I have now caught up writing about the books I read in November and December, leaving out the ones published in 1950. I am reading 1950 books now for My Big Fat Reading Project, but I still read contemporary books and whatever else sounds good. For the next several days I will post my usual micro-reviews about the books I read that were published in 1940, beginning with the bestsellers.
How Green Was My Valley, Richard Llewellyn, The Macmillan Company, 1940, 494 pp.
This book was the #1 bestseller in 1940 and was also made into a movie which won an Academy Award in 1942 and which I rented and watched. It is the story of a man's life in Wales at the end of the 19th century. His family are coal miners and trying to deal with the early effects of industrial workers to get some rights, form unions, etc. The conflicts move right into the family as the older sons are in favor of unions but the father is not wanting to rock the boat. Because the family as a unit is very strong this whole scene creates a large amount of turmoil.
The book is filled with high emotions, strong love of family, religion and the main character's effort to understand life. He is the youngest in a large family and they all hope he will get to do something besides be a miner. There are lots of questions raised about honor, good workmanship and of course love. It is a time of transition from farming to industry.
Llewellyn's descriptive powers are large and his ability to know people, their worth and their demons is high. Women are the lesser sex for sure but also highly valued, protected and honored. I was emotionally moved and also reminded of Angela's Ashes.
Kitty Foyle, Christopher Morley, JB Lippincott Company, 1939, 340 pp
Here we have the #2 bestseller of 1940. Kitty Foyle is a young woman in the 1920s. She is one the "new" women-single and working. But she is still looking for love, finds it once and loses it. The story takes place in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. I was surprised by the amount of and openness about sex in a book from that era. Probably that is what made it a bestseller. It was also made into a movie and won an Oscar for best actress in 1941.
According to Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, Morley was a well respected writer in the early 20th century and this book was a potboiler for him. That may explain why the writing was so good and the insights into men and women so deep. I found it to be a good read.
Mrs Miniver, Jan Struther, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1940, 298 pp.
At #3 on the bestseller list we have this English book. Mrs Miniver is an upper-middle-class English woman with three children and an architect for a husband. The story covers a series of days in the life of this family in the year or so just preceeding the beginning of WWII. They know that war is coming and Mrs Miniver is trying to predict and prevent any bad effects on the family. It would be a sappy book except for nuggets of truth in each chapter and that it shows war for once from a woman's point of view.
This one was also made into a movie and won for Best Picture in 1943. The movie was quite sappy and felt to me like an ad for war bonds.
For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, Simon & Schuster, 1940, 471 pp.
This one took the #4 spot on the bestseller list. It is a great book. Of course that was already known by others but something had kept me from reading Hemingway. He is truly a great writer, at least in this book, and I see why it is said that he started modern fiction. After those other books, I felt like I was reading a current novel.
Robert Jordan, the hero, is an American working with the communists and guerillas in the Spanish Civil War. The story covers only three days but there are many side and back stories. Group situations, who to trust, chaos of war, love, friendship, death and fear. It is all there as well as idealism vs cynicism.
More to come...