Author Judith Krantz dead

Judith Krantz, a familiar name on bestseller lists in the last third of the 20th century, died June 22 at her Los Angeles home, according to her publicist. She was 91.

Her bestsellers reviewed here at GreatPenformances are Scruples (1978), Princess Daisy (1980), and Mistral’s Daughter (1982). Reviews of her other novels slated in coming months are I’ll Take Manhattan (1986) to be reviewed August 31 and Till We Meet Again (1988) to be reviewed November 5.

Here’s a link to Krantz’s obituary in The Washington Post and another to her obituary on Deadline.

Herman Wouk died today

Bestselling novelist Herman Wouk died today at age 103. Here’s a link to Herman Wouk’s obituary in today’s The New York Times.

The Wouk bestsellers reviewed at GreatPenformances are:
The Caine Mutiny (1951 bestseller #2)
Marjorie Morningstar (1955 bestseller #1)
Youngblood Hawke (1962 bestseller #4)
Don’t Stop the Carnival (1961 bestseller #10)
The Winds of War (1972 bestseller #7)
War and Remembrance (1978 bestseller #2)

GreatPenformances goes on summer schedule

After my review of the last of 1974’s top ten novels is posted June 12, I’m going to cut back to posting just one review a week on Tuesdays June 19 through the end of August.

The list of the novels I’ll be reviewing and the dates they’ll be posted are on the Best Seller Lists page for 1970-1999.

Linda Aragoni


Chat about 1916 bestsellers draws Fine Books & Collections readers

Each of the last three years, I’ve had a conversation in January with Nate Pedersen about the novels that celebrated their one hundredth publishing birthdays in the just-ended year.  The conversations have been posted on Fine Books & Collections blog.

My January 2017 conversation with Nate about the 1916 bestselling novels was fifth of 2017’s 10 most popular posts at Fine Books & Collections blog.

I hope the newly posted conversation about 1917 bestselling novels will do as well.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Book reviews for 2018 start Jan. 6

Happy New Year!

After a bit of a break to catch my breath after reviewing all the bestselling novels from 1900 to 1969, I’ve decided to push on with reading all the bestselling novels of the 20th century.

I’m going to try to get back on my twice-weekly schedule, with reviews published on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Looking at the lengths of the novels for the early 1970s, I almost gave up before I began. There are several 800 and 900-page novels among them. We’ll see how things go. If I can’t keep up the twice-a-week pace, I may have to cut back to once a week.

I’m going to work through the years’ lists in chronological order, and on each list work down from #1 down to #10.

I won’t be posting the each years’ bestseller lists and review dates in advance. That takes time better spent reading and reviewing.

To see what’s ahead, click the tab for the Bestsellers Lists; the 1970-1999 lists are in the bottom drop down menu.

Saturday I’ll publish my review of the #1 bestseller of 1970: Love Story.

I look forward to having you join me in reading and chatting about older fiction.

Linda Gorton Aragoni



Report from limbo

When I finished my self-assigned task of reading all the bestsellers from 1900 to 1969 looking to see which ones hold the most value for today’s readers, I was absolutely, positively sure I didn’t want to lock myself into a routine like that again.

After about two weeks without a book review to post, I began to experience withdrawal symptoms.

I’m debating whether to review more of the influential novels that didn’t make the bestseller lists (such as Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole, which I just read) or push myself to finish all the 20th century bestsellers. I’m still not entirely sure which I’ll do, but whichever I choose, I’ll start the series in 2018.

For the rest of 2017, I’ll be posting some teasers about novels I want to read again.

I hope some of them encourage you to check out an old novel.

~ Linda Aragoni



Love, marriage, children, regrets: A Valentine’s Day look at three vintage bestsellers

Sign on tree: Eat, Drink, and Be Married

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I was tempted to label this post “for mature audiences.”

I don’t mean that it will be salacious or even titillating, far from it: This is a post about three married women in bestselling vintage novels whose grand passions are just memories.

Each woman’s story is told from her perspective. The novelists leave readers to determine how much to trust the woman’s judgment.

Since their glorious passion, occasionally recalled while hanging diapers to dry or when the in-laws’ all-too-familiar monologues beg the mind to wander, each of the women wonders if she might not be better off without her husband.

The reasons for their not walking out on their husbands are too complicated for immature readers to comprehend.

