I could say that I was simply moved to write a sequel to that column about book happenings in 1919, but that would be a lie. I was really inspired when someone donated a copy of Oprah’s cookbook In the Kitchen With Rosie and I made the mistake of checking the publication date.
That little book, a mainstay of the Book Fair, has been around for 25 years this year. Ridiculous, really: I must have had a misprinted copy. See, I remember when it was new, and I’m only….
Anyway, I was moved to check into the literary events of 1969, and find out if any of the Book Fair regulars are now fifty years old.
I learned a few odd bits of trivia in the process. The Times Literary Supplement started calling itself TLS fifty years ago. One of the books about Chicago which The Cemetery Lady approved was published (Captive City, by Ovid Demaris). And one of the most-censored books of the early seventies, The American Heritage Dictionary, came out in 1969. (It was the first dictionary to add in certain definitions everyone knew but no one had allowed outside a dictionary of slang. One parent snarled, “I want my kids to learn those words where I learned them: in the streets and in the gutter”.)
But among the books whose titles would be cited in histories of American literature for years to come, there was a gratifying crop. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Slaughterhouse Five, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Master and Commander, The Godfather, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Spook Who Sat By the Door, Bullet Park, The Very Hungry Caterpillar…these are all Book Fair regulars, and things of which 1969 need not be ashamed.
But, um, what about the OTHER side of literature? What about those bestsellers which you will NOT find in your literature textbook.
Well, I was heartened to see Miss Craig’s 21-Day Shape Up Program for Men and Women. That blue and yellow dustjacket can be spotted at every Book Fair, and could be at any time since we first opened our doors to eager bookhunters in 1985. How many of the eager bookhunters BOUGHT it, I can’t say.
And look! That was the year of Naked Came the Stranger, which was on the bestseller list for weeks, even AFTER it was revealed that the author, Penelope Ashe, was really a committee called together to prove that Americans would buy ANY piece of trash as long as there was enough sex in it. (The book has sold nearly half a million copies and is now available in a spiffy new edition, WITH the original cover, which sold the book to plenty of people who may not have bothered to look any further.)
That was also the year Jacqueline Susann had a bestseller with The Love Machine, just to further prove the point. 1969 brought us Rich Man Poor Man, The Seven Minutes, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). At least two copies of each of those should be on the tables this July, or we just can’t open our doors. You will also easily find Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs or Jeanne Dixon’s My Life and Prophecies. The Money Game by an author identified as “Adam Smith” (with the quotation marks) will be there, as will Dr. Peter’s The Peter Principle. And though you may not think of Haim G. Ginott as a household name, if we do not have at least six copies of his 1969 book Between Parent and Teenager, something has gone seriously wrong with the supplies of books in Chicago.
There are people who, over the years, have demanded to know why I stock such stuff. Stick to Maya Angelou and John Fowles and let the recyclers carry away Haim Ginott and Irving Wallace. As a visitor was told once by a guide, “The Newberry prefers not to censor culture”. I’m betting that Miss Craig’s Shape-Up outsold Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander in 1969. How do I know she won’t do it again in 2019? Let it be YOUR choice, not mine.