1912 Bestsellers

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Wednesday, November 6, 1912:  Am ever so busy these days getting my lessons out, and helping make out that program for our first Literary meeting.

A hundred years ago today Grandma was sitting inside this house writing about how she was trying to juggle many things.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

On November 1, Grandma wrote that they’d organized a Literary Society at school and that she was on a committee.

Hmm—I wonder what is involved in figuring out the program for the Literary Society.  Did they read classics or popular books?

According to Wikipedia, the Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers for 1912 were:

1. The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter

2. The Street Called Straight by Basil King

3. Their Yesterdays by Harold Bell Wright

4. The Melting of Molly by Maria Thompson Davies

5. A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

6. The Winning of Barbara Worth by Harold Bell Wright

7. The Just and the Unjust by Vaughan Kester

8. The Net by Rex Beach

9. Tante by Anne Douglas Sedgwick

10. Fran by J. Breckenridge Ellis

Hmm—I’ve never heard of any of these books. Are any of you familiar with any of them?

In a previous post, I listed some of the books on the Goodreads list for 1912 of  books that are still widely read —and that list is very different from this list of 1912 bestsellers. It’s amazing how bestseller status may not mean enduring popularity.

14 Responses

  1. I have The Harvester, Their Yesterdays, and The Winning of Barbara Worth on my shelves here at home. The Harvester is one of my favorite books.

  2. None are familiar but the titles made me laugh, “Street called Straight”, gripping. If Rex only knew ‘The Net’ would be mentioned millions of times a day 100 years later..LOL.

  3. My grandmother had several of Harold Bell Wright’s books on her shelf, in a home where very little reading was approved unless it was “Christian” literature. I read them before I was 10 years old when staying there, for lack of anything else to read, but cannot remember titles. Or anything else about them.

    • I just “googled” Harold Bell Wright and according to Wikipedia.:

      “Although mostly forgotten or ignored after the middle of the 20th century, he is said to have been the first American writer to sell a million copies of a novel and the first to make $1 million from writing fiction.”

  4. Oh, Shepherd of the Hills was one of them!

  5. I may have to check these titles out, just to get a feel of what people were reading then. What types of books did your grandmother usually read?

    • Grandma read a lot as an older woman. I can clearly picture her sitting at her kitchen table reading the newspaper. She also often sat on her porch and read books–but I don’t have any memory of what the books were about. Since I was a child at the time, I suppose that I wasn’t interested in what she was reading and didn’t pay any attention to it.

  6. I’ve read “The Harvester” it’s by the same author who wrote “Girl of the Limberlost”. I recommend it.

  7. […] October. She was very excited to be a committee member—and several recent entries have discussed how busy she’d  been reading books and preparing for the Literary Society meeting. I’m not really sure what the […]

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