Seventeen Reviewed

Matt Kahn continues to blog about “100 Years. 94 Books.” His goal… to read and review every book to top the year’s best sellers list at Publisher’s Weekly since 1913. You can visit Kahn’s blog for a complete list of the 94 titles (some, like Gone With the Wind, topped the list in more than one year).

This week he published his review of Seventeen (1916), the second of Tarkington’s two titles to top the PW list. His impressions are mixed. Here are some snippets:

Seventeen is funny, even though at times the gags get a bit repetitive.  But at 185 pages, it doesn’t have a chance to drag.  The humor is largely based on the over-the-top love-strickenness of William and the overwrought nerves of the adults who have to deal with them.  All this is strung together with a heaping dose of slapstick.

Why was it so popular? It certainly benefited from Tarkington’s popularity and the success of his other teenager stories.  It’s a short, fun read which would certainly boost its saleability.  On top of that, a silent film version of Seventeen was released in early November, 1916.

So why haven’t I heard of it? Seventeen remained popular for several decades after its publication.  In addition to the 1916 silent film, the novel was also adapted into a stageplay in 1918, a short-lived musical (Hello, Lola) in 1926, an Orson Welles radio broadcast in 1938,  a talkie in 1940, and lastly another musical in 1951.

Should I read it? As with The Turmoil, there are aspects of the story that do not translate well into modern attitudes.  Certain subplots (e.g. William’s quest for an evening suit) are far removed enough from modern culture that they lose much of their impact.  If you can overlook that and have the patience to deal with Lola’s (intentionally and humorously) grating personality, I’d gladly recommend it as light, fun reading.

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