When I heard that the next year-based challenge was going to be the 1976 Club, I felt sure that I would have some interesting books on my bookshelves. Alas! Yes, I do have a few, but I don’t really feel inspired by any of them. Even more frustrating about the choice of 1976 is the fact that there are several authors who published books either in 1975 or 1977 but had a year off (or an off year) in 1976. Perhaps they were all too overheated to write. I do remember 1976 being exceptionally hot summer in the UK; it was always the one referred back to if there was a heatwave. It was also the year the seafront was absolutely covered in ladybirds. Horrible! Almost as bad as the time the place was covered with greenfly, but that was another year. I was 13 with a permanent brace and ugly oversized glasses with thick brown frames. I was starting to read books from the adult section at the library as the sum total of the young adult section was two partly filled shelves of books that didn’t appeal.
Disappointing books on my shelves
The books on my shelves from the 1970s are mostly books my husband and I bought because we had watched the television show or knew the name from a film. That makes my 1976 options a disappointment for three reasons:
- I’ve already read most of them.
- They are books I don’t want to reread and I’m only keeping them because my husband believes he will read them one day.
- They are the book of the show and I’ve seen the show often enough that I’m not sure the book will add anything
They also fall into three categories, with some overlap:
- British humour
- Children/young adult
The 1970s were a time when sexist, racist and homophobic humour was so rampant that it hardly raised an eyebrow. Perhaps the worst of these was It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, but many of the gags make me cringe on many programmes of the era. Characters who complained about sexism or racism were seen as humourless and figures of fun. Some of the most iconic British comedy series ever were on our television sets in 1976: The Two Ronnies, Dad’s Army, Last of the Summer Wine, Are You Being Served, George and Mildred. The first series of Fawlty Towers had been aired the year before, too. I have the book of one of those unmissable series:
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin – David Nobbs. We recently rewatched a couple of episodes and it is amazing how slow-paced it is. It’s a bit of a cheat here because it was first issued in 1975 as The Death of Reginald Perrin, but renamed and reissued in 1976 to go with the television series starring Leonard Rossiter. It really is imbued with the essence of the ‘70s: little woman at home, feminist daughter, wine-making son-in-law, brown decor, the fashions and so on. I think this is a must-read. Cost: 75p!
Wilt – Tom Sharpe. When we were students, my husband bought the entire series of this author’s books with their jam-packed cartoonish covers, very similar to Terry Pratchett’s paperback covers. The illustrator was Paul Sample, though he isn’t credited in my edition of Wilt. He does a magnificent job of incorporating all the scandalous slapstick and smutty details. I do remember thinking when I read it that it was very funny, but also incredibly cringeworthy and utterly vulgar; sometimes you can’t remove an image from your brain. Astrofella has a series of excellent reviews of Tom Sharpe’s books on his website that are worth reading if you are interested, including one on Wilt. If I do return to one of his novels, it’s more likely to be one of the ones set in a university like Porterhouse Blue (1974) or in South Africa like Riotous Assembly (1971); Sharpe was deported from South Africa after his criticisms of the apartheid regime. Nevertheless, I shan’t be rereading this. Cost: £2.50 in 1978
The Alteration – Kingsley Amis. I’m not sure this counts as comedy, but I have a feeling Kingsley Amis thought of himself as a great wit. All I remember about this is that it involves a boy who is destined to become a castrato to preserve his beautiful singing voice. I do know it was a book I really enjoyed. If I have time, I’ll reread it because it’s very short.
Last Seen Wearing (Inspector Morse 2) – Colin Dexter. Except for the odd wry smile, this is definitely not comedy; it is a murder mystery. I have a soft spot for the irascible Morse as played by John Thaw in the TV series. We rewatched some episodes recently, but this book certainly stands a reasonable chance of being read. Cost: £4.50 in 1978 (daylight robbery!).
