Monday, July 31, 2006


I started this project as an attempt to make sense of my life in terms of the major fiction published in my lifetime. Then I decided to start reading the major fiction beginning in 1940, though I was not born until 1947, to get a feeling for the decade into which I was born. By the time I started reading for 1946, I had already read over 100 books and I was beginning to get impatient about reaching my birth year. Surprisingly, 1946 turned out to be one of the best and most exciting years for fiction that I had encountered so far. Since I was conceived in 1946, I take that as a good omen.

Ten of the books I read were about war in some way; in eight of them World War II was either the main subject or influenced the story. One of the bestsellers, The Snake Pit, dealt with psychiatry and a mental institution, a new evil in the 20th century. Another, The Street, was about racism in New York City. East River told the story of Jewish immigrants in that same city. Three of the books were set in New Orleans, a city which turns up often in fiction, and though I have never been there, these novels gave me the feeling of knowing New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Why was I so impressed and emotionally engaged by this collection of novels? Partly it was the high quality of the writing, but also these books represented the world I was about to enter and felt somehow more familiar to me, whereas the early years of the decade felt like another era.

In film, "The Lost Weekend," about an alcoholic writer, won Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wild) and Best Actor (Ray Milland.) "Mildred Pierce," about an obsessive mother, won Best Actress (Joan Crawford.) In these films are the modern anxiety and postwar ills that will be bubbling below the surface during the deceptively benign 1950s.

The popular songs, "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," "Come Rain or Come Shine," and "Doin What Comes Nacherly" sing to me a somewhat giddy release from the tensions of war.

Because, the war is over and American is trying to get back to "normal" but life will never be the same. Women and blacks, who had the jobs during the war, are back at home or out of work, since the soldiers are coming back. Jews have been persecuted and butchered in Germany but are still hated in America. The economy is shaky and class lines are forever broken down. The world is a rougher place; hope and idealism have take hard blows. The River Road and Delta Wedding were novels of 1946 that told this story of change, of the struggle of the older generation to hold on and the efforts of the current generation to carry on. Of course, that is an age-old story, but in terms of my life, it is THE STORY.

My mom, a Midwestern girl, now lived in Pittsburgh, PA with her inlaws. She got pregnant with me in about November of this year. My parents didn't have much money and the plan was to save up so they could get their own home. After my dad died two summers ago, I was talking to my mom about him. She told me that one of the things she was drawn to in him was his deep faith, which I imagine helped them through this time.

In the fall of 1946, my mom was called in to substitute teach at the Lutheran parochial school connected with their church. The teacher they had hired was a young man just out of college, who ran away from his position and refused to come back. The job was to teach a combined classroom of grades one through three, though Mom was trained in music education. She said she just had to use her common sense. The students were mainly rejects from public school with behavior problems and Mom had quite a time dealing with them. One mother reported her as a child beater because she tapped a pupil on the head with a pencil when he was misbehaving. She worked there for about three months, taking the streetcar to work, until they found another teacher. By that time she was pregnant.

They had been trying for some time to start a family and were so happy about this pregnancy. All three of us girls were planned for. On the day that a doctor's appointment confirmed that I was there in the womb, my mom stopped at a bookstore on the way home and bought a copy of The Joy of Cooking (newly reprinted in 1946 with war-time rationing recipes deleted) as a present for her sister-in-law, my Aunt Lois. It was a celebration and expression of her happiness, though an odd gift for Lois. After all, my aunt was rarely home, worked as a nurse and certainly never has been into cooking. But they were good friends and still are, so I think it was just one of those whimsical things us women do when we are feeling hormonal.

In Europe, conditions were extremely unsettled. Russian communism was everywhere, socialism was taking hold in France and England, Italy was making attempts at democracy, Eastern European nations were struggling for independence, and Germany was divided between countries who had been allies during the war. At the first meeting of the United Nations, Russian immediately began making trouble. China was embroiled in civil war due to communism, Japan was in ruins and there were all sorts of shenanigans going on in Southeast Asia, which did not even come to light until the Vietnam War. President Truman made some attempt to create guidelines for uses of nuclear power and bombs, but there was a dearth of consensus on this around the world. Truly a scramble of issues and power struggles with new buzzwords coming into parlance, such as the Iron Curtain and the Cold War. One can just imagine the books that are coming, the spy genre especially.

Science and technology were still raging on from the impetus of the war. The first electronic brain, pilotless missiles and xerography were some of the advances of that year. Studies were being done on the effects of x-rays and on enzymes. Richard E Byrd began his third expedition to Antarctica.

