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Joel Oppenheimer Picks the Best “$mas” Books of 1972


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December 21, 1972, Vol. XVII, No. 51

the 1972 traditional $mas book awards
by joel oppenheimer

one has always given books for $mas among the other things, and one has always ticked off in one’s mind those books met with pleasure during the year, and so, when one saw a brand new store advertising its traditional $mas sale on television, one decided one was also entitled to a tradition. in this light, herewith the current front-runners in various fields of human interest:

education: “willy remembers” by irwin faust, any book that lays both garfield’s and mckinley’s assassinations at the feet of lee harvey oswald before you’re well into the first chapter cannot be dismissed lightly, in a startling expose of life in manhattan, faust continues to demonstrate the talents that too few have known about. a bonus feature is the tour-de-force discussion of the relative merits of bamboo and fiberglass vaulting poles, but primarily the book is recommended for new york city public school teachers who still retain the ability to read.

autobiography: “the tenants” by bernard malamud. mr malamud had lost me sometime in the past — with a good deal of heartsickness, i must confess, as i, like my brothers, continually lust after the jewish hope, or as we call him, the christ. in this book, issued in paper this year, he consolidated his quite considerable powers in such a way as to make me a believer again. while not, for me, totally successful, and while certainly not a “cheerful” book, it is beautifully written, and a testament to the virtues of fighting through your head until you get wherever it was you ended up.

history: “the great dirigibles” by john toland. the finest late-night and bedtime reading of the season, this book doesn’t have one single chapter that ends happily. you can sit or stretch out comfortably and confidently as one after the other airships of varying sizes and nationalities go down or up, the italia blows off toward the pole, the shenandoah breaks in three and a half pieces over ohio, the r-lol wakes french peasants as it carries the almost viceroy of India to his death, and so and so forth. compounding the pleasure is the fact that almost every delightful tragedy adds to your paranoia by being caused not by the invention itself (which certainly now has to rank with one of the pleasantest, most useful, and least destructive of the 20th century) but by the pig-headedness, arrogance, and insistence on the impossible by those in power. aren’t they always? this book will certainly straighten your head out.

comparative religion: “the pin-up” by mark gabber. with the exception of rita hayworth in her negligee every pin-up picture i ever jerked off over is included in this collection. there are some i did not see in my youth. i would assume that there were release difficulties over the hayworth pictures with the luce empire and if that is true i can only say that life magazine got what it deserved. nevertheless this book will go far toward explaining the malaise of 40-ish americans, and the hair on their palms. we had nothing better to use is the simple truth of it, and those of you lucky enough to find “the story of o” at 12 need only leaf through this massive tome to gain new respect for your fathers.

mountain climbing and other survival techniques: “fogarty & co.” by joe flaherty. this new novel qualified itself in several categories including the thomas wolf award for how to know brooklyn even tho alive, and should be available at your bookstore now, although officially not due until after the first of the year. do i really need to tell you about the flaherty? yes — because the world is full of writers who write great short prose but show us the hard way that they can’t write long fiction. flaherty can. the book sings with its own music and is not to be confused with any of the work mentioned on the jacket blurb. the fact that “fogarty & co.” was written in longhand on foolscap serves as a surface indication of its classic stature.

biology: “season at coole” by m g stephens. mr stephens, another name familiar to voice readers, here conducts in his first novel an intensive investigation into various aspects of genetics, folie a beaucoup, end the tensions induced in family relationships during holiday get-togethers. it is one of the few books suitable, for both family planning groups and holy name sodalities and should be of great interest to parents of all sexes.

sports: “body count” by francie schwartz. while the double onus of being named francie and telling all about paul mccartney is a great stumbling block, this book overcomes because ms schwartz writes good. i didn’t believe i would like it when i got it and i didn’t believe i would like it after i finished it, but i liked it. sue me.

none of these books are as yet musicals.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 4, 2011


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