Day 55: Pretending I’m Well-Read… The Books Of ’55

originally published February 24, 2012

Wikipedia has a number of groupings by year – births, deaths, I even wrote about the news events of 1927 in one of my less memorable practice articles months ago. I was not aware, however, that they grouped the events in the literature world year-by-year. Now I am. So are you. I think you can see where this is heading.

1955. It was the year that gave us this:

And this:

And it was also an important year for the book-readin’ types, of which I’m certain there were a lot more then there are now. Even if you only read material you can digest in tiny increments, like an Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader or thousand-word articles about useless trivia like the Burmese flag, this was still a big year for your genre.

August 1955 saw the first publication of the Guinness Book of World Records. The book was launched by Sir Hugh Beaver in the North Slob. No really, Beaver (whose middle initial was unfortunately not ‘J’) was the managing director of Guinness Breweries, and the North Slob is a bird reserve in Ireland. He was hunting with friends, and got into an argument about which is the fastest game bird in Europe, the koshin golden plover or the grouse. So he decided to publish a book that could settle bar (or hunting) bets without the use of firearms. (the answer, by the way, is the Prussian Invisible Speed-Penguin)

Maybe you’re more of a fantasy fan. 1955 was to fantasy novel fans what 1983 was to us sci-fi movie fans: the end of the Great Trilogy. The Return of the King, which was later adapted into an award-winning film about walking and fighting computer-generated creatures, was published in ‘55. Originally Tolkien wanted to publish one giant book plus a bunch of appendices (because fantasy novel readers love to cross-check stuff), but the publisher split it up into three.

Tolkien was also unhappy with the title of the book. He felt the title gave away too much of the ending. He felt The War of the Ring would be a better title, which just goes to show that no writer, no matter how great, can escape the fiendish manipulations of their publisher. Unless they publish directly to the Internet. For no money. Yay, freedom.

Ian Fleming put out his third spy novel in 1955, another book that would be turned into a (somewhat less award-winning) film: Moonraker. The novel, which was all about rockets and Germans and amnesia, was supposed to present a more three-dimensional James Bond, with a greater emphasis on his private life and personal history.

The book was considered a disappointment, and while it was the third Bond novel, it wasn’t made into a film until the eleventh of the franchise. Prior to that it was a radio broadcast and a comic strip.

C.S. Lewis was still pumping out Narnia novels in the mid-50’s, and this year saw the release of the sixth in the series, The Magician’s Nephew. The book takes place prior to any of the other books in the series, which means that almost all the well-known characters probably aren’t in it, and they’ll probably never stretch that film franchise far enough to get to the contents of this one.

Actually, I may be wrong here. According to the Christian Post (which I check regularly for reminders of why I’m probably going to hell), The Magician’s Nephew was decided upon as the fourth installment in the Narnia film series. However, a Narnia fan-site called Aslan’s Country relayed an announcement in October last year that the studio’s contract with the C.S. Lewis estate had expired, so no future films are planned. I only saw the first Narnia film (and it was very much not my thing) so I’ll hold off on any tear-shedding.

I realize that I’ve only been talking about books that have been made into films (or, in the case of Guinness, reality television). This could make me appear less cultured, less intellectual than if I were to expound upon, say, Aldous Huxley’s The Genius And The Goddess, or John Wyndham’s The Chrysalis. I’m not worried; I think I gave up the high-brow audience about twenty-seven boob jokes ago.

Heh. Boob.

Back to books I’ve heard of (mostly because they’ve been made into movies, don’t judge). Vladimir Nabokov released his controversial book Lolita in Paris in 1955. It took another three years before an American publisher would push its release on this side of the ocean. Agatha Christie also released her novel Hickory Dickory Dock.

Apparently the American publisher was really concerned that people would see that title and Christie’s name and not think this was a detective novel, so they re-named it Hickory Dickory Death, because that makes sense.

The 50’s were a great time for sci-fi writers also, and 1955 saw the release of two Isaac Asimov stories, The End of Eternity, which is a mentally pretzel-fying time-travel story, and The Martian Way, which was a veiled response to McCarthyism (the only type of response anyone was allowed to make at the time). Also, Ray Bradbury put out The October Country, a collection of nineteen freaky stories that should have come with a coupon for rubber bedsheets.

Another great sci-fi-itrist of the era, Robert Heinlein, put out Tunnel In The Sky in ’55. I haven’t read this one – apparently it has to do with a bunch of high school kids sent on a survival test to another planet. Maybe Beiber can keep this in mind for his next acting venture. I know we’re all just dying to see what else he can do.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, a novel by Patricia Highsmith about a guy named Dickie and a bi-curious guy named Matt Damon, was also released this year. Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp released Tales of Conan, which is unfortunately more about the Barbarian, less about the talk-show host.

The list continues, including a number of new dramatic works (Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Beckett’s English-language Waiting For Godot, William Inge’s Bus Stop), and some non-fiction that sounds simply riveting (A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates – probably a real page-turner), but my time has run out and I’m already impressed enough with myself for having this much to say about books published from a single year.

Maybe my plug for Guinness will help me get into the book… I’m thinking “Most Inane Million Words Contained On A Single Website.” I can only hope.

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