Since I began the Dashiells’ story in Suit and Suitability last year, I’ve dug into what they and other people of the novel would have read for leisure. You can tell a lot about people from the books they like, so knowing what my fictional characters read is a vital tool for characterization. It’s always fun to look back on what was popular and available during a certain historical era. I’ve read some vintage books expressly for the purpose of getting to know the 1930s (I enjoyed all of them but The Good Earth).
Here’s a sampling of what some of the S&S cast particularly enjoyed in 1935:
Ellen Dashiell -
Ellen…preferred classics like A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter, heavier fare that withstood decades of opinion. Maybe she was a snob, but why read unless one expanded one’s mind? That was her idea of enjoyment. Entertainment came from cinema and radio.
Nineteenth-century classics make you mull over deep things in life, like right and wrong, human psychology, and purposeful living. Ellen values these books because, as a secretary, it’s easy for her to get lost in the finicky details of a single office. She has a searching mind and needs the “heavier fare” to feed it. Some contemporary novels catch her interest, too, but classics are her favorite. She also finds great things in books on Christian living.
Marion Dashiell -
[S]atiating herself with a swashbuckling adventure novel put her in a happier state of mind and gave her sweet dreams.
Though Marion reads a wide range of fiction (and only fiction), her top picks are historical romance and adventure. Rafael Sabatini is her favorite author. Captain Blood (which I just read!) and his other novels frequently visit her mind because they sweep her out of the mundane. She dreams of being the lead lady in ever-popular historical romance movies. She catches wind of a new dramatization of her best-loved book, Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn, so you can imagine how wild she’ll be when it comes out later in 1935…her only regret is that she wasn’t able to play Arabella Bishop herself!
Augustine Dashiell - Although we don’t see Mrs. Dashiell taking the time to read in S&S, she’s always loved the sweet, faith-building, Christian romances of Grace Livingston Hill. I’ve read four of these novels so far myself for their lovely 1930s atmosphere. They’re just the thing to soothe a woman who worries about her imprisoned husband and maturing daughters.
Greta Dashiell - Greta loves adventure, so she often turns to the kids series of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Nancy Drew is by far her favorite, like many girls of the 1930s. I confess I’ve read only one of the originals that Greta would have known, The Secret of the Old Clock, but Nancy Drew is one of my favorite fictional characters as well. Her detective work thrills both me and Greta.
Frances Lundberg - Frances doesn’t have a whole lot of time to read, since she works full-time as a secretary. She devours popular mysteries like those by Agatha Christie, her absolute favorite author. With a bent for mysteries, she does a little investigating herself when her employer Oliver Dashiell is accused of embezzlement.
Do you ever give your characters favorite books, or portray them reading in your stories?