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Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen is a frivolous, funny, and forgettable tale about awkward 17-year-old’s first romance.

Willy Baxter looks at himself in mirror

A view of his trousers makes Willy break out in perspiration.

Gawky William Sylvanus Baxter, called Willie by his family and “Silly Billy” by his friends, is smitten with the charms of blue-eyed Miss Pratt, who is visiting the Parchers for the summer.


Seventeen by Booth Tarkington

Arthur William Brown, Illus. Grosset & Dunlap, 1915. 1916 bestseller #1. My grade: C.


Willie  and his pals compete for Miss Pratt’s attentions, congregating on the  porch off Mr. Parcher’s study.

Miss Pratt’s blue eyes are about the only thing in her head. She converses in baby talk through the medium of her lap dog, Flopit,.

Miss Pratt’s baby talk and her serenading suitors offend Mr. Parcher’s ears.

Willie’s younger sister, Jane, accidentally overhears Mr. Parcher telling his wife to rid of the girl and her satellites, especially Willie.

Jane promptly brings the story home to her mother.

Seventeen’s turn of the century setting has a certain charm, but it can’t conceal the triviality of the plot or the shallowness of the characters.

One summer is too short for a teen as dense as Willie to learn anything from his experience.

Willie doesn’t grow up a bit in this novel, and readers are the poorer because of it.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The list of bestselling novels of 1916 contains names of authors still highly regarded today, as well as names of some scarcely remembered authors who were as well known in their day as J. K. Rowling and Tom Clancy in ours.

In a departure from my routine, since some folks may be looking for a novel to read on their mobile devices while traveling this summer,  I’m going to link the titles to the Project Gutenberg pages where the novels can be downloaded and read for free.

As usual, however, the dates you can expect to see my reviews are in square brackets after the author’s name.
Project Gutenberg

  1. Seventeen by Booth Tarkington [July 23, 2016]
  2. When A Man’s a Man by Harold Bell Wright [July 26, 2016]
  3. Just David by Eleanor H. Porter [July 30, 2016]
  4. Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells [Aug. 2, 2016]
  5. Life and Gabriella: The Story of a Woman’s Courage by Ellen Glasgow [Aug. 6, 2016]
  6. The Real Adventure by Henry Kitchell Webster [Aug. 9, 2016]
  7. Bars of Iron by Ethel J. Dell [Aug. 13, 2016]
  8. Nan of Music Mountain by Frank H. Spearman [Aug. 16, 2016]
  9. Dear Enemy by Jean Webster [Aug. 20, 2016]
  10. The Heart of Rachael by Kathleen Thompson Norris [Aug. 23, 2016]

A poll of your favorites of the 1916 bestselling novels will be posted Aug. 27 and I’ll wrap up my picks of the list Aug. 30.

Happy reading.

Undoubtedly the best of the 1926 bestselling novels two are definitely “English” works, The Silver Spoon by John Galsworthy and The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson.

Both novels are written from the vantage point of  England in 1924.

My pick #1: The Hounds of Spring

lines from poem "The Hounds of Spring" on background of dog prints in snow

Lines from a poem by Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Thompson’s novel is about events of 1914-1924. She writes from the perspective of having lived through most of that decade as a teenager, as does the younger Renner daughter in Thompson’s novel.

The Renners lose a son over France.

The Renner’s also lose money in the war; 1924 finds them living in a London flat, their country estate with its stables, tennis courts, and gardens sold to pay debts.

More significant than those visible losses are their emotional losses as each family member realizes no one else feels their grief as keenly as they do.

Thompson takes her readers into the Renners’ lives to feel how they experienced the war and its aftermath.

Like a phone call about the accidental death of a loved one, The Hounds of Spring simply stuns readers as its events stunned the Renners.

My pick #2: The Silver Spoon

By contast, The Silver Spoon is definitely a post-war story.

title The Silver Spoon with P replaced by silver spoon

The bright young things of London society had their illusions thoroughly shattered by the guns and the gas, but in 1924 the Great War is history.

The Jazz Age young don’t want to remember the past.  They’re holding on with both hands to their privileged status: rich, pampered, and most of all, alive.

Against this background, Galsworthy looks at a husband’s love for his wife and a father’s love for his daughter.

Both husband and father are bewildered by how different their loved one’s view of the world is from their own. Parents and spouses will be able to identify with those feelings.

Thompson and Galsworthy make readers feel they know each novelist’s characters so well, they’d recognize them in the grocery line.

