I review vintage bestsellers
By day, I write instructional materials, including resources to help teachers teach teens and adults to become competent nonfiction writers. (I’ll send you monthly reports on my next instructional project, illustrated books about how to have pleasant visits in a nursing home if you give me your email address.)
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
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.
All good things must come to an end
When I began GreatPenformances, 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. Since then, I’ve posted reviews in chronological order, starting with the 1970 #1 bestseller, Love Story, and working through to the 1999 #10 novel Tara Road.
I’ve already written the review of Tara Road. It is scheduled to post at 1 a.m. December 22, 2020. I hope you will stick around until then.
My next adventure will be writing and, I hope, publishing a series of short, illustrated books about something I enjoy: visiting in a nursing home. It’s a great place to meet people who like old novels. Please sign up for my monthly reports on the process. I need moral support.