1946 was a pivotal year. I feel like I was born into a world that was being made anew in many ways. The old beliefs and answers are all challenged, new answers are being sought. I will be born a Lutheran, baptized, taught to love Jesus, be a good, chaste girl and to grow up to be a wife and mother. But while I am being taught these values, the world is changing fast all around me. My mom has told me that they felt they went through the hardest times a parent could go through in the 60s. They were hoping, as were many, that we kids could have a good, safe life, without economic stress, war or threats to democracy.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The final section of books I read for 1946 all have in common contemporary stories about social life in America and one in England, although it is a bit of a stretch putting Alice in Wonderland in this category. I had to put it somewhere.

Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1946, 326 pp
The Fairchilds are a big, sprawling, cotton plantation family in the Mississippi Delta. The second oldest daughter, Dabney, is about to be married to the overseer. This is known as marrying beneath oneself.

The whole book is about the days before, the day of and the few days after the wedding. Really it is about the family and its many relations and relationships and about life in the Delta in the 1920s. Perhaps because I had read all those other books about that region, this one made so much sense to me. It is the best of them all because the writing is literary instead of bestseller. There is quite a lot of description but it does what description is supposed to do. It puts you there. Wonderful.

East River, Sholem Asch, G P Putnam's Sons, 1946, 438 pp
After having read The Nazarene and The Apostle by this author, which were huge slogging books about ancient times, this book was a pleasant surprise. It was a much easier read and set in the 20th century. Although it is about Jews, East River takes place in New York City in the early 1900s in a neighborhood of immigrants.

It deals with interactions between Jews and Catholics, the garment industry, unions, socialism, labor vs management, and rising out of poverty. The big fire that occurred in a garment factory at that time is part of the story. (That incident is the subject of a current book which I believe is called The Triangle.) Once again, I learned much about the development of this country, about the Jewish faith and social life, even about how animals must be slaughtered to keep Kosher.

The Street, Ann Petry, Houghton Mifflin, 1946
Ann Petry was the first African American writer to publish a bestselling novel. The Street sold more than a million copies. It is the story of a young black woman in 1940s Harlem. She disagrees and dares to struggle against racism and suppression. The ending is horribly tragic.

Petry had a fine understanding of the results of racism on both men and women. The writing is excellent. You feel that you really know the characters. The purpose of the author seemed to be to raise understanding about this wretched and disgusting aspect of American life. She accomplished it brilliantly. I was completely moved by this novel.

Amerika, Franz Kafka, New Directions, 1946, 298 pp
I'd always heard about Kafka, mainly because his short story "Metamorphosis" is rarely left unmentioned in any writing about short story craft. Kafka, I have now learned, was never published during his lifetime. He died around 1925, so this book was written before that. He did not consider himself a writer and only wrote for his own pleasure or amusement, although he is never described as someone who often enjoyed pleasure or amusement.

Amerika was a disturbing book to me. I think it was meant to be disturbing and ironic. Karl Rossman, whose story this is, was sent from Europe to America by his parents at the age of 16, as a sort of exile for bad behavior. I found him to be a most annoying character. He is sure of himself in one way and extremely indecisive in another. Because of this, every opportunity that comes his way he manages to turn to his worst advantage.

The book awakens all of one's fears that after all, one's life could just turn out to be shit.

Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1946, 307 pp
Anyone who grew up when I did had the Golden Book version of Alice in Wonderland and saw the Disney movie many times but who ever read the actual Lewis Carroll books? Well, I finally did. I found them fairly entertaining but really hard to follow. I think you had to be English to get a lot of the humor and satire, which is the point. Again, it is a case of a writer writing for children but getting in his irony for the adult who will read the book to a child. I liked Through The Looking Glass better.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Five of the books I read from 1946 had foreign lands or cultures as their subject matter.

Zorba The Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis, Simon & Schuster Inc, 1946, 311
This one took me quite a while to get into. I had thought it would be a happy book, but it had an underlying sadness. Zorba is an exuberant, irrepressible character, while the narrator is a writer/philosopher/reader. They meet up in a Greek pub and decide to go to Crete together, where the narrator has inherited a coal mine.

Zorba believes in living to the fullest, ignoring the church and morals, living by his own code of honor. He loves women, wine, food and work. He tries to get the narrator out of his head and into life. They never make a success of the mine. In fact, their attempts are a comedy of errors. They do get involved in the community and with women, but really nothing turns out well. But in the end, Zorba dances away his sorrows and takes off for his next adventure.

I liked it. It was a good change from all the serious war books. I also saw the movie which is a good reflection of the book.

Mine Boy, Peter Abrahams, Faber & Faber Ltd, 1946
There are two authors named Peter Abrahams. One writes mystery thrillers and this is not him. This Peter Abrahams is African and writes about countries who have been colonized and achieve independence. Mine Boy is one of his early novels, but the writing is so lyrical and beautiful that I was entranced by it.

Xuma comes from the country into Johannesburg. He is big, strong and goes to work in the mines. It is the story of a man growing up and becoming politically aware. Of course, he is black and through love and loss, happiness and pain, he sees some truths and finds his place in the way of things.

Thieves in the Night, Arthur Koestler, The Macmillan Company, 1946, 357 pp
Arthur Koestler has become one of my favorite writers. This is the fourth book of his that I have read for this project. He is very political but he is also a philosopher, a man with great insight into people and a tireless champion for freedom. He maintains a bit of humor, no matter how serious he gets, and a love for mankind as well as a realist's point of view.

Thieves in the Night takes place in Palestine in 1939. There have already been Jewish communes there for a generation because the Geneva Convention, which was held after World War I, gave the Jews a part of Palestine, though the Arab inhabitants were not consulted. This piece of idiocy continues to be an unsolvable problem today.

In this story, Joseph is a newly arrived member of a new commune. The English, who still rule the country as a colony, are backing out on their promises to the Jews in order to appease the Arabs. The Jews have by this time developed their own terrorist organization to combat Arab terrorism.

As far as I know, this is the first novel to explore the situation and I learned a lot. The Jews in Palestine are a communal group of people from all over the world. They came there for freedom but only found more suppression. They are the outsiders in this country, but they are mainly upright peoples working hard to improve conditions there. Because the two cultures are so different, there seems to be no successful way to solve the animosity, except through violence. Koestler presents the Jewish side of the story here. I am aware that finally, almost 70 years later, the Arab side is beginning to appear in fiction translated into English. It's about time.

All Men Are Mortal, Simone deBeauvoir, The World Publishing Company, 1946, 345 pp
For days after I finished this book, I was still trying to figure out what she was trying to express in the story. Her writing has improved since her earlier books but that doesn't make her meaning clear.

Fosca is a man who in the 1100s drank a potion that made his body live forever. He thought that would make it possible to accomplish his goals. The goals progressed from power for himself and his city to freedom for mankind. But of course, he couldn't achieve any of them. He just lived on and on and the world went through the cycles of birth and death, war and peace, victory and defeat.

In the current time, he meets an actress who only cares for fame. He tells her his history, which is the history of Europe since 1100, and convinces her that it is all useless. So my question is, does deBeauvoir really believe that or is she mocking the hopelessness as an evil idea? Her mentor, Jean Paul Sartre, as part of his existentialism, believed that a person should remain engaged in life, trying to do something about the world. Very puzzling book.

Then and Now, W Somerset Maugham, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1946, 278 pp
A different book for Maugham from others I have read. It is historical, set in Italy at the time of Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli. Borgia is intent upon a conquest of Italy. Machiavelli at this time is an ambassador sent from Florence to plead with Borgia in defense of his city. Machiavelli is a lover and seducer of women and only of minor importance in Florence at the time.

Not knowing much about the history of that time, I was a bit adrift, but the writing is excellent and the insight into human nature and the effects of power on individuals is quite spot on. I don't think Maugham was capable of writing a bad book.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Now I go into the other list, the non-bestsellers, the favorite or interesting authors, etc. There are quite a lot of these for 1946, so I am going to split it up into three different posts. In this post I will write about war books. It is surprising that while the bestseller list only had two books about WW II, my list had six.

The Adventures of Wesley Jackson, William Saroyan, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1946, 336pp
Once again Saroyan draws me into his world and captivates me. Wesley Jackson is a 19 year old who has been drafted into the US Army in 1944. He hates everything about the army, which can be summed up in the word regimentation. He also hates war and killing and the use of the common man to get the dirty work done, while the big shots sit on their asses.

He survives the whole experience by making friends. He and his friends team up to get around the rules and eke out a bit of personal freedom. It is in relating the adventures of Wesley with his friends that Saroyan creates his magic: a combination of love, common sense and hard-boiled realism about people.

When I read Saroyan's biography, I learned that this book attracted hatred from the critics for being unpatriotic and against the war. But his reading public loved the book and it sold well. That is no surprise to me because Saroyan speaks for the regular guy, the most overlooked person in time of war.

A World To Win, Upton Sinclair, The Viking Press, 1946, 624 pp
Lanny Budd continues on. (See my reviews of earlier Sinclair books in 1940-1945.) This volume was the fastest read yet and I didn't want it to end. It follows WWII up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and a bit beyond. Lanny is still traveling the world as an art expert and Presidential Agent. He almost dies in a plane crash, he goes on a yacht cruise with the family of one of the girls who wants to marry him, he gets stranded in Hong Kong with the other woman he loves (a writer) and marries her. They then travel through China and Russia observing communism at work.

