The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JANUARY 22, 1939
Dr. Gallup Discovers:
What America Reads
--A Comment by W. J. Cash
Site ed. note: For other Cash articles in a similar vein, read "What Is A Reader?" - June 28, 1936, "College-Bred Balloons" - December 6, 1936, and "From Zola--To Swing!" - October 31,1937.
Dr. George Gallup, the taker of polls, has been down to the mat with the question of what twenty books were most popular in America in 1938 and emerges with some interesting information.
Eight of the twenty he lists are fairly recent productions. They are: (1) "Gone With the Wind," (2) "Anthony Adverse," (3) "The Good Earth," (4) "The Magnificent Obsession," (5) "The Green Light," (6) "Drums Along the Mohawk," (7) "An American Doctor's Odyssey," and (8) "How to Win Friends and Influence People." With the exception of "The Good Earth," none of these can be listed as really among the important books of the last decade, of course. "Drums Along the Mohawk" deserves a fair rating. "An American Doctor's Odyssey" is pleasant reading, and "Gone With the Wind" and "Anthony Adverse"--mediocre productions from the literary standpoint--are admittedly swell melodrama.
But the more interesting part of the list is the remaining twelve--all what are called "classics." One of them, "All Quiet on the Western Front," is a fairly recent book, as the age of books goes, but it is still undeniably a classic--a book which people will, quite justly, go on reading for a long time. One of them, again, is a book which a few years ago was about forgotten, Owen Wister's "The Virginian." And the same applies to Lew Wallace's "Ben Hur". But the rest are authentic classics by any standard: The Bible, "David Copperfield," and "A Tale of Two Cities," "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Little Women," "Treasure Island," "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "Les Miserables," and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."
The whole list, as I say, is interesting. The popularity of most of the books listed is explained by the movies, of course--for their names coincide very largely with the "co-loss-al spectacles" of the last two years. But even so, it is possible to deduce what everybody already knew; that the American people remain by and large a simple people, religious, anxious to get on in the world and naive enough to believe that it can be accomplished by reading formulas and inordinately fond of good, thumping melodrama, preferably sweetened with a fat dose of somewhat heavy sentimentality.
But the most interesting single thing to me is that, though the Bible stands at the head of the list, many thousands of religious people plainly don't read it. I deduce that from the fact "The Magnificent Obsession" and "Green Light" stand very close to the top of the list on their own account. Obviously these books are intended for readers who call themselves religious, and for the main, I think, they are read by such readers. But I decline to believe that anybody who goes for such inordinately badly written and foolish stuff can possibly be a regular reader of the Bible. To suppose that a man or woman accustomed to the beautiful and stately measures of Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, or the Gospel according to St. Mark could really care for "The Magnificent Obsession" is to suppose that a man accustomed to Bach could seriously like the worst hillbilly band on the radio--unless, indeed, we are to suppose that there are hundreds of thousands of readers who are completely anaesthetic to all form in words.
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