A large chunk of my year 2016 went into reading and reviewing bestselling novels.
In preparation for my annual choices of the best novels whose reviews I posted that year, I looked back through the bestseller lists for 1966, 1956, 1946, 1936, 1936, 1916, 1906, 1918 and 1908.
I saw many titles whose stories I couldn’t remember.
Other novels I remembered because they were creatively awful.
Only a few stuck with me as stories that I remember for the right reasons: good storytelling, credible characterization, lucid prose, stimulating ideas. From those, I chose one novel for each of the nine years.
The best of the bestsellers
None of these nine novels will disappoint readers:
The Fixer by Bernard Malamud, 1966
The Tribe that Lost Its Head by Nicholas Monserrat 1956
Arch of Triumph by Erich Maria Remarque, 1946
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 1936
The Hounds of Spring by Sylvia Thompson, 1926
The Real Adventure by Henry Kitchell Webster, 1916
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, 1906
A Daughter of the Land by Gene Stratton-Porter, 1918
The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg by Louis Bromfield, 1908
(Normally I would have ignored The House of Mirth because my review was posted in 2015, the anniversary year for the first time the novel hit the bestseller list, and it was one of my top choices for that year. The other bestsellers of 1906, however, were so weak that there wasn’t even a runner-up to choose this year.)
My favorites of the best bestsellers
My favorites of the bestsellers are not the best novels on the list: They are merely the ones that, for one reason or another, have most appeal for me personally.
The Fixer by Malamud
I dithered between choosing between two dark novels about resistance to oppression: The Fixer or the Arch of Triumph. Both created shiveringly clear images of their ineffectual, almost pathetic, leading character’s suffering under political oppression.
My choice is The Fixer. I chose it mainly because in English translation Remarque’s novel feels ponderous and outdated. Since Malamud wrote in English, it seems more immediate.
The Real Adventure by Webster
I can’t deny part of the charm of The Real Adventure for me is the illustrations by R. M. Crosby. They made Rose Stanton come alive in all her scatterbrained young charm and maturing womanhood.
Webster’s story of the suffragette’s daughter raised with no ability to do anything but lead the sort of decorative, trophy wife life suffragettes said they despised stuck me as being psychologically spot-on.
So, too, did Rose’s ridiculous attempts to develop interests in subjects that interested her husband and his failure to recognize the motivation that underpinned them.
And Rose’s older sister, Portia, who resents having to pay the bills for her mothers’ and sister’s upkeep is so real you would recognize her on the street.
For 1916, Adventure was a real departure in fictional discussions of what marriage ought to be.
It’s still a real departure from what most marriages become.
I’ll remember The Real Adventure long after I’ve forgotten many better novels.
A Daughter of the Land by Stratton-Porter
A Daughter of the Land is a indefensible choice for a top novel.
It simply appeals to me.
Kate Bates is a country girl. She’d have been happy to marry before she was out of her teens if should could have had advantages equal to those her father gave her seven brothers: a house, a 200-acres of land, and farm stock
She knows she’ll get nothing, so at 16, Kate packs up and leaves home.
Kate makes many mistakes, but she learns from them, picks herself up, and goes on.
Life makes her more resilient but not harder.
Daughter is not as good a novel as The Real Adventure but it’s equally unusual for its day in its attitude toward women’s rights and marriage.
And Kate isn’t as appealing as Rose, but she’s someone you’d be glad to have as a neighbor and friend.
That finishes up 2016.
I hope you’ll be back in 2017 as I finish up my self-appointed task of re-reviewing all the bestselling novels published between 1900 and 1969.
Happy New Year.
© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni