What's the best book of 1963?
February 20, 2014 7:31 AM   Subscribe

"In an effort to correct the missteps of literary history, Bookslut has launched the Daphne, a prize for the best book published 50 years ago. Sure, there was a National Book Award in 1963 -- but Bookslut thinks it went to the wrong title." There will be excerpts, vintage cover art, old reviews and other ephemera from longlisted books on Spolia's Tumblr.
posted by gladly (37 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I sent a letter to the proprietor of Bookslut a few weeks ago saying this award is a good idea, but suggesting the term of 50 years is off. If one uses generation theory (William Strauss etc) to find periods in history most in sync with our own zeitgeist, it is 80 years back. 40 years back is the most out of style, meaning 50 years ago is a bit off kilter. However this is complicated by the study that found books are 10 years behind the current zeitgeist on average. Meaning books published 80 years ago (1934) were really more in sync with 1924. So the solution then is to have an award for books published 70 years ago, since that would best capture the mood and zeitgeist of the current age. Of course, I never heard back from Bookslut :)
posted by stbalbach at 7:42 AM on February 20 [12 favorites]


St. Balbach: You might as well call it the "Le Petit Prince" award then.
posted by 256 at 7:46 AM on February 20


What a great idea. I hate to wait a year for each new set of awards, but I guess jumping ahead would kind of defeat the purpose.
posted by alms at 8:19 AM on February 20


Wasn't it 1964 50 years ago?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:21 AM on February 20


Sys Rq: You have to wait for the year to end to make sure you're considering the whole field.
posted by 256 at 8:24 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


Come on, Cat's Cradle!
posted by Navelgazer at 8:26 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Famously, "Citizen Kane," considered by many film historians to be the greatest movie ever made, didn't win the best picture Oscar. Instead, it went to "How Green Was My Valley," a far less enduring picture (and that's putting it nicely).

How Green Was My Valley is a good movie! Not John Ford's best, by any stretch, but not worthy of a snide parenthetical, either.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:34 AM on February 20 [7 favorites]


I'm not really sure The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a children's book. Especially as due to Where The Wild Things Are its the only category it surely can't hope to win.
posted by dng at 8:36 AM on February 20


How Green Was My Valley is a good movie! Not John Ford's best, by any stretch, but not worthy of a snide parenthetical, either.

Very true. And Updike's The Centaur deserves more than "ugh," too.
posted by yoink at 8:51 AM on February 20


As much love as I have for Pynchon, V is still a bit immature. Cat's Cradle should 'win' this.
I like the idea.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:51 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Replacing the prize winning book of 1963 by other 1963 famous books seems kind of pointless. I'd prefer overlooked books published in 1963 which might be judged as great literature by today's standards. A bit of a more international selection wouldn't hurt either. And I'm hoping the prize is named Daphne for subversive reasons - maybe to revenge the silencing of women by giving it away to women authors *in all categories on every year*. Poor Daphne.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 8:52 AM on February 20


They should give it to Who Are You? by Anna Kavan, which is absolutely terrifying and wonderful.

Then again they should have given every award ever to Anna Kavan in every year she released a book and even possibly the years she didn't.
posted by dng at 8:54 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


You have to wait for the year to end to make sure you're considering the whole field.

So, on what date can I consider that 1964 has finally ended?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:57 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


...the term of 50 years is off...

Perhaps the solution is a whole slew of decade retrospectives. If the awards last, then you get a new cycle of re-evaluations every ten years, preventing a generational "tidal lock" effect.

Speculatively:
-The century Mestra, this year encompassing 1913.
-The 90 year Ocyrhoe (1923)
-The 80 year Lotis (1933)
-The 70 year Dryope (1943)
-The 60 year Coronis (1953)
-The 50 year Daphne (1963)
-The 40 year Io (1973)
-The 30 year Arethusa (1983)
posted by Iridic at 9:01 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


I like the concept here too, but does anyone else feel like there is a huge degree of selection bias at play here?

Yes, we may all agree that Book A, which won the award 50 years ago, is inferior to Book B, which we've been assigning in English courses and re-reading for years, but part of the reason we think that is because of the intervening 50 years of literary history. Reading a novel never happens on its own terms, there is so much cultural baggage attached to each one of these. Calling the choice 50 years ago a "misstep" speaks to me of the hubris of reading from our modern perspective, as if that's the only way to read.

I actually find it endlessly fascinating that what endures is different from what enamors.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 9:04 AM on February 20 [8 favorites]


I'm not really sure The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a children's book.

Neither is The Dot and the Line, but where else are you going to put either?
posted by Shmuel510 at 9:04 AM on February 20


I'm not really sure The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a children's book.

Well which book do you use to teach your kids about bear-assault?
posted by Navelgazer at 9:06 AM on February 20 [5 favorites]


They could go in non-fiction. Although with the Gashleycrumb Tinies it might take a few day's work.
posted by dng at 9:07 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


>>I'm not really sure The Gashlycrumb Tinies is a children's book.

>Well which book do you use to teach your kids about bear-assault?


I loved "The Berenstain Bears Great Human Hunt" when I was a kid.
posted by jeremias at 9:13 AM on February 20 [9 favorites]


Bear-wise I stick with the classics. My kids will get admonitory home performances of The Winter's Tale.
posted by Bromius at 9:19 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


I guess I was more primate-directed than ursine-oriented as a child. I was always partial to "Curious George Goes Ape Shit On the Man In the Yellow Hat".
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:23 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I loved "The Berenstain Bears Great Human Hunt" when I was a kid.