I understand from this book how we became allies with Russia in an effort to stop Hitler, but also see how the seeds of the Cold War are there waiting to sprout. As usual, it was an entertaining history lesson.

Williwaw, Gore Vidal, EP Dutton & Company Inc, 1946, 222 pp
Williwaw is Gore Vidal's first novel. It is set in Alaska, during WWII. A williwaw is a certain type of wind that springs up suddenly in the winter. A crew has a boat out, taking some army brass from one place to another and gets caught in the williwaw storm.

The book started so slowly and was so boring for almost 100 pages that I thought I would hate it. But suddenly, like a williwaw, it took off and was great to the end. Vidal was good on characters, observations of men in military situations and even insights into crime and questions of right and wrong. Impressive for a first novel.

Mister Roberts, Thomas Heggen, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1946, 221 pp
I came upon this book because I read Ross & Tom, by John Leggett, which is a biography about this author and also Ross Lockridge, Jr. Both of these authors committed suicide after having huge and early success as writers. John Leggett is also the author of the biography I read about William Saroyan. Mister Roberts was made into a hit Broadway play and a movie.

It is a wonderful book. It takes place during WWII when a bunch of Navy boys on a supply ship are sailing around in the Pacific bored out of their minds. They are serving under a bad captain who is an ineffectual martinet. Mister Roberts is everyone's favorite officer and guy.

Each chapter is about an incident and Mr Roberts is not in every one, but together the chapters give the reader the flavor of life on the ship. Mr Roberts' special unhappiness is that he wanted to really be in the war, fighting. He gets his wish with of course an unhappy ending.

What struck me about the book is that it is an allegory of life on the "prison ship" called Earth and accurately portrays the ways that human beings deal with that.

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, HarperCollins Publishers, 1932, 1946, 259 pp
If I had ever read this book before, I didn't remember it. I read it for 1946 because it was reissued in this year with an intriguing preface by Huxley. In that preface, he states that there are actually three choices confronting mankind: nuclear annihilation, totalitarian rule (as depicted in Brave New World), or a philosophy/movement based on a true view of mankind which includes a way to free men of their madnesses. Wow! So he saw the crux of the problem and even named a solution.

Huxley's dys-utopia is clever, amusing and chillingly close to what the world today is moving towards. I think it would be a very good idea to re-issue this book again, make all the kids in highschool read it, etc. I wonder what sort of reviews and response the current media would give this book. If you are reading this blog and have never read Brave New World, I urge you to do so.

Hiroshima, John Hersey, Alfred A Knopf Inc, 1946, 116 pp
This book is a non-fiction account of the experiences of six survivors of our atomic attack on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. Hersey actually went to Japan and interviewed these people: two doctors, a widow with several children, a German Jesuit priest, a Japanese Methodist minister and a female clerk in a tin factory. 100,000 people were killed in this bombing, either immediately or from its effects. Hersey's writing about the tragedy originally appeared in the "New Yorker" magazine.

It is a fairly gruesome read, though not as bad as I had thought it would be. I was struck by several things:
1) When the bomb exploded in a blinding flash above the city, none of the inhabitants knew that it was an atomic bomb. For that matter, only some Japanese physicists and military people even knew what an atomic bomb was.
2) Five out of the six survivors spent most of the first few days helping others with little thought for their own safety: two clergymen, two doctors and one mother.
3) The Japanese people in the main had the view that they were supporting their Emperor. It was a blind and unreasoning trust in their leader. The Emperor had decreed total war. The bomb, to these people, was part of that war and they suffered through it with very little complaining. It was all a part of the duty of a being Japanese.
4) I don't recall how many died due to the attacks on 9/11, but I am pretty sure it was much less than 100,000 people. Our nation has involved itself in the Middle East for decades and been responsible for the deaths of countless people, many of whom were civilians. The reaction of our government and our people to the 9/11 attacks was so very different.

Is it possible that because it has been so many generations since a war has been fought on our soil, that we don't really get what war is? I think that may be so.


The other day, I was severely spammed here on the blog. The last time that happened, I painstakingly removed all the spam comments, thinking I would teach them a lesson in how marketing is NOT done. It was boring and time consuming. This time, I don't know. I am trying to be tolerant or apply passive resistance (the political kind, not the psychiatric kind) or just get on with blogging.

What do you think?

