I review vintage bestsellers
By day, I write instructional materials, including resources to help teachers teach teens and adults to become competent nonfiction writers.
When night falls, I curl up with a novel.
Today’s top read stays on top just about as long as it takes me to find a parking place near a bookstore. By the time I get inside, the novel I wanted has been remaindered and all copies sent to a warehouse in Kansas.
Invariably, I find myself going to the library basement, garage sales, and secondhand book shops for books from years gone by.
What you can expect
When I began Great Penformances, each year I reviewed the novels that were bestsellers 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 years before. I finished posting reviews of all the bestsellers up through 1969 in autumn of 2017.
From now on, I’ll be posting reviews in chronological order, starting with the 1970 #1 bestseller Love Story and working through to the 1999 #10 novel Tara Road.
My reviews are quirky, opinionated, and annoying — just like me — but at least they are short. I hold reviews to about 200 words — less than half the length of this posting — so you won’t have to be annoyed for very long.
What do I look for in a novel?
I want a good story. I’d like novels to do more than entertain, but entertainment is basic.
Plausible characters are essential. They don’t have to be real people — Bilbo Baggins and Eeyore are plausible — but they need to be three-dimensional. Heroes must have flaws and foibles. Villains cannot be more than 99% evil.
Plots should be plausible, too. The story’s ending should fit the rest of the book. No sick-bed conversions or villains hit by a bus, please. Cinderella endings should be confined to fairy tales. The ending of a good novel should arise from character.
If a novel can provide entertainment, plausible characters, and plausible plot, I’m satisfied.
Icing on the cake
A good novel sneaks in some information or insight that is valuable today. Perhaps it sheds light on a particular period of history, or shows how individuals can overcome a particular challenge. Even just making me chuckle is a dab of icing.
A really good novel not only goes beyond the basics but also transcends its origins. It has a universal theme that is true in any time and place.
What I could do without
When the hero and heroine close their bedroom door, I don’t need to look through the keyhole, let alone be in the bedroom with them.
I don’t need to read pages of obscenities to grasp the idea that Victor Valet is a scum bag.
I can also do without gratuitous moral platitudes. Concluding a lurid story by tut-tutting “people who do such wicked things are punished in the end” strikes me as immoral.