One of the things we have discussed frequently in this blog is the tendency of donors to send me the bestsellers of yesteryear. Every July, we offer the nicest copies we can show you of such classic authors as Alice Tisdale Hobart or Gerald Green or Leo Buscaglia. As a public service, I will not bring up The D-V—- C—, The D—– S—— of the Y–Y- S——— or The Help.
What mystifies me, though, are some of the bestsellers we don’t get to see. Journey to Ixtlan is a constant: we will always have that among our New Age selection, not far from all those copies of The Late Great Planet Earth. But where, oh where, is Erich van Daniken?
Heaven knows, enough copies of Chariots of the Gods? sold back in 1968 and 1969, to say nothing of more than a dozen sequels and continuations he wrote afterward. But we actually see more of the rip-off titles, instant books publishers hired people to write in imitation, than we see of his originals. Carl Sagan, among others, attacked his series, but plenty of anthropologists took issue with Carlos Castaneda, and those books show up at the Newberry on a regular basis.
I myself bought quite a number of his books as they came out, contributing to the worthy cause to which he devoted the proceeds (paying back money as part of a hotel fraud of some kind; I don’t quite understand the details, but it had nothing to do with ancient astronauts.) The books from the late 70s get a bit dreary, as he becomes obsessed with proving that the UFO cover-ups are all part of a plot by the Vatican. He’s gone on writing them, too, but you couldn’t prove it at our Book Fair.
And where the heck is Richard Simmons? Did Jane Fonda really outsell him by that much, or is it just that the Newberry crowd is made up of janeists, and the Richard fans live downstate? He’s brought out at least as many books as von Daniken, with his exercise titles, and his inspirational guides, and his diet…oh, that’s right: “Never Say Diet”. And yet somehow the great July Book Binge, as we are known in some circles, can offer only the meagrest selection of his works (including a videocassette or two) while we generally boast a dozen of Jane Fonda’s Workout.
It’s been a while since anybody donated Who Killed the Robins Family?, a mystery and contest, with a $10,000 prize to anybody who was able to guess the solution to the story. This came out in 1983, a few years after the country was convulsed by the television question “Who Shot J.R.?”, and you can’t tell me it was a coincidence. A few million copies of the book were sold, though I can’t recall how many people figured out the ending or whether the novel itself was any good. You might assume so few copies are donated because everyone threw the book away once the contest was over, and yet we get several copies every year of Kit Williams’s 1979 puzzle/art book Masquerade. The reader was expected to find the clues in the painting to find a buried golden rabbit, which was, in fact, found by somebody who figured out only a couple of the clues and guessed the rest. It spawned many imitators, and we see more copies of those than we ever do of the mysterious Robins Family. Maybe we prefer rabbits to robins.
Mind you, I don’t wish to complain. The Book Fair continues to offer refuge to about ninety percent of the books which made the New York Times list. I’m just thinking of all those people who are trying to find them all. Oh well. It gives them something to do until Richard Simmons and Erich von Daniken write a puzzle book together.