Friday, July 21, 2006


The Foxes of Harrow, Frank Yerby, The Dial Press, 1946, 408 pp
This book was #6 on the bestseller list for 1946. It is another story about New Orleans, sugar growers, etc., but earlier in time than The River Road.

It is a rough and ready time; a violent time of building something new and changing social conventions. The main character comes to New Orleans as a nobody, the son of Irish immigrants who had settled in the North. He is a gambler, strong and ruthless and full of self-confidence.

Quite a good read, as he makes wrong decisions in love, right moves in business and of course comes out in the end with his insouciance intact.

Arch of Triumph,
Erich Remarque, D Appleton-Century Company Inc, 1945, 455 pp
The fact that this was the #7 bestseller in 1946 shows how much the war still affected Americans in this year. It is more literary than most bestsellers, even back then.

A German surgeon is a refugee in Paris in 1941 or 1942, whichever year it was that Germany finally invaded France. He is "without papers" and knows the ropes of how to live this way and not get caught. Had he been caught, he would have faced being sent back to Germany and imprisoned. He has a love affair with a rather crazy woman, who could be a Simone de Beauvoir character.

It is a dark, unhappy but powerful story about displaced people who have moments of humor and even joy but are basically homeless in the world. It was one of my many favorites of the year.

The Black Rose, Thomas B Costain
Read in 1945, when it was #3 and reviewed in Books Read From 1945, Part One, posted on June 27, 2006.

B F's Daughter, John P Marquand, Little Brown and Company, 1946, 439 pp
The #9 bestseller is another war story. B F is a self-made millionaire, but originally a small town boy. His daughter, Polly, was raised in this nouveau riche environment with neighbors who had had their wealth for generations. She is married to one of the "brain trust" boys who now spends most of his time in Washington, DC, doing PR for the war.

She had had an earlier love, one of the rich neighbor boys, but she married Tom as an act of rebellion against her father and his lifestyle. She still has money of her own, however. It all comes to a head in the book and there is quite a bit of psychotherapy babble, but it is a good story. Marquand is a smooth, accomplished writer whose specialty is evoking the full scene of an area with all its types and classes. An enjoyable read with yet another aspect of the effects of war on American people at home.

The Snake Pit, Mary Jane Ward, Random House, 1946, 278 pp
Virginia is a young bride from Evanston, IL, living in New York City with her new husband. They have money worries and she feels overwhelmed in the city. She is a fiction writer.

She suffers a nervous breakdown and ends up in a mental hospital. The book is an account of her experiences there and an expose of how bad it is. She gets drugged, electric shocked, put in ice packs and straight jackets. Ward balances the horror with Virginia's sense of humor, miraculously retained despite her mental state. Virginia finally gets up the fight to get out.

This was the #10 bestseller in 1946 and belongs in the category of raising awareness about social ills in America. It was harrowing, pretty well done and made into a movie, which I have not seen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The King's General, Daphne duMaurier, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1946, 369 pp
I started my reading for 1946 with the #1 bestseller of the year. It is historical fiction which concerns war. The time is 1640s and Parliament in England has created a Civil War in an effort to oust King Charles I. Basically merchants have risen up against the landed gentry and with Cromwell as their leader, want reforms.

The characters in this book are Royalists, fighting for the King and are mostly inhabitants of Cornwall. The main character, Honor, written in first person, takes the viewpoint that war has ruined their way of life. She had been betrothed to Richard Grenville, a wild and uncontrollable fellow, who becomes a general in the King's army. But Honor is crippled in an accident and refuses to marry him because of it, thought their love is true and strong. Ah, romantic fiction.

As the story progresses, she remains his "woman", a scandal in those times. She learns that his character is quite flawed and of course they are doomed. It is a good story and kept me reading. The tone is sadness and loss and duMaurier puts you right there in the period. The message is that war solves nothing, only creates destruction and it is definitely from a woman's point of view.

This Side of Innocence, Taylor Caldwell, The Sun Dial Press, 1946, 499 pp
This was the #2 bestseller of 1946. I am not a big fan of Taylor Caldwell because her books are long, wordy and very melodramatic. This one was no exception. The story revolves around a family in New York State from 1868 to 1888. They are a banking family in the small town of Riversend. Jerome (son of William) and his cousin Alfred (who was adopted into the family) have been rivals and enemies from childhood. They fight over a woman and though Jerome wins her, they remain enemies to the end.

The characters are stereotypes, the descriptions are endless and the resolution of it all is somewhat improbable. The author has truths to tell: about personalities, insanities, the state and character of the United States as it grows and changes. They are sound truths, but I wondered why the book was so popular. The melodrama must have appealed to women readers. I read The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Stephen L Carter around the same time that I read this book. Carter's book was a bestseller in 2002 and I think This Side of Innocence was its 1946 equivalent.

