Sunday, April 16, 2006


For the year 1944, I read 10 other books that were not on the top ten bestseller list. Here are the first five of those.

Dangling Man, Saul Bellow, The Vanguard Press, 1944, 191 pp
Saul Bellow is a big name in 20th century literature, though I had never read him, so I decided to begin with his first book. In Dangling Man, a young man is drafted for WWII, but due to red tape is not inducted for almost a year. He had already quit his job and couldn't get it back. So his wife supports them while he sits in their room in a rooming house and dangles. The book is in the first person, written like a journal.

The guy finds that he cannot make any good use of all this free time. So he tries to prepare himself spiritually for war. He ends up alienated from his friends, gets extremely grouchy and finally begs the army to take him. Pretty good philosophy and writing. Amazing for a first novel. It reminded me of Nabakov.

The Golden Harvest, Jorge Amado, Avon Books, 1944, 359 pp
This book was not published in the United States until 1992, but came out in South America in 1944. It is a sequel to The Violent Land, which I read as part of the books for 1942. Now the exporters and businessmen take over the lands of cacao growing from the rough and ready guys who first cleared, fought over and planted them. The exporters create a false boom by raising cacao prices, get the growers in their debt and then get the lands for almost nothing. I often think of this book when eating a Hersheys Special Dark, my favorite candy bar.

It is a great story and he tells it well from the viewpoints of many levels of that society.

Dear Baby, William Saroyan; Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1944, 117 pp
Here he is again with one of his little books. This one is an uneven collection of short stories, some of which are barely stories but more like vignettes, yet the book has a certain magic. There is still that effort of his to look on the bright side or find the good in any incident. He got much negative criticism but I think mostly it is because he made his own rules and the critics had no convenient category for what he did in his writing. At this point, I still like him.

Canal Town, Samuel Hopkins Adams, Random House, 1944
I actually read this many years ago when I was still trying to read all the fiction in the library, alphabetically by author; like Francie in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It is great.

The story takes place in 1820 in western New York state, while the Erie Canal is being built and medical science is still barbaric. Dr Horace Amlie starts a medical practice in Palmyra, runs into the town's meanest guy, marries the most mischievous girl in town, is almost run out of town by ignorance and the mean guy, prevails, caves in the mean guy and lives happily ever after. The biggest problems during the building of the canal were mosquitoes and the disease they brought. Dr Amlie figures out the connection when everyone else still thinks it is the miasma of humid weather.

A true hero, heroine and villain, as well as a humorous writing style with great language made this a fine read.

The Woman Within, Ellen Glasgow, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954, 296 pp
Ellen Glasgow is the author of 19 novels. I first learned about her from James Michener's novel, The Fires of Spring, where the main character rapsodizes about authors he loves when he finally gets to go to college. I read Barren Ground, by Glasgow over a decade ago and loved it. Then I read her 1942 Pulitzer Prize winner In This Our Life, which I pretty much hated. Still, I was curious about her and when I learned she had written a memoir, I had to read it. The Woman Within, was not published until 1954, but she completed writing it in 1944, a year and a half before her death.

She was born in 1873 in the South during the terrible years of Reconstruction. She was plagued by bad health from birth and was never a "normal" child. Despite illness and being very fearful much of her life, she found at an early age that she wanted to write novels. She was one of the first female writers in the South and certainly the first to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Ms Glasgow was not a social person until later in life, she had no interest in marriage or children (though she was one of 10 children) and she was passionate about the life of the mind, about knowledge and about truth. Her goal was to understand mankind. I was fascinated by the book and aside from the chronic illness, would have loved to live her life.


Today I will give you the second half of the Top Ten Bestseller list for 1944

The Green Years, AJ Cronin, Little, Brown & Company; 1944; 347 pp
I didn't like this one as much as The Keys to the Kingdom, which I read for 1941. It was the #6 bestseller for the year. Robert Shannon is an orphan raised by his grandparents in Scotland. He wants to be a biologist and though he hasn't many opportunities, certain people befriend him and make it possible for him to get a good education. He is a sad, introverted dreamer and this coming of age story has a happy ending for Robert. But I didn't like him as character the way I liked the man in the other book.

