Monday, February 13, 2006

Goodbye A Common Reader, I'll Miss You

Sometime in January, I decided I needed something rural and relaxing to I clicked on the link for the online catalog of
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.


Anonymous said...

I feel almost like there has been a death in the family. Where else I am to find Thumping Good Reads and books recommended by She Who Would Read Read?

Does anyone know how to reach the former owner(s)? I'd like to send my thanks and condolences.


Al Bonnyman said...

I found a number of old ACR catalog pages using the Wayback Machine:*/

Anonymous said...

I just found one of my catalogs, and was so excited. I immediately googled and found alas, the Common Reader is no more!

I am mourning a long lost friend. Over the years I found so many unique and wonderful books!

So sad a commentary to lose such erudite source to moderism of the 21st Century

Anonymous said...


The Common Reader catalog was (and is -- I saved maybe a dozen different catalogs) one of my favorite browsing exercises. Does anyone know where I could find old copies of catalogs? eBay? Alibris? Etc.

Tim Cline

Teresa said...

I just found one under my couch, August 2005, and couldn't believe how happy it made me--as if I ran into an old friend. I'm keeping it. I still miss it... oh well.

mizcraig said...

I lay a-bed unable to go to sleep, and as thoughts will, mine wandered back years, and I thought of Christmas cards with a quote from G.K. Chesterton which I had once bought from A Common Reader. I wondered if I had stopped the catalog because of poverty, and got up to find it online and lo, all these years later, found the company defunct. Alas! I AM sorry.

Wolfhound said...

The closest I know of is "Slightly Foxed", out of the UK.