CONRAD RICHTER AS AUTHOR

Conrad Richter and Karl Goedecke

What role does a bookseller play in an author's life? When considering the relationship between an author and the market, an often overlooked aspect of this is the relationship between an author and a bookseller. In an age before mammoth online retailers like Amazon.com and bn.com, booksellers fulfilled an important need for readers. Often readers had personal relationships with booksellers, who gradually learned their clients' tastes and could recommend titles of interest. Knowing what books a reader purchased is especially useful when the reader is an author who is both a producer and consumer of books. Although it may difficult to prove a causal relationship--x author read y book which had a direct influence on his writing of z--we can get a flavor or sense of what might influence an author. Certainly we can know what interested an author. Beyond this, booksellers provide authors with an important and concrete sense of the market. In contrast to impersonal statistics of book sales and revenue, booksellers can offer a personalized and specific perspective on the book-buying public.

Karl Goedecke, with his wife Katherine, owned and operated the Laurel Book Service in Hazleton, Pennsylvania established in 1932 as a mail order book service to supplement income during the Depression; in 1941, the Goedeckes opened their first retail store. After the 1936 flood, the Goedeckes were asked to provide replacement books for several Pennsylvania libraries who lost volumes. The Laurel Book Service successfully replaced 97% of the needed volumes. Although not much is known about Karl Goedecke's Laurel Book Service, his business files illustrate the extent of his dealings over decades. The Laurel Book Service had clients all over the country, and his and Katherine's business was significant enough that when Katherine died, Publisher's Weekly ran an obituary.

The material included both in the Conrad Richter Papers and the Karl Goedecke Papers tells the story of a relationship between an author and bookseller that spanned decades. From 1943 until his death in 1968, Conrad Richter frequently corresponded with Goedecke regarding book purchases. Nearly two hundred invoices for purchases by Richter from this time are included in the Goedecke papers. Richter purchased books for himself, his wife, and his daughter, as well as for friends. The correspondence, which includes letters, postcards, and even Christmas cards from Richter to Goedecke, details not merely the requests of an author to a bookseller for particular books. The correspondence between the two men provides a log of Richter's travels, illustrates the range of Richter's literary and extraliterary concerns, offers potential sources of influence upon his writing, and, perhaps most importantly, illustrates how Goedecke contributed to Richter's growing sense of the value of his books as collectible items.

Several representative samples from the collection illustrate these themes. In a June 1957 letter, Richter requests that Goedecke send him You Can Stop Worrying, because Richter explains, "I am half way through a new novel and can use a little energy." In an April 23, 1954 letter to Goedecke, Richter displays his characteristic humility by saying that he could only bring himself to sign the title page of The Grim Thirteen, where "The Head of His House" represents Richter's first appearance "in book form." Additionally, Richter's interest in the market for first editions of his books can be seen by his desire to sell his copies of Brothers of No Kin while requesting that Goedecke not mention the copies to anyone. In a September 10, 1966 letter, Richter expresses concern that these copies not be sold too cheaply, because "I am told that Brothers of No Kin lists for $10 in various catalogs and I'm not sure that we should suddenly undercut them too much." This postcard is typical; frequently Richter asked Goedecke to send books as gifts to others, including friends and family. He also asked advice from Goedecke. When he was working on a novel, he asked in a letter whether any book had been published with the title The Lost Land, because he wanted to use it (May 20, 1964).

The last two books that Richter appears to have requested from Goedecke are William Gibson's Mass for the Dead in July 1968 and Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling by Susanne Langer. After Richter's death, Harvena Richter sent the Goedeckes a Christmas card that Richter had addressed before his death.

Examples of Correspondence From Richter to Goedecke

Richter letter to Goedecke, April 23, 1954 Richter postcard to Goedecke, October 10, 1956 Richter letter to Goedecke, June 9, 1957 Richter postcard to Goedecke, July 28, 1968 Richter postcard to Goedecke, September 3, 1968

A finding guide to the Karl Goedecke Papers (Laurel Book Service) is available.


The Waters of Kronos | Correspondence | Inscriptions | Richter and Goedecke | Financial Records | Study Guide