29 March 2008

Library Books

• Dream When You're Feeling Blue, Elizabeth Berg
The story of a close-knit nuclear family, with three girls and three boys, during World War II. Lively Kitty, sandwiched between her older sister Louise, who is engaged to Michael, and younger sister Tish, matures as her boyfriend and Michael go off to war. Later she gives up her job to do war work, and falls hard for a soldier she has been writing to. Chock full of period details, this is just the day-to-day life of an average family during the war, but a surprise is in store at the end.

A Paper Life, Tatum O'Neal
My mom used to get the "National Enquirer" and my godmother, next door, subscribed to "The Star," so they would always swap papers when they got done reading. It was in this way I saw bits and pieces of Tatum O'Neal's unconventional, and ultimately sad, upbringing, with a narcissistic father and troubled, alcoholic mother. This is, as Paul Harvey always intoned, "The rest of the story." A rather depressing look at what goes on behind the "glamour" of the movies.

Buckingham Palace Gardens, Anne Perry
The newest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel sees precious little of Charlotte, as Pitt is assigned to find out who killed a prostitute provided for the entertainment of the Prince of Wales' guests. The Pitts' maid Gracie is secreted in the Palace as a servant, but much of the point of view of this novel is taken up by the wife of one of the Prince's guests, who is in love with the prime suspect in the case. Elaborate mystery with much of the action taking place belowstairs, where the servants keep the royal facade smoothly running—and the secrets, too. Biggest mystery: the title, since "Gardens" have absolutely no connection with what happens!

25 March 2008

Books Read Since February 27

I seem to have gone through a spate of re-reading before getting back to my stack (which grew in the meantime...LOL).

• Re-read: Especially Dogs, Gladys Taber
My first introduction to Gladys Taber was in this volume which I first found in my junior high school library. I was immediately smitten with Taber's cocker spaniels and Irish setters at her Connecticut home, Stillmeadow. Taber begins her narration with her girlhood setter Timothy and his relationship with her father, only the first amusing touch in this readable dog memoir.

• Re-read: Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott
Having re-read Eight Cousins, could its sequel be far behind? Uncle Alec, Rose, and Phebe, back from two years in Europe in which Phebe took voice lessons, finds the two girls ready to begin their adult lives. Rose chooses to play the butterfly for a while, but is saddened by false friends and troubled by Charlie's new attitude toward her, while Phebe's concert brings her a way to earn a living, but heartache in what could be an inappropriate match. The eight cousins grow up in Alcott style, with a bit of lecturing and some hard lessons.

• Re-read: The Horsemasters, Don Stanford
Tremendously readable book about an American teenager who attends a British "Horsemasters" course in order to get an instructional certificate so she can attend the college of her choice. She finds that caring and riding are harder work that she thought, but not only becomes a good rider, but matures as well. The text sneaks in many facts about horses, riding, and care in whithout being pedantic or boring; the book is a page-turner from beginning to end. Perfect gift for a horse-crazy child who thinks owning a horse is some fairytale vision of galloping in slow motion across flower-strewn fields with no thought to the expense and work needed to keep the animal happy and healthy.

• American Science and Invention: A Pictorial History, Mitchell Wilson
From 1954! Last discussion, predictably, is the atomic bomb. I found the earlier entries more interesting than the modern ones, but that's just me.

• The Encyclopedia of American Radio: An A-Z Guide to Radio from Jack Benny to Howard Stern, Ronald W. Lackman
I have to say I merely skimmed through this, since John Dunning's On the Air is so complete and formidable. The photos are the main draw here.

• Main Street: Best Friends, Ann Martin
Flora and Ruby and their best friends in Camden Falls, Olivia and Nikki, are back in the fourth installment of the Main Street series. Camden Falls' 350th anniversary is approaching and all the girls are involved in preparation for the event, especially Ruby, who is starring in a play her grade is putting on about witch trials that took place in Colonial times. But Olivia is having trouble with the idea that Flora's former best friend, Annika, will be visiting during the celebration: can she ever measure up to Flora's inventive friend? The Main Street books are nice in that they present a child's world without downplaying some of its sadder aspects—an elderly neighbor's wife has Alzheimers and is confined to a rest home; Nikki's dad, who has abandoned the family, is an abusive alcoholic and she lives in fear that he'll return—or realities—Olivia's dad is jobless and her family will be opening a store; a neighbor's son has Down syndrome but is eager to make an adult life for himself.

• The Religion Book, Jim Willis
An A-Z listing of the world's religions, religious figures, events, and philosophies. This could have been quite dull, but Willis' style is informative, concise, and touches of humor are scattered throughout. Enjoyable overview.

