Category Archives: 1940-1949

Year 53

1940: Native Son

Author/Editor: Richard Wright

Find it in Collins Library!

This landmark work was the first novel written by an African American to be a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. It chronicles the life of Bigger Thomas, a black youth from the slums of Chicago, who accidently murders a white women and is condemned to death. In the process of telling Bigger’s story, Wright emphasizes the impact of racial injustice on his character’s development. Wright’s intention was to write a book that was “so hard and deep” that the reader “would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

Year 54

1941: The Last Tycoon

Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald

Find it in Collins Library!

While Fitzgerald is perhaps best known for The Great Gatsby, which so many of us have read in AP English, The Last Tycoon was his final, unfinished ambitious book, and we selected it for 1941 because of its eerie echo with Fitgerald’s own end.

The Last Tycoon follows Monroe Stahr, a producer at the top of Hollywood’s golden age of the 30s. Stahr’s decline at the hands of ‘new Hollywood’, a more businesslike, investment-style environment is chronicled, as well as his young death. At 44, just after writing the first part of Chapter 6, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. His notes and the completed portion of the book were published eventually. The current critical edition was released in 1993.

Year 55

1942: The Stranger

Author/Editor: Albert Camus, Translated by Stuart Gilbert

Find it in Collins Library!

One of France’s most famous twentieth century writers, Albert Camus explores alienation in modern life through an existentialist antihero so completely devoid of human conventional behavior that he commits a senseless murder without reason or remorse. While in prison, he  “opens his heart to the benign indifference of the universe.”

Year 56

1943: Le Petit Prince

Author/Editor: Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Find it in Collins Library!

This French fairy tale has been widely translated and is popular with children and adults alike. It tells the story of an aviator whose plane crashes on a small planet. He meets the little prince who reveals the secret of human wisdom:  “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Year 57

1944: Strange Fruit

Author: Lillian Eugenia Smith

Find it in Collins Library!

A tale of an interracial love affair set in the rural South, Strange Fruit touches on several controversial topics, including race relations, abortion, sexuality, and religious fundamentalism. For these reasons, the book was banned in the city of Boston and the U.S. Post Office banned it from being shipped across state lines for a short time. Principally, this work challenged the status quo in numerous ways and it was popular enough to have been rewritten as a stage play.

Lillian Smith was one of the first white Southerners to speak out against racial prejudice and was actively protesting against segregation a full decade before the U.S. government acted on the issue with Brown v. Board of Education.

Year 58

1945: Stuart Little

Author/Editor: E.B. White, pictures by Garth Williams

Find it in Collins Library!

This classic in children’s literature was the first children’s book written by award winning author E. B. White and illustrated by award winning illustrator Garth Williams.  The story tells of the adventures of Stuart, a mouse born into the Little family.  The story takes place in New York City, and follows Stuart as he sets out to find his friend, Margalo, a beautiful little bird who Stuart has befriended.

Over the years Stuart Little has been made into movies and television programs, and remains a staple on reading lists for kids.  It’s an adventure story that is interwoven with themes of love and acceptance for those that may be different than ourselves.  And is truly about the triumph of the little guy.

Year 59

1946: Plays of Our Time

Author/Editor: Bennet Cerf

Find it in Collins Library!

Published in 1946, this book is described as anthology of the best plays produced on Broadway in the last two decades.  Included are such classics as:  The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesse Williams and Death of A Salesman by Author Miller.

The editor Bennett Cerf was a well know television personality and supporter of the arts.  During his lifetime (1898-1971) he edited many books and also hosted a radio show, “Books Are Bullets,” on which he interviewed authors of war books.  He was a permanent panelist on the television quiz show “What’s My Line?,” which ran to summer 1967 and earned him national public recognition. His personal papers are are in the library at Columbia University in New York City.

Year 60

1947: Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Author/Editor: Anne Frank, Otto Frank, Mirjam Pressler, & Susan Massotty

Find it in Collins Library!

One of the best known children’s diaries, this work records the last two years of a 13 year old Jewish girl whose family hid in an Amsterdam apartment during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. This first-hand account is an important work in the literature of the Holocaust and serves as a testament to the human spirit.

Year 61

1948: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

Author/Editor: Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell Baxter Pomeroy, & Clyde E. Martin

Find it in Collins Library!

This was the first of the Kinsey Reports, and was followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. The Reports were extraordinarily important in their role as one of the first statistical descriptions of human sexual behavior as it is, rather than as an author thought it should be.

Not surprisingly, the results were controversial. In fact, the results still ignite criticism—some based on the changes and improvements in sampling and statistical work, and others on moral grounds, just as they did when it was first published. Joseph Fulsom, for example, astutely characterized that strand of objection in as follows, in 1954:

“Maybe it’s true, but it’s not good policy to broadcast detailed truth without some consideration of how people are going to use it.”

Apart from making it clear that America sexual behavior didn’t conform to prescribed behaviors, another legacy from  Kinsey’s work is the sexual orientation scale, rejecting the concept of a binary sexuality. For these reasons, Kinsey’s work is exceptionally important.

Year 62

1949: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Author/Editor: George Orwell

Find it in Collins Library!

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a totalitarian society where people live in constant fear of monitoring and persecution by the omniscient ruling party. The main character dares to have a love affair, which breaks several party rules, and is then systematically tortured to accept Big Brother’s control. Themes of censorship, individuality, and surveillance are explored and many parallels are drawn to the Soviet Union’s embrace of Communism in the post-war period.

The influences of Nineteen Eighty-Four on popular culture are many, most notably on language. Terms such as “Big Brother” and “Orwellian” are now part of the vernacular and the popular show Big Brother, which features a group of people under constant surveillance, is seen world-wide.