One-Line Book Review: The covers of this book are too far apart

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Feb 9 01:03:03 UTC 2014

This message is about a comical book review quotation: "The covers of
this book are too far apart" which is usually attributed to Ambrose
Bierce. One may check the QI website for further background.

Following a valuable lead from Stephen Goranson I examined a
multi-volume 1963 edition of the "The Work of Stephen Crane". This
edition was a reissue of an edition by Alfred A. Knopf. The
introduction to volume 2 was written by Robert H. Davis and was dated
December 8, 1924.

So, Davis composed the introduction ten years after the disappearance
of Ambrose Bierce circa 1914.

Shaw discussed meeting with Ambrose Bierce, and he presented a
statement that he heard directly from Bierce. Shaw then mentioned the
"classic single-line review" credited to Bierce. The phrasing used by
Shaw suggested to me that Shaw did not hear this review from Bierce
directly. In fact, Shaw may have heard about the "single-line review"
years after he met with Bierce.

The joke has an anonymous creator in the earliest instances I've
located in 1899, and there is still no direct evidence that Ambrose
Bierce spoke or wrote an instance of the joke.

[ref] 1963, The Work of Stephen Crane by Stephen Crane, Edited by
Wilson Follett, Volume 2, (Introduction by Robert H. Davis; dated
December 8, 1924), Start Page ix, Quote Page x, Published by Russell &
Russell, New York. (Reissue by Russell & Russell of Alfred A. Knopf
edition) (Verified on paper in 1963 edition)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
The following week I met Ambrose Bierce and William C. Morrow, two
distinguished men of letters who have since joined the shades, and
spoke to them of THE RED BADGE. Both had read it. I do not recall
Morrow's exact criticism except that it was reasonably laudatory.
Bierce's observation remains with me:

"This young man," said he, "has the power to feel. He knows nothing of
war, yet he is drenched in blood. Most beginners who deal with this
subject spatter themselves merely with ink."

This, coming from the brilliant critic who wrote that classic
single-line review, "The covers of this book are  too far apart,"
encouraged me in the belief that I had at least interpreted the
fourteenth child of Jonathan Townley Crane, D.D.

This closes the San Francisco chapter and all of it that pertains to
Stephen Crane.
[End excerpt]

Great thanks to Stephen. I will update the QI entry,

On Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 5:25 AM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: One-Line Book Review: The covers of this book are too far
>               apart
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Another attribution (in 1925) to Bierce from someone who (apparently, relying on this old note) knew Bierce:
> Stephen Goranson
> ________________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of ADSGarson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM]
> Sent: Thursday, January 30, 2014 6:59 PM
> Subject: [ADS-L] One-Line Book Review: The covers of this book are too far              apart
> The quotation in the subject line appeared in the 1929 biographical
> work titled "Bitter Bierce: A Mystery of American Letters" by C.
> Hartley Grattan. The author credited Bierce with the quip.
> This 1929 citation was listed in several key reference works
> including: Cassell's Humorous Quotations (2001), The Yale Book of
> Quotations (2006), and The Oxford Dictionary of American Quotations
> (2006).
> I've made some progress antedating this expression. A version of the
> gibe was in circulation by 1899. A linkage to Bierce was asserted by
> the prominent humorist Irvin S. Cobb in 1923. Here is a link to the QI
> entry:
>  Additional citations providing illumination would be most welcome. Thanks.
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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