Warmly Inscribed

I lucked out and found a hardcover copy of Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales. I thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone’s previous two collected stories of book collecting, Used and Rare and Slightly Chipped.

books 023As I’m sure anyone reading this would agree, there’s something special about books on books. The Goldstones’ work is a little different in that it deals primarily with the physical books rather than their content, but as a small-time collector myself I just eat it up.

Among the anecdotes related here are details about the revelation of the man forging author signatures in classic works, as well as chapters on online booksellers like ABE-books, and the possible plight of independent bookstores. This was published in 2001, and I’m sure the book dealer world has changed even more since then.

Warmly Inscribed was the last book written in this vein, though the Goldstones have three other books written together: one about leading parent/child book groups and two about rare historic manuscripts. I will probably search them down at some point. Nancy Goldstone has also written several books about European queens.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 7:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

I always forget that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is by Robert Louis Stevenson, whom I more closely identify with Kidnapped or Treasure Island. In some ways it reminded me of the other horror classics like Frankenstein or Dracula, in that the characters have been commandeered by pop culture and twisted from their narratives.

The book is actually written as suspense; we don’t know the background of the ugly, violent Mr. Hyde, whose face reminds onlookers of Satan, and we don’t know why mild-mannered, upright Dr. Jekyll has written a strange will naming Hyde as benefactor is he should die or disappear for a period of more than three months. We get the story from the perspective of Mr. Utterson, his friend and lawyer, who is looking into the connection between Hyde and Jekyll out of concern for the latter.

The story has an entirely different feel when the reader knows that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same; unfortunately, there seems to be no avoiding this, as it must be one of the most prevalent literary spoilers out there. You would be very had pressed to find anyone who went into this book innocent of that fact. However the novella remains strong as an exploration of the dichotomy of good and evil within each individual–one that, according to critics, is less than decisive. This is worth reading, even if only to get a more complex picture than that present in popular understanding.

This book is for the Classics Challenge, and is also on the Guardian and 1001 Books lists.

Published in: on October 13, 2010 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Pink House

“‘Van,’ she began, still a trifle breathlessly, ‘you said two words to me. Do you remember?’

‘I’ve said a lot of words to you, Jocelyn; most of them foolish ones.’

‘These–were not–foolish,’ she murmured. ‘These were–very important words. They were–darling–and–wife.’

‘Jocelyn!’ he cried and would have gone to her, but she put out a frightened little hand to hold him back.

‘Would you mind lending me–not giving me, Van–oh, do say you understand you mustn’t give them to me!–those words for a little while?I can promise you,’ she assured him earnestly, ‘that I’ll return them to you just as good as ever–not damaged a bit–hardly even used.'”

I went to a new-to-me book sale earlier this month, and was pleasantly surprised at the number of older books present. I was able to find a couple Angela Thirkell novels, some older series books, a Frances Parkinson Keyes, a Grace Livingston Hill, and, last but not least, two books by Louise Platt Hauck. I read The Crystal Tree earlier this year and had been curious about her other works.

I needed a break from grading one night, and picked up The Pink House despite knowing the danger. Soon I was sucked in;  I made it halfway through, and finished the next evening after I couldn’t get it out of my thoughts. Everything about these older books just appeals to me! (This one even still has its original price tag from the Gimbel’s in Philadelphia.)

The Westmores had always been a wealthy and successful family, but after investments go badly and Roger Westmore commits suicide, Jocelyn and her mother Kitten suddenly find they must survive on their own. Rather than live with questioning relatives, Jocelyn decides to rent a rustic lakeside cottage for them to live in. She is unprepared for the challenges of running a household, especially one with few of the amenities they are accustomed to, but copes with the situation valiantly.

The cottage is part of the estate of young Van Cortland, who falls in love with Jocelyn at first sight. Her father’s death and the flight of her former fiancé Phil Eliot have set her resolutely against marriage. She accepts Van’s aid despite her pride, however, and the two become fast friends. She turns to him for help again when Phil shows up in town. Jocelyn fears that in moments of weakness she might give in to Phil’s advances, and convinces Van to agree to a fake engagement. Unfortunately, however, Phil doesn’t believe it is entirely real, and Van won’t admit it’s entirely fake. Jocelyn will eventually need to face both the past and the present, and learn a new lesson in courage from her parents.

I was expecting a typical fluffy romance, but the story has surprising depth as well, especially concerning Jocelyn’s idolization of her father and her subsequent anger at his suicide. Her mother also had much more to her than met the eye, and I was glad to see her come into her own by the end of the book. Louise Platt Hauck’s writing style appeals to me for some reason, even though others might think differently. For example, I love that throughout the book Jocelyn refers to the engagement as “borrowing” the word “darling” from Van, just as she is borrowing the furniture for the house.

Perhaps this is due to the depression mentality(this was written in 1933), or even elements from her own life, but Mrs. Hauck seems to have a fascination with setting up house in a cozy abode. The experience is less romanticized here, as Jocelyn and her mother must learn to cook and make do without a hot water heater:

“Rosy color foamed all about the little house. Kitten sent to Chicago for some pink frocks for Jocelyn: pink ginghams for morning wear, pink linens for afternoon, thin, lace-trimmed pink voiles for evening.

‘We mustn’t, Kitten,’ the girl remonstrated. ‘We mustn’t spend a cent we don’t actually have to. I’ve plenty of clothes–enough to last me a year or two out here.’

‘But these cost so little, sweetie,’ her mother pleaded. ‘The whole bill didn’t come to a hundred dollars.’

Jocelyn was silent. Once a hundred dollars was the price of a single frock, or a luncheon downtown with only a few guests, or of a birthday gift for a friend. Now it stood for other and vastly more important things: taxes and grocery bills and wood for the fireplace and the insurance she insisted on carrying on her own life.

She had set herself the task of learning to cook and care for the four rooms with the dogged tenacity with which she did most things. By the time June arrived she was ale to prepare and serve meals which did not differ too greatly in quality from the ones Kitten had eaten all her life. To be sure, there were frills of olives and salted nuts and ices and daintily frosted cakes which she felt bound to omit, but Kitten did not complain of the disappearance of them.”

Forgive me for quoting at length; I love the glimpse into the past these details provide! I can just picture the little pink house in my mind, and sympathize with Jocelyn’s sudden need for economy and domesticity. She handles it all very well, however.

I still have Family Matters to look forward to, though it seems a little different. In this case a newly married couple setting up home must deal with an affectionate extended family reluctant to let the bride cut the apron strings. After that? Well, Mrs. Hauck was apparently a very prolific writer, so I’m sure one or two of her other works will find their way to me!

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (3)  
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