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Archive for the ‘Bestsellers by year’ Category

woman dressed like music hall dancer on cover of Daughter of the Land

This isn’t Kate Bates.

As a rule, I don’t find much to like about Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels, but her 1918 bestseller, A Daughter of the Land, is head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s one of the novels on my must-read-again list.

Kate Bates, the daughter of the land, wants an share of her father’s property equal to that he gave his sons. She doesn’t get it.

Nor will her father let her pursue a teaching certificate that might allow her to earn money to buy the farm she wants. So Kate takes matters into her own hands.

Unlike most of Stratton-Porter’s leading characters, Kate seems like a real person.

She wants a 200-acre farm and a fashionable hat, too.

Woman wearing embroidered dress is on this cover of Daughter of the Land.

This isn’t Kate Bates either.

She doesn’t just have set-backs.

She totally messes up and creates her own misfortunes.

She develops a tough hide and retains a warm heart.

The artists who designed these covers for A Daughter of the Land never read the novel.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Since Thanksgiving is just days away and kindergarten kids are drawing pictures of Pilgrims in funny hats, today seemed like a good time to recommend rereading The Winthrop Woman, Anya Seyton’s  historical novel about one of America’s more famous — some would say more infamous — Puritans.

Book cover shows Winthrop Woman alone, wearing red cape.

I read this version of The Winthrop Woman as a teen.

“The Winthrop Woman” was Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallett, born 1610 to Thomas and Anne Winthrop Fones. Anne was sister to John Winthrop, who was to become an early settler of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and later its Governor.

Elizabeth married one of her first cousins, a son of John Winthrop, which is how she got the moniker “the Winthrop Woman.”

Elizabeth led a fascinating life. (At least it’s fascinating for readers; living it must have been an entirely different matter.)  She had bad luck with husbands in an era when having a husband was practically a requirement for survival.

But she survived, as Seyton’s novel shows.  Today “the Winthrop woman” is considered one of the founders of Greenwich, Connecticut.

She’s also an ancestor of Howard Dean, Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate; aviator Amelia Earhart; former Secretary of State John Kerry; and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop shown below was done by English painter George Richmond who lived about 200 years after Winthrop.  He’s made her appear far more genteel than did the book jacket artist.

Portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop

Portrait of Elizabeth Winthrop by George Richmond.

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Of the nearly 700 novels I’ve reviewed here at Great Penformances, The Silent Places is the most memorable.

The 1904 bestseller by Stewart Edward White is not a great novel—I didn’t give it an A rating the first time I read it—but just thinking about the novel’s ending is enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Hound sniffs deep into snow.

The hound sniffed deep, filling his nostrils with the feather snow .

If there were a male equivalent of chick lit, The Silent Places would be its exemplar.

The story: Two guys chase an outlaw Indian in the frozen prairie north of Lake Ontario in seventeenth century America.

The novel is well illustrated, but it’s White’s text, rather than the illustrations that show how the two very different men grow and bond.

What’s most amazing is there’s scarcely any conversation in the book. I have to reread the book (Project Gutenberg has it) just to see if I can figure out how White pulls that off.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

 

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Sir Richard Calmady rides a horse like this

The History of Sir Richard Calmady isn’t a great book, but it’s extraordinary one. The title character is born with a birth defect: His feet are attached where his knees should have been.

Author Lucas Malet called the novel “a romance.”

My review and a link to the Project Gutenberg ebook are here.

 

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The three bestsellers of 1969 that retain the most value for 2017 readers each deal in very different ways with family relationships: The Godfather by Mario Puzo, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, and The Promise by Chaim Potok.

The Godfather is first a father.

I suspect  The Godfather is known as a Mafia thriller because more people saw the film than read the novel.

There’s certainly enough blood and gore in the book to make an emergency room crew feel at home, but the deeper stories of family, culture, and crime-as-a-business are more important.

Don Vito Corleone quote on need to treat extortion as a business.

Don Vito Corleone is  getting old. He can’t delay much longer selecting a new CEO of the family’s gambling and extortion businesses.

