A Year of Good Reads Long Before Goodreads

Agatha Christie

Many a specific year featured a variety of interesting fiction, but 1937 was an especially eclectic 12 months for literature.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Of Mice and Men, The Hobbit, the first Dr. Seuss book, and more.

That “more” includes Death on the Nile, which I finished last week. I’ve only read a handful of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, but this was a good one — considered among her best. An ingenious plot, many suspects with lots of personality, the ever-observant detective Hercule Poirot seeing what no one else sees. A novel with some flaws — the depiction of people of color (when they’re depicted at all) is cringe-worthy, though I suppose the book being “of its time” is a partial excuse. Also, the book’s leftist character is laughably caricatured. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, Christie does much better in vividly portraying a number of memorable women in Death on the Nile.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is the 20th-century classic about the experiences of African-American woman Janie Crawford. John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is the compelling novella featuring two migrant workers in Depression-era California. J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, which of course would become the prequel to the 1950s-published trilogy The Lord of the Rings, is a delightful fantasy adventure story for “children of all ages.” And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street started Dr. Seuss on a kid-book career that would make him perhaps the genre’s most famous author.

The year 1937 also saw the publication of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, which I “Have Not” read (yet). In the memoir realm, there was Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, which I have read — and enjoyed.

I’ll end by noting that some famous writers unfortunately died in 1937 — most notably Edith Wharton, H.P Lovecraft, and Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie.

Any thoughts on 1937 fiction I mentioned and didn’t mention?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — with a Pink Floyd-meets-local-news theme — is here.

103 thoughts on “A Year of Good Reads Long Before Goodreads

  1. Haven’t much to write about re 1937’s books– I own “Ferdyduke”, but have yet to read it, same for “Out of Africa”, and as an aside, looking around the interwebs, Agatha Christie is notable as 1937’s one-woman titan of industry, publishing 3 titles in the year.

    But I have read “To Have and Have Not”, and unless you are a Hemingway completist, it’s not a book I’d recommend. It seems to a sort of catching-up publication, possibly, as constructed, meant to show Papa was still The Man of Letters to beat- part experimental fiction, part hard-boiled crime writing, part political prosody reflective of Hemingway’s recent Spanish Civil War experience, and the company he kept.

    In other words, it’s made of parts struggling to become a whole anything, and in the process, readers are made to follow the ever-more degrading, cynical even murderous acts that the main protagonist, one Harry Morgan, boat captain, undertakes in the Caribbean– but without much readerly reward, a more than a bit of repellent racism and white supremacy in action, if unrecognized by its creator, who seems intent to portray his protagonist’s unforgivably bad acts as inevitable, as caused by his economic hardships– charterboat rentals being down during the Great Depression and all.

    The Encyclopedia Brittanica, in its impressively short 2-sentence entry for the book, terms it a “minor novel”. And I would add, a deeply unpleasant one.

    Yet, there are moments of great action writing in it, even if the actions are not great. Had he wished, Hemingway might have produced a truly great crime novel or three. Not sure he should have– but he could have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! After reading your very interesting and convincing analysis of “To Have or Have Not,” I think I’ll skip it. He obviously did much better a few years later with “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which I liked a lot. Not a huge Hemingway fan in general, but I do want to get to his “A Farewell to Arms” one of these days. I’ve read “The Sun Also Rises” and “The Old Man and the Sea” (mixed feelings about both) and some of his short stories.

      Agatha Christie had three works published in 1937? Wow!

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    • Thank you, africanwomenvoice! Those are some great literary school assignments! A couple of those novels have their flaws, but all memorable. While some students are apparently not fans of “Silas Marner,” I thought it was wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dave, I’ll be back later to read the rest of the comments. I would like to add Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton (a lovely book for children), and On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was surprised to see that book was published in 1937 as it seemed much earlier, but it was about Laura’s childhood. These are both exceptional writers. There was also The Broken Ear (Tintin #6). I was mad about Tintin when I was a girl and my son, Greg, has the entire collection as hardbacks (cost me a small fortune).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Dave,

    A few years back I did a Facebook quiz about What Classic Book Are You? Everyone else got an Austen or a Bronte. Me? I got โ€œTheir Eyes Were Watching Godโ€ which I had never heard of. I mentioned it to you and you told me it was a good book, so on the TBR it went. Well, here we are, however many years later, and Iโ€™ve finally started reading it. Itโ€™s not as good as an Austen or a Bronte, but Iโ€™m finding the characters quite compelling. I must admit though, that Iโ€™ve read a few heavy and depressing things lately and am actually in the mood for something fun, which Zora Neale Hurston isnโ€™t quite delivering. Hopefully my next read will be a bit lighterโ€ฆ

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “The Hobbit” is one of my favorite books – and as it happens, my favorite of the LOTR series. I reread the whole thing last year and I never fail to enjoy it when I do. What a world that Tolkien created, it is just absolutely a stunner. I’m afraid I haven’t read much Agatha Christie and I really need to remedy that!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, M.B.! “The Hobbit” is definitely wonderful! Somewhat “lighter” than “The Lord of the Rings,” though hardly light in a number of its chapters. I think overall I like the more epic “The Lord of the Rings” a little better, but “The Hobbit” is SUCH an enjoyable read. And, yes, hard to beat Tolkien’s skill at world-building!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I had no idea The Hobbit was written that long ago. I knew Mulberry Street was the first book by Dr. Seuss, but didn’t know it was that old, either. I don’t have anything to add, but this was certainly interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hard to believe the Hobbit is of this vintage. And what a year for books in terms of some biggies. I had a look at fiction from that year because some of these giants were books I’d read and there’s two I’d read I see were popular at the time but almost forgotten now as are their authors almost and that’s AJ Cronin’s the Citadel. And the Family From one End Street which was very much a UK book. What a great post and nice tribute to so many authors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shehanne! I agree — hard to think of “The Hobbit” as being 86 years old. It feels ageless. Perhaps partly because fantasy fiction is not as grounded in the “real world” as general fiction is, so there aren’t as many cultural norms depicted that can later seem out of date. And, yes, every year has some good books that eventually fade from memory to some degree or are more known regionally than worldwide.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve got to add “Jane of Lantern Hill”, by L.M. Montgomery, to this list.
    Added bonus; I worked in the sewing room building clothes for the telefilm. (in my younger days)

