Monday, March 23, 2009

More Books from the Wall Street Journal

This past weekend, the WSJ's "Five Best" list covered novels about the Great Depression, all of which were actually written during the Depression. I like the idea of reading some of these to try to better understand that time and compare it to what we're facing now-- the main effect of which, I'm sure, would be a reminder of how easy we have it nowadays, crisis or not!

I've always meant to read The Good Earth, mainly because I love reading about China. Although I'd heard of some of the other books, they were never on my radar... but now they are! So many books, so little time!

1. Now in November
By Josephine Winslow Johnson
Simon & Schuster, 1934

A fictional account of one family's experience on the land, Josephine Winslow Johnson's best-selling novel won the Pulitzer Prize before sinking into undeserved obscurity. The Haldmarnes leave an unnamed city for the countryside when Father loses a good job in a lumber mill and with it any hope of financial security for his wife and their three daughters....

2. The Big Money
By John Dos Passos
Harcourt, Brace, 1936

Norman Mailer often said that John Dos Passos had written the great American novel in the three volumes of the "U.S.A." trilogy. "The Big Money" was the final volume in the series, and its success put Dos Passos on the cover of Time magazine....

3. Appointment in Samarra
By John O'Hara
Harcourt, Brace, 1934

John O'Hara's first and best novel tracks the final three days in the life of a young man named Julian English. He is 30 years old, charming and good-looking, married to an attractive woman, and successful as the manager of a Cadillac franchise in a town called Gibbsville. Julian is also a dangerous drunk and a moral trifler, filled with envy and insecurity, a man with no discernible convictions....

4. The Good Earth
By Pearl S. Buck
John Day, 1931

A Pulitzer Prize winner, Pearl S. Buck's "The Good Earth" was also the best-selling novel in the U.S. for both 1931 and 1932. The book would shape American perceptions of China for two generations. The main characters, a poor farmer named Wang Lung and his wife, O-lan, are recognizable human beings, not mere Oriental stereotypes, who do their best to survive in a punishing world of famine, bandits, war and plague....

5. The Day of the Locust
By Nathanael West
Random House, 1939

The best novel ever written about Hollywood appeared in the last years of the Depression. A young artist, Todd Hackett, has come to the West Coast to paint the legions of bored and lonely men and women who migrate to California in pursuit of a dream they never find....

The books were selected by Peter Conn, author of The American 1930s: A Literary History.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read The Good Earth about a year ago for no reason other than it was the only thing on my book shelf that I hadn't read yet - quite frankly, I dreaded it. It turned out to be really good! Not slow at all, and it reminded me of the old saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." It was good - no regrets reading it.