I think this writer was heavily influenced by Dickens and while he tries to be a little more hard-boiled, he is too sentimental for me; even more sentimental than Dickens.

Leave Her To Heaven, Ben Ames Williams, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1944, 380 pp
At #7, this book also did not particularly please me. The hero is a writer, falls for a beautiful but highly neurotic and manipulative woman and then marries her. I thought it not believable that the man was so stupid. Somehow he keeps on being a writer, but she is never all right and pretty much ruins his life. There is a vein of novels with unreal love affairs in the 1940s bestsellers. I find them all annoying. It might be a symptom of best seller status. I mean, look at Danielle Steele.

Green Dolphin Street, Elizabeth Goudge; Coward-McCann, Inc; 1944; 502 pp
The #8 book of the bestsellers for 1944 is one of my all time favorite books. It is the book that started my love for Elizabeth Goudge, which continues to this day. I had already read it twice, the first time as a teenager and the second time in 1991, so I didn't read it again for this project and I am a little hazy on the details. Marianne and Marguerite are sisters living on an island in the English channel. They are different in every way. Marianne is plain, intelligent and forever longing for travel and adventure. Marguerite is beautiful, content and has a pleasing personality. William is the son of a neighboring family on Green Dolphin Street and the best friend of both girls. But they grow up, both sisters are in love with William and in an effort to help him make something of himself, get him into the Navy.

After six years, a letter comes from William asking for Marianne's hand in marriage. He is by this time a settler in Australia (we are in the 19th century here) and Marianne must make the journey alone. The trouble is that it was Marguerite that William had been longing for all these years, but he was a bit drunk when he wrote the letter and confused the names. Thus, Marianne's arrival is more than a bit awkward. But William swallows his disappointment, doesn't let on and the two live a tumultuous decade or so in the wilds of Australian sheep country. The truth is that Marguerite would probably not have held up under the hardships there and Marianne is exactly the sort of woman a settler needs. Marguerite enters a convent and finally after many years, the truth all comes out. By this time, William loves his wife deeply.

Now that I outline the story, it sounds hackneyed and unoriginal, but it is the telling of the story, the characters, the setting and the determined strength of Marianne that I loved. William is actually quite a difficult man, as most men are in my opinion. Marianne has one of those female extreme-adventure lives which Maureen Corrigan talks about in Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading. The best thing is that she prevails, she isn't beaten down; she is a very strong woman. I would want my granddaughters to read this book when they are old enough.

A Bell For Adano, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf, Inc; 1944, 269 pp
The #9 bestseller is a war story and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945, so is one of those books that get assigned in school. If I read it in school, I didn't remember a thing about it. Now that I have been steeped in all this World War II history, it meant something to me.

Major Victor Joppolo, US Army, was sent to administer the town of Adano, Italy after the Allied Forces invaded. He is of Italian descent, though raised in New York City, and feels an affinity for the town and its people. He wants to bring them democracy and happiness after their long oppression under fascism. The town's bell was destroyed by bombing and is the event that made them the most unhappy.

The major is successful in getting them a new bell as well as creating a spirit of cooperation in starting to rebuild the town, until a curmudgeonly superior gets him recalled. That is the way army politics gets in the way of bringing democracy to the world. I liked the story and Hersey is great at creating characters. He writes with wry humor and a large dose of sentimentality, which reminded me of Saroyan. Actually Upton Sinclair has this tone as well, though he doesn't lay it on as thickly. It was an emotion of the times and I have a feeling it is in its last years and did not survive the horrors of World War II.

The Apostle, Sholem Asch
The tenth bestseller is a carry over from 1943, when it was #7.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Today is the last day of my spring break vacation and I am determined to make some headway. I just posted the chapter for 1943. I had wondered why it took me so long to get around to writing that one, but when I finally looked at my notes, I found the reason. There was hardly anything to write about. 1944 gets a little more exciting as you will see.


