1972: The Year in Books Slice of Life #sol21 29/31

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?

16 thoughts on “1972: The Year in Books Slice of Life #sol21 29/31

  1. This is so interesting! I have never thought about this before, so I did a quick search. Roots was published the year I was born.

  2. This is so interesting! If you decide to follow the urge to read things from your birth year, I would love to tag along. I DID read Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War, and I vaguely remember really liking it. Of course, that was then and this is now. Do you remember reading Watership Down out loud as we drove across the US?

  3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull! I was 11 years old in 1972 and remember well going to the movie with friends and getting seasick at the opening flight. What was the appeal then? I’m not sure. Maybe since it was the time of Vietnam war and people wanted a symbol of peace. This is such an interesting post. I want to look into the books that came out the year I was born. The book covers were likely as awful in 1961.

  4. What a fascinating journey! Watership Down and Angle of Repose would all be worth a reread. Looked up my year and found A Raisin in the Sun, Goodbye Columbus, Hawaii, and The Elements of Style to name a few. Yes, I was born a few years after you!

  5. Thanks for the shoutout, It is interesting to see what was popular the year we were born. I was 21 in 1972. Some of the books on your list I have read. I did enjoy Watership Down. We have the book with the original cover. I read Mrs. Frisby to many of my classes. Although a fan of Arthur Hailey, I never read Wheels. Jonathan Livingston Seagull in no way shape or form appealed to me.

  6. Interesting. I started JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL a couple of times, also WATERSHIP DOWN, but animal fantasy, even with a philosophical bent, is not my cup of tea. Not sure the printing press had been invented the year I was born!

  7. This is an excellent idea for a slice, but I feel compelled to defend Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I was 14 in 1972, a time when my father was very ill. JLS was a great comfort to me, both in the philosophical nature of the story and in the emotions Jonathan felt. The book stretched my thinking. It had so many abstractions. 1972 was a good year for allegory, but I won’t reread the book. Some books need to remain in one’s memory the way they first landed there.

  8. Great post! It brought back the bookshelves of my childhood home. I’m in total agreement that the book covers were pretty sad. Edward Gorey was definitely ahead of his time. I discovered Stephen King’s The Stand and James Michener’s Chesapeake were published in my birth year 1978.

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  10. Well THANK YOU for doing my research for me, as I was also born in the year 1972. What a cool walk this was through the books that were published. It’s certainly more interesting to me than reading about the price of eggs or a gallon of gas. And the idea of turning your birth year into a reading project sounds SUPER cool. Thanks for a great post!

  11. I love this! I looked up books from 1971 – I think I prefer your year, if only for Frog and Toad & Watership Down. And I love the idea of a birth year reading project – though the last thing I need right now is another reading project!

  12. Yes I read Watership Down, but I’m still not sure how much I liked it, Frog and Toad, of course, but most of the others, I’m not familiar with. Not sure what books were published the year I was born, which was quite a lot earlier!

  13. I remember being traumatized by Watership Down, but that first yellowy bookcover was on the book I read. I just looked up books in my birth year just now and the only one that immediately excited me was Corduroy!

  14. I am definitely going to find out what books were the bestsellers of the year that I was born now. 1972 was a good year for children’s books, and a lot of other things, but the best sellers (Watership Down aside, of course) were pretty odd choices. I have actually read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, when I was six or seven (1974? 1975?) because every house I knew had a copy. It was pretty strange and hippy-dippy even in the midst of the 70s! You’ve reminded me that I keep wanting to read Tove Jansson’s The Summer House, which I have heard of but never run across. I absolutely adored the Moomintroll books when I was a kid, and am curious to read her other work.

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