Book Reviews | January 2024 | Nate Pedersen

What were the 1923 Bestsellers?: A Conversation with Linda Aragoni

Project Gutenberg

For the past eight years, we have checked in with consummate reader Linda Aragoni of the Great Penformances blog for her appraisal of the bestseller list from a century ago. This year we continue the tradition, learning about the bestsellers of 1923 and how they hold up today.

Here are the 1923 bestsellers, according to Publishers Weekly:

  1. Black Oxen by Gertrude Atherton
  2. His Children's Children by Arthur Train
  3. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin
  4. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
  5. The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey
  6. This Freedom by A. S. M. Hutchinson
  7. The Mine with the Iron Door by Harold Bell Wright
  8. Wanderer of the Wasteland by Zane Grey
  9. The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
  10. The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart

What was your favorite book of 1923? 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin is my favorite. Although it is probably not the best of the 1923 bestsellers, it’s such a sunny, easily read, and quickly forgotten novel that it can be enjoyed repeatedly.  Trivia collectors may be interested to know that Elizabeth was an Australian. She was born Mary Annette Beauchamp. Her two marriages made her Elizabeth Von Armin, Countess Russell.

How about your least favorite novel from 1923? 

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis fills that slot. The novel is depressing. The central character, George F. Babbitt, is a 46-year-old real estate salesman who goes through the motions of being a husband, father, and upstanding community citizen until his best friend is jailed for shooting his wife. After that, Babbitt goes to pieces. Lewis ridicules Babbitt, but all Lewis’s other characters in the novel are on a mental and moral par with Babbitt, which is depressing, and Lewis’s snide remarks get old fast.

Do you think modern audience would enjoy in particular any of the 1923 bestsellers? 

The success of the 1991 film version of The Enchanted April suggest modern readers would enjoy von Armin’s novel as much as I do. Temple Bailey’s The Dim Lantern is another 1923 novel readers would probably find both pleasant and forgettable, which in my eyes makes a book a bargain.

Would you add any of the 1923 bestsellers to your permanent library? 

I’d probably add The Enchanted April if I run across a copy, but the book I’d look for is This Freedom by A. S. M. Hutchinson. It’s a story about women’s liberation before the term women’s liberation was coined. Readers see a husband “who works” and a “housewife” who runs their home and family like a business.  Both husband and wife are both believable individuals, which keeps the novel from seeming to take sides. 

Any other comments about the 1923 bestsellers? 

The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini is what I’d call a swashbuckling novel. It has a leading male character who I can’t help envisioning as Errol Flynn. When I checked to see if the novel had been turned into a film, I learned that Warner Brothers bought the movie rights and in 1924 produced a silent film version without Errol Flynn in it. Then in 1940, Warner Brothers produced a “talkie” titled The Sea Hawk , which starred Error Flynn but used a script written by two Warner Brothers’ screen writers, Howard Koch and Seton l. Mill.

Anything to look forward to from the 1924 list? 

The 1924 top-10 bestsellers list has several novels I’d like to read again, starting with Edna Ferber’s So Big, which was the top seller, and including The Little French Girl by Anne Douglas Sedgwick, Coningsby Dawson’s The Coast of Folly, and Dorothy Canfield’s The Home-Maker

Click on the years below to see the results from previous years:

1915 bestsellers

1916 bestsellers

1917 bestsellers

1918 bestsellers

1919 bestsellers

1921 bestsellers

1922 bestsellers