Chip of the Flying U, published in 1906, was B.M. Bower's first and best-known novel. It was also my introduction to her work, and even after readingChip of the Flying U, published in 1906, was B.M. Bower's first and best-known novel. It was also my introduction to her work, and even after reading many more of her books it's still among my favorites.
As a sidenote, it surprised me somewhat when I began reading older Western fiction that many of the stories were set near the time they were written—well into the early 20th century, some of them—rather than back in the earlier days of the West. Chip is clearly set in what was then present-day. Young lady doctor Della Whitmore comes West to visit her brother's Montana ranch after graduating from medical school, and the first person she encounters is Flying U ranch hand Chip Bennett. The beginning of their acquaintance is eventful, thanks to a practical joke by the irrepressible Flying U cowpunchers that goes awry, and not exactly promising...and an equally eventful summer follows. When Chip is injured in an accident, Della, to whom falls the task of caring for him, discovers his hidden artistic talent and does her best to encourage it despite their frequent misunderstandings and clashes. It's a sweet, lively and often very funny story, an old-fashioned romance with a delightful cast of supporting characters, and a very realistic-feeling, down-to-earth picture of everday ranch life. There's a a twist near the end that took me properly by surprise on first reading (though a sharp reader might have an inkling if they paid close attention).
I thoroughly enjoyed Bower's writing; although it shares some of the style and sensibilities of the time period it's brisk and readable and doesn't get bogged down in wordiness or too much melodrama as did some of her contemporaries'. Another thing I found refreshing is the lack of a feministic streak in the book, given the time period, the female author and a female doctor as one of the protagonists. The rural folk regard the 'lady doctor' as somewhat of a curiosity, but that's the whole extent of it—Della is not one of those aggravating fictional heroines who feel the need to get a crack about women's rights into every argument....more
Some of my earliest literary memories are of my mother reading all the original Winnie-the-Pooh books aloud to me, but I didn't discover A.A. Milne'sSome of my earliest literary memories are of my mother reading all the original Winnie-the-Pooh books aloud to me, but I didn't discover A.A. Milne's writings for adults until just a few years ago. The Sunny Side is a collection of his short stories and poems for the magazine Punch, and I absolutely love it. It's classic dry British humor and sweet satire on a variety of subjects. The section 'Men of Letters', dealing with all matters literary, is of course a favorite. 'The Complete Dramatist,' a tongue-in-cheek article on the fine art of stagecraft, is one of the most hilarious pieces in the book.
Now the object of [the] soliloquy is plain. The dramatist wished us to know the thoughts which were passing through Hamlet's mind, and it was the only way he could think of in which to do it. Of course, a really good actor can often give a clue to the feelings of a character simply by facial expression. There are ways of shifting the eyebrows, distending the nostrils, and exploring the lower molars with the tongue by which it is possible to denote respectively Surprise, Defiance and Doubt. Indeed, irresolution being the keynote of Hamlet's soliloquy, a clever player could to some extent indicate the whole thirty lines by a silent working of the jaw. But at the same time it would be idle to deny that he would miss the finer shades of the dramatist's meaning. "The insolence of office, and the spurns"—to take only one line—would tax the most elastic face.
By the time he gets through with Hamlet, and has gone through "Entrances and Exits"—well, by the time you get to the finer points of the stage meal I dare you not to be laughing aloud. And that's only one part. There's a section of stories based on Milne's experiences in the army in WWI, pieces on ordinary life at home involving letter-boxes, telephones and neighbors' pianos, and a series of stories on the adventures of some amusing characters vacationing on the French Riviera—all of which have that wonderful sophisticated between-the-wars flavor of the British middle and upper classes. If that's as much your taste as it is mine, or if you're a 'Proper Grown-Up' (as the subtitle says) who still enjoys Pooh, you'll love The Sunny Side....more
An old-fashioned Western romance, short, sweet and charming. Eastern society girl Beatrice Lansell, on a visit to her brother's Montana ranch, is beinAn old-fashioned Western romance, short, sweet and charming. Eastern society girl Beatrice Lansell, on a visit to her brother's Montana ranch, is being pressured by her social-climbing mother to accept her English nobleman suitor, Sir Redmond Hayes. Beatrice, not sure yet whether she cares for Sir Redmond enough to marry him, finds her situation complicated by the presence of a handsome cowboy neighbor, Keith Cameron. Our heroine, who is admittedly a bit of a flirt, is oddly irritated by Keith, and feels called upon to "teach him a lesson." Further complication is added when the English cattle company Sir Redmond represents leases range land on which Keith's ranch depends, and when a suspicious fire breaks out on the land in question, matters become even more strained between the two rivals.
The opening chapter requires some close attention until you've figured out the identities of everyone in the buggy and exactly how they're all related to each other. The book really comes alive during the beautifully described prairie-fire sequence, one of the best-written parts. There's some witty banter between Beatrice and her two suitors, some Western excitement involving a runaway horse and even a stray outlaw—plus the presence of Beatrice's somewhat spoiled little nephew, who is mischief itself.
Romance featured with varying degrees of prominence in all of B.M. Bower's books, but this one is probably closest to being classified as a romance first and foremost. I get the sense that Bower, just a few years into her nearly forty-year writing career, may have been still finding her stride a little bit when she wrote Her Prairie Knight, but it's nevertheless a delightful little book....more
Parnassus On Wheels is told in first person by Helen McGill, a thirty-nine-year-old spinster who for some years lived happily with her elder brother AParnassus On Wheels is told in first person by Helen McGill, a thirty-nine-year-old spinster who for some years lived happily with her elder brother Andrew on their farm—until, as Helen puts it, Andrew "got the fatal idea of telling everyone how happy we were," and began to write bestselling books on the joys of country living. Fed up with Andrew's neglecting the farm and taking her hard work for granted, Helen is just about ready to have an adventure of her own. So when an unusual traveling salesman shows up one autumn afternoon, intending to persuade Andrew to buy 'Parnassus,' his bookshop on wheels, Helen on impulse buys it herself.
This is a book that's really all about the love of books. Roger Mifflin, the enthusiastic, quirky, pleasant little bookseller, has made it his mission to spread good books to as many people as possible, to stir their enthusiasm for reading and help them find the best books for their needs and tastes. A humorous contrast is drawn between Mifflin and the ubiquitous book salesman who sells people useless multi-volume sets on installment plans. Twice, as Mifflin is showing Helen the ropes of running 'Parnassus,' do they encounter prospective customers who were recently talked into buying a hefty set of funeral orations. "The Professor," on the other hand, makes literary converts by reading aloud from O. Henry and Wilkie Collins until his listeners are ready to buy out his entire stock.
I loved the setting of this book as well. Published in 1917, it describes rural farmland and small country towns almost within sight of New York City. Taking place over just a few days, Helen's adventures with her new bookshop, Andrew's attempts to get her back home and her growing regard for the odd but lovable Professor make a simple, sweet and charming story that's a must for any book lover...more
Being in the mood for some Western short stories, I decided to try collections by a few different authors I'd never read before, and Elmore Leonard deBeing in the mood for some Western short stories, I decided to try collections by a few different authors I'd never read before, and Elmore Leonard definitely came out the winner. This collection opens with a pair of rather tough and bloody cavalry stories; although they were unquestionably well-written, I did find myself hoping the whole book wouldn't be in that precise vein. It was not. The stories near the middle of the book were some of the best short Westerns I'd read in a long time. "Saint With a Six-Gun," the story of a young deputy assigned to guard a condemned prisoner, was my favorite. I especially loved the humorous twist at the very end. "The Man With the Iron Arm" was another excellent, character-driven piece, and the title story "Blood Money" was good too. Leonard's writing is fine and straighforward, and I liked the occasional touch of dry humor in the narrative. Where plot is concerned, rather than tracking over old familiar hero-versus-villain ground, it seems his best stories stem from more mundane circumstances, leaving the author freer to take it where he wants, and creating more of a question for the reader regarding how it will end. With only one story in this collection, in fact, the concluding "The Longest Day of His Life," could I predict with any certainty how it would end....more
What may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the beloved 1942 film adaptation is that Mrs. Miniver is not really about World War II. ButWhat may come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the beloved 1942 film adaptation is that Mrs. Miniver is not really about World War II. But it's one of the loveliest pieces of writing you'll find anywhere. It's not a novel but a collection of short stories, originally published in the Times. I originally supposed that the filmmakers must have drawn different incidents from the stories and woven them together into a plot for the movie, but there is far less connection than that. I'd say they took the characters of the Miniver family and wrote an original story for them. The family is much the same in the book, with the notable exception of oldest son Vin, who is not college-age but in his early teens.
