My picks of 1945 bestsellers have a political bent

My nominees for the three best of the best-selling 1945 novels are So Well Remembered by James Hilton, A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley, and Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham.

If nobody’s counting, I’ll add James Ramsey Ullman’s The White Tower to the list, not because it’s such a great book, but because it’s such an interesting one.

Each of my picks has something to do with politics.

So Well Remembered

Movie poster for film version of So Well Remembered shows mug shots of 4 of 5 principal actorsSo Well Remembered is a poignant story of an elected official who is a genuine public servant.

George Boswell is hard-working, scrupulously honest, totally dedicated to doing the right thing for his town, even if the right thing is not what the town wants.

We don’t often see people like that in government.

Although in this novel, as in most of his novels, Hilton overindulges in sentiment, I nevertheless find Boswell quietly heroic. I’ve met a few George Boswells in my years as a reporter, which perhaps biases my outlook.

A Lion Is in the Streets

A Lion Is in the Streets is decidedly a political novel, but its leading man is neither quiet nor heroic.

lion appears to be scowling at the camersThe story is loosely based on Huey P. Long,  who rode a tide of populism to the Louisiana governor’s mansion and then to a U. S. Senate seat before he was assassinated at age 42.

Unlike All the King’s Men, a more well-known fictional rendering of the machinations of the political wizard, A Lion Is in the Streets relates events from the perspective of a politician’s wife.

Verity Martin is passionately in love with her husband, but passion doesn’t blind her to his faults. I can’t help thinking of her as a 1940s Hillary Clinton.

Whereas So Well Remembered is easy reading, A Lion is in the Streets requires the same kind of serious concentration required in reading a play. The reader who doesn’t mentally envision the scene and hear the sound of the lines in his inner ear will miss much of this marvelous novel.

Earth and High Heaven

cover of paperback edition of Earth and High HeavenIn terms of reading difficulty, Earth and High Heaven is roughly half way between the Hilton and the Langley novels. Graham writes in a way that encourages, rather than requires, slow reading.

Earth and High Heaven explores the mindset of people who will quite willing to fight, even die on European soil for Jewish lives but totally unwilling to have a Jew in their Montreal living room.

They are also not willing to have a daughter enjoy the company of a man who is Jewish, even if he is in other respects an acceptable suitor.

That strange distinction between principles one is willing to die for and principles one refuses to live with strike me as a vital political issue. We see it today in people ready to lend a hand to save the migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean but unwilling to give them a place to live once they have been rescued.

The White Tower

Plane flies by snow-covered mountainWhile it’s obviously a mountain-climbing adventure, Ullman’s The White Tower has the Second World War as its political background:  What is war by politics taken to the extreme?

The crash that lands Martin Ordway’s plane in the Swiss Alps occurs as Ordway is on a bombing mission into Germany.

Switzerland, being neutral, offers escape from the war to combatants from both sides. Thus, it’s perfectly plausible that the party Ordway gathers to climb the White Tower includes a German soldier, the estranged wife of a Nazi, a Brit, a Frenchman, and an Alpine native.

The climbers seek not only the adventure of the climb, but glory for their respective nations.

Mountain climbing becomes a political act.

The White Tower is not a great book, but it is an exciting one.

That’s my list of the best of the 1945 bestsellers.

Next time here, I’ll preview the 1935 bestseller list for you

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Lion Is in the Streets. Look for it.

Thanks to Adria Locke Langley’s decision to let Verity Martin tell the story of her charismatic husband’s political career, A Lion Is in the Streets is a political novel that can be enjoyed by folks who don’t like political novels.

As the book opens, Hank Martin is dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet. As Verity listens to a reporter tell the story of Hank’s life, she recalls the events as she saw them.


A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley

Blakiston, 1945. 345 pages. 1945 bestseller #6. My Grade: A-.


cover of "A Lion is in the Streets" is solid gray with title in silver
Don’t judge this book by its cover. It’s not a boring novel.

A Yankee schoolteacher, Verity fell for a southern peddler with dreams of being governor.

While he was out organizing a political machine, she stayed home in a little share-cropper cottage.