Again, happy Valentine’s Day.  I hope you find a novel you’re passionate about.

The Brimming Cup

teaser for The Brimming Cup on closeup of piano keys

The Brimming Cup is a 1921 novel by Dorothy Canfield [Fisher].  Its leading lady is a talented pianist, Marise Crittenden, who, as the novel opens, has just seen her youngest child off to his first year of boarding school.

Marise and her husband, Neale,  had pledged their love on the on the Rocca di Papa in 1909.  By most standards, they’ve had a good marriage.

But as she muses about life with Neale without the children in a tiny New England town far from Italy, Marise thinks, “This is the beginning of the end.”

Marise fears she and Neale will have nothing in common once their children are grown.

Just how far Marise and Neale are already mentally separated is revealed when she overhears a comment that suggests Neale has done something underhanded and she believes it: Marise would never have believed Neale capable of dishonesty back in their time in Italy.

When a retired office manager moves in next door, accompanied by the young son of his late employer, Neale is away on business. To be neighborly, Marise introduces the two men around the community.

The sexy, sophisticated younger man attempts to seduce Marise. She is, naturally, flattered by his attentions, as would any woman whose baby is about to become a teenager.

The novel is intricately crafted and the story rendered with watercolor nuances.

Canfield allows readers to look over Marise’s shoulder and into her mind as she works out whether to leave Neale and a childless house for Vincent and a career.

Years of Grace

teaser for The Years of Grace beside 1912 sculpure

Nine years after The Brimming Cup was published, Margaret Ayers Barnes published her Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Years of Grace.

Barnes’s leading lady was born Jane Ward in 1877. She was as plain and respectable and solidly middle class as her name sounds. “The unexpected was never allowed to happen to her.”

As a teenager, Jane thought if the unexpected ever did happen, she’d embrace it with joy. But although the unexpected happens to her several times, Jane never embraces it with joy.

Jane’s respectable parents disapprove of her friendship with André Duroy, a French boy whose parents live in an apartment. When André proposes,  Jane’s parents refuse permission for her to marry  or for the couple to even exchange letters until Jane is 21.

Andre goes to Paris to study sculpture for those four years.

As a consolation prize, Jane’s parents do let her go East to college at Bryn Mawr, where she spends two happy years, studying what interests her and ignoring what doesn’t, and feeling “very trivial and purposeless.”

She didn’t really worry a bit as to whether or no she ever voted and she didn’t want to work for her living and, really, she only cared about pleasing André and growing up into the kind of a girl he’d like to be with and talk to and marry.

When Jane’s older sister marries, her parents summon Jane home. Jane’s mother insists she make her debut and enter the husband competition. Although she’s not after a husband—she’s betrothed to André—Jane enjoys being a debutante.

Andre doesn’t come for her twenty-first birthday. He writes that he’s been awarded the Prix de Rome, which means three years’ study in Italy.

Smarting over Andre’s rejection, Jane agrees to marry Stephen Carver, a safe, respectable banker, whom she likes but does not love.

Fifteen years and three children later, Jane at 36 wonders if she and Stephen had ever had romance.

Wasn’t it Stephen’s most endearing quality — or was it his most irritating? —that for ten years or more Stephen had never really thought about how she looked at all? To Stephen, Jane looked like Jane. That was enough for him.

Jane at 50 realizes with a slight pang of regret that she’s always gone in for “durable satisfactions.”

Life might have been very different had Jane been different.

A Lion Is in the Streets

Lion on prowl. How does his mate cope at home?

Adria Locke Langley’s 1945 novel A Lion Is in the Streets starts at the end of Verity and Hank Martin’s marriage.

Hank has been assassinated, and, as always, Verity has been left to cope on her own.

Verity was a Yankee schoolteacher when she fell for a sexy Southern peddler with dreams of becoming governor.

Verity stays home in a sharecropper cottage, making do and ignoring the rumors of Hank’s philandering that drift back from his frequent trips across the state building a political machine to take him to the statehouse.

Verity has known for almost as long as she’s known Hank that his sex drive threatened their marriage.

She gradually comes to realize his political ambition is an even greater threat.

The 1953 film version captures the events of the novel, but misses the real story, which is revealed by innuendo.