My pick #3: Blue Window/Sorrell and Son

For the third spot, it’s a toss-up between Temple Bailey’s The Blue Window
Quote from The Blue Window superimposed on blue semicircular window shutter
and Warwick Deeping’s Sorrell and Son. Man looking at job postings at employment agency

Both of these novels are fathoms below Thompson’s and Galsworthy’s work, but they are above the level of ordinary entertainment.


That wraps up our dip into the bestselling novels of 1926. On July 19, we’ll step back a decade to see more bestselling novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

Do you think one of the 1926 bestsellers is a standout? Or maybe you can’t decide among three.

Here’s a chance to give a tick to the titles of the 1926 bestselling novels you think have held up well.

I’ll wrap up with my top picks on Saturday, July 16.

~ Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Blue Window opens with the funeral of widow Elizabeth Carew at age 41, and ends with the marriage of her daughter, Hildegarde.

Between the two events is a predictable but charming romance given piquancy by Temple Bailey’s failure to establish a consistent point of view.


The Blue Window by Temple Bailey

Penn Publishing, 1926. 328 ps. 1926 bestseller #10. My Grade: B.


girl looks out window in illustration opposite title page of The Blue Window

Elizabeth left a letter for Hildegarde saying she was divorced, not widowed. Her still-living husband, Louis Carew, does not know he has a daughter.

Hildegard leaves her aunt’s farm to go to her father’s estate near Chesapeake Bay.

She also leaves Crispin Harlowe, her dear friend, who loves her but whom she does not love.

Carew is delighted with his beautiful daughter: She might attract the money he needs to keep his estate.

While Hildegarde is being groomed, gowned, and feted, the story’s focus shifts to Crispin.

Crispin graduates, goes to work in a Washington D. C. law firm, and buys a house near Mount Vernon.

He never gives up believing Hildegarde will marry him.

There’s nothing particularly novel about the story, but Bailey draws her portraits well, with the exception of Louis Carew, whose peculiarities are mainly told rather than shown.

The Blue Window will entertain throughout, and occasionally will grab with a particularly well-crafted observation.

© 2016 by Linda Gorton Aragoni

For the first 200 pages, Susan Ertz’s After Noon is an enjoyable, plausible story.

Then it becomes preposterous.


After Noon by Susan Ertz

A. L. Burt, 1926. 338 p. 1926 bestseller #9. My Grade: B-.


black and white sketch of forest scene is front cover of After NoonCharles Lester’s life had walked out on him in Italy, leaving behind a note, a check for a hundred pounds, and their twin baby daughters.

Almost 20 years later, a happily celibate Charles has paid the divorce costs, become a successful accountant, and is enjoying life with daughters Venetia and Caroline.

One evening a Mrs. Lydia Chalmers phones, having been told by one of his clients to look Charles up when she gets to England.

Charles extends appropriate courtesies.

Soon Lydia is a regular part of the Lesters’ lives.

Both daughters marry in haste, Venetia to accompany a soldier who’s posted to India and Caroline to assist a comrade in making war on capitalism.

With the girls gone, Charles and Lydia marry.

Tying the knot apparently shuts off the oxygen to Lydia’s brain.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, she convinces herself Charles regrets their marriage. To test him, she intends to leave him, hoping he’ll come after her.

Nothing in Lydia’s prior behavior prepares readers for such self-destructive stupidity.

Ertz rescues the marriage.

She can’t save the novel.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A riverboat owner facing competition from the railroad in the waning years of the 19th century buys a successful touring company, the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theater.

To secure the company of his adored daughter, Magnolia, Capt. Andy Hawkes convinces his wife, Parthenia, to sail with the company.


Showboat by Edna Ferber

Doubleday, Page. 1926. 398 p. My grade: C.


Showboat first edition cover shows crowd going up gangplank to see the showThe child loves the life and riverboat people and is loved in return.

In her teens, Maggie becomes a part of the acting company, much to the distress of her rigid, narrow-minded mother.

Maggie marries a charming riverboat gambler who had joined the company during one of his losing streaks.

After several feast-or-famine years, Gaylord deserts Maggie and their daughter in Chicago, just as Maggie’s mother had predicted.

To support herself, Maggie returns to the stage to put Kim through convent school.

Meanwhile, Parthenia has taken over operation of the showboat after Capt. Andy drowned in an accident.

When Parthenia dies, Maggie returns to the showboat.

It’s easy to see why Showboat was turned into a Broadway musical: Edna Ferber’s novel reads like notes for a play.

All the elements of a drama are present in the novel—strongly drawn characters, conflict, pathos, romance—but there’s no life in the thing.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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