We’ve reached a new year, a new decade. That’s an achievement, I’m sure, though the joke is soon to be on us.
Still, it’s a new beginning, which convenience suggests is a great time to set goals, establish resolutions; plan to fail, as it were. For readers, especially those on Goodreads, these first few weeks of the new year allow us to take stock of our word consumption the previous 12 months (more on this in a later post) and look toward the subsequent dozen. I’m no different. My goal each year is to read 20 books. That’ll be true until I actually do it.
In 2020, I have another goal. You’ve probably noticed that we’re now a century removed from the roaring twenties, that raucous period in our history where everyone did the Charleston, listened to Jelly Roll Morton, and drank champagne out of coupe glasses (despite the fact that prohibition banned the production, import, transport, and sale of booze from 1920-1933). It’s a well-dissected time in our cultural (read: literary) history. I’d like to learn more about it.
Of the 20 books I hope to read this year, I’m choosing six published in 1920. (My other goal is to write about them on the blog, both individually at first and then collectively when I’m finished.) And because this is meant to teach me something about the year, at least as it relates to America and English-language novels, I put some rails on it. I wanted the year’s top two best-sellers published that year, that year’s Nobel Prize winner, and three flex spots for me to choose influential works that retain some relevance.
Here are my picks:
The Best Sellers:
The Man of the Forest – Zane Grey
Kindred of the Dust – Peter B. Kyne
The Nobel Prize Winner:
Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
The Influential Flexes:
Main Street – Sinclair Lewis
The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie
Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence
I haven’t read any of these novels.
Initially, I wanted to choose five novels because that’s a cleaner number as far as arbitrary choices go. As I looked at the best-seller list, however, Kindred of the Dust really spoke to me. It inspired a silent 1922 film of the same name that I may try to track down later this year and was conveniently the No. 2 yearly seller behind Grey’s The Man of the Forest.
Lewis’ Main Street and Wharton’s Age of Innocence ranked first and fourth, respectively, on Publisher Weekly’s list of best sellers for 1921.
Wharton’s Age of Innocence won the 1921 Noble Prize provided to a novel, yes. But it was published during the year in question so I feel as though I’m not breaking any laws. Interestingly, there was no Nobel Prize given to a novel in the 1920 ceremony; rather, Norwegian author Knut Hamsun won the general Literature prize for his novel, Growth of the Soil.
I considered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise among my flex choices. But I’ve read plenty of Fitzgerald and nothing from the selected authors.
Good luck to me. I’ll need it.