Wednesday, July 05, 2006

BOOKS READ FROM 1945, PART FOUR

This is the final section about the books I read for 1945. The books in this post were not top 10 bestsellers, but are from my own list of authors I either admire or feel I should know.

The Friendly Persuasion, Jessamyn West, Harcourt Brace & World Inc, 1945, 214 pp
This is Jessamyn West's first book and is a collection of stories about a Quaker family in Indiana from mid to late 1800s. Ms West was a Quaker herself and raised in Indiana before moving to California and becoming well known for writing about the West.

I liked the book. Jess Birdwell is the father, an Irish Quaker and nurseryman who grows stocks of berry bushes and fruit trees. His wife, Eliza, is the preacher for the local Quaker meeting. She is one of those strong midwestern women whose whole being goes into raising her large family and creating a home. She has lots of wisdom.

What I liked most in these tales was that while this family has strong religious beliefs and principles, they deal with the realities of life and the individualities of people with humor and a light touch. It is a book filled with love and an example of how to create peace without preaching but by example.


Prater Violet, Christopher Isherwood, Random House, 1945, 128 pp
It seems that people who are well read and like to write about books, often mention this author, so I checked him out. He is indeed a good writer. Prater Violet is called a novel, but the main character is Isherwood himself and the book is written in first person. Whatever.

It is 1933, Hitler is being aggressive, the English are trying to ignore it. The setting is England. Isherwood gets a call from a movie studio to be an assistant to a director from Austria. It is the story of making the picture. The director is a total character and makes a big impression on Isherwood.

So it is a cynical book about the movie business as well as a book about art, humanity, friendship and the looming of war. I liked reading it.


Dragon Harvest, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1945, 703 pp
In my reading journal I wrote the following words after finishing this book: "Oh, what a lot of heavy reading I've been doing and oh, how sick I am of WWII, but it is paying off in understanding on many levels." This volume of the Lanny Budd series covers the war up to the invasion of France by Hitler.

Lanny Budd goes on with his duties as Presidential Agent, which started in the previous book. He hangs out with Nazis, Fascists, the big money industrialists and the politicians of France and England, who deep down want Hitler to win so they can be done with the inconvenient democratic ills like freedom of speech, unions and taxes, and thereby preserve the status quo. Lanny then makes regular reports back to FDR, who uses the information to stay abreast of what is happening in Europe.

In this volume, Sinclair makes a call for America to fight for democracy in the world. It is true to me that Hitler had to be stopped, but as will become apparent after the war ended, the actual evil in the world was not contained.

On the romantic front, through Lanny's interest in spiritualism, he has found a new potential lady for himself, which clearly will be taken up in the next volume.


Black Boy, Richard Wright, Harper and Brothers, 1945, 384 pp
This book is non-fiction, in fact it was the #4 bestseller in non-fiction for 1945. Since I had read Native Son, which Wright published in 1940, I wasn't going to pass this one up. Black Boy is autobiographical. He tells about growing up black in Mississippi, when he was always hungry and was learning how to deal with white people. The second part of the book is about his life in Chicago as a young man, after he had migrated north and was becoming a writer.

In fact, the Chicago section of the book was cut from the original publication of the book in 1945, because the Book of the Month club said they would not take the book with that section in it. While in Chicago, Wright became involved with the Communist party, which would have been very not mainstream in 1945. The edition I read contained the full text of the book.

It was an intense and unstoppable reading experience. This is not any sweet, sentimental book about how great black people are deep down. It is an analysis of the factors that make African Americans the complex people that they are. Wright spells out from the heart and the belly what it feels like to be at the receiving end of poverty and racism.

I feel that Richard Wright was one of those people who was born into a bad life but had a higher spiritual endowment than those around him. Because of that, he got educated, he read thousands of books, and he never agreed with the way things were. Sometimes I would read a line in this book and feel like I had thought it myself. It was eerie. What an amazing person he was.


Stuart Little, E B White, HarperCollins Publishers, 1945, 131 pp
This book was read to me and I read it myself as a young girl. I read it again now because it was published in 1945. White was one of those authors who wrote for The New Yorker and Harpers, so he needed to be satirical. Why do these satirists write for children? I am not sure it is healthy.

Stuart, of course, is a mouse. He has human parents and even a human brother. He is plucky and has improbable adventures. As a child, I loved Stuart Little. He falls in love with a bird who flies away, so he sets off to find her. (I did not remember that part.) Perhaps, as children, we like stories about small creatures who prevail because it is hard to prevail when you are small.


The Award Winners:
The Pulitzer in 1945 went to a play called "Harvey", written by Mary Ellen Chase. As far as I could tell, this is a different Mary Ellen Chase than the novelist whom I like. So, not being much of a reader of plays, I did not read it.

The Newbery Award:
Strawberry Girl, Lois Lenski, HarperCollins Publishers, 1945, 194 pp
When I was a girl, I loved Lois Lenski's books. There is always a plucky young girl who lives in some kind of poor circumstances and overcomes troubles. What I didn't know then is that she wrote those books as a project to write about different regions of the United States. One of my favorites was Flood Friday, which was about a flood on the Mississippi River.

Strawberry Girl takes place in Florida in the very late 1800s, before the automobile. Florida was still a frontier area and people raised cattle, grain and strawberries. They were called Crackers because of the crack of the cattle whips as they drove them to market.

Birdie Boyers' family moves into the area and her parents are hardworking and smart. They come into conflict with a more derelict family but prevail in the end. It is a bit pollyanaish to me now, but it does celebrate the things that I believe in, such as the basic goodness of mankind.


The Caldecott Award:
The Rooster Crows, Maud and Miska Petersham, Macmillan Publishing Co Inc, 1945, 61 pp
This is a book that contains all the rhymes and jumprope words and singing game words that I remember from my childhood, such as "Ring Around the Rosey", etc. It was interesting to see how many of these rhymes came from farming scenes, attesting to the very rural aspect of our country in the 19th century. The illustrations were good as well, but they certainly look dated today.

5 comments:

  1. Native Son has been on my nightstand for quite some time. It's been pushed back to fall reading now, because of my Summer Reading Challenge List, but I'm thinking it will be my first book when it's over.

    I always thought that the satire in children's books was more to make the parents enjoy reading them at bedtime, sort of like the layered comedy in cartoon movies.

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  2. Do let me know your reactions when you read Native Son.

    I agree with you on the kid's books. I just wonder if it is appropriate.

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