Monday, December 30, 2013

1958: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

The Author:

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was born into a wealthy assimilated Jewish family in Moscow.  His father was a painter and art professor and his mother was a pianist.  Leo Tolstoy was a close friend of the Pasternak family and his family became part of the Tolstoyan movement.*   Pasternak went to college to study music in Moscow, but in 1910 began taking studies in philosophy at the University of Marburg, in Germany.

Pasternak returned to Russia at the outbreak of World War One. In 1914, he also published his first collection of poetry, Twin in the Clouds.  Pasternak remained in Russia through the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War.  In 1922, as the Civil War ended and the USSR was formed, Pasternak published his collection of poems titled, My Sister, Life, which earned him massive acclaim.  In 1922, Pasternak married Evgeniia Lourie with whom he had a son.  They divorced in 1931. He married Zinaida Neigauz in 1934.

Over the decades following the Civil War, the Soviet Union began to institute stricter censorship and harsher punishments.  In 1934, one of his friends and colleagues, Osip Mandelstam, was abducted by the secret police.  More of his friends were taken in the Great Purge of 1937.  Pasternak believed he and his wife would be taken also, after he refused to sign a statement supporting the death penalty for those swept up in the purge, a statement which was signed by most of the Union of Soviet Writers.  

In 1946, Pasternak began his affair with Olga Ivinskaya, a single mother working for the literary magazine, Novy Mir.  By all accounts, Ivinskaya was Pasternak's muse and their relationship was incredibly important to both of them.  In 1949, Ivinskaya was arrested by the KGB and sent to the gulags for five years.    

In 1956, Pasternak finished Doctor Zhivago, but no Russian printing house was willing to publish it.  An Italian publishing agent in Russia managed to arrange an Italian translation which he brought back with him to Italy, where it was published in 1957.  The book was banned in the USSR, and a smear campaign against Doctor Zhivago and Boris Pasternak was launched by the Soviet press.  In 1958, the Nobel Committee awarded Pasternak the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he declined, fearing harsh reprisal from the Soviet government.  This inspired the Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoon by Bill Mauldin:

"I won the Nobel Prize for literature. What was your crime?"

Pasternak remained in Russia.  He announced plans to write a trilogy of plays, but died of lung cancer before the first was completed.

The Book:   

Length: 563 pages
Subject/Genre: Post-Revolutionary Russia/Historical fiction

What can I say about Doctor Zhivago that hasn't been said before?  The old paperback I picked up boasts on its cover that it's "One of the great novels of the century."  Which, along with some books on this list (e.g. The Grapes of Wrath, All Quiet on the Western Front), makes it a bit difficult for me to review.  But I'll try.  

If you're not familiar with the story, it follows Yurii Zhivago, the titular doctor.  Beginning around the Revolution of 1905, then skipping around up to the October Revolution in 1917, we see Zhivago's growth into adulthood as well as a parallel focus on Lara Guishar.  Zhivago is orphaned at a young age and sent to live with the Gromekos, a wealthy couple whose daughter, Antonina (aka Tonia), Yurii eventually marries.  Lara is the daughter of a widowed French émigré.  Her mother owns a dress shop which is abandoned in the revolution.  As a teenager, Lara has an ongoing affair with her mother's beau.  All in all, there are about half a dozen characters who show up frequently throughout the novel, fighting with or against each other as circumstances determine.      

One of the great things about this book, and one part of what makes the story so compelling, is the perpetual grey area the characters inhabit.  The novel is extremely political, as one would expect from the subject matter.  But Pasternak manages to capture the complexity of the situation, politically and morally.  When a violently oppressive system is overthrown, and a massive power struggle consumes a large nation, when dozens of competing factions vie for political and military supremacy, morality becomes obfuscated.  Zhivago is a rich Moscow intellectual, who supported the overthrow of the Tsar and had great hopes for a socialist state, yet the very fact that he is a rich intellectual from the capital makes him an enemy to many of the people he ideologically supports.      

But beyond the politics, there is a beautiful story about a man trying to survive a troubling and dangerous era.  I don't want to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Pasternak succeeds in creating a character as multi-faceted and complex as his times.  

I want to include a particularly fantastic passage here, which has nothing to do with the review, except that I wanted to share it.  It's a bit long, so feel free to skip it if you want.  Yurii Zhivago, speaking of death:

"'You want to know my opinion as a scientist? Perhaps some other time? No? Right now? Well, as you wish.  But it's difficult like that, all of a sudden.' And there and then he delivered a whole impromptu lecture, astonished that he could do it.

"Resurrection.  In the crude from in which it is preached to console the weak, it is alien to me.  I have always understood Christ's words about the living and the dead in a different sense.  Where could you find room for the hordes of people accumulated over thousands of years? The universe isn't big enough for them; God, the good, and meaningful purpose would be crowded out.  They'd be crushed by these throngs of greedy merely for the animal life.      

"But all the time, life, one, immense, identical throughout its innumerable combinations abd transformations, fills the universe and is continually reborn.  You are anxious whether you will rise from the dead or not, but you rose from the dead when you were born and you didn't notice it.    

"Will you feel pain? Do the tissues feel their disintegration? In other words, what will happen to your consciousness?  But what is consciousness?  Let's see.  A conscious attempt to fall asleep is sure to produce insomnia, to try to be conscious of one's own digestion is a sure way to upset the stomach.  Consciousness is a poison when we apply it to ourselves.  Consciousness is a light directed outward, it lights up the way ahead of us so that we don't stumble.  It's like the headlights on a locomotive--turn them inward and you'd have a crash.    

"So what will happen to your consciousness?  Your consciousness, yours, not anyone else's.  Well, what are you?  There's the point.  Let's try to find out.  What is it about you that you have always known as yourself?  What are you conscious of in yourself?  Your kidneys? Your liver? Your blood vessels?   No.  However far back you go in your memory, it is always in some external, active manifestation of yourself that you come across your identity--in the work of your hands, in your family, in other people.  And now listen carefully.  You in others--this is your soul.  This is what you are.  This is what your consciousness has breathed and lived on and enjoyed throughout your life--your soul, your immortality, your life in others.  And what now? You have always been in others and you will always remain in others.  And what does it matter to you if later on that is called your memory?  This will be you--the you that enters the future and becomes a part of it."

Doctor Zhivago has a famous film adaptation.  The 1965 film version directed by David Lean and starring Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia) was a giant financial success, remaining the eighth highest grossing film ever, after adjusting for inflation.

While this is certainly an excellent novel, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to everybody.  If you're looking for a light read, or have no interest in the politics and ideology of Revolutionary-era Russia, you probably won't enjoy it.  It's a very dense book (which is pretty characteristic of Russian lit) and requires at least a bit of knowledge of that time period (e.g., if you don't know the difference between the Reds, Greens, and Whites, you may end up confused), but this is nothing ten minutes on wikipedia can't help you out with.  

The Bestsellers of 1958:
1. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
2. Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver
3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
4. Around the World with Auntie Mame by Partick Dennis
5. From the Terrace by John O'Hara
6. Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson
7. Ice Palace by Edna Ferber
8. The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
9. The Enemy Camp by Jerome Weidman
10. Victorine by Frances Parkinson Keyes

Also published in 1958:
Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart
Truman Capote - Breakfast at Tiffany's
Ian Fleming - Dr. No
Jack Kerouac - The Dharma Bums

Pasternak, Boris. Doctor Zhivago. 1958. Trans. Max Hayward, Manya Harari, and Bernard 
          Guerney. New York: Ballantine Books, 1981. Print.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Blade Runner," "Blade Runner (a movie)," and "The Blade Runner"

I was in the library last week, when I came across a surprising title.  Blade Runner (a movie) by William S. Burroughs.  It turns out Blade Runner (a movie) has nothing to do with the movie Blade Runner, which is based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Elecrtic Sheep?  No, Blade Runner (a movie) is based on the novel The Bladerunner, which has no connection to Blade Runner or its source material.   Perhaps some background will help.  

In 1968, Philip K. Dick published one of his most famous novels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Fig. 1.1: Electric Sheep

In the novel, Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter, must 'retire' six escaped androids.  The biggest difference between the androids and humans is the androids' complete lack of empathy.  In a plotline that didn't make it into the film, the humans on the largely depopulated Earth all need to care for some kind of pet, to prove to their neighbors that they have empathy.  However, due to nuclear war, most species are extinct, and those that remain are incredibly expensive, prompting many, including Deckard, to own an electric animal, one that behaves exactly like, and appears identical to, a real animal. (Which leads to the question: if taking care of the animals is a matter of conformity/self-preservation, does empathy even apply, which leads to further questions about the possibly self-serving nature of empathy).  Deckard has an electric sheep. The term "blade runner" does not appear anywhere in the novel.

In 1974, Alan E. Nourse published a dystopian novel titled The Bladerunner.  The backstory: Medical science has managed to prolong life and allow people to live with previously fatal conditions.  A rapidly aging population that needs medical care, along with an aging government, increase taxes on the proportionally smaller youth demographic, which is itself producing less, until the economy is on the verge of collapsing (A strangely prescient premise).  The solution to the problem ends up being free healthcare for life, on the condition that the recipient be sterilized.  This leads to an underground medicine industry, with suppliers, doctors, and bladerunners, the latter act as go-betweens for the doctors, suppliers, and patients.  Although it gets a little bogged down with medical specifics and some of the exposition can be clunky (especially in the second part of the novel), it's a relevant, thought-provoking sci-fi novel.  

Well, in 1979, William S. Burroughs was commissioned to write a film treatment for The Bladerunner.  Although no film was made, the treatment was published as Blade Runner (a movie).  I'd recommend reading the novel before the Burroughs treatment.  The treatment, as it goes on, gets more and more disjointed and surreal, and bizarre imagery starts taking more and more precedence over coherence.  There are considerable differences between the film treatment and the novel.  There are more "throbbing phalluses" than in the source material.  A lot more

In 1982, Blade Runner, the famous sci-fi film starring Harrison Ford, was released.  One problem the filmmakers encountered was picking a good title.  Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was a) not catchy and b) nonsense, since there were no electric sheep in the film.  One of the screenwriters, Hampton Fancher, had a copy of Burroughs's treatment, and suggested the title Blade Runner for the film.  Ridley Scott bought the title rights for The Bladerunner and Blade Runner (a movie).       

So, if anyone ever decides to make a film adaptation of Alan E. Nourse's The Bladerunner, they're going to have to call it something else.  May I suggest Ubik?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

10 More Short Books You Should Read

A couple weeks ago, the Huffington Post ran an article titled "These Amazing Classic Books Are So Short You Have No Excuse Not to Read Them."  It included the usual suspects, Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, The Turn of the Screw.  There list is definitely worth checking out, but I thought I'd add a few of my own suggestions to the mix.  Here are ten great books under 200 pages:  

CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD by Gabriel García Márquez (120 pages):

García Márquez is one of the best known Latin American writers of our time.  His 1981 novel follows an unnamed narrator's attempt to reconstruct what happened in his small hometown decades earlier.  Everyone in the town knew that the Vicario brothers were planning to kill Santiago Nasar, except, seemingly Nasar himself.

THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE by Carson McCullers (71 pages):  

Carson McCullers is a writer in the Southern Gothic tradition, like Shirley Jackson and Flannery O'Conner.  The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (which usually comes with a few other stories), shows a haunting portrait of a small town, and the rise and ruin of Miss Amelia at the hands of the grotesque Cousin Lymon.

SULA by Toni Morrison (192 pages):

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's 1973 novel Sula focuses on a town and two women, and has one hell of an opening line: "Except for World War II, nothing ever interfered with the celebration of National Suicide Day."

THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon (183 pages): 

Probably the only Pynchon book that will take you less than a month to read, but this slim 1966 volume has a lot of depth to it.  Oedipa Maas wades through a world populated with equally improbable names and even less probable explanations, as she stumbles through what is either a massive conspiracy, a colossal prank, or her own paranoia.  

FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury (179 pages):

"It was a pleasure to burn..." A great first line for one of the great dystopian novels in American fiction.  Guy Montag is a fireman: one of the chosen few who make sure that no book is left unburned.  A treatise on the evil of censorship and illiteracy, the danger of pacification through television, as well as a compelling story make this a fantastic read.

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway (127 pages):

Published in 1952, this is the novel that restarted Hemingway's career.  It is a prime example of Hemingway's unparalleled style.

THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams (180 pages):

Published in 1979, Hitchhikers Guide is the first in the world's longest trilogy (the series has five books, whereas most trilogies tend to peter out around the third), this is the one of the great examples of absurdist humor and genre parody.

THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder (138 pages):

Wilder's 1927 novel focuses on a disaster.  A bridge that has stood for a century collapses, and five people fall to their death.  Brother Juniper decides to try to understand the lives of those who died, and determine if it was all a meaningless accident or something more meaningful.

POST OFFICE by Charles Bukowski (149 Pages):

"Maybe I'll write a novel, I thought.  And then I did."  Love him or hate him (and I've seen plenty of both), Bukowski has had a significant impact on 'dirty realism' and can be pretty damn funny.  His 1971 debut novel is semi-autobiographical, the author surrogate Henry Chinaski has to deal with a soul-crushing position working in the post office.

A POLITICAL FABLE by Robert Coover (88 pages):

Originally written and published in 1968 under the more descriptive title, The Cat in the Hat Runs for President, A Political Fable is a bizarre book.  Allegorical and surreal, it will answer questions you never knew you wanted to ask like, "How many Republicans can be swallowed whole by a whale" and "Just how far do you have to go to drive the opposition quite literally insane."

Monday, December 16, 2013

1957: By Love Possessed by James Gould Cozzens

The Author:

         James Gould Cozzens (1903-1978) was born in Chicago but grew up in Staten Island.  He came from old money, a New England Governor on one side of the family and a colonial heritage on the other.  He attended Episcopalian schools.  He attended Harvard for two years and published Confusion, his first novel, in 1924.  In debt, he dropped out of Harvard and published his second novel in 1925, which, like his first, was not successful.  Cozzens went to Cuba to teach the children of Americans, but a year later he travelled through Europe as a private tutor.  In 1927, Cozzens married Sylvia Baumgarten, a literary agent who helped edit his future works.  His career took a turn for the better in the 1930s.  His short story, "A Farewell to Cuba," (1931) was nominated for an O. Henry Award.  His 1936 story, "Total Stranger" one first prize in that year's O. Henry Awards.  
         During World War Two, Cozzens served as a press liaison in for the Army Air Forces.  One of his main job duties was neutralizing stories that could potentially cause serious negative press for the military.  It was his experiences here that formed the basis for his Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, Guard of Honor (1948). His first novel after Guard of Honor was 1957’s bestseller, By Love Possessed.  The success of the work was as much a curse as a blessing.  Cozzens writing style, which is admittedly Victorian, as well as the rather conservative morality of his novels, made him the epitome of the old guard of American fiction at a time when writers like John Updike and Philip Roth were becoming mainstream.  Cozzens, despite his fame, generally gave very few interviews, a habit he broke for the September 2, 1957 issue of Time (By Love Possessed was released August 26th).  His interview led to further denunciation by his critics. 

            The next year, Cozzens and his wife moved to Williamstown, Massachusetts. Cozzens published his last novel, Morning, Noon and Night in 1968.  He lived out of the spotlight until his death from pneumonia in 1978.

The Book:

Length: 570 pages
Subject/Genre: Character Study/Psychological Realism

The title By Love Possessed made me assume the novel would be a trashy romance.  Instead, it is a look into the life of Arthur Winner Jr., a small town New England lawyer, a partner in the firm his deceased father founded with Noah Tuttle, a current partner and father of Winner Jr.’s first (and now deceased) wife.  The novel takes place over the course of a couple days, and is primarily focused on Winner’s coming to terms with revelations about the ethics (or lack thereof) of his partners and himself.  

