My top pics from the 1941 bestseller list

The 1941 bestseller list  contains two  fine novels:  For Whom the Bell Tolls (a hold-over from 1940’s bestseller list) and The Sun is My Undoing.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a classic by an acknowledged master of fiction, Ernest Hemingway. It is the superior book in terms of its literary quality. However, it’s subject—an insider view of an insurgency—seems positively wimpy compared The Sun is My Undoing by an untouted novelist, Marguerite SteenSteen writes about the  slave trade from the perspective of a slave trader

The rest of the 1941 line consists of relatively undistinguished novels of which James Hilton’s Random Harvest is best known and H. M. Purlham, Esquire by John P. Marquand is the best written.

Linda Gorton Aragoni

Carryovers from 1940

Two novels on the 1941 bestseller list were also on the 1940 list.  Their reviews were posted along with those for the year they made their first appearance.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, which was in fourth place in 1940, slipped to fifth in 1941.

Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts, which was in seventh place in 1940 crept up to sixth place in 1940.

If you didn’t read them last year when they were in the rota, look for them now. They are worth reading.

My top picks of the 1940 bestselling novels

Of the  bestsellers from 1940, the only ones familiar to today’s readers are by iconic American writers Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. Hemingway’s novel is the better book; Steinbeck’s the more memorable:  it was on the bestseller list two years running.

Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a war story told from the perspective of weary guerrilla fighters. Although the novel is set in Spain in the 1930s, the story could just as well be about an insurgency anywhere in the world in 2010.

Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is a propaganda piece about America’s working poor displaced by the dust bowls and economic upheaval of the Great Depression. The novel elicits an orgy of compassion that ends with emotionally exhausted readers feeling they’ve been manipulated.

Several other novels on the 1940 bestseller list deserve a resurrection. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts, The Family by Nina Fedorova,  Night in Bombay by Louis Bromfield, and Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley (another novel on the bestseller list two years in a row) are readable second-rate novels relevant to contemporary readers.

If you find any of these in a yard sale or Salvation Army store, pick it up. It will be well worth the investment.