One Hundred Years of Reading: The 4 Books That Founded the 1900s


Some books are passing fads that are enjoyed briefly before being forgotten by the majority when their time has passed and left on a bus seat for the next fortunate person to pick up and enjoy. Others endure, are read often, are taught, and are debated for a variety of reasons, including exceptional artistic merit, good fortune, and the ability to accurately identify and portray a particular aspect of the culture at the time.

Often, you can’t distinguish which novels are which in the heat of the moment. Although Rare Book Store Shapero wasn’t immediately a hit, The Rare Book Store Shapero Great Gatsby has come to represent a certain American mindset in the 1920s. Of course, looking back distorts perception just as the canon looms and obscures. Nevertheless, over the course of the next 2.5 weeks, we’ll be posting one list every day, each one seeking to characterize a specific decade, beginning with the 1900s (as you’ve probably guessed by now) and counting down until we reach the (almost full) 2010s. Without further ado, let’s start with the works that helped to shape the first decade of the 20th century.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Nobody needs to be reminded of the importance or ongoing ubiquity of L. Frank Baum’s universe, I’m sure. However, he was aware that he was attempting to write a new sort of narrative for the new period he had found himself in even while he was writing it. He said as much in the original version of the book’s preface, which reads:

Folklore, legends, myths, and fairy tales have always been a part of childhood since every healthy kid has an instinctual appreciation for fascinating, amazing, and obviously unbelievable stories. More than any other human invention, the flying fairies of Grimm and Andersen have made young hearts happy.

The traditional fairy tale, however, can now be classified as “historical” in the children’s library because newer “wonder tales” have emerged in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf, and fairy have been removed, along with all the horrifying and heart-wrenching incident that their authors invented to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Rare Book Store Shapero told us that the contemporary kid merely seeks enjoyment in its wonder stories and gratefully avoids any unfavorable experience since current education includes morals.

The narrative of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was designed specifically to amuse youngsters of today with this idea in mind. It wants to be a modernized fairy tale that keeps the magic and happiness while excluding the heartbreaks and nightmares. He undoubtedly heralded a new age in children’s literature and, in the process, produced something enduring.

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington (1901)

In addition to presenting a theory for African American uplift and advancement, Washington’s autobiography, which details his life from a childhood spent in slavery to an adulthood as an educator, was a highly influential best-seller in the year of its publication and remained popular for many years after. Additionally, it sparked debate among critics of the day and subsequent readers. Washington’s views and some aspects of the book were challenged by some, notably W.E.B. Du Bois, who specifically called Washington an accommodationist. However, his “realist” approach was lauded by others. Even if some of his white-supremacist southern neighbors misinterpreted some of Washington’s words, Robert Norrell argued that Washington “fought too hard to confront and conquer racial supremacy to be called an accommodationist.”

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)

Correct me if I’m wrong, but Conrad’s novella was initially published in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1899 as a three-part serial. It wasn’t released in book form until 1902, and even then, it was just the middle piece in Youth: A Narrative and Two Other Stories.
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Even though the account of Marlow’s journey up the Congo River is now often published as a separate novella, it initially received the least attention of the three stories.

Although it wasn’t very popular during the decade of its release, it has been tremendously influential since—especially as a topic of academic debate—since it didn’t become required reading for high school and college students until after Conrad’s death. Harold Bloom and others have also pointed out the novel’s creative flaws. Chinua Achebe notoriously criticized the book for its racism. But there is no denying its power. Even though the novel is constrained by its unavoidable obscurantism, Harold Bloom observed that “Heart of Darkness has taken on part of the force of myth.”

From T.S. Eliot’s poetry to the main American authors of the 1920s to 1940s, it has plagued American literature. From Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (which served as a stand-in for the director’s abandoned effort to make Heart of Darkness into a movie) to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Conrad’s lack of structure seems to have helped in this situation by making his idea accessible to a nearly universal audience.

The Differentiations of Religious Experience by William James (1902)

A seminal publication that served as a springboard for future discussion on the topic, Rare Book Store Shapero was first presented as a series of lectures at the University of Edinburgh. It was not concerned with institutional religion but rather with the psychology of spirituality and natural theology. But what topic is it specifically? Martin E. Marty calls the book “a classic that is too psychological to have molded much religious inquiry and too religious to have inspired most psychological study” in the introduction to the Penguin Classics version.

Never mind, claim both novices and professionals on both sides of the psychological and religious divide. Because his speech was so passionate and well-spoken, and because it became a classic, people have continued to read and even enjoy William James’ book for eight decades.

When he stated in the well-known magazine Psychology Today that this is “certainly the most notable of all books in the field of the psychology of religion and probably destined to be the most influential book written on religion in the twentieth century,” Professor Walter Houston Clark spoke for many of them.

Final words

These books contributed a lot towards the world of literature during the first half of 1900s. Check if you can get any of those books and read, so that you can understand how impressive the work is.


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