Swinging Back to the Sixties & Seventies

Two Nostalgic Reads to Add to Your Fall List

Towards the end of each summer, I always fatigued by the deluge of contemporary fiction/trashy book hybrids that we call ‘beach reads’, and this year was no exception. However, I’m not one to forgo a lazy summer day composed entirely of reading, so I knew compromise was necessary. Determined not to succumb to the alluring “New Release” covers in my local beachside bookstore, I headed directly for the Fiction aisle, and picked two books that I had heard about before but not ever had the chance to read: Jacqueline Susann’s iconic Valley of the Dolls and Joan Didion’s (also iconic) Play It As It Lays.

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The two books share serious differences and eerie similarities at the same time—and, most importantly, served as major palate cleansers after a summer of reading about fatigued Brooklyn mothers and entitled New York City thirtysomethings seeking fulfillment. Let’s start with Valley of the Dolls…

 

Published in 1966, Jacqueline Susann’s seminal work was most certainly considered a beach read at the time. It still falls squarely into the guilty pleasure category, but there’s something about reading a book written in a different time that feels slightly better than your run-of-the-mill “dessert book.” Susann covers the rise of three girls (Jennifer, Anne, and Neely) between New York and Los Angeles’ newly thriving entertainment industries—and all the strings that come attached—most particularly romantic catastrophes and drug-fueled rampages. The book is written lightly and casually and—unlike most “contemporary fiction” these days, Susann’s writing is no-frills, with no subtle attempts to show off her depth of thought or get suddenly serious. If you’re looking for a frothy, fun escape from the real world (and it’s current Fiction releases), Valley of the Dolls is an ideal buy.

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Onto more serious pursuits…Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays is a slim and incredibly impacting read that quickly climbed it’s way into my top 15 favorites books (it’s actually 11th on my list—and for those wondering whether my Top 10 has changed since I last posted—it has. Watch this space!). In Play It As It Lays, Maria, a small-time actress from the Nevada desert, newly separated from her husband, struggles to come to terms with the state of her life. It’s one of those books where the plot structure isn’t clearly defined in terms of “beginning, climax, and resolution”—and that’s one of my favorite things about Didion’s novels. The prose is sparse and perfectly aligned with unrelenting California/Nevada desert landscapes and depressed, depraved people about which and whom Didion writes. This atmospheric novel shares plot characteristics from Valley of the Dolls, but this is one to pick up if you’re prepared to be depressed as opposed to distracted. I can’t recommend both enough.

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