Strange Fruit, Lillian Smith, Reynal & Hitchcock Publishers, 1944, 371 pp
The title echoes the famous Billie Holiday song. The image refers to the bodies of lynched Black men hanging from trees in the South. Lillian Smith was a White woman born and raised in the South, lived and worked there her whole life, loved it but despised the ever-present attitude of White supremacy. When her novel exposing and denouncing this appeared, it was banned in Detroit and Boston for her use of a word considered obscene, which catapulted the book to the #1 bestseller in 1944.

The story takes place in a Southern town. The disillusioned son of a White doctor begins a secret relationship with a college educated Black woman. Word gets out in the small town and inevitably tension builds until a lynching occurs. The plot twists, the complex attitudes of the townspeople, both Black and White, and the emotional depths of the characters add up to some very good writing. Surely this was the first bestseller about racism.

The Robe, Lloyd C Douglas
At #2 is this carry-over from 1943, when it was #1.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
This one was #4 in 1943 and came in at #3 in 1944.

Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor, The Macmillan Company, 1944, 735 pp
Another book to achieve bestseller status after being banned, Forever Amber is considered the first bodice-ripper and a precedent for Peyton Place and other "racy" bestsellers to follow. It was the #5 book this year and takes place in 17th century England during The Restoration, the time when Charles II was restored to the throne after the defeat of Cromwell. Charles is an inveterate ladies' man and his court is depraved with continuous political intrigue, not a little of which is carried out through the women who are, have been or are trying to be the King's lovers.

Amber is descended from nobility who lost their lands and status during the Cromwell years. She was given to country people to be raised when her parents were killed and never told of her origins. At sixteen, she runs away to London aided by a spirited Noble. She falls deeply in love with him, but he considers her a child and beneath him. So Amber becomes an actress in the theatre, mistress to many of the nobility and eventually rises to power at court and becomes a lover of King Charles. She has incredible health and energy, is a relentless schemer and possesses not a shred of moral sense.

It is a long book, but never dull. Winsor did her research and I learned quite a bit about England during those times, including the theatre, the plague, the fashions and the commerce. I know I have readers who disagree with me on this point, but aside from weapons of mass destruction and enough pollution to kill the planet, the world is no worse now than it ever was. Instead of Amber we have Paris Hilton.

The Razor's Edge, W Somerset Maugham, The Blakiston Company, 1944, 250 pp
Here is the #5 bestseller for this year and stands in complete opposition to Forever Amber. It is a coming of age story and quest for spiritual meaning in life. I can only suppose that such sentiments were of interest to a country immersed in the most horrid war known to man so far. I love Somerset Maugham's writing, so even though the story is a bit melodramatic, it is saved by the grace of his composition.

Larry, a semi-orphan from Chicago, returns from World War I in a state of disillusionment and mental anguish, as so many men did in those times. He goes on a spiritual search, finds enlightenment in India and though he returns to the west, continues to live his life by those principles. He is offered a career, money and the love of a woman, but calmly turns his back on what everyone else thinks he should do to pursue knowledge and peace of mind. Works for me.


If I thought 1942 was a stalled year, 1943 was worse. It was a year of waiting; actually the first year of waiting. America would be waiting until 1945 for this war that was supposed to save democracy to be over. Like any activity begun in a spirit of excitement and high hopes, there is always the long slow part when the activity gets accomplished. While there was plenty of news and action connected with the war, my parents were in limbo. They were waiting to get married, waiting to start their life together and trying to see each other when their schedules and finances permitted.

Only two of the bestsellers in this year were about World War II; three were about Christianity and the rest were historical novels set in America and England. Among the other books I read, three concerned the war and two were historical, but also we have some modern ideas from Simon deBeauvoir and Ayn Rand. Quite a good mix of subjects, styles and viewpoints. Since it takes a good year or so to write a novel, it will be a year or so before the war shows up predominately in the fiction.

