Ambrose Bierce? Alan Le May? Jack Benny? Mark Twain? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: The increasing popularity of ebooks is threatening to make one of my favorite quotations obsolete. The wonderful humorist Ambrose Bierce was asked to evaluate a lengthy soporific tome and according to legend he handed in a devastating and hilarious one-line review:
The covers of this book are too far apart.
Did Bierce really write this, and what was the name of the book being evaluated?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI of a version of this quip was printed in 1899. The first citation connecting the joke to Ambrose Bierce was published more than two decades later in 1923. Details for this cite are presented further below. Bierce disappeared in 1913 and his final fate is still mysterious. The linkage of the saying to Bierce is weak because the 1923 claim appeared so late.
In September 1899 the “Logansport Pharos” of Indiana printed a short humor item in which two stock figures named “Author” and “Friend” exchanged remarks. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
An Honest Criticism.
Author—Now I want your honest opinion. Tell me what faults you see in my book.
Friend—Well, for one thing, I think the covers are too far apart.—New York Journal.
The paper listed an acknowledgement to a New York periodical, but it did not provide an attribution. The same comical dialog was published in other newspapers in 1899 such as the “North Adams Transcript” of Massachusetts, 2 the “Ann Arbor Daily Argus” of Michigan, 3 the “Biloxi Daily Herald” of Mississippi, 4 and the “Duluth Evening Herald” of Minnesota which acknowledged the “San Francisco Examiner” of California. 5
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1899 September 28, Logansport Pharos (Logansport Pharos Tribune), An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Logansport, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1899 September 29, North Adams Transcript, An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, North Adams, Massachusetts. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1899 October 11, Ann Arbor Daily Argus, An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Ann Arbor, Michigan. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1899 November 14, Biloxi Daily Herald (Daily Herald), An Honest Criticism, Quote Page 6, Column 5, Biloxi, Mississippi. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1899 November 9, Duluth Evening Herald, Autumn Zephyrs, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Duluth, Minnesota. (Old Fulton) ↩