31 December 2010

Books Finished Since December 1


No, plenty, but they've all been reviewed in Holiday Harbour under the "Christmas Book Review" banner.

I did finish one book, however, which was not Christmas-themed:

book icon  The Camp Fire Girls' Larks and Pranks, Hildegard G. Frey
I discovered e-books back in the day of my PDA, reading in Microsoft Lit format and getting the books from BlackMask.com, now Munseys.com. This site contains books that are in the public domain, including those wonderful kids' series books originally published by Saalfield, Altemus, and other extinct publishers. These are even older than Nancy Drew vintage; some, like the Rover Boys, go back to the 19th century.

This particular series was written between 1914 and 1920 and centers on a group of Camp Fire girls and their "Guardian." Today Camp Fire is for both sexes; I don't think they even wear the cute little uniforms and beanies the Camp Fire Girls wore in the 1960s. Frey's prose is livelier than many of the didactic series of those day, and all her girls are memorable: Migwan (Elsie Gardiner) the writer of the group, Sahwah (Sarah Brewster) the champion swimmmer and prankster, Hinpoha (Dorothy Bradford) the plump redhead, and more. Incidentally, these are not what you think of as "girls": the youngest of them is fifteen, and by the end of the ten-book series even college-age Migwan, Hinpoha, and Sahwah still go to camp. Parents in those days hoped their daughters would remain innocent until they were ready to be married and go out in the world.

So although in this volume, about midway through the series, the girls make the acquaintance of a group of boys who call themselves "The Sandwich Club," there is no snogging, clandestine meetings, and raging hormones: we know the Captain (real name Cicero St. John) likes Hinpoha, but it's all very innocent. This is a pivotal book in the series as we meet at least one character who will figure in the rest of the series, Katherine Adams, a tall, awkward young woman of careless dress and Southern origins but friendly and talented, who is visiting the Girls' home town in order to attend high school. We are also introduced to the Sandwich Club; Veronica Lehar, an Austrian girl who has lost her family in the Great War and who is snobbish to the girls until she finds out what good friends they are; and also to a trick donkey the kids name Sandhelo ("Sandwich" and "Wohelo," the countersign of the Camp Fire Girls—WOrk, HEalth, LOve—melded together).

As always in these old books, subtle racism and ethnicism raise their heads. In this outing the girls try to help the poor folks in an area of town known for its Polish and Slavic citizens, but are thwarted in their efforts to help by the "superstitious" townsfolk. The young folk in these novels are so nice it's hard to see them today marred by this silly bigotry. Otherwise it's a fun narrative of how kids used to make their own fun rather than depending on electronic toys.

Favorite Books of 2010

Trying to keep it down to a baker's dozen this year was hard:

book icon  Appetite for America: Fred Harvey Civilizing the West—One City at a Time, Stephen Fried (History of the civilizing influence in the American West from the POV of the Fred Harvey Houses—Amazon Vine offering)
book icon  The Mapping of Love and Death, Jacqueline Winspear (The newest Maisie Dobbs mystery, with major changes to Maisie's life—Borders purchase)
book icon  The Boneshaker, Kate Milford (Super "steampunk" young adult novel—Amazon Vine selection)
book icon  Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio, Anthony Rudel (Before the Golden Age; a technology remarkably like the Internet—Amazon Marketplace purchase)
book icon  Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870, Liza Picard (Overview of the Victorian era from poor to wealthy, cellar to attic—Borders purchase)
book icon  American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never made It Into the Textbooks, Seymour Morris Jr. (Book that is hard not to read aloud to others—Borders purchase)
book icon  Nick of Time, Ted Bell (Topping adventure novel about a Channel Islands boy and Nazi invaders, not to mention pirates—Borders purchase)
book icon  The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name, Toby Lester (A history of European exploration as told through maps—Borders bargain book purchase)
book icon  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly (A Victorian child learns about the natural world—Borders purchase)
book icon  An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson (A 1930s set mystery written in spot-on 1930s English murder mystery fashion—Borders purchase)
book icon  Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, Alison Arngrim (The girl who made Nellie Oleson famous tells her story—library book)
book icon  At Home, Bill Bryson (The history of the home as told through its rooms—Amazon Vine offering)
book icon  The Writer's Tale: The Final Chapter, Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook (The making of the new series of Dr. Who—Amazon purchase)

Honorable mentions:
book icon  Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America, Charles Leerhsen (Lyrical language and the famous trotting horse—Borders purchase)
book icon  In Spite of Myself, Christopher Plummer (Plummer's wordy but fascinating memoir—Borders bargain table)
book icon  Postcards from Europe, Rick Steves (Memorable trips and Rick's story of his first travels—used bookstore purchase)

Five fiction novels, the rest nonfiction; three of the five are young adult books, the other two are mysteries, seven of the nonfiction are historical (one is actually a social history) and there are two biographies, a travel book, and a media book.

Plus I want to give a shout-out to Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May mystery series, starting with Full Dark House...humor and mystery well mixed!

06 December 2010

A Curiosity

I have found a...curiosity.

Classic live-action Disney fans will certainly remember 1948's So Dear to My Heart, the story of a country lad and his mischievous pet lamb, starring Bobby Driscoll and veterans Beulah Bondi as Granny and Burl Ives as Hiram. (This is the film where Ives sings one of his big hits, the Oscar nominated "Lavender Blue.") The source material for this has always been noted as the Sterling North book Midnight and Jeremiah.

Somewhere in my early teens (and I can date that by the price on the paperback book, which was 95 cents), I found a copy of the book version of So Dear to My Heart, with a copyright date of 1947. I figured when the book was reprinted, the name of the book was changed to that of the movie, and the name of the lamb from Midnight to Danny, just as the publishers of Rose Wilder Lane's Let the Hurricane Roar! changed its name to Young Pioneers after the television movie it was based on, and changed the names of the protagonists from "Charles and Caroline" to "David and Molly" to avoid conflicts with the Little House on the Prairie television series.

Well, I have come upon a copy of the original Midnight and Jeremiah in a used bookstore, copyright 1943. To my surprise, it is more of a children's book than what I though the "original" was, with pictures on every page by famed illustrator Kurt Wiese. The characters and the basic story are all familiar, but at the same time markedly different, and although I haven't read it yet, it looks like the story ends at Christmas.

It almost looks like North either rewrote the book for adults previous to the film's release, or based the rewritten book on the screenplay for the Disney film. It would be interesting to know the story behind the two volumes.

(Later: The book From Walt To Woodstock: How Walt Disney Created The Counterculture states that the Dan Patch sequence was added to the film by Walt, who, like Jerry, got to meet the famous trotting horse Dan Patch when the horse's train was stopped in Marceline, MO, where Walt spent the happiest days of his childhood. So the renaming of the lamb and the sequence was Disney's, not North's, lending further credence to the book being a novelization of the film.)

Cover picture link)