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James Thurber gets a boost from Ben Stiller

AuthorsMoviesLibrariesBookJames Baldwin

A book doesn't have to be a movie tie-in to see the benefit of a film's release. Readers don't need to see a star's face on the book's cover, it turns out: They just need to see the author's name.

That's what's shown by the year-end numbers at the Library of America. The august publisher, a nonprofit, is dedicated to keeping the literature of America in print. It's the place to go for both Thomas Paine and James Baldwin, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Frost. It wraps its books in plain black jackets with a thin color banner, decorated with a small portrait of the author.

So when "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," directed by and starring Ben Stiller, opened on Christmas Day, there was little to tie it to the Library of America volume "James Thurber: Writings and Drawings." Little except for James Thurber himself.

"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" was, originally, a Thurber story published in the New Yorker in 1939. It's included in the Library of America's collection, and that collection's sales tripled in 2013, thanks to the Stiller film. So "James Thurber: Writings and Drawings," first published back in 1966, was among the Library of America's backlist bestsellers for the year, coming in at No. 12.

In a post on its blog, the Library of America explains that and other sales jumps. The film version of "On the Road" prompted readers to pick up the volume "Jack Kerouac: Road Novels, 1957-1960." In addition to "On the Road," the book includes the Kerouac novels "The Dharma Bums" and "The Subterraneans," the novella "Tristessa," travel writings collected as "Lonesome Traveler," and journal selections. The Kerouac book was No. 4 on the Library of America's backlist list in 2013, after the film's release in December 2012.

Even a television repeat had an effect on sales. After public TV rebroadcast American Masters' "James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket," the Library of America's backlist title "James Baldwin: Collected Essays" saw a sales bump, up to No. 13.

At the top of the list was the Kurt Vonnegut collection, "Kurt Vonnegut: Novels and Stories, 1963-1973," new to its backlist eligibility. (Via Publishing Perspectives and the Paris Review).

Interestingly, the Library of America is slowly rolling out e-books of its editions. Over time, they may completely take over the list (especially with some movie boosts).

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