Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bad News for Readers

There are heroes who fly under the radar by virtue of their ubiquity, and we lost one this week. Betty Ballantine, who helped to introduce high quality paperbacks to the United States, died at the age of ninety-nine. Along with her husband Ian, Betty imported Penguin paperbacks from the UK and formed Bantam Books and Ballantine Books. The name 'Ballantine' has always formed a big part of my bookshelf contents, the Ballantines introduced authorized versions of such SFF classics as The Hobbit and Fahrenheit 451 to the American reading public.

Ballantine Books also published the stellar Ballantine Adult Fantasy (check your dirty minds!) Series, which was edited by Lin Carter, who was a hack writer but an outstanding editor, even curator, of literature. The series included novels and short story collections by such favorite authors of mine as H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Evangeline Walton, Katherine Kurtz, William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, and Poul Anderson. The series forms a perfect introduction to the Literature of the Imagination of the early-to-mid Twentieth Century.

Apparently, Ms Ballantine also had a trickster's streak in her as well:

One memorable Ballantine release was inspired by a hoax. In 1956, nighttime radio personality Jean Shepherd was telling listeners that they should ask for a new novel called “I, Libertine,” by Frederick R. Ewing. Bestsellers at the time were based in part on requests at bookstores, and demand was so high that “I, Libertine” appeared on some lists.

But, as Shepherd’s fans knew, and the public only later found out, neither book nor author existed. So Ian Ballantine convinced a friend, science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, to write — and write quickly — an actual “I, Libertine.” Shepherd, who provided the book’s outline, recalled years later that Sturgeon worked so hard he fell asleep before he finished the manuscript. Betty Ballantine stepped in and handled the last chapter, and “I, Libertine” went to print.

For the record, Theodore Sturgeon is best known for Sturgeon's Law, now commonly rendered as "ninety percent of everything is crap". Betty Ballantine, along with her husband and her staff, made sure that ninety percent of her company's output was most certainly not crap. Just looking at my library will fill me with gratitude for her long, storied (ha!) career.


bowtiejack said...

Fellow Ballentine fan here. Good stuff. Thanks.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

It really is a wonderful series. Someone should try to get the rights to republish these books... some of them are in the public domain.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

those bantam and ballantine books were often very tasty

i also have a soft spot in my memory for the new american library - mentor, signet were some of their brands - genuinely good nonfiction books for 35 or 50 cents during my childhood in the sixth decade of the previous century

when the robots take nearly all of the skilled jobs and the unskilled jobs and there is a real surplus population problem [from the point of view of the labor economist] there are still a great many human things to do - one of which is read and learn and talk about literature and history and science and nature and art - grow plants for fun - sing, dance, recite, perform, compose, write, paint, draw, weave - entertain and take care of each other - practice a martial art - deep leisure instead of shallow distraction