In film, "Mrs Miniver" (made from that sappy book of the same title published in 1940), took Best Picture, Best Director (William Wyler) and Best Actress (Greer Garson) at the Academy Awards. James Cagney won Best Actor for "Yankee Doodle Dandy", another highly patriotic picture.

Popular songs in 1943 were "Mairzy Doats"; "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning"; "People Will Say We're In Love"; "I'll Be Seeing You (In All The Old Familiar Places)"; and "Comin' In On A Wing And A Prayer." Jitterbugging took over from the Lindy Hop as the newest dance craze.

Now that the United States is in the war, the soldiers and planes have arrived in Europe, Africa and the Far East, giving the Allies the much needed military power to start turning things around. Germany starts to suffer some losses and Italy is defeated. Penicillin and streptomycin are being used to treat disease, but a polio epidemic strikes in the United States. FDR freezes wages, salaries and prices in an effort to forestall inflation, while Keynes begins to promote an international currency union. Meat, cheese, fats, canned goods and shoes are rationed. Coal miners strike and there are race riots in Northern cities. A 1300 mile-long oil pipeline from Texas to Pennsylvania begins operation.

The seeds are being sown for another phase of the rich becoming richer and the poor getting poorer. Women are entering the work force, since all the men are gone for soldiers. Little do they know that in less than a decade they will be back in their aprons and their place will be firmly in the home.

My parents are in the middle of their long engagement. It is still four years until I will be born. They continue at their jobs, writing to each other every day and arranging visits when my Dad can get leave. They met once in Cleveland, Ohio for a weekend, each traveling on crowded trains. Since they stayed in separate rooms, they had only a few hours together. When my Dad came to visit at Valentine's Day, they went to my Mom's home. A blizzard began to blow in Port Hope, MI, so Dad wired to his base in Philadelphia that he might be late returning. He didn't want to be charged with being AWOL. On the way to the train station twenty miles away, they drove out of the storm and found the weather totally clear. Today we have the Weather Channel and know all about lake effect snow, but in those days weather was pretty much a local phenomenon.

My mother spent the summer in Port Hope, caring for her grandmother. Uncle Howard, whom she had grown up with, was in a sanitarium in Detroit, suffering from tuberculosis, and his wife, Aunt Lydia, was there to be with him. The good side of the was that my Mom got the family car. The bad side was that when her grandma was hit by a car one day that summer, it was up to my mother to get an ambulance, ride with her grandma to the hospital in the next town and watch her die of internal injuries on the way. When Aunt Lydia showed up and went into hysterical grief over the loss of her mother, the doctor had words to say about how a young woman took care of everything and kept her head. Well, that's my Mom.

But Mom told me she remembers very little from that year. It was all about waiting and enduring, which seems very long while it is going on, but leaves little material in our memories. From the literature I would say that Americans were trying to feel better and escape (as usual) but also trying to understand what was going on. It was probably similar to current times, though more intense. The war is over there, some people are losing family members and otherwise life goes on.

However, the seeds are there for ideas which will take root and grow after the war. Simone deBeauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre began their decades long experiment with free-love; and how appropriate that it began in France. Ayn Rand wrote her first testament to human achievement and artistic independence. Woody Guthrie published his story of a life dedicated to the working man in American society. It was another year on the road to a more dangerous and less innocent world. The United States began to really take on the role of Imperialism and leader of the planet, as the British Empire began to enter its death throes. For the first time, the entire globe was involved in one war, so I think one could say that globalization had its roots in these times. From lake effect snow to global warming is a big, long stretch.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


It has been another hellacious week at work which left no time for writing or blogging. Here at last is the final installment on the books I read for 1943.

The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1943, 727 pp
I first read this book as a sophomore in college and it literally changed the direction of my life. It was the first time that I got the idea that I was important as an individual and that I could have a viewpoint of my own. I started to shed lots of ideas that had been planted in me by my upbringing and religion and to take charge of my own life. Many people have had their Ayn Rand period and many people also like to poke fun at this author and dig up dirt about her life. I just thank her for the wake up call.

