Sunday, March 26, 2006


The following are books which were published in 1943 but were not on the top 10 bestseller list:

The Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene, The Viking Press, 1943, 233 pp
This is a complex story set in England during World War II. A man, who is already sad and guilty because he performed a mercy killing on his wife, gets caught up unwittingly in a spy ring. There are many twists and turns until he is free again, but it is a limited freedom.

Greene is addressing the conflicts between personal love and love of country; the effects of war on personal lives and the destructiveness of tyranny. It is well done.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wallace Stegner, Doubleday and Company, Inc; 1943; 611 pp
I really liked this one. Bo Mason is an adventurer and a wild, speculator type who was born too late. All the frontiers were already opened, the booms had all peaked. He was raised by a violent father, so he left home at a young age looking for adventure and big money.

Elsa's Norwegian mother died when Elsa was young. Her father married Elsa's best friend. In disgust, she ran away to her uncle in South Dakota, where she met Bo. They married, had two boys and led a most unusual life. No stability, no respectabiltiy, and really no happiness, but Elsa stuck by Bo. After many failures in business, Bo ended up running liquor during Prohibition. By the end of the book, all of this odd family have lost their dreams and died, except the younger son. After burying the others, he takes on characteristics of each parent and decides to live on using the best of what he got from each.

It is a big, well-written book and I couldn't put it down. The main question here is what does a society do with pioneer types when the frontier is gone?

She Came to Stay, Simone deBeauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1943, 404 pp
I had planned to read Beingness and Nothingness, by Jean Paul Sartre, since it was published in 1943. In fact, I tried to read it but did not get very far. Too dry, too many words, too convoluted for me. I am just a light weight who can only learn about the world through fiction. Well, not entirely, but anyway I discovered that Simone deBeauvoir, who was Sartre's lover for decades, put his philosophy into her novels. Good. So I am reading her novels.

She Came to Stay is a very strange story about love. Sartre and deBeauvoir believed in free love and did not believe in marriage. This caused many troubles in their relationship and I am pretty sure this novel is autobiographical. There are two women and a man. Francoise and Pierre are lovers (he is a writer and she is a director of plays.) Enter Xaviere, an actress. Francoise tries to love this woman, but Xaviere is quite incapable of love. Pierre also tries to love her. Francoise is continually trying to deal with her jealousy of the other two, so there is lots of emotional turmoil and drinking in French cafes.

But the bottom line is that Xaviere is insane. She is the poison person who disrupts every attempt by Francoise and Pierre to maintain an honest and open relationship. Often trying to love someone who is insane turns love into an obsession, which is what happens here.

The ending is a surprise and I won't give it away, except to say that Francoise is only able to free herself of jealousy by lowering her moral sense. I blame it all on Xaviere.

The Wide Net, Eudora Welty, Harcourt, Brace and Company; 1943; 214 pp
When I first began this reading project, I would read both the O Henry Prize Stories and the Best American Short Stories for each year. But I don't really like reading short stories and reading those volumes became a chore, so I dropped that idea. I did, however, come across a few authors whose novels I have since read. One of those was Eudora Welty. The Wide Net is her first collection of stories and I had read the title story in the 1942 O Henry collection. It is the best short story I have ever read.

A country woman pretends to run away after her husband stays out all night. The husband and his friends look everywhere for her and even drag the river, hence the title of the story. Later in the evening she shows up and has taught her husband a lesson and made him discover how much he loves her. The construction, the characters and the emotion are all perfect. No other story in this volume tops it.

The stories are mostly about young people dealing with love and loneliness and have a dreamy quality mixed in with nature. It is that southern, mystical thing and Welty is unique even within that tradition.

Bound For Glory, Woody Guthrie; EP Dutton & Co, Inc; 1943; 320 pp
This is Woody's classic story and though I've been a folksinger since the 60s, I had never read it. I did read Joe Klein's excellent biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life, several years ago so I knew the story of his life. Woody's account is more sketchy but much better. He is a great writer and has a sense of humor that is part country wisdom and part spiritual hugeness.

