A Common Reader, with their wonderfully descriptive offerings in strange but satisfying categories like "Domestic Pleasures" and "Rural Retreats". I was annoyed when all I got was a blank page saying "Season's Greetings" but figured it was a temporary problem.
When I realized the link still wasn't working almost a month later, I did some googling and found this sad Wikipedia entry:
A Common Reader is an American mail-order book catalogue established in 1986 by James Mustich, Jr. It is notable among general-interest book catalogues for its eclecticism, with large sections of each issue given over to obscure literary classics. The catalogue also has a reputation among its readers for the quality of its writing. The blurbs that accompany each book entry are often highly erudite and evocative, and many of these are penned by Mustich himself.
A Common Reader appears several times a year.
As of January 27, 2006, the organization appears to be out of business - there is no answer at their 800 number, and their web site yields only an empty page.
They have gone into bankruptcy - there is to be an auction of their stock and equipment on February 22, 2006 in Pleasantville, NY.
I wish I'd saved all the back issues of their catalog. It was better reading than a lot of books. It never occurred to me that they might suddenly disappear. Due to my fairly limited budget for buying new books, I used the catalogs primarily as a starting point for searching used bookstores or requests from inter-library loan. I'm afraid I'm part of the reason that the company isn't here anymore.
Just a few of the authors they introduced me to include: Gervaise Phinn, Rose Macauly, Patrick O'Brian, Charles Elliot, Stephen Leacock, Elisabeth Luard, Mark Kurlansky, Louise Dickinson Rich, Betty MacDonald, and Lillian Beckwith. Many of these authors were popular a generation or two ago or are well known in the UK but not in the US. They're still well worth reading, but I wouldn't have ever picked them up if I hadn't read those evocative blurbs in A Common Reader, and my life would be immeasurably smaller. So thanks for what you did, A Common Reader folks, wherever you are. I'll miss you.