    I adore Agatha Christie novels. I’ve read most, and love all the movies.
    Yes, by today’s way of thinking, many novels of the past have notable problems in regards to race, and other social depictions.
    I for one am intelligent enough to understand, and appreciate the history behind that. If we ban books (one of Dr. Suess’ was on the chopping block as I recall) because of this, we are not learning from history, but by hiding the truth bound to repeat it.
    Seems mankind has a hard enough time in that regard.

    Anyway… “Murder on the Orient Express” is on tonight. I’m going to have a good time watching and drawing!
    Cheers, Dave!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Resa! I appreciate the L.M. Montgomery mention; “Jane of Lantern Hill” is one of the few works of hers I haven’t read. Great that the adaptation was part of your impressive film rรฉsumรฉ!

      Yes, books that were “of their time” were…of their time. Of course some authors were ahead of their time in avoiding too much stereotyping, but they were often the exceptions. Books should indeed NOT be banned.

      Enjoy “Murder on the Orient Express” as you multi-task! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Resa, I was pleased to see you mention LM Montgomery’s book here. I also thought of that one as I am a great fan of her stories. Emily of New Moon was my favourite series. How nice that your worked on the outfits for the telefilm. I agree about colonial books, they are the product of there era but some of them are still very beautiful (if you overlook the historical attitudes). I particularly love the depictions of Africa in Rider Haggard’s books.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. WOW Dave, you picked some excellent classics. Agatha Christie is certainly one of my favorite murder-mystery authors and Zora Neale Hurstonโ€™s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is another favorite read of mine. John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl,” and “East of Eden” are also some of his books I enjoyed. I love how you composed a spotlight on some beloved authors. Thanks so much for sharing. ๐Ÿค—๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ๐Ÿ˜

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I am delighted that you mentioned H.P. Lovecraft, Dave. A few months ago I read โ€œThe Shadow over Innsmouthโ€ which is a horror novella written by H. P. Lovecraft in 1931. The story is set in a fictional town in Massachusetts and follows the protagonist’s investigation into the town’s dark secrets. I did not think that I would be engaged with a horror novella but, Lovecraft’s writing style is fascinating. Characterized by his use of cosmic horror, I was captured by his way of emphasizing the insignificance of humanity in the face of the vast and incomprehensible universe. Do we really know what lurks in dark places? His vivid descriptions of the town and its inhabitants create a sense of unease and dread throughout the story. I felt the tension and suspense and was surprised by the shocking conclusion. For once, I did not look at the end page.

    Feel the dread that he created in a few sentences:

    โ€œCertainly, the terror of a deserted house swells in geometrical rather than arithmetical progression as houses multiply to form a city of stark desolation. The sight of such endless avenues of fishy-eyed vacancy and death, and the thought of such linked infinities of black, brooding compartments given over to cob-webs and memories and the conqueror worm, start up vestigial fears and aversions that not even the stoutest philosophy can disperse.โ€ H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow over Innsmouth

    Thank you for another excellent post and follow-up discussion.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca! VERY well said! H.P. Lovecraft could indeed create quite an atmosphere and mood in his novellas as well as his short stories. One of his longest works, “At the Mountains of Madness,” is a haunting eye-opener, too. A shame he didn’t have more success during his relatively short life.

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      • You will find HP Lovecraftโ€™s writing very interesting, Robbie. My first introduction to his work was through this blog. So thank you Dave for the introduction! I was fascinated by Lovecraftโ€™s creation of the Cthulhu Mythos. As Dave noted, regrettably, despite his success as a writer, Lovecraft lived in relative obscurity during his lifetime and did not achieve widespread recognition until after his death. But here is a tidbit that I found interesting – he was a friend of Robert E. Howard, the writer of Conan the Barbarian.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. I became an Agatha Christie fan when I came of age to read her novels. I’ve read all that I could find. Death on the Nile was one of my favorites. I was so engrossed in solving her murder mysteries that I never noticed the flaws in their characters. Until I moved to the USA, I had never heard of Dr. Seuss. For us in the British Caribbean, Enid Blyton (1897-1968) was the most famous author of children’s books. I read Zora Neale Hurstonโ€™s Their Eyes Were Watching God just a few years ago.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene! I agree that the murder mysteries in Agatha Christie’s novels are the main thing; the modern reader just has to kind of shrug off some un-PC stuff.

      Interesting about Dr. Seuss — he was and is super well known in the U.S.; perhaps not as much elsewhere.

      Liked by 3 people

        • Thank you, Patti! Glad to hear that Dr. Seuss was/is big in Canada! I also loved his books when I was a kid, and later read them to my two daughters. And, like you, I can still recite passages. ๐Ÿ™‚ I read a biography of him once; kind of a prickly character who, if I’m remembering correctly, ironically didn’t have any children himself — though he became a stepdad in his second marriage.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. One of the best opening lines of all time comes from The Hobbit: โ€œIn a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hold, and that means comfort.โ€ Can you read that without smiling and feeling compelled to read on?

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Bill! Your great comment reminded me that some literature is almost timeless — including an 86-year-old novel (“Their Eyes Were Watching God”) that could resonate strongly with a young 21st-century audience.

      Like

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