I was left wondering why it is that poor people are so much more generous and accepting of others than middleclass and rich people.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Mrs Parkington, Louis Bromfield, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1943, 330 pp
This is much better than the earlier book I read by this author (Wild is the River) and is the #6 bestseller. The time is current but it is also the story of Mrs Parkington's life. At seventeen, she married the very rich industrial baron, Captain Parkington. They led a wild life, but now he is dead and all of her children and grandchildren have turned out badly.

There is a great-granddaughter who is all right, so at 84 years old, Mrs Parkington helps her get a good life set up. She then decides that it is the money that caused all the bad kids, makes a will that gives most of her fortune to help the less fortunate and sets off on a road trip to revisit her roots.

OK, it is hokey, but it was a good story told well.

The Apostle, Sholem Asch, GP Putnam's Sons, 1943, 754 pp
I made it through another one of Asch's books. This was #7 and along with The Robe and The Song of Bernadette, makes a heavy dose of religion and Christianity in the year that the United States entered World War II.

This is the story of Paul and of the very earliest spread of Christianity. The author follows the letters of Paul from the New Testament of the Bible and weaves the story around those letters. The most interesting aspect was Asch's portrayal of the conflicts Paul had with the Jewish high priests when he began converting Gentiles straight to Christianity without requiring them to become Jews first (which involves circumcision and following the dietary laws.) What an odd state of affairs. You can't become a Christian, which we don't approve of, without being a Jew first.

But there was way too much theology and by the end I was completely tired of reading about how glorious it is to suffer and how all the good stuff comes after death.

Hungry Hill, Daphne du Maurier, Doubleday, Doran and Co, Inc; 1943; 402 pp
Here is the #8 bestseller and du Maurier's 11th book. It is the story of four generations of an English family who had a copper mine which started in the 1820s. (The Industrial Revolution is a big fiction topic in the 40s.) It is also a story about progress vs country ways. It was well written and kept me engaged.

I realized that it was the rise of industry which changed life on this planet and led to both world wars as well as wars that are going on today. In the 1940s there was still a concern with the loss of a simpler kind of rural life; a big factor in this book. I got a sense of being in the stream of history as a generation. This was due in large part to du Maurier's skill as a writer.

The Forest and the Fort, Hervey Allen, Farrar & Rinehart, Inc; 1943; 344 pp
The #9 bestseller was great! One of my favorites of the year. Salathiel Albine was the son of a pioneer couple in the 1640s. The father was a blacksmith who fled from his Calvinist minister father in Connecticut with an Irish wife to the wilds of Pennsylvania. Both parents were killed by Indians, who took Salathiel and raised him. At the age of 17 or so, he left the Indians and became the valet of a Swiss captain who was a mercenary serving in the army of King George of England at Fort Pitt.

The British in those days wished to seal off the frontier at Pennsylvania to safeguard British colonists while driving all Indians westward. But many colonists wanted to push west and take more land. So here we have additional background to the Revolutionary War.

The book involves lots of battles, Indian attacks and political intrigue, but what made it so good was that Salathiel Albine is a great hero. There are at least two further books about Albine and the author had planned a series of ten volumes but died before he could write them.

The Song of Bernadette, Franz Werfel
I reviewed this in the 1942 list, when it was #1. In 1943 it stayed on the list but dropped to #10.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


The Robe, Lloyd C Douglas
I reviewed this in the 1942 section, when it was #7 on the bestseller list. In 1943, it was the #1 book.

The Valley of Decision, Marcia Davenport, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1942, 768 pp
The #2 book on the list is a long story covering four generations of a family in Pittsburgh, PA, who owned a steel mill. The main character is Mary Rafferty, a young Irish girl who comes to work as a maid for the Scott family. She and one of the Scott sons fall in love but they never marry because Mary feels their difference in class would be a detriment to any children they would have and therefore to the family. She stays on for years and years as a maid and housekeeper.

The premise of the story is that her determinism and vision keeps the family going and though many changes occur, including the rise of unions, and though sons and daughters are weak or stupid, finally a granddaughter picks up the legacy.

There is lots of patriotism and talk about using steel to help America fight her enemies, which was very timely for 1943. Despite all the foolishness it is a well told story and it mostly happens in the city of my birth and in the industry in which my father worked. As a child I had many tours of steel mills. It is also the most pro-war novel I've read so far in the 1940s.

So Little Time, John P Marquand; Little, Brown and Company; 1943; 595 pp
At #3 we have one of those New Yorker type novels. Philip Wilson came from humble beginnings, married a moneyed young woman and ended up working as a "play doctor." He had been a pilot in World War I and it is now the year before the United States enters World War II.

The title is the theme and Philip is haunted by several things: how he never wrote his own plays; how his wife doesn't really understand him; the fact that his older son may soon be in the army; and that his country may soon be in the war.

The book is probably an accurate depiction of how America was at that time-not wanting the war but watching England and France getting defeated by the Germans. Also, Marquand can really do the kind of dialogue that married couples do and he captures that middle-aged feeling that one is running out of time. He is a good writer.

I was struck by how repressed and conservative those times were. This feeling has been building in me through all of the novels of the 1940s. It was such a different time than it is now.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith, Harper, 1943, 420 pp
The #4 bestseller in 1943 is one of my all-time favorite books. I have read it four times and I will probably read it again someday. It is sentimental and unrealistically idealistic, but I love it. Francie, the main character, is growing up poor in Brooklyn, her father is an Irish drunk and her mother is a charwoman who supports the family. It is Francie who gave me the idea of reading all the fiction in the library from A to Z. I did that for years but never got out of the A's. There must have been fewer books in those days. It is the reading of one book a day on the fire-escape of her tenement building that leads Francie to a job as a proofreader and out of poverty.

What is amazing to me is how different are the things I get out of a book at different readings. When I was younger, I identified with how much Francie loved her father even though he was a loser. As a young mother, I identified with the mother as she let her kids have a cup of coffee with milk everyday, whether they drank it or not, just so they would get the feeling of richness in their bleak world. This time I saw how the fact that reading and education were stressed in that family made it possible for Francie to escape poverty.

The Human Comedy, William Saroyan; Harcourt, Brace & Co; 1943; 192 pp
Saroyan got #5 on the list this time. I was looking forward to this book because I'd heard so much about it. It was alright but not great. Saroyan has something I like: an innocence, a joi de vivre despite all the horrors of life. His characters have a humanity, an ability to grant beingness to others, not found very much in literature. But his writing is a bit off somehow. When he wants to state his philosophy or how he looks at things, he suddenly becomes prosaic and stilted. Perhaps it is his Armenian background.

In The Human Comedy, we are back in that small town in the San Joachim Valley with all its immigrants. There are a mother, three brothers and a sister in this family. The father is dead and one of the brothers is off fighting in World War II. Homer is fourteen and a telegraph delivery boy, learning about life through the joyous and sad telegraphs he has to deliver. It is a more serious book than My Name is Aram and another story about the impact of the war.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Lost Horizon, James Hilton, William Morrow & Company, 1933, 241 pp

Here we have a bit of a classic which was also made into a movie starring Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt, and was the first book to be later published in paperback. I read it for one of my reading groups. I have read two other books by James Hilton for the 1940s reading, which you will hear about soon. He has a fascination with amnesia, it seems. I thought I had read Lost Horizon many years ago, but if so, I remembered very little. I did see the movie and perhaps that is what I was recalling.

As a story, the most powerful thing is the place: Shangri-La. Conway (a British foreign service officer), his junior officer, an American and a female missionary land in the Tibetan mountains after their plane appears to have been kidnapped. They are met by a Chinese man who leads them to a monastery hidden in a beautiful valley.

Shangri-La is like a New Age wonderland of the 1930s. No particular religion, no doctrine except that of moderation, no enforced discipline except that no one could ever leave without a guide through the mountains. There is a world class library, good food and drink, hotel quality quarters with modern plumbing and a nearby village complete with willing girls for any man's "needs." Because of the altitude or the local herbs or the lack of hurry and pressure, people age very slowly in Shangri-La, so have about 200 years to study anything they fancy, to pursue a hobby or contemplate existence.

All this appeals to Conway, who is basically a functioning shell-shock victim of World War I. It appeals to me as well and would to anyone who has had too much of the world. There is a head lama whose purpose is to preserve civilization through a predicted holocaust and dark ages, so that it is there for mankind in the future. (There is that same idea I found in The Dream of Scipio.)