The River Road, Frances Parkinson Keyes, Julian Messner Inc, 1945, 622 pp
Overall I had a very good time reading the books for 1946 and this book, at #3 on the bestseller list, was one of the reasons. It took a long time to read. The print was very small, so it was probably more like 1200 pages, and the writing is loaded with description and historical data, but it was an incredibly good story.

The River Road runs along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was originally a long series of sugar plantations, mostly owned and worked by Creole people, who became a kind of aristocracy in the region with fixed customs and social pretensions.

As the story opens, it is 1918. A son of one of these families comes home from World War I a hero and marries a "common" girl. The grandmother, a neurotic hypocondriac and matriarch of the family, rules with an iron will but cannot prevent social changes in the world. The sugar industry has a couple of disastrous decades between the two world wars and if it hadn't been for new blood marrying in, this plantation would have died away like most of those around it did. So it is the story of the struggle to hold on, what that struggle does to the various characters and how the next generation carries on. This IS the story in the 1940s.

The book ends as World War II is ending. Merry, the "common" girl who married into the family, has an entire story herself. She is very talented and really the woman behind the man, but after too many heartbreaking experiences, she leaves the man and has eight years in Paris and New York as an executive in a department store chain.

In the end, she returns to her family and takes up her wifely, motherly and womanly duties, but she never has happiness again. Thus it is also the story of youth, starting out with hopes and loves, getting beaten down by life and passing the torch to the new generation.

This author writes most of her novels in a New Orleans setting and in this book, she brought the River Road to life so completely for me that I wanted to go to Louisiana and drive it. It is still on the map in my road atlas. I did not follow up on my impulse and how sad is that, because I am sure that after Hurricane Katrina, the River Road is not the same.

The Miracle of the Bells, Russell Janney, Prentice-Hall Inc, 1946, 511 pp
Here we have the #4 bestseller of the year and although it is sappy and melodramatic beyond belief, the author pulled it off and had me loving every minute. It is a story of hope, of the power of God working through human beings to better conditions and about the basic goodness of man.

A young girl from a coalmining town in Pennsylvania, makes it to Hollywood, films a highly successful picture and then dies of TB, which she had contracted in her youth in Coaltown. Her friend, Bill Dunnigan, a publicity man for New York and Los Angeles entertainment, takes her body home to be buried. Using his PR skills, he basically remakes the town. People cross all religious and class lines to work together, the villains get transformed into heros and everybody wins.

The story is told so well, it is almost believable. It is the hope of man and I think that is what America was dreaming of after World War II.

The Hucksters, Frederic Wakeman, Rinehart & Company Inc, 1946, 307 pp
Now at #5 comes the other side of the picture as far as public relations goes. The book is contemporary for 1946. The war is going on, but Victor Norman has just left the Office of War Information and come back to New York. He is a radio promotion man, very confident and competent. His biggest asset is that he doesn't give a damn, while everyone else in the business kisses ass continuously.

He gets a great job in an advertising firm which takes him to Hollywood, where he falls in love with a married woman whose husband is off fighting the war. It was a good portrayal of the industry, showing how radio is driven by the sponsors and how crazy that world is. It was a good tale about a hard-boiled man finding love and almost losing his free-spirited approach to life.

The love affair was the weakest writing in the book, but is probably what made it a bestseller because it was undoubtedly racy for its time.

Friday, July 14, 2006


1945 is just two years away from the year of my birth: 1947. I have parents now, since they got married last year. I have two sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles and even some cousins. Three of my cousins are older than I am and we visited them every summer of my life, until I went away to college.

1945 is the war, the war, the war. This is not much different from the last two years, except that it is like March in a temperate climate. No matter how much it snows or how strong the bitter winds, you know that it is almost over and that spring is around the corner. At least, that is how I felt as I read book after book about THE WAR.

But I suspect for Americans, not to mention Europeans and Japanese, it was an exercise in hanging in there, being short of almost everything and dreading to find out that another one of your loved ones was dead. There was good news for the Allies as the year went by. Hitler had pretty much lost in Russia and was losing right there in Germany. FDR died on April 12 and Vice President Truman took over, but Generals Patton, Eisenhower and MacArthur were on a roll and didn't miss a beat. By April 30, the defeat of Germany was so complete that Hitler committed suicide and the remains of the German Army surrendered unconditionally on May 7. War ended in Europe on VE Day, May 8. The United Nations Charter was signed on June 26, excluding Spain. This had been FDR's main concern in the last months of his life: planning for peace and finding a way to prevent another world war.

