Monday, September 11, 2006


Moving right along to the next year, here are the bestsellers that I read from 1948.

The Big Fisherman, Lloyd C Douglas, People's Book Club, 1948, 503 pp
The #1 bestseller in 1948 was this story of the disciple Peter, the fisherman, the Rock, the man whom Jesus assigned to build his church. I learned about the age-old enmity between Arab and Jew. It goes back to Abraham, who had one son, Ishmael, by his servant Hagar and another son, Isaac, by Sara, his actual wife. One of my reading pals reminded me that this is also explained in The Red Tent by Anita Diamante (in a much more exciting story, I might add.)

The book moves along, then bogs down in the middle, then moves along again. There is a character from Douglas' earlier book, The Robe, who makes a brief appearance. It was OK but not as emotionally gripping or as entertaining as The Robe.

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer, Rinehart and Company Inc, 1948, 721 pp
As I mentioned in my chapter on 1947, the war comes back this year as a topic in fiction. The #2 bestseller is a powerful story about war and the army. A company is on a campaign to capture a South Pacific island from the Japanese. The descriptions of the jungle, the physical discomforts of the soldiers, and their physical and emotional states are graphic and disturbing. It is a very different view from Michener's Tales of the South Pacific.

He also covers the viewpoints of soldiers and officers all the way down the command channel from general to private; the philosophy of war; the game of promotions and demotions; the petty actions of men at all levels as a result of their pasts and their personal issues. That is a lot of territory to range over and he makes no noble or heroic thing of war.

The privates are the pawns in the game, as they were in civilian life as well. I found it a very disturbing book and was amazed (as were all the critics at the time) at the depth and reality of writing from a man who was only 24 when he wrote it.

Dinner at Antoine's, Frances Parkinson Keyes, Julian Messner Inc, 1948, 422 pp
At #3 on the bestseller list for 1948 is this piece of fluff which I would call chick lit for the 1940s. What a contrast to The Naked and the Dead.

It takes place in New Orleans in the current times of the 40s and the famous restaurant plays a key role in the story. Keyes tries to make it a murder mystery with little success. Her usual overly wordy style is unrelieved by a good story, as in The River Road and the dialogue is simply atrocious. I suppose the society and clothing details are interesting to some and that sort of thing goes on in bestsellers to this day. Unfortunately there are three more bestsellers by this author in the 1950s. Well, she can write a good book, so there is hope.

The Bishop's Mantle, Agnes Sligh Turnbull, The MacMillan Company, 1948, 359 pp
This story is also set in the postwar 1940s. A young man takes over as minister to a big Episcopal church in New York City and has to learn his way amongst the parishoners, the Trustees and the neighborhood. He wants to bring things more up-to-date and minister to other social and economic levels, rather than just the white, upper-class. He also marries a woman who is not quite suited to being a clergyman's wife, as she is a modern woman and likes a good time, so they have to work out how to be happy together.

It is from a time of much different values from today although human failings are the same. I was a bit bored and not exactly hooked through most of the book, but I am sure it was realistic for people of those times, which is why it made #4 on the bestseller list.

Tomorrow Will Be Better, Betty Smith, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1948, 247 pp
This was #5 on the top bestsellers list for 1948. The theme is how hope keeps people going in the face of hard times. The main characters are poor folks in Brooklyn. It was not nearly as powerful a story as her earlier A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but probably was more realistic. The story actually dealt with the negative things that poverty-stricken parents do to their kids because of the frustrations of a life that does not match up to their hopes and dreams. The earlier book is sentimental in the extreme compared to this one.

Margy, the heroine, does not succumb to discouragement, but you wonder if she can hold out. After all, she is 18 and full of dreams at the beginning of the story and many of those dreams are tarnished by the time she reaches 20 at the end of the book.

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