As a teenager surrounded by the decade’s Human Potential zeitgeist, the books on my nightstand were not Roth or Goldman or Updike. Nor were they Rice, Rossner or Butler. Once, as a younger child, I absorbed stories, seeking meaning through an animal’s dilemma, a friendship in trouble, parents fighting. But I was being pulled toward something more substantial in the written words and pages and chapters ahead in my life. Somewhere after The Phantom Tollbooth and A Wrinkle in Time, I had enough “stories” and wanted to make some of my own.
Thoroughly susceptible at the time – when authors presented ideas like dangling leaves on a fall day – I stretched and pulled and grasped the crackling, crisp collections of Have a look . . . Take a listen. I yearned to integrate their entrancing notions as mine: series caught fire within me. Being in the Ixtlan on a journey with Carlos Castaneda’s Don Juan, confronting the nagual, and trying to make sense how Don Genaro passing gas was a clarion call of seeing; that was my ‘70s literary world. An environmentalist from my early childhood days of climbing California Live Oaks and hiking in nearby canyons, I took to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, Loren Eisley’s Unexpected Universe, the poetry of Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, and the quirky Tom Robbins with his Another Roadside Attraction and large-thumbed hitchhiker Sissy Hankshaw of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I may not remember where or when I did my reading; but I remember the books. Every one of them. Each one offered its gift.
As my prefrontal cortex had no choice but to expand, so did the ponderous depths and levels of sophistication that poked and prodded. The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra is subtitled An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Sure, Gavin, light reading for a Sunday afternoon. My predisposition leaned toward psychology: Flora Rheta Schreiber’s Sybil exposed me to the idea of multiple personalities. That stuff keeps you up at night. So did Helter Skelter; I must have kept reading that one hidden from my family. Just an aside: Every generation has its notable cultural shifts of the pendulum, whether music, fashion, bad television. Then, something entirely new comes onto the scene. Am I crazy or did the ‘70s have its share of terrifying books and films? More than any other? Deliverance, Carrie, The Exorcist, Jaws, Halloween, The Amityville Horror, The Memoirs of Richard Nixon? At first, was it a way to escape the Vietnam War that wouldn’t end? Then Watergate, social unrest, the energy crisis, would your flight be hijacked? Nothing like squealing pigs and hands sprouting up from under the earth to grab one’s leg to offer distraction!
I suppose the pertinent question is: Does art imitate life or the reverse? Or is the writer prescient, like Stephen King’s teacher Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, able to see the trends ahead and write it spot on (see Dave Eggers The Circle)? Likely, as most of life is, we’re somewhere in between. Today, I select a book so much differently than the seventeen-year-old me. Today, call me the one-man-bandwagon – I jump on what I want, not what the New York Times tells me. Today, it’s cool when I discover something no one’s read and I turn them on to it. Additionally, I’m a snoot: I buy, I collect. No library book checkouts for me. Don’t misunderstand – I love a good library fix . . . for the quiet, for watching the excitement of the children racing to their shelves juxtaposed with the elderly folks reading every newspaper they can find. My collection is a shrine to a lifetime of words flowing through me, serving up themes to chew on, characters to relate to, conflicts that challenge me as to how would I handle them. They have been beacons.
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.
― Roald Dahl
What follows below is my faithfully rendered collection of the 1970s in a snapshot. As I have commented too many times to count in previous posts, the times were, shall we say, eclectic. From one end, you get Love Story, the mushiest of mush. Toss in The Happy Hooker, with Xaviera Hollander sharing her stories from under the sheets, and fold them neatly and hand them over to emerging women’s voices such as Kate Millett (Sexual Politics), Marilyn French (The Woman’s Room), Elaine Morgan (The Descent of Woman), Erica Jong (Fear of Flying), Judith Rossner (Looking for Mr. Goodbar), Marge Piercy (Woman on the Edge of Time). I have some award winners (Gravity’s Rainbow, Angle of Repose, The Executioner’s Song, Humboldt’s Gift). Drug and just plain bizarre cultural: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Breakfast of Champions, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And my favorite category: The Whats??? (Being There, Interview with the Vampire, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Complete Book of Running [the author, Jim Fixx, died of a heart attack at age 52], Moosewood Cookbook [I couldn’t resist]).
Here is an overview of what’s ahead:
Note: Ninety total books made the list. Ten selections per year, including fiction and non-fiction. Top Three, rated subjectively, then, seven Honorable Mentions in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Though there were award-winning, critically acclaimed literary works written for children, this post highlights adult books only.
