Monday, February 29, 2016

Best-Selling Books from 1895-1909

I was looking for information on best-selling novels in the United States and came across these lists from Publisher's Weekly on Wikipedia. They start in 1895 because that's when they started making lists of best-sellers apparently. Because I am obsessed with books I started counting how many I have read in each decade. (Spoiler alert: my big decade was the 1980s.)

I recognize the names of several authors but not the novels on these lists: J.M. Barrie (famous today only for Peter Pan), Frances Hodgson Burnett (now only remembered for The Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and The Secret Garden), Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, Gunga Din, and several others), Edith Wharton, Elinor Glyn, Booth Tarkington, Owen Wister (many western novels made into films later), and Arthur Conan Doyle (still famous today for Sherlock Holmes).

And regarding Arthur Conan Doyle: a book named Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was a bigger seller than The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902!

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair is still famous for exposing the terrible things happening in meatpacking facilities and inspiring the Safe Food and Drug Act of 1906.

I also discovered that there was a popular author named Winston Churchill who was no relation to the later much-more-famous British Prime Minister.

The novel Trilby featured a character named Svengali. The original novel is mostly forgotten but "Svengali" is still in use as a derogatory word. It means a person who controls and dominates an actor or singer with evil intent. The author George du Maurier is mostly forgotten now but his daughter Sylvia had 5 sons who inspired J.M. Barrie to write Peter Pan and his granddaughter Daphne du Maurier is still famous for her novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn.

The Clansman by Thomas Dixon Jr. is still famous today as the source of the D.W. Griffith film "The Birth of a Nation", the film that glorified the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.

I recognize some of the book titles, if not always the authors, from movies: "Quo Vadis", "When Nighthood was in Flower", "The Prisoner of Zenda", "The Virginian", "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm", and "The Garden of Allah". I'm sure several more must have been filmed as novels are obvious sources for movies even today.

Except for the first few chapters of The Jungle I have read none of these books. Most of them are forgotten today. 

Next time: the 1910s and 1920s!

Note: some titles recur on the lists because they were popular in both years.

How many have YOU read?

