January 2016 | Nate Pedersen

The Bestselling Books of... 1915 (Part 2)

Continuing on from our Tuesday post, here are the final five in the countdown of 1915 bestsellers:

5) K by Mary Roberts Rinehart. A romance set it in the industrial Victorian age from the "American Agatha Christie." Rinehart, whose cozy mysteries were frequent bestsellers, delved into romantic melodrama in K, which follows the relationship between an enigmatic boarder and the daughter of the resident seamstress.

4) Pollyanna Grows Up by Eleanor H. Porter.  The first of many sequels to 1914's #2 bestseller, Pollyanna, Pollyanna Grows Up has the distinction of being the only Polyanna sequel written by Porter herself before the Pollyanna adventures were outsourced to a team of writers. Porter spent the last five years of her life writing adult novels before dying in 1920, aged 51.

3) Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter.  Stratton-Porter was a regular on the bestseller lists and used her fame and fortune to launch and support conservation efforts, particularly in her native Indiana. Stratton-Porter is primarily remembered today for her naturalist books, the Limberlost series. Michael O'Halloran is of the popular class of American novels about orphans who make good on their lives.  It follows a spirited newsboy who grows up in a major Midwestern city who takes solace in a tamarack swamp near the city.

2) A Far Country by Winston Churchill.  A bestseller by the American Winston Churchill, whose name would soon be overshadowed by the English Winston Churchill.  Our Churchill, however, wrote a number of bestselling novels, including The Inside of the Cup, which was featured on the 1914 bestseller list..  A Far Country is a bildungsroman that follows Hugh Paret from youth to manhood in his career as a corporate lawyer.

1) And the number 1 bestseller from 1915... The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington.  Tarkington was an enormous bestseller in the early 20th century, selling over 5 million copies of his books in the days before paperbacks.  The Turmoil is the first volume in what Tarkington labeled his "Growth Trilogy," the second volume of which, The Magnificent Ambersons, would later become an American classic. The Turmoil deals with many of the same themes as The Magnificent Ambersons, such as family dynamics and the furious growth of industrialization in America.  The Turmoil focuses in particular on a strained father-son relationship between Mr. Sheridan, a man of business and a capitalist, and his sickly son, Bibbs, a poet, dreamer, and thinker.

Want to own a first edition of 1915's bestselling book?  It'll only set you back about $3.00 today, a comment both upon the sheer amount of copies that were circulating in 1915 and on Tarkington's diminished reputation.

[For an excellent long-form article about Tarkington, see Thomas Mallon's piece from The Atlantic in 2004 entitled "Hoosiers."]