The 50th birthday of American classic Catch-22 has been widely noted recently across outlets that publish literary journalism. But today, The Millions features an excellent essay on the book that beat Heller’s masterpiece for the 1962 National Book Award: The Moviegoer, by New Orleans’ favorite literary existential Catholic hero, Walker Percy.
I don’t remember how I learned that Catch-22 — along with another favorite book of mine, Richard Yates’Revolutionary Road — had lost its bid for the 1962 National Book Award to a slim volume by a man with the strange name of Walker Percy. Literary awards obviously don’t constitute the last word on merit, but I was curious to read the book judged superior to touchstones of my young reading life. I didn’t get around to The Moviegoer for two years after finishing Catch-22, but when I did, I knew that insofar as book awards have a power of ratification, the National Book Award committee had done its job in 1962. Still, when it comes to great literature, laurels like the NBA are paltry acknowledgments of a book’s real power; I found this to be especially true of Percy’s book. Catch-22 had been important to me as a student of literature, and Revolutionary Road had been important to my early development as a writer. But The Moviegoer was important to me as a human being. Like few other books I’ve ever read, it changed me.
To celebrate the anniversary of The Moviegoer‘s publication, the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing at Loyola University New Orleans is hosting a conference Oct. 14-16, The Moviegoer at 50, which will feature a variety of speakers, panels, and events to satiate the Percy-mania of academics and common fans alike.