The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion

A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks

I OBSERVE that Whiteoaks, a play drawn from the first two volumes of that family chronicle known to most — if not all — Atlantic readers, has had a most successful opening in London. Charles Morgan, author of sparkenbroke, who reviewed the opening for the Times, reports that Gran, as played by Miss Nancy Price, Mr. Robert Newton’s Renny, and Mr. Stephen Haggard’s Finch ‘are so represented that their vitality is assured.’ . . . How soon shall we see them in New York? I observe also that Mary Roberts Rinehart has just finished her latest novel — which is, incidentally, her fiftieth book. Her first drafts are said to run to half a million words and are then cut down in successive stages to the 160,000 words that are published. Hats off!
Booksellers and publishers are beginning to wonder if there is not too much emphasis given to the list of current best sellers. These lists are displayed in bookstores, where they are frequently consulted by compliant readers and where undoubtedly they tend to magnify the popularity of a few books and to diminish, the chances of the slow starter. What is worse, they constitute one more easy (but not necessarily authoritative) reference, one more excuse for following the leader rather than seeking out books on one’s own. At their last convention in Manhattan the American booksellers took the initiative of nominating the four ‘most distinguished books of 1935.’
The Most Distinguished Novel of the Year — Time Out of Mind, by Rachel Field
The Most Original Novel — The Circus of Dr. Lao, by Charles G. Finney
The Most Distinguished Biography — Personal History, by Vincent Sheean
The Most Distinguished Book of General Non-Fiction — North to the Orient, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
The trouble with their selection is that in two out of four instances it echoes plaudits which have already been loestowed by the public. I should have been more interested in awards, ’say, for the four English books which have been Most Undeservedly Neglected since 1920. For that reproachful honor I should pick Gone to Earth, by Mary Webb; Old Junk, by H. M. Tomlinson; Tarka the Otter, by Henry Williamson; and Winged Victory, by Victor M. Yeates.
If I were king I’d require every lover of fiction to read at least three first novels during the summer. Such compulsion would keep us aware of the new talent coming to the surface; it would also lessen the bitter handicap of the new writer. It Won’t Be Flowers (Harpers, $2.00) is a first novel, written with such zest and intensity that I want to see more. The author, Judith Kelly, lives on Beacon Hill. Against the recognizable background of Boston she tells the story of some young people of the 1930’s, a story which preserves a single mood of perplexity and quest. From the background two characters emerge to become definite and rounded, Bridget, and Mark; in their mutual attraction these two possess a vitality which leaves the other people flat by comparison. In making Dan, Bridget’s husband, so supine the author sidesteps the chance for a good conflict; in her insistence upon Henry’s death she strains our credulity at the very moment of climax. For Henry is too unreal for sympathy. Finally, here — as in other novels in which the Marxian dialectic is given voice — one can’t help feeling that the cards are stacked: Mark is never once checked by a rugged appreciation of American democracy. If one overlooks these inadequacies, it is because of the warm and feminine portrait of Bridget, and because of a style whose freshness and zest are worth remembering.