1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Published in November 1979, Memories of Another Day by Harold Robbins appeared immediately on Bestsellers lists. Therefore, we can look to it for some insight into the nomenclature "bestseller." As a modern-day bestseller with success that derives from its formulaic nature, Memories of Another Day finds itself a member of several categories of books. In 1979, the combination of the names Harold Robbins and Simon & Schuster ensured a considerable amount of success for a novel in its plight for bestsellerdom. In addition, Memories of Another Day enjoyed the kind of fame that books by authors like Danielle Steele, Sidney Sheldon, and Jackie Collins knew. But Memories of Another Day propels itself into another category when Robbins attempts to intermingle events from the life of Teamster organizer Jimmy Hoffa with sexy prose and dialogue. The effect is something more similar to a romantic historical fiction by John Jakes' book. The final category in which Memories of Another Day falls is that of the quintessential Horatio Alger-type story of hard times and realization of the American Dream. This category not only classifies Robbins's novel and his contemporaries also appearing on the bestsellers list, it also separates them by treatment of the American Dream theme. These categories help us to draw a conclusion as to what Memories of Another Day signifies about the best-selling book.
During the second half of the twentieth century, consumer America became increasingly obsessed with the reputation of a product before purchase. An entire market has grown up in the United States with the wary buyer in mind. We have Consumer Reports, Buyer's Guide, critics for everything, money-back guarantees, and most recently collaborative filtering. Therefore, it is no secret in the publishing world that author recognition and publisher recognition attract the book-buying public and signify quality. Memories of Another Day fell nicely into this category of books already inhabited by several Harold Robbins books. The Harold Robbins/Simon & Schuster partnership promised readers the typical Robbins formula in the latest form. That formula is a contrived plot replete with sex, violence, inner struggle, and a catharsis. Most importantly, the plot and resolution must be easily construed. Memories of Another Day did not disappoint. The protagonist, Big Dan Huggins rises from the oppressive West Virginia coal fields to become a powerful figure in the American Labor Movement. The novel begins with Big Dan's death, then nestles itself into the head of his seventeen-year-old son Johnathan while taking on Johnathan's personal quest to understand his father and resolve his own inner demons. Along the way there are bar brawls and sexual scuffles to offset the prose describing the execution of the American Labor Movement. In addition to assuring the familiarity of Robbins's style, Simon & Schuster also proved to be forerunners in some aspects of publishing. CEO Michael Korda in his autobiography writes that he approved the use of obscene language for the first time in a Harold Robbins novel (Korda 135). Though the help of Simon & Schuster and Harold Robbins's name were important to the success of Memories, a bestseller cannot just rely on name recognition. Many books would be dismissed if this were the case.
Robbins's novels were not the only airport sex-scandal novels famous for the name of the author. Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steele, and Jackie Collins belonged to this category as well. These authors and their books share some distinct qualities in addition to author recognition, qualities that bind them even more strongly together. All are highly readable, all present no challenge to the reader in prose style or vocabulary, and all illicit similar snubs from critics. However, while literary critics for The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine mourned the passing of generations of great literary works, book-buyers everywhere embraced the replacement works penned by these authors and published in Simon&Schuster and HBJ ink. The phenomenon of the highly readable book with a balanced blend of sex and violence seems to have appealed to the feeling of the times in the late 1970's. This generation of hard-workers propelled by the American Work Ethic avidly sought entertainment for rest and respite. Books by these authors found something of a kinship with television; they made for effortless entertainment. The Robbins fan found more release in his novels than in a literary masterpiece that contained sentence structures no more easily parsed than simple subject and simple predicate. In addition, these authors chose topics which interested the masses. Like Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels protagonist Jennifer Parker who fights the mob, Dan Huggins takes on the injustices of the American Labor system despite the fact that he is merely an impoverished, teenage country boy (Caples). Danielle Steele uses the backdrop of he Viet Nam war in Message from Nam to give a different view of life during war and that is the female perspective (Pratch). Similarly, Robbins loosely depicts the American Labor Movement but mixes love and family relations in the process. Both Robbins and Steele use dialogue to create character sketches that prove vivid. Robbins novel departs from Steele's novel here because it does in fact claim to be based loosely on the real-life events of Jimmy Hoffa. Robbins's novels also bear a resemblance to John Jakes's novels which are written on the historical fiction vein (Landis). There is no doubt that Robbins owes some of his success to these writers who perpetuate this genre of books, but it is sometimes in the more stark contrasts that one finds even more insight.
The final category to be discussed is the one which provides the more telling contrast. Perhaps, Robbins embraces this genre of story because of the similarity with his own life. This is the Horatio Alger-type story. Critics of Harold Robbins's Memories of Another Day often draw comparisons between Robbins's novels and those of his contemporaries to explain his success. The typical Robbins protagonist is a bastard abandoned first by his family then by the world who manages to claw his way to the top of a many-runged ladder writes a reviewer in Harper's Magazine (Lyons 83). Compared to other novels that were on the bestseller list at the time, Robbins's books epitomize the spirit of the American Dream. Books such as Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song depict disillusionment with the American Dream. Mailer's book is the story of an articulate death row inmate who decided not to fight his death sentence (amazon.com). Big Dan Huggins is obviously a character of questionable moral character and yet when he murders, it is justified as an act of vengeance. In fact, the majority of the killing in Memories of Another Day goes unpunished. Mailer's work includes sexual explicitness as well, but The Executioner's Song escaped the harsh tongue of the critics because the material came from a true event and Mailer researched and interviewed to produce the story. Robbins may have spent some time learning West Virginia colloquialisms and researching the American Labor Movement, but these were not steps of his writing process that critics applauded. Another novel appearing on the bestseller list in late 1979 was Jailbird. This book created another literary contrast to Robbins's style of writing about the American Dream. In Jailbird, one reads the account of the rise and fall and subsequent fall of the protagonist (Williston). The Robbins protagonist starts from the dregs of society, rises to the upper echelon and maintains this status. During the late 1970's there was room on the bestseller's list for both types of novels. An interesting point is that the non-fiction bestseller's list featured the Robert Ringer title Restoring the American Dream. The waning prosperity of America on the international economic scale seems to have been a preoccupation in the domestic literary arena.
I think that if nothing else, studying Robbins's novel with respect to the entire category of bestsellers shows us that in many cases, the Robbins book had only one aspect in common with another bestseller. On the other hand, we can surmise that the formulaic approach to writing that some critics call "the artless quality" is not uncommon among the bestsellers. It is, in fact, its own sub-genre of books that sells millions of books a year.