Saturday, May 24, 2008


Here begins the lists of books I read for 1953 as part of my Big Fat Reading Project. Briefly, that is an ongoing project in which I am reading the Top 10 Bestsellers and other selected books from every year beginning in 1940. I am doing this as research for my autobiography which has the working title of Reading For My Life.

To see the lists from earlier years, simply click on the label at the bottom of this post and you will get all posts for the Big Fat Reading Project, in reverse chronological order. Then scroll to find the year you want or go all the way to the end and read the posts from then to now. You will get quite an overview of literature from the second half of the 20th century.

1953 was unique in the number of bestsellers that had already appeared on the list in earlier years: three to be exact. Especially these days, it is very unusual for any novel to be a top 10 bestseller two years in a row. In 1953, the #1 book had been a bestseller in 1942, eleven years earlier! I don't know why that happened and if anyone does, please share the info with us in the comments.

Here we go:


The Robe, Lloyd C Douglas

This was the #1 bestseller in 1953. It was published in 1942 and was the #7 bestseller of that year. It is a story of the years immediately after the life of Jesus Christ. I reviewed it on March 1, 2006 in a post entitled "Books Read From 1942, Part Two."

The Silver Chalice, Thomas B Costain

At #2 on the list is a book which was #1 in 1952. It is a fictional account of the creation of the Holy Grail. Apparently Christianity was a big seller in 1953. In fact, The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version was #1 on the non-fiction list in both 1953 and 1954.

My review of The Silver Chalice appears in "Books Read From 1952, Part One" posted on February 10, 2008.

Desiree, Annemarie Selinko, William Morrow & Company, 1953, 594 pp

I was not looking forward to this book because of its length and in fact it took me three tries to get started reading it. It was #3 on the 1953 bestseller list and is actually a great story about the rise, reign and fall of Napoleon told through the eyes of a woman who once loved him.

Desiree was the daughter of a silk merchant in Marseilles. The story opens in 1794, shortly after the French Revolution and sometime during the Reign of Terror. Desiree meets and falls in love with the young Buonoparte (as he called himself in those days). She was only 16 and he had recently arrived with his mother and siblings from Sicily. He is an officer in the Republican army and gets engaged to Desiree, whom he seems to love but he is also in need of her dowry.

As Napoleon begins his rise to power, he throws her over for Josephine who can help him politically. Desiree, who was raised to know Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" by heart, believes in the Republic. She is a bold and daring young woman with a good mind. Comparisons to Forever Amber which I came across in various reviews, are only true in that both women were connected to men of power. Amber was merely an opportunist while Desiree had the good of France at heart.

Once I got going, which involved a bit of study on the history of France in this time period, I was not bored for even a page of this long novel. It filled in for me a part of history about which I knew little. The translation from German was lively and read like a contemporary historical novel. The theme is a cry for political freedom.

Battle Cry, Leon Uris, G P Putnam's Sons, 1953, 505 pp

This paean to the US Marines caused me to name a new genre: dick lit. It was the #4 bestseller in 1953 and takes place during World War II. I did not enjoy its 505 pages and felt it was a poor imitation of From Here to Eternity.

The boys, boot camp, the lovers, wives and whores, the drinking, the dirt, the battles, the esprit de corps; it's all there ad nauseum. The writing is mediocre. The theme is that war is just one of those things that have to get done and real men give their all against hopeless odds.

Leon Uris followed this first book with many other bestsellers, including Exodus and Armageddon, so we will see how his writing develops.

From Here to Eternity, James Jones

At #5 is the third book to have appeared on an earlier bestseller list. This book was #1 in 1951 and the movie came out in 1953, going on to win Best Picture in 1954. Both the book and the movie are excellent. My review of this novel was posted on October 5, 2007 in "Books Read From 1951, Part One."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:47 PM

    "Desiree" made an enormous impression on me. I was about 14 or 15 when I read the original German edition. I identified with the spunky French heroine and she and I became one as I read the book.
    A year or so later I became equally fascinated with Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind, but that's another story...

    signed, from A to Z