3 – Deliverance (James Dickey, Houghton Mifflin)
2 – Future Shock (Alvin Toffler, Random House)
#1 – Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown, Holt, Rinehart & Winston)
My notes: Never read #3. The movie kept me from revisiting redneck country. Both Toffler and Brown stirred and moved me. Many of his predictions were on the money. Recently reading Tommy Orange’s There There along with many other literary voices from those who were here before us will hopefully gain traction – to where Congress will not only consider, but will act first, for descendants of slaves, then, the American Indian: by providing financial restitution.
Honorable Mention: The Primal Scream (Arthur Janov, PhD, Dell), Sexual Politics (Kate Millett, Doubleday & Co.), The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison, Holt, Rinehart & Winston), Fire from Heaven (Mary Renault, Pantheon), Love Story (Erich Segal, Harper & Row), Inside the Third Reich (Albert Speer, Orion), The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart, Hodder & Stoughton).
3 – Lives of Girls and Women (Alice Munro, McGraw-Hill Ryerson)
2 – Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner, Doubleday)
#1 – Rabbit Redux (John Updike, Alfred A. Knopf)
My notes: Didn’t read any of these, though I placed them above many from the Honorable Mention group that I did read. Critical response shined for these, and I will adhere to this standard as I move through the years.
Honorable Mention: The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty, Harper & Row), A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (Carlos Castaneda, Simon & Schuster), The Day of the Jackal (Frederick Forsyth, Viking Press), The Happy Hooker: My Own Story, (Xaviera Hollander), Being There (Jerzy Kosinski, Harcourt Brace),The Drifters (James A. Michener, Random House), The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (Tom Wolfe, Farrar Straus Giroux).
3 – My Name Is Asher Lev (Chaim Potok, Knopf)
2 – The Gods Themselves (Isaac Asimov, Doubleday)
#1 – All Creatures Great and Small (James Herriot, Bantam)
My notes: Read #1 and #3. Chaim Potok was one of the most enduring voices of Jewish authors during the decade. His themes of tradition versus external forces are riveting. And, always timely, it seems. James Herriot’s series was and will always be held in high esteem by critics and the millions of readers and viewers over the years. When you do an animal-themed novel, you better nail it, and he did.
Honorable Mention: The Rachel Papers (Martin Amis, Knopf), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (Angela Carter, Rupert Hart-Davis), The Manticore (Robertson Davies, Macmillan Canada), The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (Thomas Keneally, Angus and Robertson, Australia), The Stepford Wives (Ira Levin, Random House), The Descent of Woman (Elaine Morgan, Souvenir Press), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson, Random House).
3 – The Gulag Archipelago (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Éditions du Seuil)
2 – Sybil (Flora Rheta Schreiber, Henry Regnery Company)
#1 – Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon, Viking Press)
My notes: I’ve never made the time for the highly-regarded #1. I may not get to it after reading Inherent Vice last year. Solzhenitsyn offered an unprecedented peek into the USSR, and I don’t care to see that ever again, thank you very much.
Honorable Mention: The Denial of Death (Ernest Becker, Free Press), The Princess Bride, (William Goldman, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), Serpico, (Peter Maas, Bantam), If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, (Tim O’Brien, Delacorte Press), Small Is Beautiful, (E. F. Schumacher, Blond & Briggs), Burr (Gore Vidal, Random House), Breakfast of Champions, (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Delacorte Press).
3 – Jaws (Peter Benchley, Doubleday)
2 – Fear of Flying (Erica Jong, Holt, Rinehart and Winston)
#1 – All the President’s Men (Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster)
My notes: Saw the films for #1 and #3, but didn’t care to read about gushing body parts or something too political. I still was a teen! Still want to read Jong. I rank this Top Three as one of the strongest for its different genres combining to make a tour de force.
Honorable Mention: Helter Skelter (Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry, W. W. Norton & Company), Carrie (Stephen King, Doubleday), The Diviners (Margaret Laurence, McLelland and Stewart), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (John le Carré, Hodder & Stoughton), The Dispossessed (Ursula K. Le Guin, Harper & Row), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Robert M. Pirsig, William Morrow and Company), Working (Studs Turkel, Pantheon).
3 – Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Judith Rossner, Simon & Schuster)
2 – Shōgun (James Clavell, Delacorte Press)
#1 – Humboldt’s Gift (Saul Bellow, Viking Press)
My notes: I read almost all of James Clavell’s books during college. Nothing was more compelling than how he authored Japan’s natural beauty and prolific cultural contributions and creativity compared to the severity and barbaric seppuku. Don’t lose your head over this book! I have a vague memory of watching #3 and probably thinking Do people really want to live like that?
