My father recently broke both of his legs, and during the week I spent with him at the hospital in Topeka, several books passed through both our hands. My aunt had picked them from the New Arrivals section of the library across the street, and we read them, and I have already forgotten the titles, the authors, and any details. The cover of one was bright yellow, another dark blue. The dark blue one involved a drowning in a cave. Perhaps we want from thrillers what we ask of television, entertainment to pass the time without the burden of memory.
Alone at the house, I read They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, by Horace McCoy, published when Dad was six years old, in 1935. (Excellent film by Sydney Pollack based on the novel in 1969.) It’s a thriller of sorts, involving a dance marathon. I experience this game of equivalency more frequently as I too age: if Dad was six when that book, which seems very old to me, appeared, what books appeared when I was six, in 1977? How could they ever seem as historical, as antique? Here are seven books that I know they read that year, checked out from the grand and glorious Topeka Public Library at Tenth and Washburn.
The Shining, Stephen King
The Plague Dogs, Richard Adams
The Howling, Gary Brandner
The Honourable Schoolboy, John LeCarre
The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
The Amityville Horror, Jay Anson
A Spell for Chameleon, Piers Anthony
Note that no award was given by the Pulitzer committee for the novel that year. (Some fine contenders, of course, in retrospect—A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick, A Professor of Desire, Philip Roth, and, duh, Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison.)
What was I reading that year? Not Mildred Taylor’s Bridge to Terabithia, of which I have no memory. Around then I was living two lives, my own and, more intensely, the dull late 1940s-ish life of Eddie Wilson in the child novels of Carolyn Haywood, listed as follows, with the years, which despite the march of time are all firmly located in immediate post-war behaviors, checked out from the Potwin Elementary School’s library (the school’s been demolished for several reasons, asbestos equal to Brown vs. Board of Education):Little Eddie '47, Eddie and the Fire Engine '49, Eddie and Gardenia '51, Eddie's Paydirt '53, Eddie and His Big Deals '55, Eddie Makes Music '57, Eddie and Louella '59, Annie Pat and Eddie '60, Eddie's Green Thumb '64, Eddie the Dog Holder '66, Ever-Ready Eddie '68, Eddie's Happenings '71, Eddie's Valuable Property '75, Eddie's Menagerie '78, Merry X-mas From Eddie '86.
However, the book from that year I remember most clearly my parents reading is Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma. The cover chilled me then, and perhaps you can see why.