• Sara and Eleanor, Jan Pottker
Oh, I so wanted to love this book! I have several books about the Roosevelts (both the Hyde Park clan and the Oyster Bay contingent) and Theodore Roosevelt is by far my favorite president. I did enjoy the story of Sara Delano Roosevelt's background and her interesting childhood (as a little girl, she "shipped to China" on a sailing vessel with her family), not to mention the history of the Delano family and the "color" of some of the historical events, like the visit of King George VI and his wife to the U.S. in the 1930s. I also appreciated a text that did not demonize "Mamá", as Sara Roosevelt has become an antagonist in most texts and media. Eleanor Roosevelt's half of the story, however, reveals nothing new—her sad childhood, her depression and insecurity because of it, her slow rise to independence—and suffers at the expense of the author's efforts to improve Sara Roosevelt's image. In addition to a list of historical errors mentioned in Sylvia Jukes Morris' featured "Washington Post" review on Amazon.com, there is an extremely grievious one: Pottker talks about the events of March 1911, then follows with two paragraphs about the "next month," concerning an oceanic calamity: the sinking of the Titanic! Except the Titanic sank in April *1912*. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Does no one edit these books any longer?

11 March 2008

OMG! I Want to Go Here on Vacation!

Just read about this in "Yankee":

The Book Barn - Niantic, Connecticut

Check out "Our Friends" for pictures of some of the cats and "Neat Stuff" for photos of the gardens.

A Series of Things

I haven't written of any of my series e-books experiences of late and it's understandable somewhat as most of them have been workmanlike only and sometimes deathly dull. I keep abandoning and returning to one of the "Boy Allies" books, which feature two American boys in their late teens, Hal and Chester, performing miraculous missions during "the Great War" and enduring hairsbreath escapes at every turn. The boys are prodigious riflemen, athletes, and all-roung good guys and the series is so jingoistic I, ever tolerant of the old attitudes, have trouble keeping with it.

I did find and finished The Camp Fire Girls in the Maine Woods, the first of the Hildegard Frey series which introduces then-snobbish Gladys to the girls, who chiefly go by their Camp Fire nicknames: Sahwah (Sarah Brewster), the athletic girl who loves to swim; Hinpoha (Dorothy Bradford), the chubby one who is later left in the guardianship of her stuffy Aunt Phoebe; Migwan (Elsie Gardiner), the literary one who wants to attend college; Nyoda (Elizabeth Kent), their "den mother," and Nakwisi, Chapa, and Medmangi (I'm not sure if we ever learn their names). Gladys always remains Gladys in the course of the books, despite her reformation. I'd love to read all of them, but only half are online at the moment.

I did find a further treat on Munsey's (formerly Blackmask.com), however: more "Ruth Fielding" and "Outdoor Girls" books, as well as pretty much the entire run of "The Moving Picture Girls." I had already read one of the MPG's books, Under the Palms, where they are in the wilds of Florida (don't laugh; Florida was chiefly tropical wilderness at the time the book was written), but am just now reading the first book and finding out how Alice and Ruth and their father Hosmer DeVere originally joined the "Comet Film Company" and came to make "parlor dramas" and other "pictures."

The first book was written in 1914 and it is striking that although the author "Laura Lee Hope" (really one of the writers in the Stratemeyer Syndicate of children's series books and of course "author" of the "Bobbsey Twins" series) comments "I presume all my readers have seen moving pictures many times..." she proceeds to describe the process of making what is now known as the "silent film," since the concept was still so new. She actually devotes an entire short chapter to the description, which shows how much has changed in moviemaking, since all the interior shots were filmed on one big stage with directors shouting out comments to the actors, and California is stated as being a place where the film companies "went on location" to get authentic backgrounds, since the early films were chiefly shot in New York and New Jersey. But then many things have changed: the DeVeres' neighbor in the next apartment, Russ Dalwood, is designing a new motion picture camera and a patent thief is after his plans. Alice visits the Dalwood apartment one day (no key necessary; there are not even locks on the doors!) and finds someone rifling through Russ' kitchen. When they tell him what happened and suggest he call the police (note portion in bold!):

"I'll think about it," agreed Russ. "Of course he hasn't really done anything yet that they could arrest him for, unless coming into our apartment without being invited is illegal, and he could wriggle out of a charge of that sort..."

You can find more about "The Moving Picture Girls" here, and the entire site is great, also talking about Ruth Fielding, Betty Gordon, the Outdoor Girls and other older series, plus later series like Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, Trixie Belden, etc.

There is also a blog about her reading of these series books.

06 March 2008

Library Books

• The Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz
One of the most hotly contested books in LIW fandom, Holtz's entire purpose for this book seems to be to prove that Rose Wilder Lane, a journalist, traveler and writer in her own right, was the real author of the "Little House" series and great injustice has been done not putting her names on the books. Holtz also accuses the famous Laura of being a cold, unapproachable mother.

Frankly, all this book does is convince me that Rose was a whiner who blamed all her problems on her upbringing, and I don't think that was true at all. Rose definitely was not cut out for the life of a farmer's or Midwestern businessman's wife; instead she taught herself telegraphy and did many things during her career, including writing books, traveling overseas (including to Albania, which was a dangerous place in those days), and even selling land. She married the wrong guy, later divorced him, and though professing to hate Missouri, almost always came home for a while to Mansfield and the farm her parents had struggled to create. Holtz seems to be judging Laura Ingalls Wilder as a mother against the touchy-feely attitude of the television series Little House on the Prairie, when instead she was a woman of the times: stoic in grief, sparing in her praise. Was she stubborn and sometimes unreasonable? Yes—Laura says so herself in the business about Miss Wilder and Carrie's rocking the desk in Little Town on the Prairie—and aren't we all unless we are saints like Mother Teresa?

Holtz seems more embittered than Rose about the fact that her name did not get on the "Little House" books and she was not more well known. Rose herself said she didn't want to be associated with "children's stories," although Holtz presents ample proof that Rose did heavily edit and perhaps embellish the "Little House" novels. Rose didn't whine; why should we?

• Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, John E. Miller
A more balanced narrative than Holtz' book, but also more pedestrian. Since Laura left few personal papers as opposed to Rose, who wrote copious letters and kept a journal, Miller must constantly rely on Rose's POV or his own conjecture, which produces a lot of minute details of what organizations and entertainments were available in Mansfield, Missouri at the time of Laura and Almanzo's life there and then a statement that "the Wilders might have attended." The narrative is drier and Miller also repeats himself on several occasions. On the other hand, there are some very revealing or funny stories here, including what happened during the Depression when a Federal worker told Almanzo Wilder he wasn't allowed to plant a crop of popcorn. (The Wilders were not fans of FDR and the New Deal.) And, unlike Holtz, Miller does not constantly refer to "blind Aunt Mary" every time he mentions Mary Ingalls, a great relief. Recommended if you don't mind the scholarly approach to biographies and if you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

• Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, Henry Jenkins
Contains essays that Jenkins wrote about media fans and actions between the publication of his groundbreaking book Textual Poachers in 1992 and his newest book about online fandom and how it shapes today's media, Convergence Culture. These include his original "Star Trek" essay about fan fiction, his examination of the alt.tv.twin-peaks Usenet group (which I have read elsewhere and it drives me mad not being able to remember where), a commentary about gay fans' disappointment with the non-introduction of gay life in the Star Trek universe, and examination of slash fanfic. The last third of the book are his experiences defending action video games after the shootings at Columbine High School, and the book concludes with a discussion between himself and his son about different aspects of four Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. An enjoyable mixed bag, but I much prefer the fan-centric stories than those analyzing the nature of classifying aspects of fandom.

• Convergence Culture, Henry Jenkins
I'd love to say I adored this book, but, unlike Textual Poachers, which was about fanfiction (and other fan creations), it's not only about fans' intersection with the internet (which isn't bad; that's what it's supposed to be about), but it partially involves two shows I have absolutely no interest in, Survivor and American Idol. Jenkins makes the subjects at least interesting, and the chapter about children participating in Harry Potter fandom was quite enjoyable.

• Wait Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin
I hate baseball. But I adore this book. But then Goodwin grew up in a time when ballparks were chummy, ballplayers didn't mainline steroids to succeed, and the Brooklyn Dodgers were a neighborhood team not an inapproachable franchise. She takes you back to hot summer days where radio announcers were nearly as famous as the players they followed, the sound of strikes and crowds floating out of each window as you passed. Too, her story is about growing up in the 1950s, in the warm neighborhoods populated by local merchants, friends who played endlessly in the streets and one another's yards, her parents and sisters, and the Catholic Church. Be assured I will be adding this one to my library.

• America 1908, Jim Rasenberger
Another book I didn't buy and am sorry I didn't. Rasenberger takes us back one hundred years, to a president who was unpredictable and capricious (and sometimes hated), to great technological achievement, the military showing its might, conflicts in the sports world and between the races, obsessions with celebrities, and stunt contests on a grand scale. If it sounds similar to today, well, truly some things never change. Theodore Roosevelt, the 1908 flights of the Wright brothers, the race to "discover" the North Pole, the stunning season of the New York Giants, the Great White Fleet, the horrifying spectacle of racial injustice in Springfield, Illinois (home of Abraham Lincoln), the trial of Harry Thaw for shooting Stanford White (which had people salaciously hanging on to every word of wife Evelyn Nesbit's sexually-charged testimony), and the creation of the Model T, which would catapult Americans onto the open road, come alive in this wonderful volume. Did you know that a 1908 magazine predicted the cell phone? That in 1908 Theodore Roosevelt told his advisor Archie Butts (who later died on the Titanic) that war between Japan and the United States was inevitable? That 1908 was the first time "the ball" was dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve? The lively narrative is a definite plus.