January 23, 2012 marks the start of the Chinese Year of the Dragon. In Chinese lore, the dragon is the ultimate symbol of success, prosperity, and good fortune. Dragon Years are supposed to usher in Great Things. (And any writer who doesn’t look forward to Great Things has either given up writing or is lying to themselves.)

This year it’s the water dragon. The water dragon last appeared in 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth II became Queen of England. That same year, the field of medicine saw its first successful separation of Siamese twins in Cleveland, Ohio; the polio vaccine was first tested; and the transistor radio was developed.

Along with being a year of great highs, significantly bleak things can happen in a Dragon Year too. A killer fog descended on London in 1952, leading to the invention of the word smog. And the United States introduced two highly destructive weapons – the B-52 bomber and the hydrogen bomb.

But as is often the case, it’s publishing and books I’m thinking about. Ballentine Books was founded in 1952, becoming one of the leading publishers of science fiction and fantasy. Its biggest rival, Ace Publishing, was founded that same year, as was St. Martin’s Press.

Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap opened in London in 1952, eventually setting the record for the longest, continually running production of a play in history (wouldn’t it be nice to have that publishing credit?)

As you’d expect, many books were published in 1952. E.B. White published Charlotte’s Web, one of my all-time favorite stories. Other classics that year included A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas; East of Eden by John Steinbeck; and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway. Isaac Asimov published three books including Foundation and Empire. In terms of series, C.S. Lewis published the third in his Narnia series; Mary Norton the first in her The Borrowers series, and Carolyn Keene released her 29th Nancy Drew – The Mystery at the Ski Jump. Catherine Cookson published her heart wrenching The Fifteen Streets and Pearl S. Buck saw the release of her classic Hidden Flower. If non-fiction was your thing, Albert Einstein had The Principle of Relativity, and if you preferred short stories you could curl up with Daphne du Maurier’s collection Kiss Me Again, Stranger. (It included the short story The Birds later adapted for screen by Alfred Hitchcock.)

Two books published in 1952 would profoundly impact my life. One was Karen by Marie Killilea, a deeply moving true story about a girl with cerebral palsy. I read that book decades later, when I was twelve. Shortly after, I was asked to baby-sit a young child with cerebral palsy. Had I not read the book, I may not have had the courage to say yes. And looking after Marie brought me many gifts.

The other book was Sue Barton, Staff Nurse by Helen Dore Boylston. I soon devoured the entire series. For a while I toyed with the idea of being a nurse, but given my distaste for all things bloody (and thinking doctors had more fun anyway), I decided telling stories was my One True Love. Some years later, my daughter sourced a Sue Barton book on EBay and presented it to me for Christmas. It sits on my shelf, a physical reminder of the efforts of a Dragon Year and the dreams of a young girl.

Some say the dragon’s originality and imagination is the most impressive of his characteristics. He’s said to see new paths where others might see brick walls. Originality. Imagination. Opportunity. Three key words for this year. Key words I’m taking to heart.

Oh, and since the dragon is associated with spring, to make the most of a Dragon Year, we’re supposed to get started as early in spring as possible.

Ready, set, go!

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