Book Covers Change Lives
A librarian who came into my workplace recently told me about this story that she had heard on NPR’s Story Corps. It’s a day off (Columbus Day) and I finally found the time to listen to the story.
From the NPR transcript “Neal remembers it being ‘risque — a drawing of a woman who appeared to be wearing something that was basically see-through. But the symbolism was really great for me at that age of 16.'”
I went looking around the internet for that cover that helped to morph one troubled African American teenager into a judge – and the covers I found are shown below. The book was Frank Yerby‘s 1955 historical novel, The Treasure of Pleasant Valley (Dial). None of these covers quite match Neal’s description. But maybe we get the idea.
When I was a teen, my reading friends and I loved Fairoaks (1957). I sure don’t remember thinking/knowing that he was an African American author – the first, noted by this Frank Yerby encyclopedia article, to “to write a best-selling novel and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation.”
It reminds me of conversation around the blogs, about the Liar controversy. You sure can’t tell from these covers that the author is African American. We just haven’t far enough…
Treasure of Pleasant Valley: Here’s a blurb from Jet Magazine (November 2, 1955 page 46), where the book was featured as “Book of the Week”
“When young South Carolina-born Bruce Harkness walked into a San Francisco saloon in the daring days of the Gold Rush, his pulse pounded at the sight of the costumes worn by pretty waitresses. The fronts were full, ruffled skirts falling below the knees. ‘But the backs of the costume,’ Bruce observed, ‘was something else again: the skirts, seen from the rear were merely aprons, cut well above the hips, so that, since the girls were also required to wear black silk stockings held up by a garter belt, and absolutely nothing else, the effect when they wheeled smartly about and marched away after taking an order was a trifle startling.’
“In The Treasure of Pleasant Valley historical novelist Frank Yerby turns to the California of the 1840s to tell the story of the young southern adventurer, Bruce Harkness, in a world where men are driven mad by the greed of gold and the scarcity of women. But in this land of lawlessness Bruce’s life took a new turn when he went to a stream for a drink of water and saw the lovely Juana ‘glistening like a golden statue of a tribal goddess’ as she stood undraped in the water.
“Tormented by the love that he later held for her, Bruce takes flight from the gold fields upon learning that she is the wife of the reckless Pepe de Cordoba, who had become his companion. Finding himself hopelessly ensnared by Juana’s love, he returns to her in one of the most turbulent climaxes Yerby has ever written.
“Like his first nine historical novels, The Treasure of Pleasant Valley is destined to become the 20th best-seller in Yerby’s incredible career as an author. R.E.J”