I got the idea for this post from arjeha’s slice about prices in the year he was born. His post got me wondering about books in my birth year. What was published? What were the most popular books?
1972 was a very good year for books.
I can’t speak for the year’s bestseller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I remember seeing on my grandmother’s bookshelf. Even though a seagull features prominently on the cover, I always assumed the book was about a person, but apparently its main character really is a seagull. The plot summary sounds like absolute drivel to me, but the Goodreads one- and two-star reviews (“Don’t read this book!” and “for people who smell like patchouli”) make it all worthwhile.
I haven’t read the year’s other bestsellers either, although I remember them on my grandmother’s bookshelf too: Arthur Hailey’s Wheels, Irving Wallace’s The Word, and Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. I looked up the plot summaries and feel some empathy for the poor readers of 1972 who were tormented with the seagull, the beginnings of the auto industry, a “mystery thriller” about the origins of the New Testament, and a World War II Navy commander nicknamed Pug.
It’s probably often the case that the year’s bestsellers aren’t the year’s best books. Also, it is clear that publishers in 1972 did not know how to design appealing book covers.
I do find it somehow meaningful that one of my all-time favorite (definitely in my lifetime Top Three) books, Watership Down, was published in 1972. There’s no real reason to be pleased with that fact. After all, the rest of my all-time favorite books were published in different years. But still, the fact that we both came into the world in 1972 makes me feel an extra-special connection. (And surely a reread is in order, though that ending is just too gutting.) (This book is obviously too good-looking to be the original 1972 cover, but it’s the cover of the edition that I first read.) (Still, I will share the original cover with you so that we can continue to agree that book design in 1972 was a sad thing.)
But here’s a book cover that’s not terrible!
There were some brilliant children’s books that I have read many times: Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together.
John Berger had an exceptional 1972: he published both Ways of Seeing, one of the most influential books ever written about art, and G., which won the Booker Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Quentin Bell won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography for his still very readable Virginia Woolf.
Margaret Atwood published Surfacing, her second novel. P.D. James published An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, the first in a mystery series featuring Cordelia Gray. Ursula LeGuin continued The Earthsea Cycle with The Far Shore, and Robertson Davies published the second novel in the Deptford Trilogy, The Manticore.
I’ve never read Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev, though I did keep it on my bookshelf for many years after my beloved high school Latin teacher offered it as a prize for winning a review game in class and then halted the game prematurely when I gave a correct answer so that I, his most voracious reader, could win the book. I feel a bit guilty that I didn’t read it.
Looking through the list of books published and popular in 1972 makes me wonder if a reading project is in order. I’ve never read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities or Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey or John Berger’s G or Tove Janssen’s The Summer Book or Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla My Love or Robert O’Brien’s Newbery winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and wouldn’t I feel smarter and more well-rounded as a reader if I did? And I’d enjoy a reread of Noel Perrin’s charming Amateur Sugar Maker and Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer-winning Angle of Repose, not to mention Watership Down.
And thankfully, most of these books also have very lovely modern covers that will not hurt the eyes and the spirit.
If only Edward Gorey had been in charge of all book design in 1972! (This is the original and current cover of Amphigorey, because it’s as perfect now as it was in 1972.)
What books were published or popular in the year of your birth?