That Other Basil King (1859-1928)

My old edition looks nothing like this!

People used give us books found in garage sales, thrift shops, giveaway bins at public libraries. Author: Basil King. Author name plus the titles were a hoot: “The Street Called Straight,” “The Side of the Angels,” “Pluck!” and so on. The texts were mostly unreadable, lurid plots, thickly sentimental, moralistic. I’ve actually read “Elsie Dinsmore” – not by King, but by a rough contemporary, and I know unreadable when I say it. The books themselves with their respectable gold embossed bindings (teens and early twenties) were usually in pretty good shape. Paper in those days wasn’t as acidic as it came to be later in the century. I ended up with six or eight of them, long stuffed on a shelf with our daughters’ kid books.

That was before Internet. It’s not so funny today. An enduring quote by Basil King, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” pops up on searches all the time, and we’ve had people actually ask Baz about it.

Other searches, on Amazon or Good Reads, produce further confusion.

But friends, please, don’t send me any more of those books! As a matter of fact, they might be worth more than a joke fifty cents. That Basil King has become something of a cult; many of the books are actually back in print, nice facsimilie editions are also available and the whole thing reminds me just a little uncomfortably of how I laughed at the Ayn Rand fans, whose letters to Random House I had the job of replying to back in the early 1960s. Ha ha on me. Ha ha on a lot of us. Those fans have been steering our economy right into a pit and they may yet make the U.S. safe for fascism. They’re sure trying. –Martha, 9/18/2011

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