MacKinlay Kantor’s story of  the Confederacy’s infamous prisoner of war camp  opens the day Ira Chaffey learns of plans for a POW camp on land adjoining his.

In the tent city that was Andersonville Prison Camp, captured Union soldiers wait out the war

Historic photographs shows life in the Andersonville prison camp

It ends with Ira walking through the empty Andersonville camp site after the Confederacy’s defeat.

Between the two events, Ira and his daughter Lucy are forced to helplessly endure the stench of the camp.

 Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

T.Y. Crowell, 1955. 767 pages. 1955 bestseller #3. My grade: B+.

Most of book is biographical sketches about individual soldiers, some real, some fictional.

Some were decent people before the war, others were villains.

In Andersonville, each is placed in conditions that bring out the worst in everyone.

Prisoners didn’t even have shelter from the elements, let alone adequate food, water, clothing, medical care.

Kantor’s work is well-researched, but not academic. Some of the individual vignettes are superb.

As a novel, however, the work is a failure.

For one thing, there are simply too many characters to keep track of.

And Kantor doesn’t use quotation marks, so it’s hard to keep track of who is speaking in a given scene even if you recognize the character.

Worst of all, Kantor’s graphic depiction of the extent of human depravity is overwhelming.

While novels don’t require happy endings, they should leave open the possibility that different choices would have lead to different outcomes.

Andersonville doesn’t do that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Auntie Mame and her nephewPatrick Dennis  subtitled Auntie Mame “an irreverent escapade.” It’s actually a series of escapades rather than a true novel.

The escapades are loosely tied together by comparing Mame to the stereotypical Reader’s Digest “My Most Unforgettable Character.”

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade By Patrick Dennis [Edward Everett Tanner III]

This edition: Broadway Books,  2001, Intro. by Paul Rudnick, Afterward by Michael Tanner. 299 pages. 1955 bestseller #2, 1956 bestseller #4. My Grade: C-.

At his father’s death, motherless Patrick Dennis, 10, becomes the ward of his father’s sister, Mame.

Mame and Patrick hit it off immediately: They are approximately the same mental age.

Auntie Mame is a hold-over from the Jazz Age complete with cigarette holder, well-stocked liquor cabinet, and tastes for anything that would shock folks in Des Moines.

Mame has no sense, but her heart is in the right place.

She stands up against anti-Jewish practices and gives a home to six Cockney refugees more terrifying than the Blitz.

Mame might well have been the narrator’s most unforgettable character—she was his relative after all—but she’s someone most folks would rather not remember and certainly wouldn’t wish to admit was related to them.

Auntie Mame might have been as wildly funny in 1955 as the reviewers said, but it’s a sad bit of nonsense now, destined to be landfilled with all those thousands of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that nobody has been able to give away since 1997.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo: Detail from cover of  Auntie Mame, Broadway Books edition, 2001.

Marjorie Morningstar is a bittersweet novel of a beautiful Jewish teenager whose theatrical ambitions and moral principles collide.

Marjorie Morgenstern’s decision to be an actress is an act of adolescent rebellion.

Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk

Doubleday, 1955. 565 pages. 1955 bestseller #1. My grade: B.

At 15, Marjorie has good looks, enough talent to shine in amateur theatrics, and enough sense to avoid promiscuous sex.

Front Dust Jacket of Marjorie MorningstarShe hasn’t enough sense to see that Noel Airman, born Saul Ehrmann, is a loser: smart, talented, sexy, personable, but rootless.

For six years, Marjorie pursues Noel, who warns her he’s not the marrying kind, and the theater, which is equally unwilling to have her on any but sexual terms.

Marjorie isn’t willing to give up her virginity for an acting role, but to get Noel she might.

Herman Wouk sets Marjorie’s story between the Depression and World War II. Without preaching, Wouk makes clear that survival depends on maintaining traditional values—marriage, family, work, religion.

Although Wouk uses stock characters, the story works because Marjorie is so young.

Adults know what will happen to Marjorie, but she doesn’t.

She makes herself believe she is consumed by passion. In truth, she’s simply too embarrassed to admit a mistake.

Marjorie Morningstar is good reading—and highly recommended for parents and grandparents of teens.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Guys, did Miley Cyrus turn you down for Valentine’s Day?

Sketch of fantiful castle high up mountain.

Castle in the air. How romantic!

Gals, do you think the only appropriate accessories for your little black dress tonight would be thermal underware and two pairs of socks?

Or perhaps you feel like you’re coming down with the flu?

Whatever the reason you’re planning to stay by your own hearth Valentine’s Day, here are three novels that aren’t too long or too cerebral for a cozy evening at home.


Graustark is a romance in the princess-and-castle style.

It’s love at first sight for Grenfall Lorry on an east-bound train from Denver.  He’ll absolutely die if he can’t marry the lovely Miss Guggenslocker.

