Time Out of Mind is a fictional memoir penned by Kate Fernald,  a woman about 50.

Kate writes about what happened because her father forgot to take his jacket some 40 years before.

Time Out of Mind   by Rachel Field

MacMilllian, 1935. 462 pages. 1935 bestseller #4. My grade: A-.

After Kate’s father’s death, her mother became housekeeper for the Fortunes, a Maine shipbuilding family that refused to adapt to the age of steam.

Living on the premises, Kate was thrown together with the Fortune children, Rissa and Nat.Black type on red ground: Cover of "Time Out of Mind" by Rachel Field

Kate adored Nat, even risking Major Fortune’s displeasure to help Rissa arrange for Nat to play the piano, which their father had strictly forbidden in his attempt to make a man of his son.

When he discovered the children’s deliberate disobedience, the Major sent 11-year-old Nat to sea on the last vessel the Fortune Shipyard built.

Nat had to be carried off when the ship returned a year later.

From then on, enabling Nat to write and conduct music became the focus of Rissa’s life.

Rissa takes Nat abroad, returning only when she needs money. Nat returns because Maine is in his blood.

Kate asserts that chance rules life, but Rachel Field’s story shows clearly the role choice plays in events.

Field leaves nothing to chance in her management of the plot or her depiction of character.

Time Out of Mind is not just a book. It’s an immersion in memory.

 © Linda Gorton Aragoni

Thomas Wolfe is one of the great exemplars of the “writing is rewriting” school of literature.

Wolfe’s editor appears to have gotten tired of waiting for him to finish reworking the material in Of Time and the River and published several rewrites before Wolfe figured out what he wanted to say.

 Of Time and the River   by Thomas Wolfe

A Legend of Man’s Hunger in his Youth. Charles Scribner, 1935. 886 pages. 1935 bestseller #3. My grade: C-.

Dust jacket for "Of Time and the River" by Thomas Wolfe: white type on wave-like pattern.A southern boy, Eugene Pentland, is studying play writing at Harvard. After his father’s death, Eugene returns home.

On that slender thread, Wolfe hangs odd bits of writing, but there’s no actual plot.

Eugene attracts, or is attracted to, eccentrics, weirdos, and nutcases. Wolfe tells their stories without weaving them into Eugene’s.

While the stories are often compelling — the description of Eugene’s father’s death is a prime example — the stories cannot stand alone and serve no clear purpose in the overall book.

Some of Wolfe’s writing is sure and clean, but large portions are sluggish and bloated: I counted 149 words in one sentence.

Certain descriptions, like that of the Boston train station, appear more than once, giving the impression that Wolfe hadn’t decided where to put it.

The novel is an “interesting” book rather than a good one. In the last analysis, Of Time and the River accomplishes nothing except to prove that great writers don’t necessarily write great books.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Fincastle family of Ironside is what, in the early 1900s was referred to as “salt of the earth folks.”

Poor, hardworking, highly principled, they can be counted on to tend the sick, comfort the dying, stick up for the outcast.

Vein of Iron  by Ellen Glasgow

Harcourt, Brace, 1935. 462 pages. 1935 bestseller #2. My Grade: B.

1930's commercial street  scene is on cover of paperback edition of Vein of Iron The boy Ada Fincastle plans to marry, Ralph McBride, is accused of getting a local girl pregnant. The families force Ralph to marry her.

Awaiting a divorce, Ralph entices Ada to spend a weekend with him before he is sent off to France.

Ada goes through the disgrace of an unwed pregnancy.

After the Armistice, they marry.

The family, including Ada’s father and her aunt, moves from Ironside to a poor section of Queenborough. They have money saved toward a home when Ralph has a car accident.

The household is just beginning to recover from that crisis in 1929 when the stock market crashes.

Ada’s father goes home to Ironside to die; the rest of the family go back there to live.

Ellen Glasgow tells the story in an unsentimental, matter-of-fact way that makes it feel like biography. That no-nonsense tone gives the novel authority and power.

You’ll come away respecting the Fincastles rather than loving them — which is precisely as they would have wished.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Green Light is religious novel with no theology and scarcely more characterization.

What it has are plots.

Green Light  by Lloyd C. Douglas

Houghton Mifflin, 1934. 326 pages. 1935 bestseller #1. My grade: C-.

1935-01_fc_greenlightThe main plot is about surgeon Newell Paige. When another doctor bungles a surgery and lets Paige take the blame, Paige is devastated.

Dr. Elliott had been Paige’s teacher, mentor, and hero. Besides, Paige had been fond of the late Mrs. Dexter and impressed by her faith.

Paige resigns, leaves town with his dog.

Paige is living under an assumed name when he meets Mrs. Dexter’s daughter, Phyllis. It’s love at first sight except that Phyllis thinks he is to blame for her mother’s death.

Everything comes right in the end, thanks to Paige’s dog and Dean Harcourt of Trinity Cathedral.

The Dean introduces various of his counseling clients to each other (1934 was pre-HIPPA), Paige’s dog matches him with Phyllis Dexter.

Lloyd C. Douglas fills the corners of the story with other canned plots and canned characters: a girl who wants a singing career, a woman who has left her married lover, a widowed professor with a charming, motherless daughter.

Each heartwarming tale is another nail on which to hang the Dean’s inspirational message: “My course is upward. . . .I go on through. … I get the GREEN LIGHT!”

What I got was a sick feeling from ingesting a novel long past its sell-by date.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The publishing world saw several new novels by famous authors in 1935 and a few really good new novels. Only one novel on the 1935 list was a holdover from 1934: James Hilton’s Good-bye, Mr. Chips.

Publisher note says Wefer "Forty Days" to be out 25-Apr-2015Here’s a list of the bestsellers I’ll be reviewing in the next five weeks, along with the dates of the scheduled reviews.

  • 1935 #1 Green Light by Lloyd C. Douglas [12-May-2015]
  • 1935 #2 Vein of Iron by Ellen Glasgow [16-May-2015]
  • 1935 #3 Of Time and the River by Thomas Wolfe [19-May-2015]
  • 1935 #4 Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field [23-May-2015]
  • 1935 #5 Good-bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
  • 1935 #6 The Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel [27-May-2015]

Note: A new, expanded version of  Werfel’s novel in ebook format is available from major online publishers now.  A paperback of the expanded translation should be available from publisher David R. Godine, http://www.godine.com, by the time you read this.

  • 1935 #7 Heaven’s My Destination by Thornton Wilder [30-May-2015]
  • 1935 #8 Lost Horizon by James Hilton [02-Jun-2015]
  • 1935 #9 Come and Get It by Edna Ferber [06-Jun-2015]
  • 1935 #10 Europa by Robert Briffault [09-Jun-2015]

Poll: Your favorites of 1935 bestsellers [13-Jun-2015]

My top picks of 1935 bestsellers [16-Jun-2015]

My nominees for the three best of the best-selling 1945 novels are So Well Remembered by James Hilton, A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley, and Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham.

If nobody’s counting, I’ll add James Ramsey Ullman’s The White Tower to the list, not because it’s such a great book, but because it’s such an interesting one.

Each of my picks has something to do with politics.

So Well Remembered

Movie poster for film version of So Well Remembered shows mug shots of 4 of 5 principal actorsSo Well Remembered is a poignant story of an elected official who is a genuine public servant.

George Boswell is hard-working, scrupulously honest, totally dedicated to doing the right thing for his town, even if the right thing is not what the town wants.

We don’t often see people like that in government.

Although in this novel, as in most of his novels, Hilton overindulges in sentiment, I nevertheless find Boswell quietly heroic. I’ve met a few George Boswells in my years as a reporter, which perhaps biases my outlook.

A Lion Is in the Streets

A Lion Is in the Streets is decidedly a political novel, but its leading man is neither quiet nor heroic.

lion appears to be scowling at the camersThe story is loosely based on Huey P. Long,  who rode a tide of populism to the Louisiana governor’s mansion and then to a U. S. Senate seat before he was assassinated at age 42.

Unlike All the King’s Men, a more well-known fictional rendering of the machinations of the political wizard, A Lion Is in the Streets relates events from the perspective of a politician’s wife.

Verity Martin is passionately in love with her husband, but passion doesn’t blind her to his faults. I can’t help thinking of her as a 1940s Hillary Clinton.

Whereas So Well Remembered is easy reading, A Lion is in the Streets requires the same kind of serious concentration required in reading a play. The reader who doesn’t mentally envision the scene and hear the sound of the lines in his inner ear will miss much of this marvelous novel.

Earth and High Heaven

cover of paperback edition of Earth and High HeavenIn terms of reading difficulty, Earth and High Heaven is roughly half way between the Hilton and the Langley novels. Graham writes in a way that encourages, rather than requires, slow reading.

Earth and High Heaven explores the mindset of people who will quite willing to fight, even die on European soil for Jewish lives but totally unwilling to have a Jew in their Montreal living room.

They are also not willing to have a daughter enjoy the company of a man who is Jewish, even if he is in other respects an acceptable suitor.

That strange distinction between principles one is willing to die for and principles one refuses to live with strike me as a vital political issue. We see it today in people ready to lend a hand to save the migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean but unwilling to give them a place to live once they have been rescued.

The White Tower

Plane flies by snow-covered mountainWhile it’s obviously a mountain-climbing adventure, Ullman’s The White Tower has the Second World War as its political background:  What is war by politics taken to the extreme?

The crash that lands Martin Ordway’s plane in the Swiss Alps occurs as Ordway is on a bombing mission into Germany.

Switzerland, being neutral, offers escape from the war to combatants from both sides. Thus, it’s perfectly plausible that the party Ordway gathers to climb the White Tower includes a German soldier, the estranged wife of a Nazi, a Brit, a Frenchman, and an Alpine native.

The climbers seek not only the adventure of the climb, but glory for their respective nations.

Mountain climbing becomes a political act.

The White Tower is not a great book, but it is an exciting one.

That’s my list of the best of the 1945 bestsellers.

Next time here, I’ll preview the 1935 bestseller list for you

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Share your three favorite 1945 bestsellers with a click on the list. As always, comments about what you like, what you remember from your parents’ or grandparents’ bookshelves are welcome.  You can write as much as you wish in the comments section below.

1945-02-dj_therobeWriter sits amid newspapers and crumbled drafts of book Plane flies by snow-covered mountain




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