What Were People Reading in the Summer of ’69?

It’s the height of the beach-reading season — usually a time when there are new titles scrapping for the No. 1 slots each week — but this summer, things have been, well, not quite as lively. Delia Owens’s “Where the Crawdads Sing” is once again the top-selling novel, as it has been for most of the year, and Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” remains ensconced at No. 1 on the nonfiction list. So to spice things up, we looked back to the summer of 1969 to see what people were reading 50 years ago.

Back then the country’s hottest novel was Jacqueline Susann’s “The Love Machine,” which Nora Ephron reviewed for The Times. In her piece, which was as saucy and savagely funny as you might expect, Ephron wrote, “With the possible exception of Cosmopolitan magazine, no one writes about sadism in modern man and masochism in modern woman quite as horribly and accurately as Jacqueline Susann.” She added that “The Love Machine” was “not exactly a literary work. But in its own little sub-category of popularly written romans à clef, it shines, like a rhinestone in a trash can.”

At No. 2 on the fiction list was Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.” Dick Schaap — the legendary sports journalist who reviewed it for The Times — had a good time comparing it to Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” the novel which was at No. 3. “If Philip Roth has created a Jewish mother who can actually give you heartburn, Mario Puzo has created a Sicilian father who will make you shiver every time you stroll on Mulberry Street,” Schaap wrote. “What Roth has done for masturbation, Puzo has done for murder.”

The novel at No. 4, “The Andromeda Strain” — by a young fourth-year Harvard medical student named Michael Crichton — had everything going for it: The Times had given it a rave review (“a reading windfall — compelling, memorable, superbly executed”), Hollywood snapped up film rights and the Book of the Month Club tapped it as a main selection. In an interview with the paper, Crichton admitted that writing novels while studying medicine had its challenges. “A few of the teachers feel I’m wasting my time, and that in some way I’ve wasted theirs,” he said. “When I asked for a couple of days off to go to California about a movie sale, that raised an eyebrow.”

Despite his sudden riches, Crichton vowed he wasn’t going to change: “I’m not going to buy a yacht or a gold lamé suit or divorce my wife.”

Follow Tina Jordan on Twitter: @TinaJordanNYT

Follow New York Times Books on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, sign up for our newsletter or our literary calendar. And listen to us on the Book Review podcast.

Source: Read Full Article