Wow, that book terrified me, especially the ending, with the bear family looking right out of the page, blood-stained claws outstretched, that little bit of human viscera dangling from Pa's overall button. . . "And now we're coming for you!" it said. I had lots of sleepless nights thanks to that!
posted by Man-Thing at 9:25 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


Just six more years until Bored of the Rings finally gets the proper recognition!
posted by Naberius at 9:32 AM on February 20


Can I please get a timeline of zeitgeists so I can plan accordingly? Thanks.
posted by spaltavian at 10:42 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


"Your mama's absolutely right, we SHOULD be rending the flesh of humans! Cubs, go get Farmer Ben's pitchfork!"
posted by Chrysostom at 10:48 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


The nonfiction titles are crazy impressive. I cannot imagine choosing one over the others:

Nonfiction
"Memories, Dreams, Reflections" by Carl Jung
"The Words" by Jean Paul Sartre
"Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin
"Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" by Richard Hofstadter
"American Way of Death" by Jessica Mitford
"Six Easy Pieces" by Richard P. Feynman
"Destruction of Dresden" by David Irving
"Eichmann in Jerusalem" by Hannah Arendt
posted by dnash at 11:02 AM on February 20 [2 favorites]


National Book Awards chosen by small group of experts.

Test of Time Awards chosen by a huge group of actual readers.

No surprise that they should rarely agree. Of course, the second group is where the sales tend to be. If the first group can juice a few sales before the recipients' time, who are we to complain?

(That said, in my experience, so-called overlooked classics tend to be pretty disappointing.)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:03 AM on February 20


The Centaur isn't very good and in fact epitomizes both Updike's bad habits and the bad habits of those he would influence
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:29 AM on February 20


I love the breathless: Sure, there was a National Book Award in 1963 -- but Bookslut thinks it went to the wrong title.

NEWSFLASH: Somebody thinks a different movie should have won the Oscar for Best Picture!

"Sure there was an Academy Award for best picture in 1963, but I think it went to the wrong movie!"
posted by straight at 12:09 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


Saw this a little while back and thought it was great. I was surprised that so many of the nominations were published in 1963--they seem so much less dated than that. I also picked up some great leads on stuff I haven't read.
posted by Rykey at 12:18 PM on February 20


"Destruction of Dresden" by David Irving

Didn't it come out later that Irving's sources were shaky at best, and he'd vastly inflated the death toll?
posted by kewb at 12:58 PM on February 20


Didn't it come out later that Irving's sources were shaky at best, and he'd vastly inflated the death toll?

Yep!

From Wikipedia:
In the first edition, Irving's estimated that the two RAF raids and the first USAAF raid combined were "estimated authoritatively to have killed more than 135,000 of the population [of Dresden]..."[1] and the "documentation suggests very strongly that the figure was certainly between a minimum of 100,000 and a maximum of 250,000".[2][3] - in 1965, General Ira C. Eaker identified the number as 135,000.[4]

Irving's first edition figures became widely accepted and were used in many standard reference works. In later editions of the book over the next three decades, he gradually adjusted the figure to:

In the 1971 edition, the three raids "estimated authoritatively to have killed more than 100,000 of the population...".[5]
In the 1995 edition, the three raids "cost the lives of between fifty and one hundred thousand inhabitants....".[6] Richard J. Evans states that "Elsewhere he dropped the lower figure and said the attack cost 'up to a hundred thousand people their lives'.".[7]

According to expert witness Richard J. Evans at the 2000 libel trial of Deborah Lipstadt,[8] Irving based his estimates of the dead of Dresden on the word of one individual, Hans Voigt, who provided no supporting documentation,[9] used forged documents,[10] and described one witness Max Funfack as Dresden's Deputy Chief Medical Officer.[11] Funfack had made it clear to by letter to Irving on 19 January 1965 that he had not been Chief, or the Deputy Chief, Medical Officer, he had no knowledge of any documentation on the numbers killed, and during the war he had only heard rumours, which varied greatly, over the number of the killed in the raids.[11][12]
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:06 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Literary awards that go to one book are notoriously poor judges of endurance. That said, when I've read all the books that are up for any particular award (which has happened only three times that I can remember) I've always thought that the book which won deserved to win. However, in two of those three cases books that didn't win have endured more strongly in my imagination. It's about as anecdotal as it can get, but I do think that literary awards do reward some particular quality, timeliness instead of timelessness. Or, as So You're Saying These Are Pants? so deftly put it, they go to books that enamor rather than ones that endure. Not books that are one night stands, exactly, but passionate relationships that burn out, rather than the kind of book you stay married to until you die. There are those books, however, which manage to light a passion and keep it burning forever, but they are rare.
posted by Kattullus at 1:24 PM on February 20


one witness Max Funfack

That's a positively Dickensianly on-the-nose name for a bogus source!
posted by yoink at 2:39 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


The best book I read in 2013 was Stoner, written in 1965.
posted by dobbs at 3:34 PM on February 20


I read Stoner a couple years ago after really enjoying John Williams's Augustus. It was a good book, but that European resurgence is bizarre!
posted by stopgap at 4:39 PM on February 20


I can understand the resurgence. I haven't read Stoner but I read the first page in a bookstore and it's stayed with me. I can't imagine that the whole of the book is at such a high level of art or else there's no way it would've been overlooked at the time, but that's one hell of an opening page. If I hadn't been in a hurry I probably would have stayed in the bookstore and read so much of it that I'd felt compelled to buy it.
posted by Kattullus at 11:13 AM on February 21


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