Honorable Mention: The Monkey Wrench Gang (Edward Abbey, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), Ragtime (E. L. Doctorow, Random House), J R, (William Gaddis, Alfred A. Knopf), Heat and Dust (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Harper and Row), Animal Liberation (Peter Singer, HarperCollins), The Great Railway Bazaar (Paul Theroux, Houghton Mifflin), The Choirboys (Joseph Wambaugh, Delacorte Press).
3 – Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice, Knopf)
2 – Roots: The Saga of an American Family (Alex Haley, Doubleday)
#1 – Ordinary People (Judith Guest, Viking Press)
My notes: I don’t like vampires, okay? I watched Dracula a few times, maybe read a scary version. Sadly, they, along with zombies are still going strong. Nothing needs to be said that hasn’t been said about Alex Haley’s masterpiece. So, (silence). Ordinary People is in my Top Ten favorite films ever. But I haven’t read the book. I could make a comprehensive list of those: “Seen Films/Must Read Books.”
Honorable Mention: The Deep (Peter Benchley, Doubleday), Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? (Raymond Carver, McGraw-Hill), The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press), The Face of Battle (John Keegan, Viking Press), Woman on the Edge of Time (Marge Piercy, Alfred A. Knopf), Kiss of the Spider Woman (El beso de la mujer araña) (Manuel Puig, Knopf), Meridian (Alice Walker, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).
3 – The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough, Harper and Row)
2 – Terms of Endearment (Larry McMurtry, Simon & Schuster)
#1 – The Women’s Room (Marilyn French, Summit Books/Simon & Schuster)
My notes: #3 is the best-selling Australian novel ever. McMurtry can do it all: Lonesome Dove, my favorite Western novel ever, and this little story that was adapted to film and won the Best Picture Oscar. #1 has been criticized for male bashing. I can take it. Read Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared Was Against American Women. I did.
Honorable Mention: The Amityville Horror (Jay Anson, Prentice Hall), Illusions (Richard Bach, Dell), In Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin, Jonathan Cape), Coma (Robin Cook, Little, Brown & Co.), A Book of Common Prayer (Joan Didion, Simon & Schuster), The Complete Book of Running (Jim Fixx, Random House), Daniel Martin (John Fowles, Little, Brown & Co.).
3 – Birdy (Willam Wharton, Knopf)
2 – The World According to Garp (John Irving, E. P. Dutton)
#1 – The Far Pavilions (M. M. Kaye, Viking Press)
My notes: Another really dynamic trio. M. M. Kaye was Mary Margaret Kaye who lived from 1908-2004. She is mostly known for this epic novel of an English officer in India during the British Raj. Garp and Birdy were standouts as character studies.
Honorable Mention: 1985 (Anthony Burgess, Hutchinson), Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press), The Year of Living Dangerously (Christopher Koch, Nelson, Michael Joseph), The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (Richard Nixon, Grosset & Dunlap), The Road Less Travelled (M. Scott Peck, Simon & Schuster), Evergreen (Belva Plain, Delacorte), War and Remembrance (Herman Wouk, Little, Brown & Co.).
3 – Kindred (Octavia Butler, Doubleday)
2 – The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer, Little, Brown)
#1 – Sophie’s Choice (William Styron, Random House)
My notes: No question this is the Best Top Three of the decade. Sophie’s Choice presents a mother with the most impossible, gut-wrenching choice one can have. Mailer’s book about Gary Gilmore, who would be the first executed when capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, in part, stirred up heated discussions and outcries around the nation. Kindred uses time travel allowing a modern-day woman to visit the antebellum South where she meets her ancestors. Able to travel between each time period, her outspoken vitriol for how things are can’t be allowed to surface – she risks becoming property. The novel incited conversation about what black women endured over history on this land, and the role men played – a very gray area indeed.
Honorable Mention: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams, Pan Books), The Neverending Story (Die unendliche Geschichte) (Michael Ende, Thienemann Verlag), Tinsel (William Goldman, Delacorte), The Dead Zone (Stephen King, Viking Press), The White House Years (Henry Kissinger,Little, Brown & Co.), The Ghost Writer (Philip Roth, Farrar Straus Giroux), Shibumi (Trevanian, Crown).
As 2020 nears, we will be celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1970s arrival. Meet me at a café. I’ll be the one reading something like the recent books I’ve finished (The Dakota Winters, Daisy Jones & The Six, The Last Time I Lied, Trust Exercise) and the ones on my nightstand (Boys in the Trees, The Fortress of Solitude). Hopefully, mine will be perched alongside of your latest Romance novel or Crime Fiction Suspense Thriller. Until we meet there, turn off the TV a little bit more. Silence the cell phone. Be with your family. Your pets.
So, help yourself:
“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the
self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
― George Carlin