In July, the first atom bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert, proving that we had the ultimate weapon. Less than a month later an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6 and three days later on Nagasaki, wiping out both cities and killing over 100,000 people. World War II ended on August 14 as the Japanese capitulated, signing an unconditional surrender on September 2.

There were 45 million dead including 10 million from the Nazi camps. Even now, 61 years later, I feel a sensation of dread. Victory is victory, but I don't feel that it was sweet. Having created the hugest, most destructive war in the history of earth, having created a weapon capable of wiping out mankind, the peoples of earth destined themselves to live under a cloud of potential annihilation. I have lived my whole life under that cloud.

Most of the books I read from 1945 were about World War II in some way or about war and imperialism in other times. There were also books about women getting a new awareness of themselves as human beings and Blacks getting a new awareness of needing rights. These are both products of the war, because women went to work and Blacks went to war. Actually, women also went to war and Blacks also went to work making war materials.

In film, "Going My Way" won Best Picture, Best Director (Leo McCarey) and Best Actor (Bing Crosby.) "Gaslight" took Best Actress (Ingrid Berman.) Popular songs included "Sentimental Journey," "Rum and Coca Cola," "There! I've Said It Again," and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe." "Carousel" was the top musical comedy and bebop was the latest jazz craze.

Vitamin A was synthesized, but the big news in science and technology was the first atom bomb being successfully detonated outside Alamogodo, NM. At some point in my childhood, growing up in Princeton, NJ, I was taken by a German friend of my parents to meet Oppenheimer. I remember a very sad and troubled man, who had no idea how to atone for what he had helped create.

The United States federal government tried to make the transition from a war-time to a peace-time economy less drastic than after WW I, but according to my parents, it was still tough and economics were confused. My dad was discharged from the army in the spring of this year, right after the war in Europe was won. His last duties involved renegotiation of government contracts and traveling to companies around the US.

When my parents left Philadelphia, where my dad had been stationed, they moved their belongings to his parent's home in Pittsburgh, PA, and then took a trip in the family car to visit old friends at Valparaiso University, their alma mater, and in Grand Blanc, MI where my mom used to teach. Then Daddy went back to work for US Steel in Pittsburgh and they moved in with his parents. My dad missed out on all pay raises while he was in the service and returned at his former salary.

My mom began the battle with her mother-in-law, which went on for as long as they lived in Pittsburgh. They ran the house together while my dad and grandfather went to work and brought home the income. I have a feeling that those four years of living with her in-laws were some of the unhappiest years of my mom's life. It was a classic case of no woman being good enough for my grandma's first born son, plus the fact that my dad was very close to his mother. My grandma and grandpa were alcoholics after 5:00 pm every day, which was shocking to my mom. The two women had differences about cleaning, cooking and raising babies. But more about that later.

I get the feeling that there was plenty of confusion in American life in this year and the next, as soldiers came home and re-entered civilian life. In the literature of 1945 there is nothing about the bomb, but I predict that will come in the next few years along with all the Holocaust literature. Though Americans must have generally felt that they did the right thing in putting a stop to Hitler and fascism and Japanese aggression, though they must have been proud of helping to win the war, already in meetings of world leaders it was becoming apparent that though Russian was one of the Allies during the war, they had a different plan for the future than the United States did. The Cold War, which will be a major topic in the 1950s, began right away even if it was not yet called by that name.

The stage is set for rapid change. Never again will the United States practice isolationism. The map of Europe was changed once again, but the countries, no matter what they were called, were in ruins. Other strong issues were prejudice against Jews and Blacks, fear of Communism and economic reorganization. My dad and possibly my mom were aware of antisemitism and racism and not in favor of either. Especially my dad had picked up plenty of ideas about these areas of life in college from reading several liberal Christian publications. My sisters and I were raised to abhor intolerance of other religions and racial prejudice. I found these ideas in the books of 1945.

The big question was, where do we go from here? It has been the question of my lifetime and many have come up with possible solutions and scenarios. I have been involved in several of these. Having now read the fiction from 1940 to 1945, I am beginning to see the ways that history and my parents' views set me on such a path.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


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.

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.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Continuing with the bestsellers from 1945:

A Lion Is In The Streets, Adria Locke Langley, McGraw-Hill Book Company Inc, 1945, 482 pp
This was the #6 bestseller of 1945 and was a very interesting book. It is the story of Hank Martin, who came from an extremely poor Mississippi family and worked his way up to governor of the state. His wife is Verity, who came from Philadelphia Quakers, whose mother ran an orphanage and who started out with Hank, completely in love. At the time when I read this book, I was not aware of the infamous Huey Long. I have since read All The King's Men and now realize that this book must be another fictional interpretation of that man.

