The blog reviews best-sellers
Most of the novels reviewed here are by writers whose names are unknown to today’s readers. A few are by distinguished literary figures like John Steinbeck and Sinclair Lewis. Others are by authors whose names appear again and again: Thomas B. Costain and Zane Grey, for example.
People who never read any of these books know their titles. Many were picked up by Hollywood and packaged for the big screen.
Each year I review novels that were bestsellers on the anniversaries of the year they appeared on the list, counting backward by decades from 50 years ago to 1900. That means in 2015, I’ll review the bestsellers of 1965, 1955, and so on back to 1905.
The books reviewed in Great Penformances are still fairly easy to find today second hand book stores, at garage sales, and in digital format.
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 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.
What you can expect
In Great Penformances, each year I review the novels that were bestsellers 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, and 100 years before.
Occasionally I’ll throw in reviews of notable books that didn’t make the bestseller list, or a round of of bestsellers on a particular topic.
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.
Without further ado, let’s grab a novel and start reading.