Birthday Bestsellers

This is cool: The New York Times bestseller list, fiction and non-fiction for my birthday week.

On the fiction list, there are only entries where I’ve never heard of either book or writer, Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins at No. 7 and The Camerons by Robert Crichton at No. 10. Jenkins apparently is some kind of sportswriter specializing in golf (which explains why I’ve never heard of him), while Crichton’s book tells the story of his Scottish immigrant grandparents.

The rest of the fiction list isn’t too bad, really. There’s a Pynchon on it, for starters, Gravity’s Rainbow at No. 9. I also can’t quarrel with Anya Seaton’s Green Darkness at No. 3 and a Mary Renault historical novel (The Persian Boy) at No. 6. The Sunlight Dialogues by John Gardner at No. 8, a book I must confess I’ve never heard of, also sounds like a worthy contender.

As for the rest, we have two thrillers, The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth at No. 1 and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by John Godey at No. 5, that I know mainly via having watched the film adaptions on late night TV years ago. There’s also Once is not enough by Jacqueline Susann at No. 4, an examination of sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll among the rich and the glamourous of Hollywood, which seems to be similar in style and theme to Susann’s better remembered Valley of the Dolls. I’ve never been able to get into the works of Harold Robbins (whom my Mom must have liked a whole lot, judging by the number of Harold Robbins novels on her bookshelves), Jacqueline Susann and others who wrote sex and sensation novels in the late 1960s and 1970s, though I can see why they were popular at the time. What I did not know is that Jacqueline Susann was already suffering from breast cancer when Once is not enough hit the bestseller list and that she died the next year.

Finally, in the “ouch” category we have Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach at No. 2, which apparently was the biggest bestseller of 1972 and 1973. I have to admit that I never actually read it. However, I don’t like inspirational self-help pap and I have an acute allergy against fiction narrated by philosophical animals, probably brought by reading too many bad stories with animal narrators for my university creative writing classes, including a particularly memorable (and not in a good way) story narrated by a philosophical fly with an interest in art history. Those animal narrator stories were so endemic that I even wrote a parody describing how a dog would really see the world. It was basically “Eat, Pee, Sex”

As for the non-fiction list, the one entry I absolutely cannot argue with at all is All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, considering how much I enjoyed the TV show growing up.

In general, I know a lot fewer of the non-fiction books, which isn’t really surprising, considering that non-fiction bestseller are more closely tied to national tastes than fiction bestsellers. Hence I kind of doubt that a biography of Harry S. Truman, a memoir by Charles Lindbergh’s soon to be widow (Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead), memories of John F. Kennedy collected by two of his aides (Johnny, we hardly knew ye), an account of the origins of the Vietnam war (The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam) or the Rosenberg trial examined from the POV of one of the defence lawyers (The Implosion Conspiracy by Louis Nizer) would have found much interest in Germany, though I strongly suspect that at least the last two are very worthy books.

We also have the usual self-help and esoteric tomes that used to saturate the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list until they made a separate advice list (which is always topped by What to expect when you’re expecting). There is I’m OK, You’re OK, a parenting book by one Thomas Harris. Not the Thomas Harris who invented Hannibal Lector (now that would have been creepy). There is The Joy of Sex (can’t really argue with that one – the culture obviously needed it). There is Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda, which left me with a “Huh – isn’t that fiction?” reaction (obviously, it wasn’t considered fiction back in 1973).

Finally, we have my bane and archenemy, Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution, entrenched in the No. 1 spot. You mean, that whole Atkins low-carb crap already existed in 1973? And for some reason, it’s still popular today? I don’t believe in miracle diets and diet books in general. At best those diets are a scam that doesn’t work, at worst they’re actively dangerous. But I have a specific hatred for low-carb diets, because they are completely counterintuitive to the way I eat and to the way my body works. Because I get actively cranky, if I don’t get enough starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, potato chips, tortillas), i.e. the very things low carb diet apostles tell you not to eat ever. Meanwhile, my body reacts badly to too much protein, even if it’s protein I actually like such as fish, shrimps, mussels, etc… Still, before the low-carb craze I was considered a healthy eater (except for the fact that I eat chocolate a lot and drink full fat milk). Now, after the low-carb craze, I’m suddenly considered an unhealthy eater on exactly the same diet.

Back to the list, I own only one of the books on my birthday besteller list and that Gravity’s Rainbow. I own books by Anya Seaton, Frederick Forsyth and John Gardner, but not the ones that made this particular bestseller list. I don’t own any of the non-fiction bestsellers.

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2 Responses to Birthday Bestsellers

    • Cora says:

      At least, you have the Jacqueline Susann novel still remembered today, while I got an obscure one. And neither seagulls nor diet books.

      I see that you also got Robert Crichton, an author I must confess I’d never heard of before. Looks like his works haven’t stood the test of time. In non-fiction, you also got Louis Nizer, another writer I must confess I’d never heard of before. Looks like what he had to say about the US legal system was in demand in the late 1960s/early 1970s.

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