PPL140: 1946-1959

PosTImage of painting "Compartment C Car" (1938) by Edward Hopper with text: "1940-1959"

 

Early edition book cover image for The Iceman ComethThe Iceman Cometh [play] by Eugene O’Neill, 1946

The play is set in New York City in 1912 and chronicles the lives of a group of lonely denizens who live, drink, and dream at Harry Hope’s boarding house and bar, each lost in a separate world of illusion. As the play opens, they are eagerly awaiting the annual visit of Hickey, a traveling salesman who always attends Harry’s birthday party, bringing jokes and ribald stories about his wife and the iceman. But this year is different: Harry has sworn off drink, and tells the others that he is now free of illusions and is at last at peace. He proceeds to destroy the dreams of the boarders, to force them to see reality. Hounded by Hickey, they leave the house the next day to try to realize the pipe dreams they have talked about and gotten drunk over for years; they return, each devastated in defeat.

In this play, O’Neill explores the nature of truth and illusion, focusing on the importance of delusion in human life. The “iceman” of the title represents death, and O’Neill shows how each character uses his dreams to avoid the reality of responsibility an mortality. Many critics note the influence of Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths on the content of the play.

Cover image for Later, at the bar : a novel in storiesRead Along: Later, At the Bar: A Novel in Stories by Rebecca Barry (2007)

Lucy’s Tavern is the best kind of small-town bar. It has a good jukebox, a bartender with a generous pour, and it’s always open, even in terrible weather. In the raw and beautiful country that makes up Rebecca Barry’s fictional landscape, Lucy’s is where everyone ends up, whether they mean to or not. There’s the tipsy advice columnist who has a hard time following her own advice, the ex-con who falls for the same woman over and over again, and the soup-maker who tries to drink and cook his way out of romantic despair. Theirs are the kinds of stories about love and life that unfold late in the evening, when people finally share their secret hopes and frailties, because they know you will forgive them, or maybe make out with them for a little while. In this rich and engaging debut, each central character suffers a sobering moment of clarity in which the beauty and sadness of life is revealed. But the character does not cry or mend his ways. Instead he tips back his hat, lights another unfiltered cigarette, and heads across the floor to ask someone to dance. A poignant exploration of the sometimes tender, sometimes deeply funny ways people try to connect, Later, at the Bar is as warm and inviting as a good shot of whiskey on a cold winter night.

 

Early edition book cover image of Diary of a Young GirlThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, 1947

The Diary of a Young Girl is the internationally recognized diary of Anne Frank (1929–45), a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam who was forced into hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands (1940–45). Published in Dutch as Het achterhuis in 1947, the diary chronicles the day-to-day lives of the eight inhabitants of the “Secret Annex” (the apartment in which they hid), with Frank recording everything from the idiosyncrasies of her housemates’ personalities to the tedium of living in hiding to the constant fear of being discovered by the Germans. Thirteen years old at the start of the diary, Frank writes about topics common to adolescents, such as feelings of loneliness, alienation from adults and family, frustrations at her lack of freedom, and romantic desires. By the end of the journal—which stops on August 1, 1944, three days before the Secret Annex was raided by the Nazis, the followers of German dictator Adolf Hitler (1889–1945)—Frank reveals her evolution from a typical teenager into an insightful writer who chooses to believe, despite the worsening treatment of her fellow Jews by the Nazis, that “people are truly good at heart.”

Cover image for Run and hideRead Along: Run and Hide by Don Brown (2023) 

A (Young Adult) graphic novel: In the tightening grip of Hitler’s power, towns, cities, and ghettoes were emptied of Jews. Unless they could escape, Jewish children would not be spared their deadly fate in the Holocaust, a tragedy of unfathomable depth. Only 11% of the Jewish children living in Europe before 1939 survived the Second World War. Run and Hide tells the stories of these children, forced to leave their homes and families, as they escaped certain horror. Some children flee to England by train. Others are hidden from Nazis, sometimes in plain sight. Some are secreted away in attics and farmhouses. Still others make miraculous escapes, cresting over the snow-covered Pyrenees mountains to safety.

 

TEarly edition book cover image of The Naked and the Deadhe Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer, 1948

One of the major American novels of World War II, The Naked and the Dead is based on Norman Mailer’s combat experience as a U.S. Army sergeant in the Pacific theater. Mailer began writing The Naked and the Dead in 1946, immediately after his discharge from the army. The novel was published in 1948 to great critical and popular acclaim, with many reviewers calling it one of the greatest and most realistic war narratives of all time. The Naked and the Dead follows a fourteen-man platoon of infantry soldiers, part of an advance force that is to open the way for the eventual American invasion of the Philippines. The setting is Anapopei, a fictitious island held by entrenched Japanese forces that the American army is charged with recapturing. Mailer’s account of the slow retaking of the island by the American forces, articulated through the thoughts and emotions of individual soldiers, depicts the violence of jungle warfare in harsh detail. The Japanese army rarely appears in the novel, which concentrates on the feelings, beliefs, and interactions of the American soldiers. To Mailer, the confrontation between the Japanese and the U.S. troops is of less interest than the American soldiers’ attempts to cope with their individual fears and prejudices, as well as their struggles to reconcile army life with their past civilian lives and their thoughts about the future.

Cover image for TranscriptionRead Along: Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018)

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, now a radio producer at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A different war is being fought now, on a different battleground, but Juliet finds herself once more under threat. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.

 

Early edition book cover image of 19841984 by George Orwell, 1949

George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of the best-known books in English, its future society of Big Brother a familiar reference even to those who have never read it. The tale of a dystopian future, the novel warns against the encroachments of totalitarianism as emblematized by the contemporary Soviet Union, although its target remains fascist tendencies in the United Kingdom, through a dismal tale of one man’s failed rebellion against this order. Orwell invents “newspeak” for the book, a violent truncation of the range of words in the English language undertaken by Party officials who believe that by eliminating the language for expressing subversive ideas, the capacity to have such ideas atrophies. Orwell’s future society of IngSoc (English socialism) is overseen by four state agencies: the Ministry of Peace, which deals with the military and war; the Ministry of Plenty, which supervises rationing and production; the Ministry of Truth, a propaganda agency that continually rewrites history to ensure its conformity with the ideology of the moment; and the Ministry of Love, the state police who use torture and psychological manipulation to ensure conformity. Protagonist Winston Smith works for the Ministry of Truth, and readers see some of its methods of operation, but the real focus is on the Ministry of Love, which transforms Winston from rebel into someone who truly, as he states in the book’s famous conclusion, loves Big Brother.

Cover image for Julia : a novelRead Along: Julia by Sandra Newman (2023)

An imaginative, feminist, and brilliantly relevant-to-today retelling of Orwell’s 1984, from the point of view of Winston Smith’s lover, Julia, by critically acclaimed novelist Sandra Newman. Julia Worthing is a mechanic, working in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. It’s 1984, and Britain (now called Airstrip One) has long been absorbed into the larger trans-Atlantic nation of Oceania. Oceania has been at war for as long as anyone can remember, and is ruled by an ultra-totalitarian Party, whose leader is a quasi-mythical figure called Big Brother. In short, everything about this world is as it is in Orwell’s 1984. All her life, Julia has known only Oceania, and, until she meets Winston Smith, she has never imagined anything else. She is an ideal citizen: cheerfully cynical, always ready with a bribe, piously repeating every political slogan while believing in nothing. She routinely breaks the rules, but also collaborates with the regime when necessary. Everyone likes Julia. Then one day she finds herself walking toward Winston Smith in a corridor and impulsively slips him a note, setting in motion the devastating, unforgettable events of the classic story. Julia takes us on a surprising journey through Orwell’s now-iconic dystopia, with twists that reveal unexpected sides not only to Julia, but to other familiar figures in the 1984 universe.

 

Early edition book cover of The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, 1951

Although The Catcher in the Rye caused considerable controversy when it was first published in 1951, the book—the account of three disoriented days in the life of a troubled sixteen-year-old boy—was an instant hit. Within two weeks after its release, it was listed number one on The New York Times best-seller list, and it stayed there for thirty weeks. It remained immensely popular for many years, especially among teenagers and young adults, largely because of its fresh, brash style and anti-establishment attitudes—typical attributes of many people emerging from the physical and psychological turmoil of adolescence. The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of Holden Caulfield, a teenage slacker who has perfected the art of underachievement. The novel begins with Holden flunking out of school for the fourth time. During the last days before his expulsion, he searches for an appropriate way to conclude his school experience, but he ends up getting so annoyed with his school and schoolmates that he leaves in the middle of the night on the next train home to New York City. Arriving home a few days earlier than his parents expect him, he hangs out in the city to delay the inevitable confrontation with his parents. When his money runs out, he considers hitchhiking out west, but he ultimately returns home, mainly to be with his younger sister Phoebe.

Cover image for Julien ParmeRead Along: Julien Parme by Florian Zeller (2007)

An account of the trials and illusions of a bright, rebellious 14-year-old boy. The product of divorce, young Julien is not blending in so well with his blended family. One night, he escapes the family apartment to see where destiny and his stepfather’s credit card will take him. His long, dark night of the soul includes several stops at parties and cafes during which the reader is treated to a running monologue of hilarious and rueful observations. Zeller perfectly captures the sweet sincerity and innocent grandiosity of youth. Julien sees himself not as a troubled teen, but as a modern-day Don Quixote, defending his honor, righting wrongs and achieving everlasting fame. Dawn breaks and Julien stands on a platform, intending to catch a train bound for Italy. He thinks about the mountain climber who reached the summit of Mount Blanc, but knew his destiny was to climb back down eventually. And so Julien climbs into a taxi and returns home, hoping his mother will forgive him for being who he is rather than some more perfect person.

 

Early edition book cover of Invisible ManInvisible Man by Ralph Ellison, 1952

he unnamed narrator of Ellison’s novel, known only as “the invisible man,” is the central character of this famous work, for which Ellison received the National Book Award. The novel recounts the protagonist’s quest for identity as a black man in a white world. The novel begins as the invisible man is a boy growing up in the American South. The opening scene depicts young black boys, blindfolded, forced to fight in a boxing ring, for the “entertainment” of white men. This scene of degradation points to Ellison’s major theme: in a racist society, the black man is invisible, without identity. But Ellison’s protagonist refuses to accept the labels that white, racist society places on him. We follow his quest as he journeys north, encountering an economic and political reality different from the South but similar in its rigid, racist policies. He is attracted to the radical politics expounded by the “Brotherhood,” Ellison’s depiction of the communist party, which the protagonist rejects because of their narrow, ruthless philosophy. These events, and a cataclysmic race riot in Harlem, send the invisible man underground, where he lives in a cellar. Although it would appear that he is to pass his days in “darkness,” Ellison uses the symbolism of light and darkness ironically here: the invisible man has illuminated his new home with over one thousand light bulbs, stealing the power from the electric company. The novel’s conclusion is ambiguous, for the protagonist’s search for self-knowledge has ended in despair and self-exile, rather than in a sense of awareness and inner peace. Ellison’s searing indictment of racism is noted for its complexity and verbal richness, incorporating narrative styles ranging from the realistic to the fantastic, and including allusions to the European and Afro-American literary traditions. The influence of blues and jazz are also evident in the language and structure of the work. For all the seriousness of its themes, the novel is ironic and often comic in tone.

Cover image for We cast a shadow : a novelRead Along: We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (2019)

In a near-future Southern city, everyone is talking about a new experimental medical procedure that boasts unprecedented success rates. In a society plagued by racism, segregation, and private prisons, this operation saves lives with a controversial method–by turning people white. Like any father, our unnamed narrator just wants the best for his son Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is getting bigger by the day. But in order to afford Nigel’s whiteness operation, our narrator must make partner as one of the few black associates at his law firm, jumping through a series of increasingly absurd hoops–from diversity committees to plantation tours to equality activist groups–in a tragicomic quest to protect his son.

 

Early edition covers of The Lord of the Rings (trilogy)The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1954

The Lord of the Rings, by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, first published in three parts during 1954 and 1955, is sometimes thought of as the first adult fantasy novel, although as a form it has affinity with the old heroic romances that inspired its author. Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford and a scholar of such texts as Beowulf. His mythic quest novel, pitting a small hobbit as a hero against the Lord of Evil, holds a unique place in twentieth-century fiction: it is popular culture and enduring literature at the same time. It is a story about how goodness prevails, even in times of confusion and war, when people of integrity hold together. From the first, the book evoked strong, subjective reactions. In the fifty years following its publication, commentators learned to take an objective look at it.

