Sometimes I have difficulty deciding which novel of a year’s bestsellers remains the best entertainment value, but not this week.
Robert Ruark’s Poor No More is head and shoulders above the rest of the 1959 bestsellers, with Hawaii by James A. Michener getting my vote for second place.
My assessment will upset People Who Love Literature. After all, the 1959 bestseller list included greats like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Lolita.
D. H. Lawrence put some great writing into Lady Chatterley, but it is a dumb, boring story.
Lolita isn’t boring, but it treats pedophilia, which should be a serious subject, as a joke. There should be a wide gulf between writing that entertains and writing that trivializes; Nobokov leaps it.
On the other hand, Robert Ruark writes on serious matters so entertainingly that I was swept up in the story. A story about big business that holds you engrossed for 700 pages is a compelling read. And if it also helps you to understand both the news headlines and human behavior, it’s a winner.
At over 900 pages, Hawaii is also an achievement. James A. Michener had me convinced he was telling the absolute truth, which is a high achievement for historical fiction. Unfortunately, there is too broad a sweep in the novel. The twentieth century material seemed a bit pasted on.
For third place, I’d probably pick Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris. It’s not a great book by any means, but after all those heavy-as-fruitcake novels, Paul Gallico’s lightweight offering makes a pleasant change.
Coming up: the 1949 bestseller list.