My top 10 books for the 1936 Club

the 1936-club

#1936Club

For several years, Simon at Stuck in a Book, has been organizing club years, in which he encourages everybody to read books published in the same year.

For this year, he chose 1936. As I had a few titles from that year on my Classics Club list, I thought that would be a great way to work on my list.

I think the main idea is to draw a literary portrait of that year.
If you are curious, you can check on this Goodreads list or on this one (less complete, but you can compare with the books you have read), or on this wikipedia page (more complete I think) titles of books published that year.

It seems I have personally read 10 books published that year.
NB: For books translated into English, I am considering the year they were first published in their original language, not the year they were published in English

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. The Joy of Cooking
  3. The Diary of a Country Priest
  4. A City of Bells
  5. Double Indemnity
  6. The Swedish Cavalier
  7. The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie
  8. Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie
  9. Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie
  10. A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’

And I have 3 on my TBR list:

  1. Jamaica Inn
  2. War with the Newts
  3. Death at the President’s Lodging (Sir John Appleby, #1)

I have read and reviewed four since January 1st, 2021:

click on the covers to access my reviews

  The ABC Murders Murder in Mesopotamia

  Cards on the Table A cat a man and two women

So now, to follow the rules for #1936Club, here are 2 fresh reviews:

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity,
by James M. Cain
Published in 1936
115 pages
Mystery/noir
Goodreads

I watched the movie years ago, but didn’t remember all of the story, and have completely forgotten the ending, which is a good thing, as I am told the ending of the book is different. They changed the ending in the movie, to go along with the movie codes of the time.

It’s basically the story of Walter Huff, a Californian insurance salesman always on the lookout for the ideal client for a perfect sale. He thinks Mr. Nirdlinger could be one. Until things don’t go exactly as planned.

What really struck me right away was the style. It’s a first person narrative that flows like daily conversation and inner monologue, with loose grammar. I think this raw style fits beautifully to tell that story, but it sounds quite modern for 1936.

There’s many a man walking around today that’s worth more to his loved ones dead than alive, only he don’t know it yet.
Chapter 1

The richness of the book is in the astute psychological study of the characters.
As an Orthodox Christian steeped in Patristics, I have to say this was also a perfect illustration of the functioning of what we call temptations and the passions. You just touch something lightly with your little finger (at that point, you still have the freedom to get away afterwards), but you linger on the feeling, and then before you know it, you are stuck in up to your elbow, and then with your whole body and soul (and it’s basically too late to unglue yourself from the situation).
For instance, when Huff meets Mrs. Phyllis Nirdlinger for the first time, he sees all the red flags and his intuition tells him to get out of there presto, and yet he sits down and starts talking.
All along, Huff almost seems to be dragged along by inner forces stronger than his conscious will. 

I knew where I was at, of course.  I was standing right on the deep end, looking over the edge, and I kept telling myself to get out of there, and get quick, and never come back. But that was what I kept telling myself.  What I was doing was peeping over that edge, and all the time I was trying to pull away from it, there was something in me that kept edging a little closer, trying to get a better look.

But that thing was in me, pushing me still closer to the edge.
Chapter 2

And at the same time, he is actively getting more and more willingly and creatively involved. But is he even smart enough to do that?

Of course, the suspense is extremely well done. The story could go into so many directions, as little by little, more characters get involved.
The ending the author chose seems consistent to me with the inner mechanism I have described above.

It’s ultimately a great study of double manipulation. 

The Swedish CavalierThe Swedish Cavalier,
by Leo Perutz
(Austrian novelist and mathematician)
Translated from the German by John Brownjohn
Published in 1936
192 pages
Historical fiction
Goodreads

This was a major surprise, and I am shocked indeed to see that none of my fellow readers at the Classics Club seems to have reviewed it. I don’t remember seeing this title on any book blog I follow. The reason why it was on my TBR is that I heard about it in 2016 in a French TV literary program. It was recommended by contemporary author Emmanuel Carrère.

The foreword wants to present the story within a firm historical background, telling the reader this is based on the unknown memoirs published by Maria Christine von Blohme, whose father she only called “the Swedish cavalier”. His story, or the story of two men, then follows.

The first part opens in the cold winter of 1701, along the war-torn Polish-Russian border. By chance, a thief fleeing the gallows meets Christian von Tornefeld, a Swedish aristocrat and deserter (because he no longer wants to fight for foreign powers), now on his way to fight for his Swedish king Charles XII. But neither will reach his destination, and their fate is going to get inter connected in many ways, to the extreme that I will not specify here to avoid spoilers.

If Cain chose a rather modern style, Perutz did just the opposite, with a curious mix of genres (and it works superbly!): older style historical fiction, crime novel, and fairy tale (for instance with the secret powers of an arcanum, the character of the old miller, and the visits to the young girl at the end). It totally felt I was meeting with Don Quixote again. It has some of its humoristic passages (for instance with the thief giving his particular interpretation to what he sees in the fields, and then following that as reality), yet also dramatic scenes not unlike Dante’s Inferno (the bishop’s stamp-mill is even called the inferno; and there are a few final judgement scenes), and outcome that have made some critics compare it to Kafkaesque literature.
I often also felt I was inside a Bruegel painting!