Mike, his youngest son, has the best temperament for the job. Unlike the eldest son, Mike is levelheaded, and unlike the second son, he has proven leadership skills. Mike also has a proven record of killing when required: Mike is a war hero.

The problem is that Mike got his war-hero status by defying his father and enlisting in the Marine Corps.  Home from the war, he chose to attend an Ivy League college, where he’s fallen in love with a rich daddy’s girl with impeccable WASP credentials.

The novel traces Mike’s journey from rebellious son to his father’s successor as godfather. Becoming a mob boss was never Mike’s wish, but his upbringing and personality make it inevitable.

Along the way, readers learn about the European Mafia operated for centuries as an elaborate system of interpersonal favors before becoming an international business operation in the twentieth century.

The Promise

Compared to The Godfather, The Promise may seem tame, but it deals with incidents that, although bloodless, are emotionally lethal.

Quote from The Promise saying each generation fights same battles with different people.

The story, like Potok’s earlier bestseller The Chosen, focuses on Reuven Malther and Danny Saunders, two brainy Jewish boys whose fathers are each rabbis.

Reuven, who has always had a close relationship with his father, is studying to become a rabbi himself. Danny, whose relationship with his father was emotionally distant, has rejected the rabbinical life and is a doctoral student in psychology.

The relationship between the two friends becomes strained when Danny recommends a radical treatment of a disturbed young boy to whose family Reuven introduced him.

Reuven finds Danny’s isolation treatment, so reminiscent of Danny’s own upbringing, as appalling as he had earlier found Rabbi Saunders’ refusal to interact with Danny.

Reuven also finds himself out of sympathy with his own father, an unfamiliar and upsetting experience.

Like the Godfather, The Promise places twentieth century characters in situations firmly rooted in centuries-old culture. They all have to figure out how to fit their heritage and their ideals into a world they are reluctant to belong.

Portnoy’s Complaint: Too much family

self-deprecating quote from Portnoy

Portnoy’s Complaint is related by Alexander Portnoy to his psychiatrist.

Alex has no end of problems, all of which he blames on his parents. Had they never had him, he would have been fine.

Even with his psychiatrist, Alex attempts to disguise the extent of his misery under a barrage of wisecracks.

Alex is so funny, it’s hard to imagine even a psychiatrist failing to laugh at his jokes.

But it doesn’t take a shrink to see that Alex is a seriously damaged individual—and his parents probably had a big role in that.

The question is whether Alex has enough willpower to try acting differently than he learned to do as a child.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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These three novels were the bestsellers for 1969. How well do you think they’ve held up?

all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaintcover of Godfather shows puppeteerFemale gender symbol fills front cover of The Love Machine

Pick the three 1969 bestselling novels  you think are best for today’s readers.

I’ll come back with my top picks next time we meet.

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In The House on the Strand, an historical novel meets a sci-fi novel.

Medieval Cornwall coast scene on novel cover

This bestseller mixes ’60 drug culture into history.

The two don’t get along well.

Dick Young gladly accepts the offer of longtime friend’s Cornwall estate, Kilmarth, for his family for the summer. Dick and Magnus were in university together and remained close until Dick’s marriage.

Dick’s wife, Vita, disliked Magnus from their first meeting.

Magnus, an academic researcher, has secretly stumbled upon a drug that takes people back in time.

Magnus wants Dick to take it and report his findings.

The first dose transports Dick back the Kilmarth environs in the 14th century. Each time he takes a dose, he becomes more interested in the historical figures than in his own era.

When Magnus is found dead, apparently after attempting to commit suicide, the story twists to a halt.

Daphne du Maurier provides diagrams showing who married whom, but readers need a guide to who is sleeping with whom to make sense of the historical part of the book.

The 20th century portion makes more sense, but even though du Maurier has Dick narrate the story, both plots feel detached from him. Sadly, Du Maurier’s characters have no more personality than figures in someone else’s nightmare.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1969. Book club edition, 308 pp. 1969 bestseller #10. My grade: C.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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