Book Reviews | August 2022 | Nate Pedersen

What Were the Bestselling Books of 1915?

While researching my recent posts about bestsellers from 100 years ago (see parts 1 and 2), I came across the blog "Great Penformances" run by Linda Aragoni.  Linda reviews vintage novels on her blog on the anniversary of the year they appeared on the bestseller lists.  So, in 2015, Linda reviewed all of the 1915 bestsellers I wrote about here at Fine Books.  Linda and I struck up a conversation over e-mail about the 1915 bestsellers and their contemporary appeal:

What was your favorite book from 1915?

When I wrapped up my reviews of the 1915 bestsellers, I chose The Turmoil by Booth Tarkington and The Harbor by Earnest Poole as the best of the 1915 bestsellers. Each provides a window into America's transformation from the horsepower age to the motor age. And each was followed in a couple years by another novel on the same theme that won the author a Pulitzer Prize for literature.

It's embarrassing to admit that my favorite book from 1915 is one that's a lightweight: Angela's Business by Henry Sydnor Harrison. Its a quirky novel about a would-be novelist who tries hard to be one of the trendsetters but discovers what he truly believes in are traditional values from his grandparents' age.

Do you think modern audiences would enjoy any of the 1915 bestsellers?

For simple diversion, I think modern audiences would enjoy Angela's Business and K by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a novel that blends romance and mystery.

Any other comments about the 1915 list? 

The bestsellers from 1915 don't include any that I'd buy for my permanent library. Even the best of them are one-time reads.

Have you already started in on the 1916 bestsellers? Anything to look forward to?

I've finished the 1916 bestsellers. In fact, I've read all the 1910-1919 lists for a collection of reviews the Great War era novels which I hope to publish next year.

Two novels on the 1916 list get my A rating: The Real Adventure by Henry Kitchell Webster and Life and Gabriella: The Story of a Woman's Courage by Ellen Glasgow. They are stories of the marriages of two very different--but very gutsy--women at a time when women's roles were very rigidly set by society. Both are available at Project Gutenberg.

Check out Linda Aragoni's blog "Great Penformances," or visit her on Twitter @VintageNovels