  1. Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian Maclaren
  2. Trilby by George du Maurier
  3. The Adventures of Captain Horn by Frank R. Stockton
  4. The Manxman by Hall Caine
  5. The Princess Aline by Richard Harding Davis
  6. The Days of Auld Lang Syne by Ian Maclaren
  7. The Master by Israel Zangwill
  8. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  9. Degeneration by Max Nordau
  10. My Lady Nobody by Maarten Maartens
  1. Tom Grogan by Francis Hopkinson Smith
  2. A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  3. The Seats of the Mighty by Gilbert Parker
  4. A Singular Life by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward
  5. The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic
  6. A House-Boat on the Styx by John Kendrick Bangs
  7. Kate Carnegie by Ian Maclaren
  8. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  9. Sentimental Tommy by J. M. Barrie
  10. Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush by Ian Maclaren
  1. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  2. The Choir Invisible by James Lane Allen
  3. Soldiers of Fortune by Richard Harding Davis
  4. On the Face of the Waters by Flora Annie Steel
  5. Phroso by Anthony Hope
  6. The Christian by Hall Caine
  7. Margaret Ogilvy by J. M. Barrie
  8. Sentimental Tommy by J. M. Barrie
  9. Pursuit of the House-Boat by John Kendrick Bangs
  10. The Honorable Peter Stirling by Paul Leicester Ford
  1. Caleb West by Francis Hopkinson Smith
  2. Hugh Wynne by Silas Weir Mitchell
  3. Penelope's Progress by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  4. Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mary Augusta Ward
  5. Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
  6. The Pride of Jennico by Agnes and Egerton Castle
  7. The Day's Work by Rudyard Kipling
  8. Shrewsbury by Stanley J. Weyman
  9. Simon Dale by Anthony Hope
  10. (tie) The Adventures of Fran├žois by Silas Weir Mitchell and The Battle of the Strong by Gilbert Parker
  1. David Harum by Edward Noyes Westcott
  2. When Knighthood Was in Flower by Charles Major
  3. Richard Carvel by Winston Churchill
  4. The Day's Work by Rudyard Kipling
  5. Red Rock by Thomas Nelson Page
  6. Aylwin by Theodore Watts-Dunton
  7. Janice Meredith by Paul Leicester Ford
  8. Mr. Dooley in Peace and War by Finley Peter Dunne
  9. No. 5 John Street by Richard Whiteing
  10. The Market Place by Harold Frederic
  1. To Have and to Hold by Mary Johnston
  2. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley
  3. Unleavened Bread by Robert Grant
  4. The Reign of Law by James Lane Allen
  5. Eben Holden by Irving Bacheller
  6. Janice Meredith by Paul Leicester Ford
  7. The Redemption of David Corson by Charles Frederic Goss
  8. Richard Carvel by Winston Churchill
  9. When Knighthood Was in Flower by Charles Major
  10. Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson
  1. The Crisis by Winston Churchill
  2. Alice of Old Vincennes by Maurice Thompson
  3. The Helmet of Navarre by Bertha Runkle
  4. The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
  5. Eben Holden by Irving Bacheller
  6. The Visits of Elizabeth by Elinor Glyn
  7. The Puppet Crown by Harold MacGrath
  8. The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay by Maurice Hewlett
  9. Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon
  10. D'ri and I by Irving Bacheller
  1. The Virginian by Owen Wister
  2. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch by Alice Caldwell Hegan Rice
  3. Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall by Charles Major
  4. The Mississippi Bubble by Emerson Hough
  5. Audrey by Mary Johnston
  6. The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker
  7. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. The Two Vanrevels by Booth Tarkington
  9. The Blue Flower by Henry van Dyke
  10. Sir Richard Calmady by Lucas Malet
  1. Lady Rose's Daughter by Mary Augusta Ward
  2. Gordon Keith by Thomas Nelson Page
  3. The Pit by Frank Norris
  4. Lovey Mary by Alice Hegan Rice
  5. The Virginian by Owen Wister
  6. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch by Alice Hegan Rice
  7. The Mettle of the Pasture by James Lane Allen
  8. Letters of a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer
  9. The One Woman by Thomas Dixon, Jr.
  10. The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr.
  1. The Crossing by Winston Churchill
  2. The Deliverance by Ellen Glasgow
  3. The Masquerader by Katherine Cecil Thurston
  4. In the Bishop's Carriage by Miriam Michelson
  5. Sir Mortimer by Mary Johnston
  6. Beverly of Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon
  7. The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come by John Fox, Jr.
  8. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  9. My Friend Prospero by Henry Harland
  10. The Silent Places by Stewart Edward White
  1. The Marriage of William Ashe by Mary Augusta Ward
  2. Sandy by Alice Hegan Rice
  3. The Garden of Allah by Robert Hichens
  4. The Clansman by Thomas Dixon, Jr.
  5. Nedra by George Barr McCutcheon
  6. The Gambler by Katherine Cecil Thurston
  7. The Maquerader by Katherine Cecil Thurston
  8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  9. The Princess Passes by C.N. Williamson and A.M. Williamson
  10. Rose o' the River by Kate Douglas Wiggin
  1. Coniston by Winston Churchill
  2. Lady Baltimore by Owen Wister
  3. The Fighting Chance by Robert W. Chambers
  4. The House of a Thousand Candles by Meredith Nicholson
  5. Jane Cable by George Barr McCutcheon
  6. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  7. The Awakening of Helena Richie by Margaret Deland
  8. The Spoilers by Rex Beach
  9. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  10. The Wheel of Life by Ellen Glasgow
  1. The Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little
  2. The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
  3. The Port of Missing Men by Meredith Nicholson
  4. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. The Brass Bowl by Louis Joseph Vance
  6. Satan Sanderson by Hallie Erminie Rives
  7. The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon
  8. The Younger Set by Robert W. Chambers
  9. The Doctor by Ralph Connor
  10. Half a Rogue by Harold MacGrath
  1. Mr. Crewe's Career by Winston Churchill
  2. The Barrier by Rex Beach
  3. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox, Jr.
  4. The Lure of the Mask by Harold MacGrath
  5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  6. Peter by F. Hopkinson Smith
  7. Lewis Rand by Mary Johnston
  8. The Black Bag by Louis Joseph Vance
  9. The Man from Brodney's by George Barr McCutcheon
  10. The Weavers by Gilbert Parker
  1. The Inner Shrine by Basil King
  2. Katrine by Elinor Macartney Lane
  3. The Silver Horde by Rex Beach
  4. The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart
  5. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox, Jr.
  6. Truxton King by George Barr McCutcheon
  7. 54-40 or Fight by Emerson Hough
  8. The Goose Girl by Harold MacGrath
  9. Peter by F. Hopkinson Smith
  10. Septimus by William J. Locke

Friday, February 26, 2016

1919 by John Dos Passos

    • 1919 by John Dos Passos
    • Published 1932
    • Second in the U.S.A. Trilogy
    • This volume follows 5 different characters --- Joe, Richard, Eveline, Daughter and Ben. Three of the five main characters from the first book make appearances in smaller roles as their orbits collide with the new characters.
    • The narrative covers the period from 1914 through 1919, the period of World War I and its immediate aftermath.

    • As in the first book there are four different narrative styles:
      • The main narrative featuring the stories of the five new characters.
      • The newsreels which offer a stream-of-consciousness collection of newspaper headlines and articles, popular songs, and other things.
      • The Camera Eye which is a stream-of-consciousness autobiography of Dos Passos during these years.
        • These add nothing to the reading experience and are entirely skimmable or skippable.
      • Short biographies of people from the era:
        • John Reed, Randolph Bourne, Theodore Roosevelt, Paxton Hibben, Woodrow Wilson, J.P. Morgan, Joe Hill, Wesley Everest and The Unknown Soldier.
          • I have heard of five of them: Reed (Warren Beatty played him in "Reds"), Roosevelt, Wilson, Morgan and the Unknown Soldier.
          • Hill and Everest were members of the IWW (International Workers of the World or "Wobblies") while Bourne and Hibben were progressives of the era.
    • I was disappointed that the main characters from the first book appear so little in this second book if they even appear at all.
    • I will read the final book down the line. Since the next book concentrates on new characters there is no reason to rush to it. It covers the 1920s so it should be interesting.
    • Overall I am liking these books but not loving them. But they cover a time of U.S. history I am not as familiar with and that makes it a real learning experience.
    • Several characters change circumstances easily. For example, a guy has a girlfriend (or gets married) and then decides he doesn't want to be with her anymore so he just leaves. He can get a job elsewhere and the girlfriend/wife will never be able to find him.
      • This is something that is much more difficult to manage in our time. In the 1910s how did people identify themselves?! Driver's licenses were only just beginning to exist; Social Security was still 20 years in the future. It was such a different world just 100 years ago.
    • The characters in these books sleep around with abandon, get venereal diseases, and drink to excess. Many of the men get their pay and drink it all up or use it on prostitutes. Then they end up in flophouses or on the street until the next payday. 
      • It seems a precarious life. During the war years the prevailing thought was apparently "spend it all today because you may not be alive tomorrow". But then some people still live like this even now so I suppose it is a facet of human nature.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor

    • The Girl Who Came Home (A Novel of the Titanic) by Hazel Gaynor
    • Published April 1, 2014
    • Other books by the author:
      • A Memory of Violets (A Novel of London's Flower Sellers)
      • The Girl from the Savoy

    • The novel takes a real story about the RMS Titanic and fictionalizes it.
    • Fourteen people from an Irish village emigrate to America on the Titanic as third class passengers.
    • The story is mostly told through a 17-year-old girl named Maggie and, 70 years later in 1982, her granddaughter Grace.
    • Maggie has lost both her parents and is moving to Chicago to live with her aunt but she has to leave behind her sweetheart Seamus.
    • The Titanic sinks in April 1912 (oops, spoiler alert) and we know from the start that Maggie survives because she's alive in 1982 but who else makes it and whatever became of her Irish sweetheart?

    • I am a fairly big Titanic buff but I did not know about the Addergoole 14. They left Ireland on the Titanic and only 3 survived, a huge loss to the small village. The story handles the outcome differently, however, so the fictional survivor total may or may not match.
    • The book was fine. I enjoyed the details of how the novel's passengers, all third class, viewed their accommodations. And the sinking is always tense, no matter the venue.
    • The book suffers in one big way: comparisons to the film "Titanic". 
      • Maggie could be Rose (Kate Winslet's character) if Rose was in third class. Grace could be elderly Rose's (Gloria Stuart's character) granddaughter. 
      • Most of us have seen Kate and Leo and the sinking of the Titanic. You picture those scenes as you read. It's difficult not to!
      • There's a plot point involving missing letters similar to the film's missing "Heart of the Ocean" necklace. 
      • The ship has not been found yet in the book's story so there is no corresponding discovery vessel scene but the book in fact ends on September 1, 1985, the day Titanic's wreck was found by Robert Ballard and his team.
    • I am planning to read the author's novel about London flower girls. Since I know nothing about them (okay, except for Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady") it should be easier to keep from making comparisons.

    • Survey time! Should I include spoilers or plot synopses for the fiction books I read?
    • Sometimes I just want to know how a book ends without having to read it.
    • I think I will stick to my "sometime yes, sometimes no" methodology unless I hear some opinions on the subject. Thanks!
    • Okay, I lied. One small spoiler: Maggie ends up marrying a man named James, not Seamus. Hmmm....need I say more?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

    • Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
    • Published September 29, 2015
    • Book type:
      • Thriller
    • Other books by the author:
      • The Grant County series and the Will Trent series, both crime thrillers

    • Two estranged sisters Claire and Lydia, whose oldest sister Julia went missing (and is presumed dead) 20 years ago, come back together after Claire's husband Paul is murdered. 
    • Somehow Julia's disappearance and Paul's murder are linked. 
    • Claire is rich; Lydia is a former drug addict who's built a successful, but poorer, life.

    • The story moves along well and the main characters are fleshed out. Some minor characters are less well used.
      • For example, Lydia has a 17-year-old daughter who appears throughout a couple of early chapters. Then she disappears from the narrative with only a couple of mentions after that. 
      • Claire is wary of the various personnel --- police, sheriffs, FBI agents --- but they were all portrayed so similarly at the beginning that I kept losing track of which was which. One of them IS a bad guy but when they are ALL portrayed as arrogant assholes, well, that just seems like writing meant to obfuscate for the sake of obfuscating.
    • The crimes uncovered are sexually violent towards women and NOT for the squeamish. Seriously, they are awful.
    • The main culprit is a complete sociopath, no shades of gray, all black.
    • One bit of randomness: Claire, the "perfect" wife-then-widow, is on probation for assault, whacking her long-time tennis partner in the knee. I suppose this is the reason she is wary of the police.
      • The tennis player commented on a currently missing young woman in the vein of "it's her own fault she's missing, for going out drinking at bars". Claire, sensitive because people said similar things about her own long-missing sister, whacks her partner hard on the knee and tells her it's her own fault for playing tennis. Ha!
    • I might be too enamoured of the word "serviceable" but it fits here. A serviceable crime thriller.
    • I don't love these types of books but I don't mind reading an occasional volume.

    • Claire's husband faked his death (I forget why). He is the main kidnapper, torturer and killer of dozens of missing girls over the past 20 years, including long-missing Julia. 
    • His father did it too and passed down the "family business" to his son. 
    • The extra dimension is that Paul always recorded each multiple torture session and death and sold them via the Internet. 
    • He always chose the same type of pretty girl and stalked them first. 
    • Paul, though married to Claire, is actually obsessed with Lydia. 
    • This is the cause of the sisters' estrangement: Paul tried to rape Lydia (and presumably would have tortured and killed her) and her family thought she was lying so they cut her off.
    • In the present day, he eventually kidnaps her, and tells her he ultimately plans to kidnap her daughter in a couple of years because she looks just like Julia, but Claire finds them and kills Paul, rescuing her sister. 
    • He also killed their father after showing him the tapes of Julia's torture and death. 
    • Oh, and the sheriff kept stonewalling the investigation into Julia's death because he was a participant in the crimes and he knew she was dead.
    • Fun stuff.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos

Another book that's been hanging out on my shelves for years. I am tackling John Dos Passos' U.S.A. Trilogy of which this is the first volume.

    • The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
    • Published in 1930
    • The other books in the trilogy: 1919 and The Big Money.

    • The main narrative of the U.S.A. Trilogy follows 12 characters over the first 3 decades of the 20th Century. The first book introduces 5 of them: Mac, Janey, Eleanor, Ward and Charley.
    • Each character's background is established from their childhoods and then follows them as adults as they make their way into the world during a period of great change: Victorian/Edwardian/Gilded Age into the "modern" world.
    • The 42nd parallel refers roughly to the location of New York City where most of the characters end up at some point in the story. 

    • Dos Passos uses 4 different types of prose:
      • The main narrative featuring the stories of the main 5 characters.
      • The Newsreels which feature a collection of headlines, newspaper article fragments and song lyrics. These are not necessarily presented in a straightforward way: some of the article fragments are run together in a stream-of-consciousness manner.
      • Short biographies of people famous in the first decades of the 20th Century. Eugene V. Debs, Andrew Carnegie, Luther Burbank, Minor Keith, Thomas Edison, William Jennings Bryan, Bill Haywood, Charles Steinmetz, and Robert La Follette. 
        • I only knew who 5 of these men were before I read this book!
          • For the record: Debs, Carnegie, Burbank (his home & gardens are 25 miles away from my house), Edison and Bryan. 
      • The Camera Eye which is stream-of-consciousness autobiography.

    • Dos Passos has a socialist bent at this point in his career (later in life he became a conservative) and writes with real feeling for the worker rather than the industrialists.
    • This is one of those books that makes more sense if you have a working knowledge of the era --- all the labor strife, the first world war, etc... --- but is not necessary. If you just want the story then you really only need to read the chapters about the characters, skipping the other three portions. I found it all fascinating, if weird sometimes.
    • There are a lot of instances of offensive terms and characters who are casual or overt racists in line with the times. I don't get the feeling that Dos Passos was a racist though. The more racist the character the more foolish he makes them.
    • Another candidate for the Great American Novel. I would say that for the period of 1900 to 1929 this is arguably a great choice.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler

This is the 3rd book in the Peculiar Crimes Unit mysteries featuring detectives Bryant & May. I will read a bunch of other things before I continue the series. The first book and second book were quite enjoyable and I really enjoyed this book as well.

Mysteries are difficult to say much about without spoiling anything so this will be short and sweet!

    • Seventy-Seven Clocks by Christopher Fowler
    • Published November 29, 2005

    • In this case I think a blurb from the cover will suffice: "Art vandalism, an exploding suspect, pornography, rat poison, Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, secret societies…and not a single suspect in sight. Detectives John May and Arthur Bryant may have finally met their match, and this time they’re really working against the clock…"
    • The prologue has Arthur Bryant recount the case to his biographer and then the story flashes back to December 1973.
    • And like all Peculiar Crime Unit mysteries it takes place in London. As I like to say, what's not to love?!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Fallout by Todd Strasser

    • Fallout by Todd Strasser
    • Published September 10, 2013
    • Other works: Over 100 Young Adult novels, most of which are geared towards middle school aged children and none of which I've read.
      • Which begs the question: What IS the definition of "young adult" in regard to books? Middle school kids are NOT young adults by any definition of the term.
    • This is an alternate history novel.
    • It's 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis is on the horizon. The American public lives in fear of nuclear Armageddon. 
    • Eleven-year-old Scott's father decides to build a bomb shelter. 
    • In this book the Crisis is not solved peaceably and bombs drop. Suddenly the shelter meant for Scott's family of four (and their housekeeper) is overwhelmed with 2 other families forcing their way into the shelter too.
    • Warning: Some spoilers ahead!
    • This is definitely middle school level reading as I finished the book in just over an hour. The chapters are short, 3-4 pages in most cases.
    • The chapters alternate between life in the shelter and the summer leading up to the bombing.
    • The arguments among the adults in the shelter were repetitive. Scott's mom is badly injured entering the shelter (thanks to a fall caused by the other families pushing their way in) and one of the men wants her put out of the shelter because she is using resources better saved for the rest of them. Oh, and he also wants to put out the housekeeper, just because she is black. A real prince of a guy.
      • This subject keeps coming up with Scott's father always answering, "Over my dead body".
    • There are minimal supplies in the shelter, barely adequate for 4 people much less 10, so the adults continually criticize the father for this too. But there are apparently enough batteries to keep a single flashlight on AT ALL TIMES over a two-week period! 
    • The story is told from the eyes of Scott but that means certain plot points never really get explanation. For instance, the mother is so badly injured that she is practically comatose in the shelter. She eventually wakes after a couple of days but never speaks and remains in a waking vegetative state for the whole book. And in the chapters before the bombing she scoffs at the husband's bomb shelter plans but it is never explained why she is so against it.
    • When Scott visits his friend Ronnie's house Ronnie's dad gives him Dubonnet to drink and ostentatiously reads a Playboy magazine in front of him (it's 1962, remember).
      • First, except for the fact that I knew it was some sort of alcohol, I had no idea what Dubonnet is (some sort of wine, apparently) so I highly doubt any middle schoolers will know what it is either!
      • Second, Ronnie's dad is an obvious creep but he ends up in the shelter where none of this is remotely brought up or made pertinent. (Ronnie's kind of a creep too for that matter.)
    • The rule about Chekov's gun is completely ignored! This is the dramatic rule that says if a gun is mentioned in the narrative it must be fired at some point. Otherwise it shouldn't even be mentioned. 
      • Scott discovers the gun box on the shelf when he goes to grab some food the first day in the shelter. Later, in a flashback chapter, he is looking for his dad's Playboys (which creepy Ronnie says every dad has somewhere) and he finds the newly purchased gun instead.
        • And then the gun is never used. So why mention it at all? In a middle schooler's book to boot!
    • Okay, obviously it is wrong to harshly judge a book written for pre-teens when one is in her 50s. But I read a lot of young adult literature and I am a sucker for apocalyptic stories. This one had so much potential and it was disappointing.