One hundred years ago, the Women’s National Book Association was born. It was a tumultuous point in history: Suffragettes campaigned for the right to vote, Charlie Chaplin graced the silver screen, and the Great War (now called World War I) wreaked havoc on the global community. We wanted to learn more about 1917, and what better way to get to know it than to see what people were reading? For a peek into the zeitgeist of the WNBA’s first year, check out the Top Ten Bestselling Books of 1917! These books of 1917 focus on war, wealth and human interaction – has much changed in the themes we read about now?
1. Mr. Britling Sees It Through by H. G. Wells
An American tourist and a British writer bear witness to the outbreak of World War I and the devastation, fear, and crisis of national faith that follows. The protagonist, Mr. Britling, is often read as an alter-ego for Wells.
2. The Light in the Clearing by Irving Bacheller
When working class Bart is rejected by a woman of high social standing, he turns to Senator Silas Wright to learn to examine the relationship between wealth and character.
3. The Red Planet by William J. Locke
Major Meredyth Duncan was crippled during the Boer War. Spurred by England’s entrance into WWI, he is determined to tell the mysterious tale of his fellow Boer War Soldier, Leonard Boyce.
4. The Road to Understanding by Eleanor H. Porter
After his mother’s death, Burke Denby enjoys a period of overindulgence that inspires disastrous decisions later in his life. This novel weaves his story with the perspectives of his wife and daughter.
5. Wildfire by Zane Grey
Horse hunter Lin Sloan captures the prize of his dreams: a spirited horse named Wildfire. When Wildfire and the love of his life, Lucy Bostil, are threatened by a greedy man who is determined to possess them, Sloan must act quickly to save them.
6. Christine by Alice Cholmondeley
A teenage violin prodigy travels to Germany to study with a famous instructor, but her education is disrupted with the onslaught of WWI. This novel weaves a classic coming-of-age narrative into the tumultuousness of global conflict.
7. In the Wilderness by Robert S. Hichens
Set before WWI, this novel explores the unsteady courtship and marriage of Dion and Rosamund Leith, who struggle to mature in both their relationship and their faith.
8. His Family by Ernest Poole
Widower Roger Gale has been a New York resident since the Civil War. He honors his wife’s dying wish that he remain close to their three daughters, but he struggles to understand them in the wake of enormous social and cultural changes.
9. The Definite Object by Jeffrey Farnol
A bored millionaire eschews his luxury lifestyle and moves to Hell’s Kitchen, New York to pose as a safecracker with the alias “Gentleman George.” He falls in love without revealing his identity, and crime-comedy antics ensue.
10. The Hundredth Chance by Ethel M. Dell
Maud Brian is an impoverished gentlewoman who is exhausted from caring for her physically and emotionally crippled younger brother. Horse trainer Jake Bolton proposes marriage and a comfortable home, but Maud is still in love with the rakish Lord Saltash.
Check out these fascinating books of 1917 to learn more about the themes of war, romance, wealth, and coming-of-age that populated readers’ imaginations at the time. If you’re curious about more historical happenings from the WNBA’s first year, visit our previous Centennial blog post!
All cover images on this page are courtesy of Goodreads.