Muncie fact of the day

This is from 1891 to 1902, and that is Muncie, Indiana in case you do not know.  Get this:

Horatio Alger was by far the most popular author: 5 percent of all books checked out were by him, despite librarians who frowned when boys and girls sought his rags-to-riches novels (some libraries refused to circulate Alger’s distressingly individualist books).

Our culture has changed.  There is also this:

Louisa May Alcott is the only author who remains both popular and literary today (though her popularity is far less). “Little Women” was widely read, but its sequel “Little Men” even more so, perhaps because it was checked out by boys, too. The remaining authors at the top of the list — Charles Fosdick, Oliver Optic, Martha Finley, L. T. Meade and others — have vanished from memory. Francis Marion Crawford, whose novels were chiefly set in Italy and the Orient, was checked out 2,120 times, whereas Dickens, Walter Scott and Shakespeare circulated 672, 651 and 201 times respectively. Fiction was overwhelmingly preferred, accounting for 92 percent of books read in 1903.

The article is interesting throughout.


Also interesting from the article: the wealthy branch of the Muncie Public Library now circulates twice as much nonfiction as the poor branch.

This snippet about current reading habits of Muncites (Muncians? Munciers?) intrigued me; wonder why they are reading so much of the Guinness Book of World Records ? What's the non-obvious connection?

While fiction remains more popular than nonfiction, patrons at the wealthier branch check out twice as much nonfiction as readers at the poorer one — “Guinness World Records” tops their list.



Wikipedia rides to the rescue here. For any country, political subdivision, or locality, just go to its Wikipedia page and search within the right-hand-side table for the "demonym", a term that Wikipedia itself either merely popularized or outright coined. Otherwise known as a "gentilic" (compare French gentilé), a word so rare and obscure that my spelling corrector suggests "genitalic" instead.

I would say Alcott is the only one high up on the popularity list who is still "read." (Horatio Alger is well-known but that is more because of what his name has become shorthand for, rather than people still actively reading his novels).

"Little Women" is 600 pages of nothing. Ugh - worst book I ever had to read.

Why do you think girls like it?


The British working classes used to be passionately literate, as described in the research of Jonathan Rose, Kenan Professor of History at Drew University.

References: [not including URLs to avoid spam filter, but Google for links]
Jonathan Rose, "The Classics in the Slums," City Journal, Autumn 2004
Jonathan Rose, The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale UP, 2003)

from William Podmore's review on Amazon:
"As Rose writes, 'The trouble with Marx was Marxists, whom British workers generally found to be dogmatic, selfish, and antiliterary.' They dismissed the workers' hard-earned culture as bourgeois, and 'they treated workers as unthinking objects.'"

Tyler I recall a post you had over a year ago with some data on the U.S. housing bubble. Basically the point was that people were simply buying and selling the same houses, particularly towards the end. If you can remember where the data came from I'd be grateful, though I appreciate it's a longshot.

I was amused by the surprise of the Muncie Library's director (name escapes me) that so many people check out graphic novels. The amount of space allocated to them in brick-and-mortar bookstores is quite large. In many ways, this reflects the main-streaming of what were once marginalized reading habits--comic books in the 1950s is what I really have in mind here. You did not see them in libraries then, but I knew a number of kids who bought, traded, collected--and read--them somewhat obsessively.

I'd be interested in seeing what people have to say about what sort of books they read when young--say, from 9 to 12 or so. For me, it was largely sports fiction (John R. Tunis, Duane Decker, Clair Bee), adventure stories (Tom Swift and his competitors), "mysteries" (Hardy Boys in particular), and westerns (although the details of these have (I am somewhat pleased to say) escaped my memory.

Charles Fosdick does not seem to have been a writer, per se. He is presumably the same Charles Fosdick who wrote "Five Hundred Days in Rebel Prisons", a Civil War memoir published in 1887.

For the curious, there is a link to an online PDF at:

Charles Fosdick wrote under the pseudonym 'Harry Castlemon':

It appears that quite a few of his books are available from Project Gutenberg.

Hmmm. It is odd, then, that the article refers to Charles Fosdick by his birth name but immediately afterward to Oliver Optic by his nom de plume.

The "Civil War memoir" I cited was actually a first-person account of heroically overcoming gruesome privations, which might have appealed to the same audience that was enthusiastically consuming adventure novels.

Donald Coffin: John R. Tunis' name I well recall, and I'm sure I read other sports novels back about then (1955-58), but I'm afraid they've escaped from my memory. I read all the Tom Swift Jr books I could find, plus some of the original Tom Swift series, plus Rick Brandt and the Hardy Boys and one or two or three Nancy Drew works. Someday, someone ought to write a nice fat book on how the Stratemeyer Syndicate shaped American reading tastes, and thence the Fate of the Free World!

What I also read: science fiction for kids and adults, anything involving dinosaurs, Churchward's books on Mu, Adamski and others on flying saucers, some books on water dowsing, Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and Aku-Aku, Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels, Boy Scout manuals, Werner von Braun on space exploration, exactly _one_ Oliver Optic novel (which I may not have finished, thinking back on it), big chunks of the World Book and a Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia, half a dozen of Baum's Oz books, a bunch of treacle published by the (pre-Potter) Scholastic Press, cubic miles of The Saturday Evening Post ....

Why yes, I'm near-sighted. How did you guess?

some libraries refused to circulate Alger’s distressingly individualist books

The article's author is surely letting her present-day collectivist biases slip through.

Stories of young men rising out of poverty by dint of individual effort would hardly have been viewed negatively in the late 19th centuries, quite the contrary. Often there would also be a theme of virtue rewarded, whereby an older gentleman of means would take an interest in assisting the young man after the latter performed some heroic deed like rescuing a drowning child. Charles Dickens and others had similar portrayals.

The librarians weren't motivated by modern-day conceits that the poor can only improve their lot by programmatic state intervention or class warfare; rather, they objected to the traumatic situations and sensationalistic themes that creeped into some of Alger's later work (laughably mild by modern standards). Then as now, there has never been a shortage of busybodies itching to suppress what they consider harmful for impressionable young minds.

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