Book List – 2020

Title page, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, 1919.

1. January 10: The Economic Consequences of the Peace, by John Maynard Keynes (1919) (audiobook). 36-year old Keynes attended the Paris Peace Conference as a representative of the British Treasury. His warning that bankrupting German would have disastrous consequences was ignored, but this book, published in late 1919, was a bestseller in both Britain and the United States. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the making of the Versailles treaty, and into the mind of the man who would become the greatest economist of his age. Listening to it as a (wonderfully narrated) audiobook worked out well because I could pay attention to Keynes’s novelistic descriptions of world leaders (you can tell a lot about them by their hands, apparently) and drift off when he was going on about coal production in Upper Silesia.

Cover of Not That It Matters, by A.A. Milne, 1919.

2. February 15: Not That It Matters, by A.A. Milne (1919). Milne was a well-known and prolific writer of books, essays, and plays before he wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh poems and stories in the mid-1920s. This collection of lighthearted essays, originally published in Punch, holds up better than most humor of the era. I groaned when I saw in the table of contents that there was an essay about golf, but it ended up being one of my favorites. Golf is the perfect sport, Milne maintains, because the worse you are, the more you get to play. In other essays, like the one about how the first day of summer is no cause for celebration because from then on the days get shorter, he runs out of steam well before the end. All in all, an enjoyable read.

Cover of The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, 1919.

3. February 24: The Haunted Bookshop, by Christopher Morley (1919). In this sequel to Parnassus on Wheels, Helen and Roger Mifflin are living in wedded bliss as the proprietors of a used bookshop in Brooklyn. (Well, mostly bliss: Helen takes off for Boston every once in a while to escape Roger’s nonstop smoking.) The plot is a bit of a shambles, with a love story involving a young advertising man and a wealthy young woman who’s working in the shop and a ludicrous German spy story that Morley obviously had to update hastily after the war ended. And the novel grinds to a halt every once in a while while Roger, standing in for Morley, goes on long harangues about the publishing industry and the war and such. Still, the book is a wonderful evocation of the era. There’s even a Coles Phillips reference!

Title page, Bertram Cope's Year by Henry Fuller, 1919.

4. Bertram Cope’s Year, by Henry B. Fuller (1919). I came across this book in a Smart Set roundup by H.L. Mencken, Googled it not expecting much, and learned that it is, arguably, the first gay American novel. Cope is a young academic who’s way too good-looking to be named Bertram (I imagined a blond Cary Grant), and his arrival in Churchton, a stand-in for Evanston, Illinois, sets the whole town, male and female, young and old, aflame with lust. Meanwhile, all Bertram wants to do is set up a cozy home with his really, really good friend Arthur, who’s back home in Wisconsin. The first half of the book drags a little; there’s lots of sitting in parlors and walking on paths and such, like Jane Austen without the witty conversation. Things come alive when Bertram haplessly becomes engaged (apparently the inevitable outcome of capsizing in a boat with a young woman) and Arthur shows up, freaking out the good people of Churchton with his all-too-accurate female impersonation in a college theatrical. 62-year-old Fuller was a well-established realist writer, but no major publisher would touch Bertram Cope’s Year; it was published by a small press and sales were modest. The book has deservedly found an audience with modern readers.