This is the story of Howard Rourke, architect, possibly based on Frank Lloyd Wright, who did not listen to anyone and who loved his work whether anyone else did or not. And Dominique Francon, the heroine, who seemed very bizarre to me on this rereading. But it is a great story and still moved me.

Wide Is the Gate, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1943, 751 pp
This is the fourth volume in Sinclair's Lanny Budd series. The pace was very good and I didn't mind the length at all; in fact I found it hard to put down.

Lanny loses his heiress wife, Irma, because she won't put up with his socialist views and activities any longer. He eventually marries Trudi, the German underground worker whom he was helping all along. They live in Paris very much under the radar and Lanny doesn't even tell his mother.

The Spanish Civil War begins and Lanny has many adventures in Spain. I learned much about Fascists, Communism, and the way that the industrialists in most European countries who were the people who controlled money and finance, did not stop Hitler because they were scared to death of communism and hoped Hitler would eradicate it for them. Perhaps other more politically savvy people than myself were already aware of these unsavory facts, but it was all news to me and quite changed my view of history, past and present.

The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler, Alfred A Knopf, 1943, 266 pp
This was my favorite Chandler novel so far. It is truly a mystery. You don't even guess the twist that comes at the end until just before it is revealed, when it dawns on you. That is the way I like my mysteries.

Philip Marlowe is looking for a missing person and discovers one murder after another. Some of the story takes place in San Bernadino and most of the rest in a beach city, so I could easily visualize it all. Great characters and great study of human nature.

Arrival and Departure, Arthur Koestler, The MacMillan Company, 1943, 180 pp
This little book was extremely moving. Peter is a young Eastern European man who has escaped from an unnamed country under Nazi occupation. He has been in prison and has wounds from that experience that are both physical and mental. The book concerns his stay in a neutral country.

He falls in love and when the girl he loves leaves for America, he suffers a physical and mental breakdown. Peter is staying with a fellow countrywoman who is a psychotherapist. She helps him find memories from his childhood which are supposedly the source of his guilt and his need to sacrifice himself for "the movement."

Peter eventually recovers and the psychotherapist also leaves for America, with the plan that Peter will follow as soon as his papers are in order. Just before leaving he finds out that he has finally got clearance to enlist in the British Armed Services, which he does. His basic purpose in life did not derive from childhood trauma; those only crippled him in carrying out that purpose. Great writing and very good use of tension in the story.

Now for the prize winners. The Pulitzer Prize went to Dragon's Teeth, by Upton Sinclair, which I read and reviewed in the 1942 section.

Many Moons, James Thurber; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers; 1943; 45 pp
Picture book and winner of the Caldecott Medal. It is the story of a princess who falls ill from eating too many raspberry tarts. When asked by her father, the King, what she needs to get better, she asks for the moon.

Right away we see the tongue-in-cheek tone which continues throughout the book. The wisest of the King's advisors are unable to answer this request, but the Jester figures it out right away-he asks the Princess what would represent the moon.

I doubt that a child would get the humor. Perhaps she could follow the story but there are many big college-level words and personally I think Thurber was simply amusing himself. Did he get the prize because of who he was? Wouldn't be the first time, nor the last.

Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943, 269 pp
This is the Newbery Award winner. Johnny Tremain, as we all know if we watched our Disney movies growing up, was one of the heros of the Revolutionary War, especially at the beginning when he was a spy and messenger for Paul Revere. Johnny was an orphan apprenticed to a silversmith. He was very ambitious and had a sharp tongue which was forever getting him in trouble.

After burning his right hand during a silver casting, he fell on hard times but fell in with the patriots of Boston and the rest of the book is that story. It is well-written and has great story pace. I did not find it too childish for an adult read and I learned more about those times. I especially like filling in history with these stories of the people who made the history.