As I termed it during the 1936 Club, I went ‘blundering around the bookshelves’ on a scavenger hunt for books I thought would fit for the 1976 Club, as well as on my Goodreads shelves. I looked up any authors that I considered to be likely suspects for a 1976 book. It was astonishing how often an author I was sure would have published something in 1976, just hadn’t, but did have a book out the year before and/or after. Typical Murphy’s Law.
First, a few books that did actually appear in 1976, but I don’t happen to own.
In the Heart of the Country – J.M. Coetzee (1001 book list). An experimental novel with numbered paragraphs. Set on a farm in the isolated Karoo in South Africa, Magda slowly goes mad. Earlier this year I read Coetzee’s novella Disgrace (1999) and was impressed. Not a cheery read, but I would definitely read more of his books.
Lady Oracle – Margaret Atwood. A parody of gothic romances and fairy tales, according to Wikipedia. I’ll read anything by Margaret Atwood, but I would have to order this from interlibrary loan, so maybe another time.
Kiss of the Spider Woman – Manuel Puig (1001 book list). This sounds fascinating. Set in an Argentinian prison cell, two men talk. One is a political prisoner, one imprisoned as a sexual deviant; Molina is what would now be called trans and spends the time telling the stories of films. I have just discovered I can order this from my library, but again, not this month.
Ruth Rendell. Both A Demon in my View (psychological thriller) and The Fallen Curtain (creepy short stories) were published in ‘76. Both are on my wishlist, but probably only marked as such because of the publication date, thinking ahead to this challenge.
Lynne Reid Banks – The Farthest-Away Mountain. A teenage girl decides to go forth and meets many challenges along the way when she decides to travel to a distant mountain. Goodreads reviewers seem to love it, even when returning to it as adults, but I won’t go out of my way to find this. The L-Shaped Room was my introduction to ‘problem-based’ teenage fiction and was really my gateway drug into adult themes. I wish I had known back then that there were sequls. I have also read An End to Running, about a man who tries to escape his problems by moving to a kibbutz, which was fascinating.
Likely suspects who failed to publish in 1976
As I mentioned above, there are many authors who seem to have taken a year off in 1976. Of course, they were undoubtedly writing, but it does make you wonder what the publishers were up to that year. Did most of the 1976 books get relegated to the remainder bin in the sky or not make it past the slush pile on the editor’s desk? I have read some of these authors’ other books; the links are to my reviews of those on Goodreads.
Maeve Binchy – My First Book (1976). This appears to be a collection of journalism, before Ms Binchy was a force to be reckoned with. Light a Penny Candle didn’t come out until 1982, as did Dublin 4, which happens to be on my TBR shelf later on this month for my numbers/maths theme.
Marilyn French. The neglected women’s lib classic The Women’s Room didn’t appear until a year later, but in 1976, Marilyn French debuted with The Book as World: James Joyce’s Ulysses. As I couldn’t get past the first page of Ulysses, I don’t need a literary companion to it, so this definitely doesn’t appeal.
The travellers, real and fictional
Bruce Chatwin’s first travel book, In Patagonia came out in 1977. Fascinating. I just wish I had read it in English instead of Dutch.
Paul Theroux’s first travel book The Great Railway Bazaar came out in 1975 (on my TBR shelf) followed by the novel The Family Arsenal in 1976; unlikable characters in London. I won’t go looking for that one.
James Clavell. Shogun came out in 1975, another epic I haven’t read. I had been going to pass on all Clavell’s shelf-hogging novels, but when I read King Rat, I changed my mind, so they’re still there. I could fit three or four times as many normal volume volumes in the same space.
James Michener. I’m currently reading a second volume of his factual reports and fictional stories set in the South Pacific and Oceania, Return to Paradise (1951) and intend to finally finish reading Centennial (1974) this month, too. Chesapeake (1978) was the first of his books I ever read. I expect he was doing research in 1976; I could probably read about what he was up to in his autobiography, which I also own and have read. What a man!
Crime, spies, thrillers and horror
Alistair Maclean, though still a bestseller, was past his prime.
John le Carré was between books. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was published in 1975 and An Honourable Schoolboy in 1977.
P.D. James was also between books: The Black Tower (1975, TBR) and Death of an Expert Witness (1977), both in the Adam Dalgliesh series.
Stephen King. Even one of the most ridiculously prolific writers on the planet couldn’t manage a book in 1976. He did, however, write a short story called The Weeds. It was included in the 1982 film Creepshow as The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, starring the author himself. Apparently it’s inspired by an H.P. Lovecraft story, The Colour Out of Space, which was Lovecraft’s favourite of his own short stories.
Children’s and YA
Richard Adams. With Watership Down (1972), Shardik (1974) and The Plague Dogs (1977), Richard Adams was one of the few authors whose books I bought when I was still at school. I own them all, as well as The Girl in the Swing (1980). The only one Adams had published in 1976 was a rhyming picture book along the lines of The Owl and the Pussycat with beautiful illustrations by Nicola Bayley, The Tyger Voyage. I’d read it if I had it, but alas.
A selection of events in 1976
I’m not sure that any of the books I have picked to read were particularly affected by the spirit of the age, with the notable exception of The Fall and Rise of Reggie Perrin which could have been steeped in the proverbial parsnip wine. The conflict about sea defences described in Oosterschelde windkracht 10 was also front page news in the Netherlands in 1976, but what else did the chattering classes have to talk about?
The first flight of Concorde took place in January 1976. My landlady during my year out was secretary to the British chairman of Concorde, highly pregnant and determined not to go on maternity leave until after the launch. She made it! The USA vetoed a UN resolution calling for independence for Palestine, making The Cactus/Wild Thorns very timely. Later in the year, Palestinian terrorists hijacked a plane, landing at Entebbe airport in Uganda. Israeli troops later rescued the hostages. Morocco and Algeria were at war, something I know nothing about. Cuba ratified its new constitution and the first female president in the world, Isabel Perón of Argentina, was deposed. Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia. The IRA was exceptionally active, with 12 bombs in London; this was the reason we were not allowed to visit London on school trips for years. After three children were killed by a car whose driver had been shot by soldiers in Belfast, women took to the street with prams to protest. Their spokeswomen, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams were awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1976 for setting up the Community of Peace People, campaigning for an end to sectarian violence. The UK and Iceland ended their wrangling over fishing rights, dubbed the Cod War.
The first commercial supercomputer, the Cray-1, was launched. Later that year, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple. Filming of Star Wars began; was it really so long ago? In real life, the Viking 1 probe landed on Mars. Back on Earth, the first Body Shop opened in Brighton and the first Muppet Show aired in the UK. It was both a Winter Olympic and Summer Olympic year, the one where Nadia Comaneci scored perfect tens as the world watched entranced. For Formula 1 it was a terrible year, with Niki Lauda sustaining terrible burns. The first known outbreak of Ebola!
The Booker Prize was won in 1976 by David Storey for Saville, a book of which I have not heard. What is more, I haven’t read any of the other nominees from that year, though I have at least heard of some of the authors. The other nominees were André Brink’s An Instant in the Wind, R.C. Hutchinson’s Rising, Brian Moore’s The Doctor’s Wife, Julian Rathbone’s King Fisher Lives and William Trevor’s The Children of Dynmouth. No women, I note, but the following two years there were more women than men; I think it was just coincidence that particular year.
I’m going to leave it there. Off to do some reading of the books I did find!