Anyway, Hank was a natural born politician and supplemented his public appeal with shady deals. He spent much time away from Verity and she grew away from him as her awareness of his activities grew. In the end, Hank is killed and Verity is free from her problem: how to be a loyal wife to a man whose acts she did not condone.

In many places I thought the writing was overly melodramatic, but then Hank was a melodramatic personality. All the dialogue was in Southern dialect which really set the locale. While it was not great literature, it was entertaining and dealt with a uniquely American political situation which seems to go on today with some of our Presidents.

So Well Remembered, James Hilton, Little Brown and Company, 1945, 284 pp
The #7 bestseller of 1945 is set in England in a small town which had grown up around a cotton mill in the 1800s. The main character is George Boswell, son of a millworker, who has an optimistic outlook and raised himself up to being a councilman of the town. His goals are to improve the town by getting rid of the slums and making education available to all the children.

The story of the original millowner's family runs along with the main story and intersects when George marries Olivia, the remaining daughter. Her father had been convicted of some kind of financial scam and was in prison during all of her childhood. Her mother went off with another man and Olivia grew up to be a very strange young woman. Her character is much less well-defined than George's. I didn't feel that I understood her and I'm not sure the author did either.

She and George had a son who died as a toddler during a diphtheria epidemic. George had gotten free immunization for the town, but Olivia never got the shot for their baby. This basically ruins their marriage, she leaves, meets another man and divorces George. In the end, during WWII, George meets Charles, the son of Olivia and her second husband, and saves him from the obsessive, possessive clutches of Olivia.

I did like the way Hilton unfolded the story with several sections of present and back story. I liked George and disliked Olivia. I think the author was trying to contrast hope and cynicism, which was surely a dichotomy of the times. Overall the novel was OK but didn't work for me.

Captain From Castile,Samuel Shellabarger, The Sun Dial Press, 1945, 503 pp
At #8, this was a thoroughly enjoyable swashbuckling romance. The time is early 1500s, the setting is Spain and the New World, which at that time was the West Indies and Mexico. The most adventurous men of Spain are following Columbus' voyages and are bent on conquest of new land for the King of Spain and the glory of God. It is the time of the Inquisition as well.

Pedro de Vargas is 19 and son of a renowned Spanish cavalier. He and his family are accused of heresy because a neighbor, the evil dude of the story, wants their land. Throughout the story, Pedro gets into one impossibly bad situation after another and escapes every time due to wits, bravery and no fear of pain. He thinks he wants Luisa, a high-born noble young woman, but he actually loves Catana, a wench from a local cantina. He has a great friend, Juan Garcia, who helps him out of scrapes. Pedro, Juan and Catana become part of Cortez' army and help to take Mexico. It is a brutal rape and plunder of the Aztec civilization, carried out for fortune, honor, Christianity but most of all for adventure.

There is a very happy ending and it is brought about, as is the whole story, by excellent writing, characterization and setting. I wonder if some author in 2400 will write historical fiction about this era and make it sound as exciting and romantic.

Earth and High Heaven, Gwethalyn Graham, The Sun Dial Press, 1944, 288 pp
Bestseller #9 of 1945 brings us back to current times. It is a love story with a twist. Set in Montreal, Canada, the woman is of a wealthy Protestant family, the man is a Jew and also in the mix is the French Roman Catholic segment. It is 1942, the war is raging and the hapless couple are almost destroyed emotionally by prejudice.

It is a pretty heavy book for a bestseller with long passages of psychological explanations for what goes on between the woman and her parents, etc. But it is also very true to life, has good characters and dialogue, and was probably fairly racy for its time. It is a radical plea for overcoming prejudice and makes the bold assertion that it is people standing up for truth who make changes. In the end, love wins and I cried.

Immortal Wife, Irving Stone, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1944, 505 pp
Jessie Fremont was the wife of John Fremont in the 1800s. John was an explorer of the West, which was his favorite occupation. But he also ran for President against James Buchanan and lost. He was a gold miner in California and a railroad builder. He was an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. No matter what he did, he did it well, courageously and to the hilt. But he always lost, mainly because he was an adventurer, impulsive and a bit too much for the people around him. So he was court-martialed, sued and taken advantage of financially.

Jessie made a life-long project out of being the perfect wife. As much as a woman could in those times, she went into the fray with him. She wrote, she organized and she kept her man from despair. For a strong woman at that point in history, she found adventure by living for and through a man.

It was an exciting read. Some of the parts were a bit overdone on Jessie's sacrifices for John (probably that perfect wife stuff really hit home for American women in 1945), but overall a great book. It was the #10 bestseller in 1945.