman-Walt perspective, our attention is being fought over by such bestsellers as Bonecrunch and Bloodbath and Suffer and Die Vicariously, semi-automatic page turners surpassing even the blockbuster Absolute Misery in their ability to kill time with an Uzi, then just toss it in the landfill.
For illumination after a fashion there’s Cellophane Prophecies; for the more hardy there’s Ten Easy Steps to a Lifelong Journey; then there's the presidential biography Appear to Have Scruples, popular diversions from sugarless reality via lo-cal bromides.
Do we moderns deem ourselves deserving of these sentences imposed by our own Lavinias, Pangbornes and Livingstons, when so few have even heard of the elegant and heartfilling Waldens, Mobys and Leaves of our time, that can assist in our creating and reaching a worthy future, even show us around when we get there?
You’ll have to exit the best-selling book hangar and search where few ever go, to find out how tomorrow has been foreseen and forenourished; what’s more, you’ll have to have taste-- so seldom a thing of its time.
[Previously published - in different form - in Kyoto Journal]