Monday, November 26, 2018

From the Top of the Hill # 11: January 1, 1948

The eleventh installment of John D MacDonald's  late-1940's newspaper column, From the Top of the Hill. A year-end piece, here MacDonald lists his favorite books just published, along with a few that were not favorites. I posted this column back in 2010, along with an afterward discussing some of the contradictions contained herein. If you like you can read it here.

Probably due to our occupation of putting words on paper, we have a tendency to evaluate 1947 on the basis of what happened in the publishing business.

The other night on the radio we heard someone say that 1947 will be remembered principally because it was the year between 1946 and 1948. We are inclined to go along with the man.

To whom it may concern -- following is a list of the books published in 1947 that we enjoyed the most. At risk of being a heretic, we state firmly that we read books not for information, not for education, not for conversation -- but merely to be amused and entertained.

Command Decision by William Wister Haines (Little Brown). A war book presenting the top brass as human beings -- and very well done.

Dirty Eddie by Ludwig Bemelmas (Viking). Maybe this shouldn't be in here. We would read Bemelmans if he rewrote Henny Penny.

Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Hobson (Simon and Schuster). This is not in the list because of the quality of the prose -- which happens to be the slick, glib, objectionable prose of the big magazines -- but merely because of an intriguing plot situation.

The Harder They Fall by Budd Schulberg (Random House). Though Schulberg's narrator is so similar to the protagonists of many other recent novels that he has no real identity, the pictures of minor characters are superb.

Knock on Any Door by Willard Motley (Appleton-Century). Very realistic, and, as such, representative of a dying trend in these days of increasing mysticism and symbolic prose. Rough, tough and nasty -- but most effective.

Odd Man Out by F. L. Green (Reynal and Hitchcock). Wonderful suspense in a manhunt where the ending is inevitable. Told from the viewpoint of the hunted.

The Saxon Charm by Frederic Wakeman (Reinhart). Wakeman going a bit deeper into human relationship and emotions than in his two previous novels. Though not as popular as his first two, it may be a step in the direction of a really good novel someday.

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener (Macmillan). Would call this, along with Shore Leave and Command Decision, one of the three best jobs to come out of the war. Mitchener has something special.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (Reynal and Hitchcock). We have the idea that in the year 2047, this book will be read, and frequently. Of all on this list it most deserves rereadings.

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And just to be unpleasant, here are a few titles we could have skipped and saved reading time. Kingsblood Royal, S. Lewis; East Side, West Side, M. Davenport; Adversary in the House, I. Stone; Proud Destiny, L. Feuchtwanger.

Other titles which we almost put on the preferred list are The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie, The Left Hand is the Dreamer by N. Wilson [Ross], Hellbox by J. O'Hara, The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford.

* * *

1947 was a year in which more books were printed and circulated in this country than at any time in history. And a year in which the publishing business was severely criticized for the low average quality of its offerings. Quantity without quality. Some months back we heard Freeman "Doc" Lewis, Executive Vice-President of Pocket Books, talking about the book clubs. They, of course, were partly responsible for so many millions of volumes being printed. Doc Lewis said that in the depression many book clubs were about to fail. Then some merchandising genius got the idea of making the subscriber send in a blank when he didn't want a book, instead of when he did. In other words, they put inertia to work. Inertia has sold more book club books than any other form of merchandising.

1947 was a year in which two friends of ours had books published. Ed Taylor did a nice job in Richer by Asia. We were overseas with Ed. At that time he was soaking up the background for his book. We thought he was merely preoccupied.

Also an editor, a lady named Babette Rosmond, to whom we have sold many pulp stories for inclusion in such newsstand epics as Doc Savage and The Shadow, wrote one called The Dewy Dewy Eyes. We saw her last week in New York, and she requested that around the middle of this month we walk the streets of Clinton wearing a sandwich sign to advertise the publication of her new book, which is to be called A Party for Grownups. As yet we have given her no decision.

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A very happy and prosperous new year to all you people.

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See you next week.

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