Since I just recently reviewed a few of the bestsellers of 1920 and 1929 I missed when their anniversary years came up in my schedule, I’ll update my picks for the best of the lists now.
None from the 1920 bestsellers
There are really no titles among the 1920 bestsellers that are more than just mildly interesting today. The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim kept my attention while I was reading it, but aside from recalling that it’s about two men that exchange identities I can’t recall anything about it now.
I can recall a few impressions about others novels on the 1920 list, but none that calls me to reread them. You can check out the entire list on the bestsellers list page.
The 1929 list is another kettle of fish entirely.
Three durable novels from the 1929 list
The top selling novel of 1929, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, is still a powerful novel that deserves to be reread. And it’s still timely as the western world commemorates the 1914-1918 war that was to end all wars.
The story about German soldiers who left the schoolroom for the trenches draws on Remarque’s own experiences.
Before the war, he had been training to be a teacher. He was conscripted and fought for Germany on the Western Front, where he received shrapnel wounds that confined him to a hospital until the war ended.
His novel shows how the war changed schoolboys into soldiers, hardening them, but not quite destroying their sensitivity.
Although none of the other nine titles comes close to being as good as All Quiet, several are better than average.
Scarlet Sister Mary by Julie Peterkin is the second of my top picks for the year. It explores the experience of a proud, Southern black woman who by her early 30s has five children by five different fathers and two grandchildren to raise on her own.
Although the novel is set on a plantation just after the end of the Civil War, the story is not about race relations but about interpersonal relationships. That alone makes it worthy of rereading today.
Mary’s promiscuity makes her unwelcome in the church that called her “Sister Mary” when she was a teen and there is no other support system she can call on as she sees herself growing old.
Monica can barely stand her daughter-in-law. Hester ruined all the plans she had for a happy life as the center of her son’s universe. Monica thinks, “No one cared if old hearts break.”
The principal characters tip-toe around their distrust and resentment until events conspire to bring mother and daughter-in-law to a confrontation.
Despite its creakily concocted plot, Dark Hester has an air of reality. There’s no happy ending, only a slightly-less-unhappy-than-expected one.
And that is realistic.