When Miss Guggenslocker sails for Europe, Lorry isn’t far behind. He tracks her down, only to find she’s really the princess of Graustark.

Can an American commoner win the heart and hand of a princess?

George Barr McCutcheon gives the Lorry moves worthy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it’s not too gushy for guys. And the Princess has a streak of independence that feminist readers will applaud.

The novel’s available for free download to your preferred digital reading device at Project Gutenberg.


Queed is a droll romance about a most unromantic young man and the young woman whose tough love makes him human.

Sharlee tells Queed  his "cosmos is all ego."

Sharlee tells Queed his “cosmos is all ego.”

Queed is totally absorbed in his own affairs–he’s writing the definitive text on evolutionary sociology–when Sharlee Weyland takes pity on him.

She finds him a job that, with his own dogged determination, enables him to grow beyond the limits of his stifling childhood. From being pathetic, he becomes loveable and loving.

Queed is also available to download free at Project Gutenberg. The author is Henry Sydnor Harrison.

Gone With the Wind

My third recommendation is an old staple of romance literature: Gone With the Wind. This classic is still under copyright protection, but if your local library doesn’t have one, you can pick up a copy for a few dollars at an online publisher such as AlibrisABEbooks,  or Amazon.

If you know the novel just from the movie version, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how good the print version is. Margaret Mitchell’s prose flows and her characters develop organically.

Although the novel is long, it’s fast reading. After all, you already know the basic plot, right?

There you have three options to help you pass a romantic evening alone in the comfort of your favorite chair.

Project Gutenberg

The next set of novels I’ll be reviewing here are bestsellers of 1955.

Before I get to them, however, on Valentine’s Day, I’ll suggest some love stories to enjoy in the last blustery weeks of northern hemisphere winter.

Here’s how the schedule looks after that:

Front Dust Jacket of Marjorie Morningstar Cover of Auntie Mame shows her in slinky red gown, cigarette holder in hand, with Dennis Peeping out from behind her.dust jacket of "The Tontine" 1955-10_cvr_10Nfrederick

  • 1955 #1 Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk [2015-02-17]
  • 1955 #2 Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis [2015-02-21]
  • 1955 #3 Andersonville by McKinlay Kantor  [2015-02-24]
  • 1955 #4 Bonjour Tristesse: A Novel by Francoise Sagan [2015-02-28]
  • 1955 #5 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson [2015-03-03]
  • 1955 #6 Something of Value by Robert Ruark [2015-03-07]
  • 1955 #7 Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson
  • 1955 #8 No Time for Sergeants by Mac Hyman
  • 1955 #9 The Tontine by Thomas B. Costain [2015-03-10]
  • 1955 #10 Ten North Frederick by John O’Hara [2015-03-14]

Dust Jacket of "Something of Value"cover of papaerback that includes Francoise Sagan's first two published novels No Time For SergeantsCover of vol. 1 "The Tontine"

  • Extra: Vintage novels about the Irish [2015-03-17]
  • Poll: Your favorites of the 1955 bestsellers [2015-03-21]
  • My top picks from 1955 bestsellers [2015-03-24]

Before turning the calendar to the April page, I’ll preview the 1945 bestsellers and get you ready for April Fool’s Day.

I have two sets of favorites from the 1965 bestsellers, one serious and the other lighter.

The Source by James A. Michener and The Ambassador by Morris L. West are the best of the 1965 bestsellers. They engage readers in examining weighty topics without being dull or pedantic.

Front of dust jacket of The Source by James A Michener.Michener’s novel is about the history of an archeological dig in Israel. It remains  significant today because the Middle East is still being fought over by descendants of people who settled there in ages past.

Although the topic sounds dry and book is long, The Source can be read comfortably because of Michener’s unusual technique: He reveals significant developments and significant people in the site’s history in what is almost a series of novellas.

Cover of Morris L. West's novel "The Ambassador"The Ambassador is about another war zone: Vietnam.

West looks at American involvement in Indochina through the perspective of an American diplomat whose assignment to head the embassy in Saigon begins inauspiciously:  A monk burns himself to death as the official limousine passes.

In carrying out Washington policy, the ambassador has to do things that offend his sense of American principles.

Today, The Ambassador puts the Vietnam quagmire in historical and cultural context for readers who know little of that era.

On the lighter side, I recommend Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman and Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk.

Kaufman takes readers inside an inner city high school with a novice teacher.

Wouk takes readers to tropical paradise with a middle aged Manhattan publicist looking for a stress free life.

Both novels are funny, but their humor hugs reality closely enough to give readers something worth some serious consideration.

It’s time for readers to voice their opinions about novels that continue to resonate 50 years after publication.

Pick your three favorites from this list. If you want to explain your choices, the comment box will give you plenty of room for discussion.



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