Alas, Conway's junior officer wants nothing to do with what he sees as a drug-induced fantasy and a prison. He finally convinces Conway to leave with him, after contracting some porters to lead them out. You are left at the end of the book wondering why Conway agreed to leave and whether he ever made it back.

Like any purported paradise, one wonders if any such thing really exists or if it is just a dream some of us had. Personally, I like to create a paradise as a section of my own life, keep it somehow spiffed up and functioning, share it with people who would understand, while getting on with life.


The Know It All, A J Jacobs, Simon & Schuster, 2004, 369pp

I first heard of this book last year when it was being reviewed everywhere, it seemed, and not too favorably. After a particularly snarky review in The New York Times Book Review, Mr Jacobs wrote a letter defending himself. I was so impressed by the letter that I decided to read the book. I really enjoyed it.

Jacobs, at the age of 35, determined to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z. His book is a memoir of the experience, which took him about a year, reading several hours a day while holding down his job as an editor at Esquire Magazine and being a good husband to his wife. Naturally, just the idea of this project appealed to me.

Each chapter is a letter of the alphabet. He comments on some of the entries read, on how the project works in his life and on what he is learning as well as its relationship to him and his life. His career has always been journalism, more precisely pop journalism, so he writes in that breezy, sound-bite style. He is also capable of being hilarious and I laughed out loud hundreds of times while reading.

AJ and his wife have been trying without success to conceive their first child, so that story is in there along with his competitive relationship with his father, his brother-in-law, and a few others to be the smartest person in the world. Then there are his field trips: he checks out Mensa, a group for high IQ people; visits the Britannica headquarters; interviews the MC of Jeopardy; etc.

It is all very entertaining and informative but the best part is his growth as a person and his development of a worldview, which is decidedly a step up from editor at Esquire.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See, Random House, Inc, 2005, 253 pp

I have mostly been reading in the 1950s, still trying to finish up that year. Only 6 books to go! But I still get to some current stuff now and then. I have owned this book ever since it first came out last year. Lisa See is the daughter of Carolyn See, who wrote a wonderful book about the writing life, Making A Literary Life, Random House, 2002. I went to Carolyn's book signing in LA and got on her mailing list, which is how I first learned of Snow Flower. Now I have finally read it thanks to one of my reading groups, where it was a pick for March.

It is quite a story concerning women in 19th century China and a secret form of writing created by women and passed on only to women, which allows them to communicate their most intimate thoughts with each other. Lily is a five year old daughter in a fairly poor household when the story begins. Already she knows that she is worthless because she is a girl. The story is told by Lily from the vantage point of an 80 year old woman, who has lived longer than she ever expected to live. She is trying to expunge her guilt over things she did in her life.

Due to several propitious events, the young Lily married well and became the head woman of her husband's village, but she misused her good fortune and her power, deeply hurting the person she loved most in the world: her "old-same" Snow Flower. Lily and Snow Flower met when they were six years old, through the workings of a match maker. An "old-same" or laotong is another girl born on the same day and with similar astrological signs. The idea is that they will be life long friends and the relationship is sometimes the only love these women have, due to their lowly status, their arranged marriages and the customs of the times.

Lily and Snow Flower go through their footbinding at the same time. This was excruciating for me to read about. They are only seven years old (some girls went through this at age six), the binding actually breaks the bones in their feet, and the pain is extreme. I have a seven year old granddaughter and I kept imagining such a thing being done to her.

As the two friends grow, get promised to men, marry and have children, they spend time together during certain holidays and write to each other in the secret language on a fan, which they send back and forth. All the ceremonies and customs and foods were fascinating to learn about. "Catching Cool Breezes" is a euphemism for the hot season when the women sit quietly in their upper room and try to stay cool.

The events of the story and what happens to these two women is truly heartbreaking. For some reason though, the writing did not affect me emotionally, except for the footbinding stuff. My feelings about the book are mixed as a result. The writing is good, in fact very professional, but I should have cried over this tale and never once shed a tear.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


As I look back on the reading I did for 1942 and the facts that I collected, it seems to me a bit of a stalled year. I will not be born yet for five years and although the United States is now officially in World War II, it takes almost an entire year for our country to truly mobilize and get our troops "over there" and get our war strategy going. In 1942, the Germans and the Japanese are enjoying most of the victories, while the Allies grimly hang on.

In the bestsellers, we have a saint, a missionary priest in China and the life of Jesus Christ for the religious angle. War is covered in only two but one of those books is about Japan invading China. There is just one truly historical fiction and three about American life so far in the 20th century. In the other books I read, again only two are about war.

In film, "How Green Was My Valley" won Best Picture and Best Director (John Ford); "Sergeant York", a war picture, won Best Actor (Gary Cooper); and "Suspicion", the famous Hitchcock classic, won Best Actress (Joan Fontaine). Popular songs included "White Christmas", "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "That Old Black Magic."

However there are signs of changes in the country due to the war. For one thing the munitions makers and the companies making tanks, ships and planes were doing a booming business, even if the owners of these concerns were bellyaching continuously about the income tax. As much as big business wanted to hate FDR, he sure was bringing them plenty of business. In science and technology, there were almost daily advances: Fermi split the atom, the first electronic brain was produced, recording tape was invented, the turbo-prop engine was developed and the first United States jet plane was tested. Also Henry Kaiser, whose Willys Motors made four-wheel-drive vehicles, adapted assembly line techniques to building ships. His 10,000 ton Liberty Ships were coming off the line in just four days.

In American life, the Supreme Court ruled Nevada divorces to be valid; another blow to family life. Japanese people living in California and other western states were rounded up and put into camps, lest they aid a Japanese invasion of US soil. Sugar, gasoline and coffee were now rationed. I understand about the gas, but from what I have read about the coffee that our soldiers had to drink while overseas, I wonder where all the coffee went.

My parents were engaged on July 4, 1942, but would not marry until 1944. They were discouraged from getting married by their parents, who felt you shouldn't get married in war time. This is another example of what a conservative and careful family I come from. When my dad's draft number was about to come up, he enlisted. Of course, he did not go overseas because of his bad vision and flat feet but was stationed in Philadelphia, PA, doing bookkeeping (what else?) and some kind of teaching.

My maternal uncles, Carlton and Jim, were already in the service. Carlton was drafted just after marrying my Aunt Phyllis and sent to the Caribbean. Uncle Jim was in the Navy and stationed in Alaska. Uncle Jerry was working at Ford Motor Company so was exempt because he was vital to the war effort. There were to be no war casualties in my family.

My mom continued teaching in Michigan, as male teachers at her school were being drafted and gas was a problem because of rationing. The teachers would save up their gas coupons and use them to get the sports teams to away games. How American is that? The rationing and her delayed marriage are about all my mom remembers about the impact of the war on her life.

As I was finishing the books, especially King's Row, Norma Ashe and Candle in the Wind, I was struck by how some of the strong interests I have had in life show up here. Mental health was for the first time becoming something doctors studied in the 1910s and 1920s (in Vienna, of course). So by the 1940s it was a hot topic. And amongst the writers was a look back at philosophy for answers to what makes man go to war and commit such atrocities. My parents were very opposed to psychiatry or psychology of any kind when I was growing up, but I was always curious about how the mind works, what makes people do the strange and irrational things they do and whether or not there was a way of curing mental illness.

Overall I am thrilled to be learning all this about the world I was born into this lifetime. Of course, as a child I had no idea and I was raised in a family and a socio-economic bracket where they did not want me to know. They were just glad the war was over. Although I am an anti-war person, I can now understand that once Hitler got going, there was nothing else to do but fight him, because his plans were not constructive and were a threat to freedom and democracy. In the overall history of the United States, it was in the country's destiny to take its place as a world power.

What I don't see is that we have learned very much about how to avert these major breakdowns where evil fascist types go nuts. I wonder how I would feel if I was in my twenties or thirties right now. I think for the average citizen, world events, economics, armed conflicts seem out of our hands. History has shown that while bravery, patriotism, common decency, religion, education and the arts have been effective in the short run, none of these things have been able to prevent war, destruction and suffering on a large scale. And long range planning? Boy, I can see in these novels that that went out somewhere between the first and second world wars. It just didn't seem realistic anymore.