The Swedish Cavalier has themes not uncommon to Double Indemnity, such as manipulation, deceit, and betrayal, but with a more metaphysical outlook, with moral values like courage and loyalty, an active conscience leading to thoughts of repentance, as well as aspects of redemption, totally absent in Cain’s novel.

This is a fascinating story in its form and content, and I highly recommend it.

My year 1936 recap over three continents:

A major American classic (and I am sorry, but if you plan on cancelling it, you have no idea what REAL culture and history are, and you might want to look into ways to get educated in the first place); a major French classic; a cookbook that is still used in many households; a charming and romantic British classic (at least that’s the memory I have of this book by Elizabeth Goudge I read in my late teens); three books by the queen of crime; a whimsy Japanese classic; and the two unique works (including one from Austria) reviewed here: all these attest to a rich and diverse year 1936, at least from I have read.

HAVE YOU READ ANY OF THESE?
CLICK ON THE 1936 CLUB LOGO TO DISCOVER MANY MORE REVIEWS
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOOK PUBLISHED IN 1936?

40 thoughts on “My top 10 books for the 1936 Club

  1. I’ve just read Murder in Mesopotamia for this very purpose, so I will be interested to read your review.

    The only other qualifying book I had on my shelves was South Riding, which I have just stare TER – but at 500+ pages I’m not exactly confident about finishing it in time. And I think I may have a copy of Eyeless in Gaza somewhere, but having read the synopsis, I’m not sure it’s quite my thing.

    I wish I had copies of the other two Christies that you mention!

    I thought I had a copy of Ballet Shoes, but if I did I certainly don’t seem to have it any more. And my copy of Gone with the Wind has indeed gone…to my daughter’s flat 500+ miles away!

    I always enjoy these weeks.

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    • ah, looks like this a double comment, but as I already answered the other, I will add here. Now this one shows your website, and I realize you are in Scotland, so probably not as lucky with your public library, sorry about that. Looking forward to your comments for the Club 1936 next week

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I try to find an Australian title each time; I’ve found a Miles Franklin one for 1936 called All That Swagger. The trick is to finish it & review it by the end of next week!!

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  3. I’ve just read Murder in Mesopotamia for this very purpose, so I will be interested to read your review.

    The only other book I have on my shelves from 1936 is South Riding – at 500+ pages I wasn’t exactly confident about finishing it in time, but it’s much easier to read than I had thought, so who knows? I’m enjoying it anyway.

    I think I may have a copy of Eyeless in Gaza somewhere, but having read the synopsis, I’m not sure it’s quite my thing.

    I wish I had copies of the other two Christies that you mention!

    I thought I had a copy of Ballet Shoes, but if I did I certainly don’t seem to have it any more. And my copy of Gone with the Wind has indeed gone…to my daughter’s flat 500+ miles away!

    I always enjoy these weeks.

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  4. An interesting list. My eyes fell on The Swedish Cavalier by Leo Perutz. Never heard of any, but it sounds interesting and it goes to my wish list. Since I am Swedish, and when looking up Perutz, I see he is Austrian (my husband is) so this is definitely a book for me to read. Always interesting with new authors.

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    • Ah yes, Elizabeth Goudge… I devoured so many in my late teens, but I wonder if I would like them now, as there’s a lot of romance dimension, and i usually don’t read romances. Though I remember awesome descriptions

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  6. Pingback: #1936Club – links round-up – Stuck in a Book

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  8. So many wonderful books! Even The Joy of Cooking – what a year. I could have done a reread/review of any one of a number of old favorites – A City of Bells is one of those. But I was too disorganized and only just happened to read one book (Young Men in Spats) by utter chance, which was delightful. You reviewed two that were unknown to me but you brought out a lot of interesting aspects.

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  9. I was pleased to see that I have read some of the books in your list, Gone with the Wind, and all of the Agatha Christies, (because I’ve read all of the Agatha Christies when I was having a Completist Phase) and Jamaica Inn, and Ballet Shoes which I read as a little girl.
    I had five on my TBR set aside for this week but have only managed The Thinking Reed by Rebecca West, which is just wonderful:)
    I like your comment about the folly of ‘cancel culture’. It’s years since I read GWTW and I think it’s far better to read it and analyse its racist elements and learn from that along the way, than to pretend the book doesn’t exist. After all, if we women stopped reading all the books that are sexist, there would be precious little left for us to read… Much better to read it and call it out IMO!

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    • I like the Completist Phase, sounds like I often have some of those, lol.
      As for cancel culture, for me it’s insane to delete a page in history and pretend it didn’t happen, just because you didn’t like it. That’s exactly what the Nazis were doing.

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  10. I’ll have to quiz my husband about the ending of Double Indemnity (the book version) and how it differs from the film….
    Jamaica Inn is a good story with a very atmospheric setting.

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  11. This club is such a good idea. I have not thought that so many books that I am planning to read were published this year. I wish I new about this club earlier.

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  12. Pingback: 2021: April wrap-up | Words And Peace

  13. Interesting idea for a book club! I’ve read Gone with the Wind and probably some of the Christies (I read all of her books that my library had when I was a teen). I haven’t read Jamaica Inn but du Maurier is always a safe bet.

    Like so many others, I haven’t heard of The Swedish Cavalier but it sounds good! Thanks for linking up to the Books in Translation Challenge!

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