Book Reviews

We the Living by Ayn Rand (1936)

We the Living (1936) was the first published novel by Ayn Rand, the ever-controversial Russian-American novelist. Set in post-revolutionary Russia, it reflected Rand’s opposition to communism and totalitarianism. It was, in her own estimation, her most semi-autobiographical. Though the reviews the book received upon its initial publication were mixed, it became a bestseller. This set the stage for the popularity of her subsequent novels, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, which sold like gangbusters — even though critics were even less kind to them.

Many reviews of We the Living appreciated the direct look at the effects of Soviet policies on society, but felt the writing was heavy-handed. As the New York Times put it, the book seemed “slavishly warped to the dictates of propaganda.” Read More→

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Giant by Edna Ferber (1952)

When Giant by Edna Ferber was published in 1952, some critics, especially those in the Southern U.S., weren’t impressed. In fact, the book made them hopping mad. Ferber’s books, considered by some as dramatic pot-boilers, often managed to weave in themes of racism and injustice and that didn’t sit too well in areas where racism was prevalent.

A 2011 re-evaluation of the novel in The Texas Observer had this to say: “Though it now boggles the mind, when Edna Ferber’s classic potboiler Giant was first published in 1952, it scandalized Texans from the Pecos to the Sabine. Critics ripped the novel, a hard-nosed satire of Lone Star mores, and Ferber herself to shreds in papers across the state. The Houston Press suggested she be lynched. And The Dallas Morning News headline on Lon Tinkle’s review read ‘Ferber Goes Both Native and Berserk: Parody, Not Portrait, of Texas Life.’ Reviewers outside the state also thought she’d been a trifle tough on Texas.” Read More→

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Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir (1959) is the first of a multi-part autobiography series by a great intellectual and literary figures of the twentieth century. It depicts her early years growing up in a bourgeois French family, her adolescent rebellion against the convention and religious doctrine, and college education at the Sorbonne. Toward the end of this memoir, she strikes out as part of an intellectual set in Paris in the 1920s and cements her lifelong open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre.

Simone de Beauvoir’s friendships, early lovers, teachers, and mentors come to life in this vivid portrait of a fascinating and brilliant woman. It begins like this: Read More→

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Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, first published in 1952, was this author’s first novel. Followed by The Violent Bear it Away, another novel, and A Good Man is Hard to Find, a collection of short stories, it was reissued in a new hardcover in 1962 as a nod how much O’Connor’s audience had grown in the intervening years.

O’Connor was best known for fiction (primarily short stories) in the form of morally driven narratives populated with flawed characters sometimes described as grotesque. As she herself reminded readers in her essay “The Teaching of Literature”:

“The freak in modern fiction is usually disturbing to us because he keeps us from forgetting that we share in his state. The only time he should be disturbing to us is when he is held up as a whole man.” Read More→

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Miles Franklin: “Brent of Bin Bin,” My Career Goes Bung, and More

Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) is best known for her first novel, My Brilliant Career. Published in 1901, when the author was just 21, it’s a semi-autobiographical story of a teenage girl growing up in the Australian bush who longs to break free as her own person. Just after the novel’s publication and early success she wrote only sporadically, having become involved in World War I efforts and the woman suffrage cause.

During this period, she wrote a sequel to My Brilliant Career titled My Career Goes Bung, finishing it around 1915 –1916. But it proved too far ahead of its time and wasn’t published until some decades later. Read More→

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