By the time I finished the books for 1942, I started to become a little tired of the 1940s viewpoint. I thought of moving on, figuring that I had gotten what I was looking for from what I had read so far, but I decided to stick to the project. I had decided though that the world is not any worse off now than it ever has been. We seem to be in terrible treacherous times and heading for disaster at a mad rate, but I think that has always been true. It is just easier to see now because of the high-tech capabilities of the media. Everywhere I look on TV, the papers and magazines, it is all about marketing and selling material objects or about making people feel worried and afraid.

So my search for understanding at this point appears to be leading me to more confusion and hopelessness, but I think it is just a progression and I will come out of it with something. 1942 was the first year that the US was in WWII and the world was reeling with the horror of it. At this point, they didn't even know the whole of the horror. When I get to 1945 and the war is over, things will get happier and then we have the delirious 1950s when I was growing up, being prepared for absolutely nothing.

In 1943, I will get into some philosophy (Jean Paul Sartre) and I am reading Will Durant's Story of Philosophy to get some background. In Plato and Socrates, I found the basis for the idealism in Norma Ashe. I don't know that it does any good for me to learn all this stuff, but I am somehow uplifted by the knowledge. I am already so old and I wish I had paid attention or found it meaningful 30 years ago. Well, I didn't and I am learning it now. Hopefully I can do some good with it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


The High Window, Raymond Chandler, Alfred A Knopf, 1942, 265 pp
This is Chandler's next book after Farewell, My Lovely. It is good but lacking in the tension and danger in the earlier books. It is as if Chandler has become world-weary and just has a job to do as a writer. There is less biting sarcasm and Marlowe drinks less. But it is still a good mystery about a missing coin, a dark family secret and the usual tie-in between the rich and the underworld in Los Angeles.

Dragon's Teeth, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1942, 631 pp
Here is the third in the Lanny Budd series. Lanny moves on through his life. At the end of the last volume, Lanny had married an heiress named Irma. Dragon's Teeth starts with the birth of their daughter. The book is slow at first but then picks up and is good to the end. It covers the rise of Hitler and his persecution of the Jews; one of the first books I read in the 40s that addresses this subject. Lanny has been a friend of Johannes Robin, a Jew, for many years. The Robin family lives in Germany and real trouble besets them in this book. Lanny finally takes action and gets the whole family out of Germany, almost at the cost of his marriage. So the final section is full of danger, excitement and suspense. This series of books did not continue the fame Sinclair had in the 1930s for his muckraking book, although Dragon's Teeth did go on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1943. Ultimately there will be 10 volumes and it is the best education I've ever had about American and European history in the early 20th century.

Go Down, Moses, William Faulkner, Random House, 1942, 384 pp
This is a collection of related short stories and one novella, all of which take place in Faulkner's invented county. The stories move through time and generations and most of the characters are related, one set on a line of white descendants, one black. But of course the black is mixed with white and even Indian. It is a complex web of relationships: man to woman, white to black, master to slave/free negro.

Much of the book has to do with hunting in an area of shrinking wilderness. In his inimitable way, Faulkner deals with these relationships which also include man's relation to animals and places. He is trying to make sense of a place created by God, peopled by God, but essentially destroyed by people. Somehow, I found this volume the most accessible of all the Faulkner I've read so far.

Now for the prize winners:
Pulitzer Prize:
In This Our Life, Ellen Glasgow, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941, 467 pp
I was looking forward to this book because I had loved Barren Ground, the earlier book by this author, and this one won the Pulitzer. It turned out to be an OK story but the writing was really bland.

Asa Timberlake is a middle-aged man in a bad marriage with a low paying job and two daughters approaching their twenties. He feels trapped and emasculated because they live off handouts from his wife's rich uncle. The daughters have all kinds of trouble with men. One of them is like Asa and one is selfish like Asa's wife. Much of the book is endless, bad dialogue about it all.

Finally in the end Asa stands up for what he thinks is right and you are left with a bit of hope for him and for the one daughter. The message is that most people are either weak or greedy; that the ones who are a little stronger take care of the weak at the expense of themselves. That would perhaps be a bearable message if the writing were better.

