30 October 2005

Books from the Past

I'm toying with buying (which means I'm nosing around E-bay) a set of the Collier's Junior Classics again.

According to this site, Collier Targets Children with Junior Classics, Collier's intended this set of ten books as a child's counterpart to the Harvard Classics (a.k.a. "The Five Foot Shelf," which figured in an early episode of The Waltons). The set I would be looking for would be 1960 or earlier, as after that, Collier redid the volumes and arranged the stories under different categories. I have a single volume from that later set, the holiday volume, which I do enjoy, but the older set has a nostalgic interest as well.

In my early elementary school years, my best friend was a girl who was also named Linda. She lived one street down and several houses further on. Her older sister was already married, but her older brother's room was upstairs across the hall from her. One of the fascinating things in his room was a set of these Collier's Junior Classics.

As I got into fifth grade, Linda's and my interests started to diverge, plus she made two friends I really didn't like all that much. When these two girls were around all they wanted to talk about were clothes and boys. I thought boys, at least in the fashion they were talking about them, were boring, and clothes even more so. I confess that more often than I should I would excuse myself to go to the bathroom, sneak upstairs, and filch a copy of one of her brother's Junior Classics volumes to read for a while to get away from the ordeal of frills and fashion.

It was in "The Animal Book" that I first read one of my favorite dog stories, Albert Payson Terhune's "One Minute Longer."

28 October 2005

Changing Tastes

If there's one thing interesting about reading old books, it's about how times and customs and even mealtimes have changed. Some of the changes are refreshing—it's nice to know we don't treat minority groups, immigrants, foreigners, or poor people the way we did back then. Other things just sound funny: girls wear kimonos, not bathrobes, folks go to "sleeping porches" in the summer to get away from the heat of the house, kids climb into "the tonneau" of the car, etc.

In Kit of Greenacre Farm (published 1919), our heroine Kit Bobbins, nearly sixteen, goes to live with her elderly reclusive uncle and his sister while the family house is being reconstructed (the oil stove caught fire and burned them out). Her scholarly uncle was expecting a boy (shades of Anne Shirley; Kit even has red hair), but Kit settles down much more quickly than Anne and is sent to a preparatory school for college-bound young ladies. She immediately befriends a French-Canadian "half breed" family, the Beaubiens, and sticks up for their daughter Marcelle when the other girls turn up their noses at this poor young woman coming into their school.

Kit and her friend Anne give a Founder's Day tea to see if they can get Marcelle properly introduced into the school's girlish society, and they will be serving six kinds of sandwiches. The menu is straight out of a 1920s cookbook: cheese with pimento sandwiches, cheese with chopped walnuts, lettuce and egg, chopped raisins with beaten white of egg, raspberry jam and cream cheese, and sardine on lettuce with maynonnaise and deviled ham. Macaroons, those cookies so loved in that era, are the sweet.

Can you imagine teenage girls eating anything like that today? The sardines would be enough to send most people running off posthaste, but they were extremely popular back then. Even worse, "chopped raisins with beaten white of egg"—basically a meringue sandwich! We would never serve anything like that today for fear of food poisoning.

(Does it strike anyone as odd that 85 years ago fresh eggs were okay to eat while today with all our health precautions we are afraid to each such things?)

18 October 2005

The Magazine Files, Part 2: Regular Reading

I mentioned in “Yet Another Journal” that I was cleaning out my three-year collection of Period Living and Traditional Homes. They’re from England, beautifully printed, and although fun to read about the old house restorations, were becoming too expensive for my budget and not really useful. I’ll keep the Christmas and New Year’s issues, though; they’re full of bright baubles and old-fashioned trees—heavens, some folks still use candles, which I imagine are gorgeous, but I’m too afraid of fire to ever do so.

This is actually when I do most of my magazine buying: in the fall and winter. I end up bringing home Country and Vermont Life and Yankee and even Midwestern Living and, this year, even Arizona Highways for the vivid and colorful fall photo shots. They are so beautiful I wish I could drink in the vibrant colors: the juicy reds and oranges and golds that look as if they taste of cranberry and orange and cherry. They remind me there is a civilized season behind the depression and energy-sucking heat of summer.

In the fall and winter I also purchase decorating magazines like Country Almanac and Country Decorating Ideas and Country Sampler because they have become warm and cozy instead of stuffed with a plethora of pinks and other pastels of the summer and spring issues. Each summer issue also manages to include an almost totally white room with filmy mosquito-net-like curtains dragging on the floor. If the curtains dragging on the floor isn’t bad enough, the monochrome white makes me want to run screaming from the house (who came up with this absurd notion of curtains getting all dusty on the floor anyway?). This is even worse than the spring explosion of cutesy flower patterns and ruffles everywhere—eeek! The only setup in the summer magazines that ever attracts me is the beach cottage look, with the beadboard and pale blues and nautical decorations.

I also pick up the October, November, and December Country Living each year half price with a Michael's coupon. They have some good articles but aren't worth full price. I actually prefer the British edition which I can't get half price but is often worth it at Christmastime: the British still remember the 12 Days of Christmas and while the American edition covers furnishings, plants, pets, and decorating in a country style, the British edition actually talks about really living in the country as well, with a regular article by a man who gave up a posh job to run a farm and other articles about real country living.

Once a year at Christmas I purchase Victorian Decorating because they’ll usually do an interesting article on scraps decorating and vintage ornaments, and look at one or two old homes decorated for the holidays. (Some of them are over-decorated, even for Victorian homes!) One year they showed the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, which we have visited and I can imagine how it would be to live in the beautiful place with sumptious holiday decorations. (This is supposing, of course, I had someone else to clean the sprawling footage! <g>) Any other time of the year the lace frou-frous in VD drive me wild. I have the same problem with magazines like Romantic Country or Cottage Style; just too many bows and ruffles and furbelows for my taste. I don’t like the cute or feminine country styles, but nice plain, sturdy ginghams and wood in Shaker or Mission fashion. (I’m also apparently the only woman in the country who despises teddy bears, whether dressed in cute little dresses or overalls or baby clothing, or even au natural. I had a teddy I loved as a child but the moment I outgrew him I never went back; even then I always preferred my stuffed dogs.)

At Christmastime I also like to pick up Early American Life, which just had its life restored by a new publisher. Apparently the old management was running this fine magazine into the ground. In fact, the last few issues have been so interesting I’ve occasionally bought one when it isn’t winter time. They’ve had some absorbing historical articles, including a couple about textiles that I didn’t think I’d be interested in.

Each month I purchase Quick & Easy, a British cross-stitch magazine, from the one Barnes & Noble in the area that stocks it. I started buying it almost from when it came out because it has small, simple but attractive designs. Well, it still has some small designs, but also too many these days which are neither quick nor easy and I wonder why they’re in the magazine when the slack can be taken up by a number of sister magazines: Cross Stitcher, Cross Stitch Crazy, The World of Cross-Stitching. I miss the little Jo Verso-like sampler-type patterns that used to prevail (Jo unfortunately died in a car accident some time ago). Another monthly treat used to be the British nostalgia magazine, Best of British, but no one here in Atlanta seems to stock it any longer. I got my last issue while in Rhode Island; dozens of articles in small print with lots of color pictures of old market towns, bygone British brands and vehicles, and stories from readers about growing up or joining the armed services or surviving the Blitz and rationing. I finally broke down and got Reiman’s Reminisce by subscription bimonthly (and of course now I find it here and there where I didn’t before) because I enjoy this nostalgia magazine so much: personal stories here, as well, plus old slide photos, old cars, and the monthly column “I Know…I Was There.”

James gets the bimonthly Cooks Illustrated and the new Cooks Country magazines, but although I like reading the recipes and tips my favorite part of the former is always editor Christopher Kimball’s column about his hometown. I wish they’d collect them in a book!

The magazine I bought the longest (and subscribed to) I no longer receive or read, which is Starlog. I had the complete set for the longest time, with the original issue one, which was printed long before it was a regular magazine, devoted to Star Trek (this was even before the films came out). (It was so long ago, in fact, that the lead character in George Lucas’ new space epic, Star Wars, was still named “Luke Starkiller.”) I loved reading each issue. Then I loaned out an issue and didn’t get it back so didn’t have a complete set any longer, then I noticed I wasn’t reading them right away and in fact finding them unread months later. Regretfully but not regretfully, if that makes any sense, that’s when I let the subscription lapse. I was tempted by one the other day with Harry Potter stories in it, but decided against it. No sense letting that get going again.

The Magazine Files, Part 1: Farewell to the Real TV Guide

I was in love with TV Guide from the start, but the first magazine “I remember liking that liked me back,” as Rhoda Morgenstern would say, was Jack and Jill. I saw very few of these as a kid because we didn’t have a lot of money, but I had the odd issue of J&J and also a couple of Humpty Dumpty that I treasured and read until tattered. There were certain J&J issues that had Lassie articles in them, but I never was lucky enough to get one.

TV Guide came into our house once or twice yearly. When we cleaned out the basement for my father to fix it up, we found a 1961 Fall Preview in a pile of newspapers that I had long-ago scribbled on in black crayon. It’s now in my small collection: small because Mom knew I’d keep every one of the darn things and forbade me to do so. Even when I subscribed I had to promise her not to keep all the issues.

Of course TVG was “a better place” back then. There were not only listings and a little gossip and some picture-stories, but solid reviews and thoughtful profiles of actors and hit series and even serious pieces about the effects of television on children, on politics, on newsmaking, etc. I still have their all-news issue that followed television’s coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination. But then Walter Annenberg aimed for a serious product in general. TVG only got really frivolous at Christmas-time, when folk song artist Allen Sherman wrote an annual tongue-in-cheek poem placing all the network series in rhyme (42 years later I can still recall “Let the kindly candle kindle with warm and mellow thoughts of Grindl...").

Well, all hail Annenberg, for TVG has finally gone down with a whimper: the magazine became bad enough when media bimbo-guy Rupert Murdoch took it over and filled it full of upcoming movie trash, big print, and fashion elements, but now it’s magazine-sized and the listings are gone. Hellooooo! What good is a guide to TV without listings?

A moment of silence for what was once a great magazine...