Page 67 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 8 (1949-1950)

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A l b e r t
H y a m s o n
T USED to be said not so very long ago that no book on a
Jewish subject written by a Jew published in England had ever
been a financial success or even covered the cost of publication.
This was a generalization and therefore not always correct. Yet
one is justified in saying that until the appearance of Israel
Jewish Life in the Middle Ages
in 1896, Anglo-Jewish
writing was not a remunerative occupation — in fact had never
supplied anyone with bread even without butter. Apart from the
several liturgies which are in a class by themselves, Abrahams’
outstanding work was the first to secure purchasers and readers
in any number in Anglo-Jewry. For a time it was a solitary swallow
and although Zangwill’s Jewish novels secured readers in the
Anglo-Jewish community — sufficient to justify publication — it
was still a decade and more before any publishers were prepared
to risk the almost certain loss that the production of a “Jewish”
book would bring.
One talks of Jewish readers, but, of course, Jews were and are
not the only purchasers of Jewish books. Nor is it possible to
learn what proportion of the sales of a book is to Jews and what
proportion to non-Jews. I t has been said and it is probably not
far from the truth that even until about a generation ago there
were in England more non-Jewish purchasers of a Jewish book
than Jewish ones. I t is certain that today an appreciable number
of serious Jewish books sold in England are purchased by non-
Jews anxious to inform themselves on Jewish subjects, the interest
in which has, by events and by propaganda, been so widely spread
during the past thirty years. One consequence is that during the
same period the output of books in England on Jewish subjects
has greatly increased. There is, of course, the relatively great
volume of propaganda works, but these by their volume and
irresponsibility have largely failed of their purpose and are now
to a large extent suspect. A discriminating reading public can
now almost tell from the name of the publisher or of the author
whether a book or pamphlet is worth the trouble of opening. But
there is a residue of books worth reading. And to illustrate the
extent to which these are read, a brief list of books that are out