Some of the bestselling authors of the first half of the 20th century had wider name recognition among Americans than many of today’s celebrities.
That may seem odd, but the total population was smaller then, and there were fewer media outlets competing for attention.
Having books in a home was a indication of social status or at least social aspirations.
Besides that, books were not ephemeral products; for the most part, they were printed on high quality paper that lasted.
Can you identify the novelists in these descriptions?
Below are descriptions of five novelists who were names were household words in their heyday. See how many you can identify. (Answers below the photos.)
1. He had the same novel on the bestseller list four times in a span of 11 years.
2. This ex-preacher is said to be the first man to have a novel sell a million copies and the first novelist to become a millionaire.
3. Critical acclaim and sales don’t always go together, but this novelist took first-place honors on the bestseller list before her novel netted a Pulitzer and was instrumental in her the Nobel Prize for literature.
4. This outdoorsman and conservationist was a prolific novelist who wrote nonfiction and children’s literature, too. Today, however, he’s primarily remembered for his writing about the occult.
5. Despite his famous English name, prolific novelistic output, and regular appearance on the bestseller list between 1900 and 1915, this American novelist is virtually forgotten today.
The names of the bestselling novelists
2. Harold Bell Wright is the ex-preacher who made money and historical footnotes in the publishing business. Wright published his first novel at the insistence of his congregation. When he published his second, they kicked him out. From then on, writing became his full-time occupation.
3. Pearl S. Buck won popular and critical acclaim for The Good Earth before making a name for herself as a civil rights and women’s rights activist.
4. Late in life, The Silent Places author Stewart Edward White became interested in psychic phenomena. White wrote The Unobstructed Universe (1940), which he based on communications from his late wife.
5. The Winston Churchill whose name is nearly always joined to the phrase “American novelist” was a household name in the early twentieth century. Churchill hit the bestseller list with Richard Carvel (1900) The Crisis (1901), The Crossing (1904), Coniston (1906), Mr. Crewe’s Career (1908), A Modern Chronicle (1910), The Inside of the Cup (1913 and 1914), A Far County (1915).