The internet is sometimes Dadaistic. Take the 1968 Club. Sponsored by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, this whimsical group of readers is spending a week ( Oct. 30-Nov. 5) reading and posting about books published in 1968.
The task sounds simple–until you discover that none of your favorite writers published that year. Turns out Margaret Drabble, Peter Handke, Kawabata, Lynne Reid Banks, A. S. Byatt, Clifford D. Simak, Kingsley Amis, Doris Lessing, Marguerite Duras, Merle Miller, Richard Yates, and Sue Kaufman published books in 1967 or 1969, but not in 1968. I looked up so many writers that it became a joke!
So what’s a girl to do? I am re-posting bits from my blog about two neglected 1968 classics, Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes and John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. Enjoy!
First up, Exley. In Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, a fictional memoir published in 1968, the hero, also called Frederick Exley, cannot hold a job. Exley, an alcoholic, is in and out of mental hospitals, sponges off his parents, or lives at a bachelor friend’s apartment where flamboyant, sad characters drop in all day, including an Italian who sometimes believes he is a hit man.
A Fan’s Notes should have been Top of the List for our Mental Health Christmas. One year my cousin became manic from a steroid prescribed for an ear infection (a side effect). At the hospital she was not herself: she wore a bra over her sweater, sang Van Morrison’s “Days Like This” at the top of her lungs, and demanded that we bring presents for her “new friends.” And so we rather lamely distributed McDonald’s milkshakes and old books in the common room.
If only we’d had A Fan’s Notes.
Exley wittily delineates and skewers the customs and hypocrisy of the American middle class in a brilliant narrative akin to Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and Sue Kaufman’s Diary of a Mad Housewife. Depressed Exley turns down advertising jobs before he gets them, teaches off and on at a high school, and drives from Glacial Falls to Watertown every weekend to get drunk and watch Giants games.
He is amazed by the limitations of the English department chairman and teachers. One teacher informs Exley that he should not talk at meetings because “talking took time.”
This is a great American novel, by a writer whose work is out of fashion.
You can read the rest of my post about it here!
Next up, John Brunner. I love John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar (1968), a post-modern science fiction classic. Set in 2010, it is a brilliant book, the story of a future dominated by a giant too-smart computer, geneticists’ control of reproduction, and miserable citizens who hate their work. Women don’t always have permanent homes: “shiggies” stay with men who pick them up, sometimes for a night, sometimes longer. “Dicties” (addicts) wander the streets, and “muckers” kill people at random.
The narrative is broken up by quotations from radical sociologist Chad Mulligan (who is rather like Marshall McLuhan) and TV blurbs from news and rumors on Scanalyzer.
Here is one of the definitions from Chad Mulligan’s book, The Hipcrime Vocab:
Hipcrime: you committed one when you opened this book. Keep it up. It’s our only hope.
Here is an excerpt from Brunner’s futuristic New York Times editorial:
Like living creatures, automobiles expired when their environment became saturated with their own excreta. We ourselves are living creatures. We don’t want the same to happen to us. That’s why we have genetic legislation.
The novel follows two main threads: Norman, an African-American executive in New York, is wretched and lonely. But eventually he is chosen to rule Benini, an African country whose president, Obami (I am not kidding!), is dying and wants to hand this small, peaceful country over to someone who can unite it with the West.
Donald’s fate is much worse. He is a spy paid to read obscure journals and books to spot trends. Finally he is activated to be a killing machine and assassinate an Asian geneticist who has threatened the Western world by scientific discoveries.
I’m not going to write about this at length: it is a very complicated book. But if you like science fiction, you will be impressed by Brunner’s writing. Some of it is very like our present.
Here is TIME’S COVER FOR 1968, not a very happy time in history. And Exley’s and Brunner’s books reflect that.