Almost from the first, Verity knew Hank’s sex appeal was a potential threat to her marriage.

It took her years to realize Hank’s lust for power is even more destructive than his sex drive, not only for their family but also for the whole state.

Langley does a superb job of making these people seem real. They are complicated bundles of inexplicable contradictions.

In some ways, each character knows the others better than they know themselves.

Like politics, much of the plot has to be grasped from innuendo. You’ll need to read slowly, picturing the scenes, or you’ll miss the point.

The effort is worth it.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Politics Makes Slim Reading

 

 

American flag waving in breeze

Since today is election day in the United States, I thought I’d roundup some bestsellers that deal with the political election process.

Like so any of my good ideas, it underestimated the problems it entailed.

Coming up with a list of good political novels from the bestselling lists of the first six decades of the twentieth century is harder than it sounds. There are plenty of novels that show the impact of decisions by political officials, but not a great many that dive into the business of electoral politics.

The 1964 bestseller by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II,  Convention, would appear a logical choice but for one thing: It wasn’t a particularly good novel then, and it has dated badly.

My short list of titles that are focused on electoral politics are:

Coniston is a 1906 work by the American novelist Winston Churchill about an uneducated, stuttering county boy who becomes a backroom force in mid-1800 New Hampshire politics.

Churchill’s portrait of Jethro Bass is as good as any from the pen of Anthony Trollope or Thomas Hardy.  My review won’t be coming up here until 2016, but you’re welcome to read ahead.

The Man is Irvin Wallace’s 1964 bestseller about America’s first Black president, which I reviewed here earlier this year. The story has premonitions of this month’s news.

A Lion Is in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley is a 1945 novel written from the perspective of the wife of a charismatic Southern politician. (Imagine Hillary Rodham Clinton writing a novel about her marriage and you’ll see the possibilities.)

After James Cagney paid a quarter million dollars for its film rights, The New York Times described Langley’s novel as “lurid.” It might have been lurid for The Gray Lady in 1950, but it’s pretty tame today.  My review of A Lion Is in the Streets comes out in 2015.

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Photo credit: Linda Aragoni

Another Saturday, another library book sale

The Sidney (NY) Memorial Library had a sale Saturday of books from a single donor. I was delighted to find the collection had a good sprinkling of vintage novels. Hardbacks were 50¢; I filled a bag with snow-day reading.

I picked up If Winter Comes by A. S. M. Hutchinson, which topped the charts in 1922. I’m reading it now and finding it hard to put down. Another novel by the author, This Freedom, was #7 that year and #6 in 1923.

Other books that I carted home are:

A Lion in the Streets by Adria Locke Langley (1945) and Kings Row by Henry Bellamy (1941). After reading these to review here, I knew I wanted them  for my own collection. (Kings Row will be reviewed here in 2011.) They are both novels worth reading more than twice.

The Money Moon by Jeffrey Farnol published in 1911, the same year his novel The Broad Highway was the number 1 bestseller. He had other bestsellers:   The Amateur Gentleman (1913) and  The Definite Object (1917).

The Way of an Eagle by Ethel M. Dell (1911), a very popular romance writer who was sneered at by more literary authors. Her novels  The Hundredth Chance and  Greatheart made the bestseller lists in 1917 and 1918 respectively.

Penrod and Sam by Booth Tarkington (1916). Tarkington may be best remembered for The Magnificent Ambersons, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1918. I happen to think Claire Amber (1928) is a more interesting novel.

The U. P. Trail by Zane Grey (1918) is one of Grey’s many bestsellers, but not, I fear one of his better novels.

The Calling of Dan Matthews by Harold Bell Wright (1909) is an early novel of the author who went on to best-sellers such as The Winning of Barbara Worth (1911 and 1912), Their Yesterdays (1912), The Eyes of the World (1914 #1), When a Man’s a Man (1916), The Re-Creation of Brian Kent (1919 & 1920), Helen of the Old House (1922), The Mine with the Iron Door (1923).

What about you? Found any great vintage novels in the used book bins lately?

©2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni