My picks of 1936’s bestselling novels

The best reading from 1936 for today’s readers are both about people caught in tempestuous political and cultural shifts: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis.

Southerners who put on gray uniforms for the old South were fighting to retain a way of life that was familiar and comfortable—was facing extinction.

That life was already nearly gone when the men in gray mounted up.

Rhett says to Scarlett before he leaves her:

I want the outer semblance of the things I used to know, the utter boredom of respectability—other people’s respectability, my pet, not my own—the calm dignity life can have when it’s lived by gentle folks, the genial grace of days that are gone. When I lived those days I didn’t realize the slow charm of them.

And Scarlett runs home to Tara to Mammy, “the last link with the old days.”

It Can’t Happen Here  is not nearly as good a novel as Gone With the Wind, but it has some uncomfortable similarities.

Although Lewis starts out satirically skewering hot-air politicians, he soon gets seriously interested in his topic and begins wondering what would happen if a charismatic, Hitler-like leader began to rally the discontents in America.

After the Rotary Club meeting in Fort Beulah, Vermont in 1936, men are already wishing for someone who can bring things back the way they used to be.

Fort Beulah’s leading businessman gripes: “These are serious times—maybe twenty-eight million on relief, and beginning to get ugly—thinking they’ve got a vested right now to be supported.”

Local newspaper editor Doremus Jessup responds:

Yes, I agree it’s a serious time. With all the discontent there is in the country to wash him into office, Senator Windrip has got an excellent chance to be elected President, next November, and if he is, probably his gang of buzzards will get us into some war, just to grease their insane vanity and show the world that we’re the huskiest nation going. And then I, the Liberal, and you, the Plutocrat, the bogus Tory, will be led out and shot at 3 A.M. Serious? Huh!

That November Sen. Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip is elected president.

Soon Windrip’s “Minute Men” become his private army.

Civil rights are suspended, and dissidents rounded up and taken to concentration camps.

There’s no Tara for Doremus Jessup to flee to.

Unfortunately, the novel’s uneven tone lessens its literary value and makes Lewis’s story less credible.

But what Lewis got right—the unpredictable, totally unthinkable election of a totally unqualified egomaniac as president of the United States—seems real enough in 2016.

Over the summer, read one or both of these classic novels, and think about the “genial grace of days that are gone” in America and what might be ahead.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Three Flavors of Romance for Novel-Lovers

Guys, did Miley Cyrus turn you down for Valentine’s Day?

Sketch of fantiful castle high up mountain.
Castle in the air. How romantic!

Gals, do you think the only appropriate accessories for your little black dress tonight would be thermal underware and two pairs of socks?

Or perhaps you feel like you’re coming down with the flu?

Whatever the reason you’re planning to stay by your own hearth Valentine’s Day, here are three novels that aren’t too long or too cerebral for a cozy evening at home.

Graustark

Graustark is a romance in the princess-and-castle style.

It’s love at first sight for Grenfall Lorry on an east-bound train from Denver.  He’ll absolutely die if he can’t marry the lovely Miss Guggenslocker.

When Miss Guggenslocker sails for Europe, Lorry isn’t far behind. He tracks her down, only to find she’s really the princess of Graustark.

Can an American commoner win the heart and hand of a princess?

George Barr McCutcheon gives the Lorry moves worthy of Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it’s not too gushy for guys. And the Princess has a streak of independence that feminist readers will applaud.

The novel’s available for free download to your preferred digital reading device at Project Gutenberg.

Queed

Queed is a droll romance about a most unromantic young man and the young woman whose tough love makes him human.

Sharlee tells Queed  his "cosmos is all ego."
Sharlee tells Queed his “cosmos is all ego.”

Queed is totally absorbed in his own affairs–he’s writing the definitive text on evolutionary sociology–when Sharlee Weyland takes pity on him.

She finds him a job that, with his own dogged determination, enables him to grow beyond the limits of his stifling childhood. From being pathetic, he becomes loveable and loving.

Queed is also available to download free at Project Gutenberg. The author is Henry Sydnor Harrison.

Gone With the Wind

My third recommendation is an old staple of romance literature: Gone With the Wind. This classic is still under copyright protection, but if your local library doesn’t have one, you can pick up a copy for a few dollars at an online publisher such as AlibrisABEbooks,  or Amazon.

If you know the novel just from the movie version, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how good the print version is. Margaret Mitchell’s prose flows and her characters develop organically.

Although the novel is long, it’s fast reading. After all, you already know the basic plot, right?

There you have three options to help you pass a romantic evening alone in the comfort of your favorite chair.

Project Gutenberg

Gone with the Wind, But Not Forgotten or Forgettable

Who doesn’t know the plot of Gone with the Wind?

At 16, Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled, selfish, headstrong daughter of a wealthy plantation owner is passionately in love with Ashley Wilkes, a refined, scholarly man with no passion at all. It takes the Civil War, Reconstruction and her third husband, Rhett Butler, to make her realize Ashley was never the man for her.

Margaret Mitchell has an organic approach to character development. She introduces each character’s general tendencies and then grows them situation by situation.

For example, any time she’s faced with an unpleasant situation, Scarlett says, “I think of it tomorrow.” Any time she’s in trouble, she runs home to Tara. So, when Rhett walks out, her response is totally characteristic.

Most of what I remembered of Gone with the Wind was from the movie: the burning of Atlanta, ripping down curtains to make a new dress. However, Margaret Mitchell’s novel is far more than a collection of vivid scenes and characters.

Mitchell’s prose flows. She varies her paragraph lengths so reading is easy. There is lots of dialogue. Despite the book’s whopping length, I read it easily in a day.

This well-written classic deserved the Pulitzer it won.

Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell
MacMillan, 1936
1037 pages
#1 on the 1936 bestseller list
#1 on the 1937 bestseller list
Pulitzer Prize winner
My grade: A
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni