Norman Mailer's Best Sellers

By Lennon, J. Michael | The Mailer Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Norman Mailer's Best Sellers


Lennon, J. Michael, The Mailer Review


ON JUNE 20,1948, a Pacific war novel by a twenty-five-year-old combat veteran from Brooklyn reached the number one position on the New York Times best-seller list. It remained on the list for sixty-two consecutive weeks, nineteen of them in the number one spot. After The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer never again made the first position on the Times list. But ten more of his books--eight of them novels--over six decades made the list, including his last novel, The Castle in the Forest. It reached number five on February 11, 2007, shortly after Mailer's eighty-fourth birthday on January 31 and less than a year before his death on November 10.

No other major American writer of the post-war generation can boast of publishing best-selling novels over such a span of years, fifty-nine in Mailer's case. Saul Bellow and Gore Vidal come closest. Bellow's first best seller was The Adventures of Augie March in 1953; his last was Ravelstein, which made it for a week in May 2000, when Bellow was eighty-five. Vidal, born in 1925, could still pass Mailer, although he has not published a novel since The Golden Age in 2000. His third novel, The City and the Pillar, spent eight weeks on the Times list in 1947. His most recent best-selling novel was Live from Golgotha: The Gospel according to Gore Vidal, which spent two weeks on the list in October 1992. Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth, and John Updike could all surpass Mailer's record, but have a way to go. Their first best sellers appeared, respectively, in 1973, 1962, and 1959.

Over the fifty-nine-year period, Mailer's books, including nine novels and two nonfiction narratives, Marilyn: A Novel Biography (1973), and The Executioner's Song (1979), have spent a total of 160 weeks on the Times list. Song follows Naked's sixty-two weeks on the list with twenty-five, reaching number three in January 1980. …

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