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.


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