Newbery Medal
Adam of the Road, Elizabeth Janet Gray, The Viking Press, 1942, 317 pp
A very fine book. Adam is the son of Roger the Minstrel in England, 1294. During one year of his life, Adam is traveling on the road with Roger, their horse and their dog Nick, a red spaniel. They meet up with many adversities including losing the horse and Nick. An evil minstrel won the horse off of Roger, who has an unfortunate gambling habit. After riding the horse until he is lame, the evil minstrel then steals the dog.

Adam, in running down his beloved spaniel, gets separated from his father and has more adventures before they are all reunited. Adam is eleven years old and has the attributes of a boy that age but he is also brave and determined: a budding hero.

I thrilled to life on the road and the minstrel's craft, having done some touring myself as a singer/songwriter. I loved this quote, spoken by Roger the Minstrel: "A road's a kind of holy thing. That's why it is a good work to keep a road in repair, like giving alms to the poor or tending the sick. It's open to the sun and wind and rain. It brings all kinds of people and all parts of England together. And it's home to a minstrel, even though he may happen to be sleeping in a castle."

Caldecott Medal
The Little House, Virginia Lee Burton, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, 40 pp
This is the story of a house, which is built in the country by a man who wants it to stay in the family for generations to come. The house enjoys the seasons but wonders what the city is like. Eventually the city grows and encroaches on the country until the little house is surrounded by the city, abandoned and run down.

Finally a great-granddaughter comes along, has the house moved out into the country again, restores it and lives there. The message that the country is better than the city is a nostalgic theme in the 1940s. This is the type of picture book that was read to me as a child and in my 20s I would become a hippy and live in old houses in the country.

Friday, March 03, 2006


The following are books I read from 1942 which were not on the bestseller list. I picked them for various reasons and overall liked them more than the bestsellers.

Dust Tracks on a Road, Zora Neale Hustson, JB Lippincott, Inc, 1942, 297 pp
Zora Neale Hurston is the author of Seraph on the Swanee, Their Eyes Were Watching God and many other wonderful novels and stories. In this splendid autobiography, Zora tells of a life of great adventure. There is poverty, triumph, heartbreak and she is a woman who will not be put down. She was black, born to a preacher in Florida. She approaches life with energy and humor. Advantages come her way and she takes them, including education, grants and the support of white people. She uses all that to raise understanding between the black and white races and achieves quite a lot of recognition in the process.

But times change, political moods change, and after the 1940s, she was no longer considered cool. She ended her life in poverty and alone. She did not compromise her reality though. I had several realizations. One is that giving education to someone who has lived a full life already and who really wants to learn is a good thing.

The other is that a creative person creates whether appreciated or not, so I should just go on creating. I loved this book!

The Candle in the Wind, TH White, GP Putnam's Sons, 1942, 122 pp
So we come to the fourth and final book of The Once and Future King. Mordred, Arthur's bastard son, has grown into an evil, bitter man and uses the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot to break up the Round Table and Arthur's peace.

It is very sad, but with White's usual wry humor thrown in. The book becomes the author's attempt to understand mankind and war. Through Arthur, he ponders why an ideal of peace and reason, instead of the use of might, cannot be achieved by mankind. He essentially nails it: old grudges, greed, evil and have against not have. His solution is to have Arthur pass the dream along to a young boy in an effort to keep it alive. It was beautifully done at the end and made me weep and exult at the same time.

The Violent Land, Jorge Amado, Alfred A Knopf, 1942, 333 pp
This author's most well-known books are Dona Flor and the Two Husbands and Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. He is Brazilian and this book was first translated into English in 1945, but first published in Spanish in 1942, so I read it now.

The Violent Land
is the story of the opening of the cacao growing lands in southern Brazil. The times were similar to our frontier days: lots of money being made by a few violent, fearless characters; men flocking in with dreams of riches to be made; whores, negroes, crooked lawyers and crooked politicians. So it is a dramatic, brutal scene and the family drama reminded me of a William Faulkner book.

I was struck by how the story of opening a frontier is the same the world over but with local twists.

The Blue Hills, Elizabeth Goudge, Coward-McCann, 1942, 288 pp
Well she did it again. This author has the ability to totally charm me, give me hope and bring me to a higher view of life. She believes in good, that people are good and that love conquers all. If I am ever down, I should read Goudge.