Tolkien knew there was a hunger for heroic myth in the modern world, but he was surprised by his vast success. He would be even more overwhelmed at the games, toys, and films spawned by the novel, but he would understand the urge to proliferate what he had done. He hoped to sketch out a giant mythology that others could appreciate and add to, and they have. Not only has the fantasy industry grown up around the book, but also a demand for more details about his imaginary world, Middle-Earth. His son, Christopher, carried on, editing and publishing Tolkien’s unfinished manuscripts. The amount of Middle-Earth history and chronicles published since the author’s death is fourfold in volume to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings put together. Tolkien demonstrates that mythic stories speak to the human spirit in every age.

Cover image for Death's mistress : sister of darknessRead Along: Death’s Mistress: Sister of Darkness by Terry Goodkind (2017) 

One-time lieutenant of the evil Emperor Jagang, known as “Death’s Mistress” and the “Slave Queen”, the deadly Nicci captured Richard Rahl in order to convince him that the Imperial Order stood for the greater good. But it was Richard who converted Nicci instead, and for years thereafter she served Richard and Kahlan as one of their closest friends–and one of their most lethal defenders. Now, with the reign of Richard and Kahlan finally stabilized, Nicci has set out on her own for new adventures. One of her jobs will be to keep her travelling companion, the unworldly prophet Nathan, out of trouble. But her real task will be to scout the far reaches of Richard Rahl’s realm. This will take her and Nathan to visit the mysterious witch-woman Red, to tangle with the street life of the port city of Tanimura, to fight lethal battles on the high seas, and ultimately to a vast magical confrontation far from home…with the future of life itself, in the Old World and the New, at stake.

 

Early edition book cover of The Talented Mr. RipleyThe Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, 1955

The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first of five books in the Ripley series by Patricia Highsmith, an American writer who moved permanently to Europe in 1963. The series features her best-known character, Tom Ripley.  The novel’s themes include the nature of identity, the relationship of the real to the imagined, and homosexuality. Ripley literally gets away with murder and the innocent characters suffer in an amoral world that disconcerts the reader by subverting expectations. The novel exemplifies Highsmith’s rejection of the honest, straight-talking hero of conventional crime fiction in favor of the morally compromised or criminal protagonist. The atmosphere of menace that Highsmith creates, with the relatively low level of actual violence, justify the English novelist Graham Greene’s characterization of her in his Foreword to her short story collection Eleven as “the poet of apprehension rather than fear.”

Cover image for The good sonRead Along: The Good Son by Yu-jong Chong (2018)

Who can you trust if you can’t trust yourself? Early one morning, twenty-six-year-old Yu-jin wakes up to a strange metallic smell, and a phone call from his brother asking if everything’s all right at home – he missed a call from their mother in the middle of the night. Yu-jin soon discovers her murdered body, lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs of their stylish Seoul duplex. He can’t remember much about the night before; having suffered from seizures for most of his life, Yu-jin often has trouble with his memory. All he has is a faint impression of his mother calling his name. But was she calling for help? Or begging for her life? Thus begins Yu-jin’s frantic three-day search to uncover what happened that night, and to finally learn the truth about himself and his family.

 

 

Early edition book cover of Howl and Other PoemsHowl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg, 1956

What Jack Kerouac hailed in The Dharma Bums as the beginning of the San Francisco Renaissance was a reading on 13 October 1955 at Six Gallery on Fillmore Street in the Marina that featured the west coast poets subsequently most prominently identified with the Beat Generation—Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen. The high point of the evening, however, was the first public performance of a recently written long poem by a visitor from the east, Allen Ginsberg. His poem Howl was to provide the keynote for a growing countercultural movement. Respectable society at first ignored the outburst, but in March 1957 a second printing arriving from London was confiscated by U.S. Customs as obscene. These copies were released in May when a U.S. Attorney refused to proceed with the case, but the juvenile department of the San Francisco police took over and made the poem famous by arresting Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing and selling the work at his City Lights bookstore. A parade of famous reviewers and critics who testified for the defense attracted international attention to the work that trial judge Clayton Horn agreed he did not believe was “without the slightest redeeming social importance.” His verdict for the defense inspired subsequent trials involving banned books and films that by 1969 virtually abolished governmental censorship in the United States.

