Sunday, July 02, 2006


In this and the next post I will discuss books I read from "the other list." It is a list I compose myself based on all sorts of reasons known only to me. Perhaps someday a reader will figure out some of those reasons.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, Little Brown and Company, 1945, 351 pp
I loved this book. Waugh is renowned for a caustic cynicism about England and English ways. I suppose he did appear that way amidst all the sweet sentimentality of that era's writing. To me, he seems modern and normal. (Am I a cynic?)

Here we have a family with inherited money and secrets. The father married a Roman Catholic and it all had a bad effect on the children. We have Oxford, then later the war. It was eerie to me how closely the story is approximated in Atonement, by Ian McEwan, which I read about a week before I read this novel. Even the setting of Brideshead, a country manor, seemed the same.

The "hero" gets involved with this family, especially a son, who is his best friend for a while, and a daughter, who is his lover for a while. It all ends sadly and even becomes almost irrelevant because of war. The writing is exquisite and I cared deeply about every single character.

The Blood of Others, Simone de Beauvoir, Alfred A Knopf, 1945, 292 pp
Jean Blomart is the son of a successful French businessman, living in comfort. He turns his back on all that, feeling guilty. He becomes a worker, tries to gain benefits for workers and at last becomes part of the Resistance against the Germans during WWII. All along, he never really fits in because he is of the bourgeois class. And always he feels guilt, because no matter what he does, people get hurt and die.

Helene is one of those women that de Beauvoir does so well. Self-centered, impetuous, and all she wants is love. She makes Jean her lover, then gets interested in the Resistance, gets mortally wounded for the cause and dies. Jean has realizations, which after all his existentialist anguish, sound downright Christian. Good story. This is the book that made me decide I did not need to read Jean Paul Sartre, because de Beauvoir is relaying his philosophy in her novels.

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1945, 181 pp
I also loved this book. I don't know what it is about Steinbeck; he just nails the human condition and finds what is lovable about people.

I was familiar with the setting (Monterey, the canneries, Steinbeck's scientist friend Ed Ricketts) from the biography I am reading. I am following Steinbeck's life as I read his novels. The people in Cannery Row are the dregs and Doc (based on Ed) is their wise man, their philosopher. Here is humor, compassion, insight and a rejection of the "civilized" world with all its stress and pretensions. This book in particular reminded me of certain Billy Bob Thornton movies.

Steinbeck is another author who had bestsellers but the critics hated him, similar to Saroyan. He wasn't a happy man, but he was telling the truth as he saw it and that truth cut through to readers. That gives me hope.

Animal Farm, George Orwell, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1945, 157 pp
I was made to read this book at some point in school. I had no idea what it was about then. Now I know: it is a satire on Russian communism, especially Stalin and it is well done.

The characters are animals on a farm, who revolt against the farmer (the capitalist/ruler.) They play out the whole progression of a revolution until a certain pig becomes the new oppressor.

Somehow, all this rising up of workers and peasants began with the French revolution, at least in Europe. The only successful one really was the American Revolution and we are far from ideal. At some point, I will have to read the thinkers and philosophers behind all that. At this point I see that the hope of freedom and self-determinism remains alive but it is always foiled by the same old dramatizations of oppressor versus oppressed.

Judd Rankin's Daughter, Susan Glaspell, J B Lippincott Company, 1945, 254 pp
This was my least favorite of her books so far. It takes a long time to get going and there are pages and pages of the main character's inner thoughts while not much story happens.

Frances is the daughter of the title. She was raised in the Midwest, now lives on the East coast and is married to a writer. The death of a woman who had been a sort of sweetheart to Frances' father, starts the story. This woman was unusual, full of life and brought light and joy wherever she went.

World War II is going on. Frances' son comes back with a post-traumatic disorder and she does not know how to help him. Eventually, in a bumbling way, she helps everyone, so she carries on for the woman who died. By the end, I was hooked and forgave the author for the bad start.

Great Son, Edna Ferber, Doubleday Doran & Company, 1945, 281 pp
Great Son takes place in Seattle in the 1940s. Four generations of a family who helped make Seattle a city, are trying to understand each other. The family has oddities. One of the sons really came from a different mother than the one who raised him (and this other mother lives close by, is loved by the father still, but it is all kind of not dealt with.) The son is married to an actress who spends most of her time in New York. Their son is somehow wise and tolerant of all this and falls in love with a Jewish German refuge.

Improbable as hell and Ferber's writing is weak as usual. Plus the bombing of Pearl Harbor happens in the middle of a family get-together. But I finally see that this author is trying to understand and explain what makes America the way it is. OK.


  1. I went through a Steinbeck phase in junior high and was tearing through his work. A few years later I picked him up again in high school after enjoying (guilty pleasure) the not very good Cannery Row movie (with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger). After that I reread the books with the Cannery Row characters that I adored so much.

  2. atonement.. i love that book :)..

  3. What is it about those characters in Cannery Row? I mean, it would probably be kind of gross hanging out in their "house", but I just loved those guys.

    If you love Atonement, you must read Brideshead Revisited.