            The story’s action, well, maybe action isn’t the right word.  It’s wrong to say that nothing happens in this novel, but most of what happens is consequent to action, lies in the effect it has on the Winner.  It is a heavily introspective novel.  This is not a bad thing, in and of itself, but it becomes complicated by Cozzens style.  In the first section, I stated that Cozzens has a Victorian style.  Cozzens is also technically skillful.  The sentences are complex and crafted wonderfully.  However, it seems out of place.  There’s a quote I find myself going back to frequently, from John Barth’s essay, “The Literature of Exhaustion.”  It goes: “In any case, to be technically out of date is likely to be a genuine defect: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony or the Chartres Cathedral, if executed today, might be simply embarrassing.”  This of course leads to a lot of literary theory-type-questions, not the least of which being ‘does the time in which the novel was produced necessarily affect the interpretation of its prose?’  Cozzens writes like a (very talented) nineteenth century writer, or at least a pre-modernist, though he’s writing in the era of Pynchon and Gaddis, and Kerouac and Burroughs (William, not Edgar).  There’s no question that people like Pynchon wrote complicated sentences, rife with allusions (more on this in a moment), but the tone strikes back to the Romantics.  Describing a clock in dead father’s study, designed with a girl and cherub:

     “The little god was about to conquer all. Indeed, he did conquer all.  L’esprit est toujours – yes, Always! – la dupe du Coeur! So cuddlesome in form, he was the heart, the baby lord and master of the head. His victory was love – love’s bliss of thoughtlessness.  Love pushed aside the bitter findings of experience.  Love knew for a fact what was not a fact; with ease, love believed the unbelievable; love wished and made it so.  Moreover, here where love’s weakness seemed to be, love’s strength resided.  Itself all unreality, love was assailed by reality in vain.  You might as well wound the loud winds, kill the still-closing waters.” (10)

       This type of apostrophizing would be right at home in Dumas or Austen, and would there be a splendid passage, but it’s hard to reconcile something like this in the middle of a book written and taking place in the 1950s.  I mentioned the use of references earlier, and there are two in that above passage.  The first being the French phrase (in English, “The mind is always the dupe of the heart”) from François de la Rochefoucauld’s Maximes, published in 1655.  The last line of the passage is lifted from The Tempest (Act III, Scene 3). Shakespeare is subtly and frequently invoked, as are numerous other literary figures, the first chapter alone introducing Robert Browning and Thomas Moore, in addition to the above mentioned (and any I may have missed).  

            The story itself is strong, although the narration can be repetitive at times.  Winner has to deal with questions about his partners’ trustworthiness, his own infidelities, and managing a case of a man accused of rape.  But the real story is Winner’s loss of innocence and his struggle with his conscience, which may not sound like typical fare for a bestseller.  Then again, this was Cozzens first novel since his Pulitzer-winning Guard of Honor, and was itself nominated for a Pulitzer (and won the William Dean Howells Medal in 1960), so it’s not too difficult to see how it became a success, especially with the controversy mentioned in the author section of the review.  

            Like almost every book I’ve reviewed on the list so far, By Love Possessed was adapted for the screen.  The 1961 version focused more on Arthur’s infidelity, with Lana Turner as Marjorie Penrose.  

Winner was played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who today might be best known for playing the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in almost every animated version of Batman since the early ‘90s.

            All qualms about its timeliness aside, By Love Possessed is a good book.  At the same point, I can’t think of who it would be good for.  Usually I try to avoid simply saying read/don’t read this book, and focus more on what tastes would this book match and which would it not.  But due to this weird mismatch between the style and the content, I’m not sure.  If you don’t like books that delve into ethics and focus on introspection instead of action, you won’t like By Love Possessed.  If you do, and you like the style, it would certainly be worth a chance if you happen to run across it.  I’m sure there’s a demographic that this novel is perfectly suited for, but I can’t think of what that would be off the top of my head.

Bestsellers of 1957:
1. By Love Possessed - James Gould Cozzens
2. Peyton Place - Grace Metalious
3. Compulsion - Meyer Levin
4. Ralley Round the Flag, Boys! - Max Shulman
5. Blue Camellia - Frances Parkinson Keyes
6. Eloise in Paris - Kay Thompson
7. The Scapegoat - Daphne du Maurier
8. On the Beach - Nevil Shute
9. Below the Salt -Thomas B. Costain
10. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

Also Published in 1957:
John Cheever - The Wapshot Chronicle
Ian Fleming - From Russia, with Love
Jack Kerouac - On the Road
Bernard Malamud - The Assistant 
Vladimir Nabokov - Pnin

Bruccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Descriptive Bibliography. Pittsburgh, PA: 
         University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981. Print.

Burke, James Henry and Hackett, Alice Payne. 80 Years of Best Sellers: 1895-1975. New 
         York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1977. Print.

Cozzens, James Gould. By Love Possessed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 
         1957. Print.

Monday, December 2, 2013

1956: Don't Go Near the Water by William Brinkley

The Author:

           William Brinkley (1917-1993) was born in Custer City, Oklahoma.  Brinkley graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1940 after which he worked for a couple years as a reporter for the Washington Post before becoming a commissioned officer in the US Navy, a position in which he dealt mostly with public relations.  After the war, Brinkley published his debut novel, Quicksand (1948) before going back to work at the Washington Post.  In 1951, Brinkley started working at Life Magazine, a position he retained until 1958.  In 1955 he published his only non-fiction work, a biography of a Slovakian nun titled The Deliverance of Sister Cecelia

            His best-selling work, Don’t Go Near the Water, was published in 1956.  He published six more novels between 1961 and his final novel, The Last Ship, in 1988.  In 1971, Brinkley moved to McAllen, Texas, where, in 1993, after a long bout of depression, he died from an overdose of barbiturates.

The Book:

Length: 373 Pages
Subject/Genre: Military/Humor

       Don't Go Near the Water focuses on a group of public relations officers stationed on the tropical Pacific island of Tulura during World War Two.  Structurally, the novel is episodic, each chapter dealing with a different problem and placing emphasis on different characters.  The 'episodes' range from the problems of an enlisted man dating a nurse (i.e., an officer), to blackmailing a self-absorbed war correspondent into building a schoolhouse for the island's children.  

         The novel's main character is Ensign Max Siegel, a burly Harvard grad who is the only one of the PR group to have learned to speak Tuluran.  The first episode of the novel deals with a very serious problem:  Edgar Rice Burroughs is coming to Tulura (NOTE: Burroughs actually volunteered to be, and served as, a war correspondent in WWII, despite being in his sixties at the time) and the PR people want to take some photos of Burroughs with the native Tulurans.  Unfortunately, the natives don't look native enough, so it's up to Siegel to convince them to dress like savages.  

     Reading Don't Go Near the Water is like watching an old sitcom that has aged remarkably well.  The humor is often predictable but generally sincere and the second to last chapter, focusing on everyone's reaction to the use of the nuclear bomb, is strangely touching, and perhaps presages Brinkley's post-nuclear-apocalyptic novel The Last Ship.  The humor is largely based on the absurdity of the PR division, the self-importance of its commanding officers, and the idiosyncrasies of the war correspondents.  From the novel:   
                 "[Siegel] foresaw the day when there would be one Public Relations officer 
                  for each combat man in the Navy, and the fleet commanded by the president 
                  of the Associated Press, with a six-star rank of Admiral-Admiral, who would 
                  decide on operations solely on the basis of their news value, with transmission 
                  ships occupied by nothing but correspondents, with no operation dispatches 
                  being permitted until the fleet was wiped out to provide a good news item." (p. 76)

In 1956, Don't Go Near the Water sold 165,000 copies, not including its book club sales.  The film rights were secured quickly, and a film adaptation starring Glenn Ford and Eva Gabor was released in 1957.

Don't Go Near the Water was reprinted in 2005, and TNT is apparently planning to release a made for TV version of Brinkley's The Last Ship next year.  

       I really like Don't Go Near the Water.  If you like humor, especially the type you'd find in good sitcoms, you should definitely give it a read.    

Bestsellers of 1956:
1. Don't Go Near the Water by William Brinkley
2. The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor
3. Peyton Place  by Grace Metalious
4. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
5. Eloise by Kay Thompson
6. Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
7. A Certain Smile  by François Sagan
8. The Tribe That Lost Its Head by Nicholas Monsarrat
9. The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir 
10. Boon Island by Kenneth Roberts

Also published 1956:
James Baldwin - Giovanni's Room
Albert Camus - The Fall
Allen Ginsburg - Howl and Other Poems
Eugene O'Neill - Long Day's Journey into Night

Brinkley, William. Don't Go Near the Water. New York: Random House, 1956. Print.

Burke, James Henry and Hackett, Alice Payne. 80 Years of Best Sellers: 1895-1975. New 
            York: R. R. Bowker Company, 1977. Print.