Novels on 1944 bestseller list won fame, notoriety

The best-selling novels of 1944 include some titles that achieved fame or notoriety. Here’s the complete 1944 list with the dates my reviews scheduled in brackets:

  1. Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith [April 12, 2014]
  2. The Robe  by Lloyd C. Douglas
  3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  4. Forever Amber  by Kathleen Winsor [April 15, 2014]
  5. The Razor’s Edge  by W. Somerset Maugham [April 19, 2014]
  6. The Green Years  by A. J. Cronin [April 22, 2014]
  7. Leave Her to Heaven  by Ben Ames Williams [April 26. 2014]
  8. Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge [April 29, 2014]
  9. A Bell for Adano by John Hersey [May 3, 2014]
  10. The Apostle  by Sholem Asch

Film versions were made of all but one novels on the 1944 list. The one hold-out was the novel in last place, Asch’s The Apostle.

The top seller, Lillian Smith’s  Strange Fruit  may be remembered today primarily for being inspired by a  song made famous by Billie Holiday and honored by Time magazine as “the song of the century.” You can learn about the song’s intriguing history in an 2012 NPR “Morning Edition” piece by Elizabeth Blair.  In its era, however, the novel Strange Fruit was notorious for having been literally banned in Boston and even prohibited from being distributed by U.S. mail for a few days.

The number four novel of the year,  Forever Amber, escaped the censors, but its  film version ran into problems.

A Bell for Adano won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1945.

Three of the 1944 bestsellers made the list more than once. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  and  The Apostle, which were bestsellers only in 1943 won top honors again in 1944. 1944 marked the third appearance of  The Robe, which would reappear on the bestseller list for a fourth time in 1953.

Scheduling note: on May 10, I’ll review a well-known 1934 novel that didn’t make the bestseller list.

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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