Review by Corinna Norrick-Rühl, Münster
The history of paperback books is a fascinating topic, since it brings together research on book history, popular culture, fiction and non-fiction, the social history of literature, and many more strands of inquiry. In his new book, Das Taschenbuch. Geschichte – Verlage – Reihen, Günther Fetzer offers an unique handbook-like introduction to paperback books in Germany.
Fetzer covers the central question “what is a paperback really?” in his introductory comments (called chapter 1, but really a preface). This is followed by a chapter giving historical background on the 19th-century German literary market. Books as serials are dealt with in chapter 3, which is an exceedingly helpful chapter, since, as Fetzer underscores, “research on series hardly exists in the German-language area” (my translation, German quote on p. 23). Chapter 4 follows with more historical context on 19th-century paperbacks: which characteristics they had, and which functions they fulfilled. Fetzer also offers a brief chronology of series.
Chapter 5 moves us into the 20th century with a look at paperbacks between 1914 and 1945. Of course, this marks the period in which Penguin Books and Pocket Books started out in the anglophone book industry. To the credit of this book, Fetzer gives readers a glimpse of the international contexts in an extra chapter (6), gesturing toward the history of Albatross and Penguin in the UK and Europe, and Pocket Books (and beyond) in the USA.
Chapter 7 is the main focus of the book, looking at paperbacks in Germany and the German-speaking areas after 1945. Fetzer divides paperback history into three main phases: establishment and constitution (1950s/1960s), consolidation and expansion (1970s/1980s) and dissolution of the “paperback system” (from the late 1980s). Fetzer also considers the paperback in East Germany in an extra subchapter.
Chapter 7 is followed by a brief conclusion and outlook on the role and function of the paperback book today (chapter 8). Fetzer shows that while the role and function today is less visible, and the role of paperback series in branding and list-building is less pronounced, paperbacks are still ubiquitous and far from extinct, despite the changes wrought by digital reading.
The appendix is immensely useful with a chronology of important paperback series in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as well as in East Germany. There are two indices: one listing publishers, and one listing the series named in the book. A subject index might have been helpful as well. The book contains over 60 graphs and illustrations, which are unfortunately in grayscale. In particular, the characteristic paperback covers in chapters 5 and 7 would have profited from being printed in color.
This handy and highly readable paperback (!) will be useful to students and scholars of book and publishing studies as well as students and scholars of German literature. It is also highly recommended for people working in the publishing industry, as background and context.