Fascinating map of the United States, illustrating a list of important works of fiction drawn up by Dr. Paul Paine.
Dr. Paine was director of the Syracuse Public Library, and a prolific writer and teacher of literature in his day.
The following is excerpted from the Bulletin of the American Library Association, Vol. 25, No. Proceedings of the Fifty Third Annual Conference (September 1931), pp 565-570:
The Gold Star List of American Fiction: Its History and Methods
The Gold Star List is an all-star cast of American fiction. From the professional standpoint it may be described as a pamphlet containing 500 annotated books from Cooper to the present time with a classified index according to type, period and locality . . .
. . . Dr. Paul Paine's Map of Good Stories showing the United States covered by fiction, reveals the variety of drama fate can snatch from environment to rule or trick her players.
This list first started as four pages in a library bulletin, a brief alphabetical arrangement of some sixty standard books of American fiction that should include modern books of merit. The idea came to Dr. Paine from a boy's definition of a standard book. "A standard book," said this boy, "is a book written by a dead person." Dr. Paine felt that most young people share that view, and that every home should have on its living room table, books written by people very much alive. "A book to take home to the family:" that was his aim, and the need of such a list of books is shown by the demand for it from every part of the United States.
In 1915 this little list was intended for local use. In 1919 it became a separate annual increased to 400 titles. In 1921 the classified list was added and with that came the demand from outside readers.
Dr. Paine's Map of Good Stories was reproduced on the cover of the 1924 list, and larger copies of the map sold separately. We discovered then that a graphic representation of American fiction appealed to many people as original and interesting, for there was an immediate jump in orders and letters of appreciation from writers whose books appeared on the map. These letters came from Gilbert Parker in London, from Stewart Edward White, Upton Sinclair and Zane Grey in California, from Booth Tarkington and William Allen White in the Middle West, from Joseph Lincoln, Hamlin Garland and Gertrude Atherton in the East and Herbert Quick in West Virginia. There have been a number of others too, but the territory this list has penetrated surprised us by the distant authors who have seen it, and even more by the orders we receive from such outposts as Australia, Hawaii and Finland. The list having once been asked for, the demand is continued annually so that of our annual issue of two thousand copies about one thousand are used outside of Syracuse.
The choice of a book for the Gold Star List is not determined by any one reviewer. All books of fiction are reviewed at staff meetings before the library accepts them, while a book of American fiction must be read as a possibility for the Gold Star. To meet tthe requirements, it must have character and some literary value. It must be a book of merit. Once it is recommended as a possibility, it is re-read by several others on the staff and approved by Dr. Paine.
The policy of the Gold Star List has been on the whole conservative. In 1925 when the post war fiction was still looked upon with some doubt, Dr. Paine said in that year's list: "In these trying times we have aimed to be prudish rather than daring."