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Best-Selling Novels of the 1930s

Updated on September 5, 2012

In the depths of the depression masterpieces were formed. Truly great works of fiction appeared in this decade and made it all the way to the top. Several titles dominated for two years in a row. There are Pulitzer Prize winners, and even Nobel Prize winners. Considering the destitution many in the nation were going through it was a sterling year – or perhaps because of the destitution. People were struggling to cope with the Depression; what better way to escape stark realities than to dive into a good book? Here are the books people bought more than any others in the 1930s. The list is from Publisher's Weekly.

1930: Cimarron by Edna Ferber

This is a historical novel that depicts the Oklahoma land rush in the late 1800s. It focuses on one family that settles in Oklahoma and their fortunes and misfortunes. It sold to Hollywood for what was a record sum at the time and was made into a well-received motion picture.

1931 and 1932: The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

The story of a Chinese family who endure great poverty and many misfortunes and then become rich, this novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was a key factor in the author being awarded the Nobel Prize several years later. It is a poignant tale of simple peasants, a man and his wife, the children they have, and the land that they must leave but then return to claim again. It was adapted into a successful film which won Oscars for best actress and best cinematography and was nominated for several more.

1933 and 1934: Anthony Adverse by Hervey Allen

This novel is now out of print, but in its day it was a tremendous hit. It's a historical romance that is around 1200 pages long – a huge sprawling epic spanning continents and a lifetime. It was made into a very successful film starring Fredric March and Olivia de Havilland.

1935: Green Light by Lloyd C. Douglas

This novel, by the author of "The Robe", which is much better remembered nowadays, is about a doctor whose career is ruined when he is falsely accused of causing the death of a patient. Wanting a break from his swashbuckling roles, Errol Flynn played the role of the doctor in the film.

1936 and 1937: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This, of course, is the huge epic about Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler and the American Civil War and its aftermath which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and became a literary phenomenon. Then it became a cinematic phenomenon as well, starring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and many others; the film won ten Academy Awards, including best picture of the year.

1938: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

This tale of the adventures and survival of a family in Florida won the Pulitzer prize. The main character, Jody, adopts a fawn as a pet. As he and the deer grow up, he and his family struggle against hunger, sickness, and the elements. It became a popular, Oscar-nominated movie with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman.

1939: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This is another classic of American literature which won the Pulitzer Prize, and whose author went on to win the Nobel Prize. During the Great Depression the Joad family leaves the Dust Bowl disaster in Oklahoma and heads west in search of a better life, encountering opposition from weather, local people, and the authorities. It became an award-winning film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.


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