The novel takes its title from Proverbs 26:13 where the sluggard uses “a lion is in the streets” as an excuse for not going to work. The allusion is typically interpreted in political terms:  The lion is the political machine; the sluggard is the lazy public that lets it do what it wants.

The Martins remind me of Hillary and Bill Clinton: a cerebral woman with great potential whose friends regard her sexy husband as totally beneath her.

Perhaps that’s why I think a case can be made for a different interpretation of the allusion: that Langley intended readers to see Hank as a political lion and Verity as a moral sluggard who, by failing to exert the power she has, enables him.

Where to find the novels

The Brimming Cup can be found as a digital download at Project Gutenberg. If you’d rather have a 1921 hardback copy or a reprint in paperback, check, where independent booksellers display their wares.

Years of Grace is not yet in the public domain, so it’s not available digitally at Project Gutenberg. Copies of a 1976 reprint of the novel and a lovely 2007 reprint, which I own, can be found at

A Lion Is in the Streets also is not yet in the public domain. This past weekend had 69 copies of the novel for sale.

Final thoughts

It would be fascinating to read companion novels told from the husband’s perspective.

Anyone want to take on the challenge of writing one for NaNoWriMo 2017?


Ahead: Reviews of 7 remaining 1908 bestsellers

I got my notes mixed up earlier when I posted my list of novels I planned to review in the remaining days of 2016, and gave you a list of novels whose reviews will appear in 2017. My apologies.

You will be getting reviews of the seven six bestsellers from 1908 that I hadn’t located when their time came around.

Here’s the list and their posting dates:

1908 #1 Mr. Crewe’s Career by Winston Churchill [Nov. 22]
1908 #2 The Barrier by Rex Beach [Nov. 26]
1908 #3 The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox Jr.
1908 #4 The Lure of the Mask by Harold MacGrath [Nov. 29]
1908 #5 The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett [Dec. 3]
1908 #6 Peter by F. Hopkinson Smith
1908 #7 Lewis Rand by Louis J. Vance [Dec. 6]
1908 #8 The Black Bag by Harold MacGrath [Dec. 10]
1908 #9 The Man from Brodney’s by George Barr McCutcheon [Dec.13]
1908 #10 The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg by Louis Bromfield
1908 #10 The Weavers by Gilbert Parker [This was also a 1907 bestseller. My review of it will be posted early in 2017.]

The poll of your picks of the 1908 bestsellers will be posted on Dec. 17.

I’ll reveal my picks on Dec. 20.

I’ll probably have some extra content as my Christmas gifts to readers on Dec. 24 and again on Dec. 27.

Dec. 31 I’ll see out the old year with a post about the best of the novels I reviewed here in 2016.

Correction and apology

I missed posting my review of The Great Adventure in its appointed spot August 9  and just noticed the problem today.

My apologies.

I’ll post my review of The Great Adventure on Saturday.

You’ll get your chance to pick the best of the 1916 bestsellers on Aug. 30, and I’ll reveal mine Aug. 31.  Then we’ll be back on track to start the 1906 list in September.

Linda Gorton Aragoni


Look who’s talking about Great Penformances

The latest addition to my brag box is an interview this week with Nate Pederson.

Post header "1915 best sellers: A Conversation with Linda Aragoni"Nate came across Great Penformances while researching the bestsellers of 1915 for the Fine Books Blog at Fine Books Magazine. I had already reviewed those novels here so the reviews came up in his search.

Like me, Nate doesn’t stick to one thing: He’s a journalist, fiction writer, community librarian (a multi-hat job), and he also gives audio-visual history presentations. You’ll find him on Twitter @nate_pedersen.

Another piece in my brag book is a 2013 piece by Mary Kalfatovic, editor-in-chief of  The Committee Room.

Headline and opening of "Bestsellers of the Past" shows dust cover of The Sea HawkOver a period of a couple weeks, Mary interviewed me by email so well the experience was scarcely different from doing an in-person interview.

Her piece “Best Sellers of the Past: What’s Still Worth Reading?” is an article I’d be proud to have written. Mary is a great interviewer and a fine writer.

You’ll find The Committee Room on Twitter @The CommRoom.

Just in case I haven’t mentioned it in a while,  the website of The Oneida Dispatch has been offering readers the Great Penformances feed for several years.

Blog list from the Oneida Dispatch