From The NY Times Sunday Book Review. David Oshinsky: No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov. 9 Sept, 2007.
In 1950, the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company turned down the English-language rights to a Dutch manuscript. The reader’s report said the book gave ‘a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions’, and sales would not be great because the main characters were neither familiar to Americans nor appealing. The manuscript was rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies of the book are currently in print. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the best-selling books in history.
Other works turned down by Knopf or other publishers:
· Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth: Americans aren’t interested in anything on China.
· George Orwell’s Animal Farm: It’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.
· Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: Too racy.
· James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room: Hopelessly bad
The Knopf archive, housed at the University of Texas, includes the publisher’s rejection files from the 1940s-1970s, which scholars are examining. Although Knopf published the works of 17 Nobel-Prize winning authors and 47 Pulitzer Prize-winning works, scholars are surprised by the number of readers’ reports that gave what turned out to be very bad advice. The rejection files dismiss the following:
· Jorge Luis Borges: utterly untranslatable
· Isaac Bashevis Singer: It’s Poland and the rich Jews again
· Anais Nin: no commercial value in acquiring her and…no artistic merit
· Slyvia Plath: there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent
· Jack Kerouac: His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so.