Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth-Century American Women's Bestsellers

By Madonne M. Miner | Go to book overview

locating the act of reading in close proximity to that of pill-popping, Susann blurs distinctions between the two acts and between their effects; the ingestion of both pills and print leads to a comfortable, if artificial, wholeness.

Appropriately, this novel about female consumption and commodification is a commodity consumed by a female audience. Even its female author subjects herself to commodification as her portrait, on the novel's back cover, is accompanied by the blurb: "This is the doll, Jacqueline Susann, who wrote Valley of the Dolls. . . ." Thomas Whiteside, in a recent article documenting changes brought about by corporate and mass media marketing practices in the book publishing business, cites Valley of the Dolls as one of the most successful early examples of a book marketed, promoted, and distributed as a media commodity. 19 Not unlike pantyhose or laundry detergent, this commodity was touted on television and radio. Its author (and most ardent advertiser) appeared on talk shows and in shopping malls. Its sales in hardcover prompted Bantam to set a publicity director to work so as to further inflate sales in paper. The marketing paid off: Valley sold over 350,000 copies in hardcover and over 22 million in paper. Whiteside's, ,analysis of the "block-buster" phenomenon in publishing is fascinating, and his location of Valley within this context is appropriate, but finally, Whiteside fails Valley as he fails to note that issues motivating his consideration of its selling--issues of changing production and consumption--motivate the book itself. Whiteside summarizes Valley as "a novel about three girls who separately came to New York in search of romance and success in show business and social life but, in their ambitious climb, took to pill-popping and couldn't get out of the habit.'' 20 Certainly, Valley is about three girls who came to New York, but it is also, more fundamentally, about "girls"/daughters as consumers and purveyors of an ideology of consumption.


Notes
1.
In a review of Susann Valley of the Dolls, Nora Ephron suggests that this escape pattern may be fundamental to women's fantasies and thus to novels that cater to these fantasies. She notes:

"Valley" had a message that had a magnetic appeal for women readers: it described the standard female fantasy--of going to the big city, striking it rich, meeting fabulous

-98-

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Insatiable Appetites: Twentieth-Century American Women's Bestsellers
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Women's Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction: "Guaranteed to Please the Female Reader" 3
  • Notes 11
  • 1 - Gone with the Wind: And the Cupboard Was Bare"" 14
  • Notes 32
  • 2 - Forever Amber: Swollen Up like a Stuffed Toad"" 35
  • Notes 55
  • 3 - Peyton Place: The Uses--And Abuses--Of Enchantment"" 58
  • Notes 74
  • 4 - Valley of the Dolls: Wow! What an Orgy!"" 78
  • Notes 98
  • 5 - Scruples: It's as Addictive as Chocolate"" 101
  • Notes 123
  • Conclusion 126
  • Notes 141
  • Bibliography 143
  • Index 153
  • About the Author 159
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