Teen Book List, 1973

     As noted heretofore, this is another one of them new years, a time when this column generally looks back to the world of books marking significant anniversaries.  I thought I might start with things which are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, and now I wish I hadn’t.  The last thing I really need, when considering a new year full of hope and promise, is to remember that I was looking forward to the same sorts of things fifty years ago, and was old enough then to generate thoughts which are still present in my memory.  This suggests I was more than two or three in 1973, which they tell me was fifty years ago.  But I will deal with that elsewhere.  You want to know about the books.

     I noticed right away two books on the list which at least half my classmates picked up and read during 1973.  Each was a pioneer in its own way, though the authors, honored in their fields, have seen their reputations continue in odd ways.  One was Tim O’Brien’s memoir of the Vietnam War (a.k.a. the War in Viet Nam) If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home, which was banned from a number of school libraries as the decade went on, and won its author mighty praise.  The Other was Lois Duncan’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, which set off a new wave of teen thriller novels and movies, few of which really earned a lot of stars from critics.  So that’s what folks in my age group wanted: books their elders would disapprove of.

    Not quite so popular but still gobbled up by certain of my classmates was the 16-personality heroine Sybil, whose story was told by Flora Schreiber in 1873, while others were fascinated by the grit of a well-thumbed copy of Serpico by Peter Mass.  A small number of my adventurous colleagues found their way into Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden.  They must have picked that up at a bookstore, since it would not have been available at the school library.  Nor would Jacquelinne Susann’s record-breaking Once is Not Enough (which made her the first author to have three consecutive novels hit #1 on the bestseller list) though this MIGHT have been in the Adults Only cupboard at our public library.

     As far as I can recall, my classmates and I had no notion of other disreputable classics of the year 1973: Equus by Peter Shaffer or Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon).  Later in life, I knew someone who never traveled anywhere without his copy of Gravity’s Rainbow.  He didn’t especially relish flying, but after working his way into the first chapter of that classic he knew he’d be fast asleep.  This is not what brought it its fame, but each reader reads a book for themself.

     More vital to me personally at the time were the deaths of two authors who did a lot to make me what I am today (whatever that was), Walt Kelly and J.R.R. Tolkien.  I had been familiar with Walt Kelly’s Pogo since shortly before birth, but I had only recently finished The Lord of the Rings, which set me off on a quest for more fantasy literature, which was exceedingly rare in those days, as publishers everywhere knew such junk didn’t sell.

     This would lead me eventually to a book first published in 1973, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride.  Not only is this an amazing and inimitable novel (though people have tried), but I treasure the paperback I picked up in 1974 or thereabouts, which bears along the top of the cover the words “Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture”.  The movie, which became a classic as well, appeared in 1987, and I have always wondered what the record is for “Soon” to be a major motion picture.

     Other classics appeared in 1973, but these are the works which jumped at my memory.  When next we cover this topic, we will move to a year comfortably in the past.  (Though 1923 is actually headlined by another disreputable book I read when I was…never mind how old I was in 1973.  Far too young to be reading so subversive a tome, I’m sure.)

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