In the Blue Hills, the story begun in The City of Bells, which she published sometime in the 1930s, is continued. The setting is an English town with a cathedral and close. Henrietta and Hugh are two children being raised by their grandparents. All of Goudge's children have spectacular imaginations, so this story is written as a fairy tale as seen through the eyes of the children. You can see that it is a response to World War II and all the horror, but she doesn't spend any time moaning about all that. She writes from her faith. What more can an artist do?

The Robber Bridegroom, Eudora Welty, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc, 1942, 185 pp
I read this in a couple hours. It is another fairy tale but set in southern colonial times. The story is a usual love story, but what makes it great is that it is imaginative, amusing and well-written. It is her first novel, though more of a novella. I can see why she attracted so much attention.

Norma Ashe, Susan Glaspell, JB Lippincott Company, 1942, 349 pp
I so liked the book by this author which I read in 1940s list, The Morning Is Near Us, that when I found she had more books, I wanted to read them. I read this in one day, because it was totally gripping. Norma Ashe goes to a small college in North Dakota, which her grandfather helped to found. It is very late 1800s, a time of great optimism in this country. Norma and five others are taken under the wing of a brilliant philosophy professor, who inspires them to pursue knowledge and spread the idea that man can be better and make a better world. Norma is the star pupil among the five.

But within months of graduating and leaving school, she falls in love with a go-getter business- man. He is slightly shady and dies after several years of marriage with Norma, leaving her with two children and a heavy load of debt. So she never fulfills that youthful dream, nor do any of the others from her class at school. Love, economics and hurts from the past influence them all and drag them down.

It gripped me because I have experienced a similar thing. Sometimes I have gone on spiritual retreats and glimpsed eternity and ideals, but after being back in the so-called real world for a while, have found it hard to maintain that vision. I found many books from 1942 to love, but this was one of my favorites.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Windswept, Mary Ellen Chase
This book was on the 1941 list at #10. This year it was at #6. You can read my comments on it at Books Read From 1941, Part Two, posted on February 18, 2006.

The Robe, Lloyd C Douglas, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1942, 556 pp
I read this book when I was younger, possibly college age, but only vaguely remembered it. Here it is at #7 on the list for 1942. It is fairly well written but a little too obviously a Christian polemic disguised as an adventure/love story. A Roman soldier comes by the robe that Jesus wore on his way to Calvary and it has an inexplicable power which leads the soldier to become a Christian. At times the story moved well, at other times it dragged and the dialogue was only mediocre.

Similar to other books of this time, it is a call to peace, to goodwill and a picture of the destructive results of power-mad imperialist rulers. For that, I applaud Douglas.

The Sun Is My Undoing, Marguerite Steen.
This one was also on the 1941 list at #4. In 1942 it came in at #8. I wrote about it in Books Read From 1941, Part One on February 18, 2006.

King's Row; Henry Bellamann; Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc; 1940, 674 pp
At #9 on the bestseller list of 1942, this was a big favorite of the year for me. King's Row is a town somewhere in the southern midwest. The book is long, it is completely gripping, the characters are real and get into your head. Parris Mitchell comes of age in the novel. He is raised by his grandmother, an independent, European woman. He becomes a doctor and an early type of psychiatrist, though Bellamann never uses that term. Parris suffers many loses, but has great teachers. He is a loyal friend, an honorable person (what I would call a fine human being) and influences many lives for the better.

Also running through the book is the concept of how a town takes on a life apart from the lives of its individual residents and this group life is powerful, carries its own history and is hard to kill. Parris is one of those heros I have found so often in the literature of the 1940s. I find these characters so admirable and in such short supply in today's world. I wonder if such heros really lived and breathed in those days or were only an ideal found in fiction.

The Keys of the Kingdom, A J Cronin
One last holdover from 1941, this year at #10, down from #1 in 1941. This will be the last year that so many books stayed on the bestseller list from one year until the next, because by the end of the 1940s, the book business was changing along with everything else. You can find my comments on this one in Books Read From 1941, Part One posted on February 18, 2006.

In my next post I will take up several of the other books I read from 1942, though they were not necessarily bestsellers.