Successful writers… where are they now?

Richard Bach

Fretting about the success of «Fifty Shades of Beige»? Annoyed that Matthew Arnold and Albert Camus are being ignored, while «The Da Vinci Hoax» has sold 80 million copies and has been translated into 44 languages?

The masses love drivel, don’t they? This kind of thing is perennial: it happens every decade, spurred on by newspaper reports of the sickening success of these mushy best-sellers. Journalists may scoff, but they write about it over and over again. Bloated success like this makes better copy that a quirky new restaurant or a refreshingly-different holiday resort!

Relax: these authors may make lots of money, but they don’t have the taste to spend it well, and they soon enough sink into oblivion.

Remember Richard Bach? No, not the composer, the other one, the famous writer. One of Mr Bach’s books, published in 1970, sold over a million copies in its first year. By the end of 1972 — where were you in seventy-two? — «Reader’s Digest» had published a condensed version*, and the book reached the top of the «New York Times» Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. In 1972 and 1973 the book topped the «Publishers Weekly» list of bestselling novels in the United States, and in 1973 Hollywood made a movie based on it. It sold more than 3 million copies in hardcover, and made the cover of «Time» magazine, which tells you a lot about «Time» magazine. Though at least one critic, Roger Ebert, declined to sing in tune with the chorus of praise. He wrote that “«The Little Engine That Could» is, by comparison, a work of some depth and ambition.”

(* You might wonder how the «Readers Digest» condensed the book: it was only 127 pages long.)

No: if you can’t remember, I’m not going to tell you what this piece of flabby gush was called. That’s what the Internet is for.

1973? That was also the year that flinty Australian novelist Patrick White won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A few decades later, most of his works were out of print. Welcome to the future, the era that poet John Forbes called “The Age of Plastic”.

PS: Stop Press: BBC NEWS 1 September 2012 Last updated at 20:57 GMT

Author Richard Bach crashes plane

The US author of the best-selling 1970s… novel “xxx” has been seriously injured in a plane crash.

Richard Bach was reportedly trying to land his small plane on San Juan island in Washington state when he hit power lines and became trapped in the cockpit. Local media reported that a group of holidaymakers had to cut him free.

His son, James, said his father was flying alone and suffered a head injury and broken shoulder. Bach, 76, is known to be a keen aviator.

“Right now we’re waiting for the sedation to wear off, for him to fully wake up,” James Bach told the Associated Press news agency.

I hope he gets well soon.