Biographies, autobiographies, historical
Singin’and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas – Maya Angelou. This is part 3 of Maya Angelou’s autobiography. I have only read part 1, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but I see no reason why I shouldn’t read this now, except lack of time. Cost: £3.95 in 1985.
Vets Might Fly – James Herriot. Somewhere in my overflow book storage is undoubtedly a copy of these stories by James ‘Alf’ Wight, who fictionalised his real-life work as a vet in the wonderful books that were adapted into the television series All Creatures Great and Small. I rashly replaced them on my main shelves with an omnibus edition of the first few books and I can’t locate the originals at the moment.
An Unreasonable Man – Henrie Mayne. This is a biography of the author’s father, a man with great organisational talent and little personal empathy for his family who served as an administrator in the Indian Civil Service and helped organise relief efforts for the Red Cross at the end of WWII. I only realised this was a 1976 book when I saw it listed as a suggestion for the 1976 Club on the excellent Neglected Books Page. I read it in February as one of my oldest books, giving it a final chance. It was unexpectedly excellent. I hope to post a review later in the week.
De cactus (Al-Subar) – Sahar Khalifa, translated from Arabic into Dutch by Johan de Bakker and Richard van Leeuwen. Available in English as Wild Thorns. A novel about a Palestinian who returns from abroad intending to fight against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, only to discover that most people have resigned themselves to the inevitable and are carrying on with their lives and the new circumstances. I will definitely try to read and review this one.
Children’s / young adult
It is currently Children’s Book Week (Kinderboekenweek) in the Netherlands (from 6 – 17 October; actually a week and a half). That makes it even more appropriate that I should read a couple of classic Dutch teenage / young adult novels, both of which are historical. I have borrowed both from the library.
Oosterschelde Windkracht 10 [Oosterschelde wind force 10] – Jan Terlouw. The author’s main job was as a scientist and politician, but he published many historical novels for teenagers/young adults, including Oorlogswinter (Winter in Wartime) and this is no exception. This book introduces a farming family on an island in Zeeland, telling us what happened to them during the catastrophic flooding of 1953. We then jump forward to the 1970s when the people who went through the tragedy want a protective sea wall that would cut off the Oosterschelde sea channel from the sea. They face opposition from the younger generation who believe the environmental impact will be disastrous.
Geef me de ruimte [Give me space] – Thea Beckman. I loved Thea Beckman’s Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek (Crusade in Jeans, 1973), which was filmed in 2006. I have borrowed this one from the library and am a little dismayed to discover it is 300 pages long, first of a trilogy about the Hundred Years’ War between England and France; the second part is equally long.
Die rotschool met die fijne klas [That rotten school with that lovely class] – Jacques Vriens. This was the first book by one of the most prolific and well-loved Dutch children’s authors, Jacques Vriens. Many of his books are set in schools and he used to be a primary school teacher, so he brings real-life experience to his stories, which are usually funny. Some of his work has been made into films and he also sometimes tours with a theatre show. My daughter and I went to one of these several years ago and it was wonderful. At the book signing afterwards, he really took time to say a few words to everyone and made me a fan for life; he’s the Michael Rosen of the Dutch book industry, in appearance as well as manner. I could have borrowed this from the library, but didn’t, but I did take photos of the cover and frontispiece showing the characters in the book.
The Peppermint Pig – Nina Bawden. The runt of a litter of pigs becomes the family pet. Childhood nostalgia, though I’m not sure I’ve ever read this before.
De wijn is drinkbaar dank zij het glas [The wine is drinkable thanks to the glass] – Harry Mulisch. This is a short anthology of poetry by one of the Netherlands’ most respected post-war fiction authors, known for The Discovery of Heaven (De ontdekking van de hemel, 1992). The extraordinary cover is a section of a mural, Namiddag van een faun (L’après-midi d’un faune) in the Dutch Literature Museum by the avant-garde Dutch artist and poet Lucebert.
So much for the books I have been able to acquire. Í wonder how many I will manage to read and review and if anyone else will pick the same books. I’ll write some more about my search for books published in 1976 in part 2.