1930s Bibliography for Student Reading
Bucking the Sun by Ivan Doig
From Publishers Weekly
As in Doig’s Montana trilogy (Dancing at the Rascal Fair, etc.), here American history forms the vivid backdrop for a flinty family drama. Once again, a group of hardheaded, Scotch-descended Montanans struggle with each other and with nature, this time during the building of the Fort Peck Dam from 1933 to 1938. Hugh Duff hasn’t spoken to his eldest son, Owen, since the young man abandoned the family farm to study engineering. Owen is hired to oversee Fort Peck’s earth fill just as his father learns that the dam will flood their fields. Hugh simmers, but his wife, Meg, and their twin sons, reckless Bruce and sensible Neil, are happy to get jobs on the New Deal project, though Neil asserts his independence by “bucking the sun” (driving into its head-on rays) for his after-hours trucking business. The brothers’ wives-Owen’s socially ambitious Charlene; her sister Rosellen, an aspiring writer married to Neil; and Bruce’s terse, tough-minded Kate-increase the volatility of the Duff family mix of love and loyalty tempering profound differences of personality and belief. Among the other well-drawn characters is Hugh’s Marxist brother Darious, a striking portrait of political extremism. Doig’s trademark, minutely detailed evocations of physical labor are present here, as is a bravura description of a disastrous collapse of the unfinished dam. The novel is more plot-heavy than Doig’s previous work: the mysterious deaths that bookend the main story are contrived, and the narrative often whipsaws among various Duffs. Not quite as magical as English Creek, but much better than the sketchy Ride with Me, Mariah Montana, this is still vintage Doig.
Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand
From School Library Journal
This well-written and compelling book celebrates the life of a racehorse that just happened to be a descendant of Man O’ War. It is a story of a huge talent that almost went unrecognized until the right people came along. According to descriptions, Seabiscuit was a runt, with stubby legs, an odd walk, and a lazy nature. However, he became so popular that he drew more news coverage than President Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. The atmosphere surrounding his historic match with War Admiral was so intense that FDR kept advisors waiting as he listened with the rest of the country to hear the outcome. Hillenbrand also tells the stories of owner Charles Howard, trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard and the part each man played in the recognition and development of a racing legend. But the book is much more. Seabiscuit is a story of the times and it is a story of the hard and dangerous life of a jockey. Even readers with no interest in the sport will be hooked with the opening sentence of the book’s preface. Hillenbrand does a wonderful job in bringing an unlikely winner to life.
Sunny, Ward of the State: Calamity Strikes a Family During the Great Depression by Sonja Heinze Coryat
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Coryat’s father immigrated to New York from Germany in the 1920s, and his wife, Tina, joined him later with their three children; a fourth, Sonja (the author, called Sunny), was born in 1930. When she was six, her mother was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Gus loved his children but was incapable of managing a household; after a number of unfortunate (if sometimes hilarious) incidents, they were made wards of the state. They were sent to a well-intentioned but rather horrifying summer camp, and, in the fall, to an orphanage where the siblings were assigned to different buildings and rarely saw one another. The older children settled down, but Sunny, accustomed to a loving and indulgent family, remained alternately confused, anxious, and terrified. The institution was well run and there was no intentional cruelty, but she was neglected psychologically and experienced some harrowing incidents, including sexual predation. Despite appearances, this sad story is entertaining, illuminating, and often delightful, thanks to the author’s quiet sense of humor and ability to place readers inside the mind of a child. Her parents and the times are drawn just as convincingly. Teens will long remember Gus’s gift for bringing magic into his family’s economically impoverished life. The artistically talented, fiercely maternal Tina–with her determination to live, and a sense of humor that emerged at unlikely moments–inspires, too. Average-quality photographs contribute much, and an afterword relates what became of each family member.–Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
From The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Novel by John Steinbeck, published in 1939. Set during the Great Depression, it traces the migration of an Oklahoma Dust Bowl family to California and their subsequent hardships as migrant farm workers. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. The work did much to publicize the injustices of migrant labor. The narrative, interrupted by prose-poem interludes, chronicles the struggles of the Joad family’s life on a failing Oklahoma farm, their difficult journey to California, and their disillusionment once they arrive there and fall prey to a parasitic economic system. The insularity of the Joads--Ma’s obsession with family togetherness, son Tom’s self-centeredness, and daughter Rose of Sharon’s materialism--ultimately gives way to a sense of universal community.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
With its profound sense of moral isolation and its compassionate glimpses into its characters’ inner lives, the novel is considered McCullers’ finest work, an enduring masterpiece first published by Houghton Mifflin in 1940. At its center is the deaf-mute John Singer, who becomes the confidant for various types of misfits in a Georgia mill town during the 1930s. Each one yearns for escape from small town life. When Singer’s mute companion goes insane, Singer moves into the Kelly house, where Mick Kelly, the book’s heroine (and loosely based on McCullers), finds solace in her music. Wonderfully attuned to the spiritual isolation that underlies the human condition, and with a deft sense for racial tensions in the South, McCullers spins a haunting, unforgettable story that gives voice to the rejected, the forgotten, and the mistreated—and, through Mick Kelly, gives voice to the quiet, intensely personal search for beauty.
To Kill a Mockinbird by Harper Lee
From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Marilyn Meyer
In 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer prize; thirty years later shopping malls may have replaced the main street of Maycomb, Alabama, but not even thirty years of Civil Rights laws or the gentrification of ante-bellum estates render this book an anachronism. Harper Lee combines two of the most common themes of Southern writing - a child’s recollection of life among eccentrics in a small town seemingly untouched by the twentieth century and the glaring injustice of racial prejudice - to create a contemporary American classic. To Kill a Mockingbird has two main threads which carry the plot. The first involves the role of Atticus Finch, who is appointed to defend a shy black man accused of raping the oldest daughter of the town’s least respected citizen. The second is the mythology arising out of the reclusive Boo Radley, about whom it was said “when people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them.” But what saves the novel from cliche are the irreverent perceptions of the story’s narrator, Atticus Finch’s nine-year-old daughter Scout, who depicts mean racist aspects of Southern life as well as humorous and quite often satirical vignettes. To Kill a Mockingbird only gets better with rereading; each time the streets of Maycomb become more real and alive, each time Scout is more insightful, Atticus more heroic, and Boo Radley more tragically human.