Cover image for The Poetry dealRead Along: The Poetry Deal by Diane di Prima (2014)

Framed by two passionate, and critical, prose statements assessing di Prima’s adopted home city, The Poetry Deal is a collection of poems that provide a personal and political look at forty years of Bay Area culture. Often elegiac in tone, the book captures the poet’s sense of loss as she chronicles the deaths of friends from the AIDS epidemic as well as the passing of illustrious countercultural colleagues like Philip Whalen, Pigpen from the Grateful Dead, and Kirby Doyle. She also recalls and mourns out-of-town inspirations like Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Audre Lorde, and Ezra Pound. Yet even as she laments the state of her city today, she finds triumph and solace in her own relationships, the marriages of her friends, the endurance of City Lights, and other symbols of San Francisco’s heritage.

 

Early edition book cover of Doctor ZhivagoDoctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, 1957

The first English translation of the novel Doctor Zhivago was published in 1958 after it was smuggled out of Russia, where its publication had been banned. Pasternak had been well known as a poet, and the arrival of this novel was critically acclaimed by many readers; it soon became a best seller. Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago (1957) is recognized as a classic of Russian literature. The novel spans the first half of the twentieth century, beginning in 1903 and ending with an epilogue that takes place in either 1948 or 1953 (Pasternak seems to deliberately obfuscate the date). In particular, it focuses on the period from about 1914 into the early 1920s, which encompasses World War I, the revolutionary uprisings of 1917, and the Russian civil war. For its vast scope, large cast of characters, and philosophical exploration of individual human experience in conflict with the grand movements of history, Doctor Zhivago is frequently compared with the novel War and Peace (1869), by Leo Tolstoy. But Doctor Zhivago is only partially modeled on traditional Russian realism. Pasternak was primarily a poet, and Doctor Zhivago, his only full-length work of fiction, at times defies linear chronology and is written in a rhythmic language dense with allusion and symbolism.

Cover image for The secrets we keptRead Along: The Secrets We Kept by Laura Prescott (2019) (2020 One City, One Story Selection)

A thrilling tale of secretaries turned spies, of love and duty, and of sacrifice–inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia, not with propaganda, but with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak’s magnum opus make its way into print around the world.  The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story–the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara–with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak’s country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature–told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world.

 

Early edition book cover of Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, 1958

Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart examines possession, in the form of spirit beings called ogbanje, as a means by which to understand the relationship between the material and spiritual worlds. Set in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia, Things Fall Apart follows the life of Okonkwo, a yam farmer and Igbo clan leader (although spelled “Ibo” in the novel, the name of this southern Nigerian cultural group is more often spelled “Igbo”). While the narrative weaves through time, offering long, colloquial asides, the novel maps Igbo existence before and after the arrival of British colonizers. Life in precolonial Umuofia is marked by supernatural beings and phenomena, including personal spirits known as chi, an evil forest, an oracle-god, and the ogbanje—spirit beings continually reborn to human mothers only to die again and again. The novel’s treatment of ogbanje possession in particular demonstrates the Igbo understanding of an overlapping relationship between the spirit world and the world of the living.

Cover image for Half of a yellow sunRead Along: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.  Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race–and the ways in which love can complicate them all. Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise and the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place, bringing us one of the most powerful, dramatic, and intensely emotional pictures of modern Africa that we have ever had.

 

Bestselling Fiction in the U.S. 1946-1959

This Side of Innocence by Taylor Caldwell

The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney

The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas

The Egyptian by Mika Waltari

The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson

From Here to Eternity by James Jones

The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain

The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier

Marjorie Morningstar  by Herman Wouk

The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor

By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak7

Exodus by Leon Uris

Descriptions and overviews from The Gale Literature Resource Center, NoveList Plus, and publisher content.