The stories are beautiful little vignettes of daily life, each capturing through Mrs. Miniver's observant eyes a day, an incident, a moment, in writing that can be savored as she savors each experience. Everyday things become like a simple flower under a magnifying glass, revealing unexpected detail and beauty. As Mrs. Miniver herself muses, "Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion." When you think about it, that sentence pretty much encapsulates a writer's task—to craft the net of words that catches thoughts and feelings and display them to the reader; who recognizes them, but may not have been able to put such feelings into words themselves. In Mrs. Miniver author Jan Struther succeeds marvelously at this task.
The imminence of war does make itself felt in the second half of the book, though only the very last chapter is set after war is declared. Under this atmostphere Mrs. Miniver's ponderings have a slightly bleaker tone in certain stories. Particularly telling, I thought, was a reference to Guy Fawkes' Day that seemed in sharp contrast to the picture of that celebration in an earlier story. Yet she remains attentive to the beautiful as well as the painful moments of lives lived in difficult times. A passage in the final chapter, which is written in the form of a letter, particularly appealed to me as a student of history, as Mrs. Miniver muses over what it would be like to have ways of exactly recalling people's feelings and attitudes during momentous events. "The nearest approach to them, I think, are the poems and articles—and even the letters and chance phrases—which are struck out of people like sparks at such moments as this. So write all the letters you can, Susan, please (to me, if you feel like it, but at any rate to somebody), and keep all the ones you get, and put down somewhere, too, everything you see or hear which will help later on to recapture the spirit of this tragic, marvellous, and eye-opening time: so that, having recaptured it, we can use it for better ends."
This one falls among the number of library books that you wish didn't have to go back. Highly recommended!...more
The opening of The Magnificent Ambersons breaks all the rules we are told to observe these days when writing first chapters. The first paragraph doesThe opening of The Magnificent Ambersons breaks all the rules we are told to observe these days when writing first chapters. The first paragraph does catch the reader's attention and foreshadows much of what is to come...but instead of diving immediately into the action and plot, author Booth Tarkington then devotes the entire first chapter to a minute description of fashion, architechture, hairstyles, transportation, interior decoration and the geography of the town where the story takes place. And I loved it. Because what this does is take you so deep into the time period and setting of the story that you really feel as if you are there and thoroughly at home.
The Magnificent Ambersons is interesting because—and it is similar to Gone With the Wind in this respect—the primary point-of-view character is really the villain of the piece as well as the protagonist. Yet in both books the author manages to hold the reader's interest in this character, making them human enough to be sometimes amusing, and so that we can even occasionally feel a prick of sympathy for them in spite of their having clearly brought their troubles on themselves. On the other hand, I'm sure part of the reason the reader keeps on is because they, too, are waiting for George Amberson Minafer to "get his come-uppance," as Tarkington puts it in one of the book's signature phrases.
Put simply, it is the story of the thoroughly spoiled and selfish heir of a wealthy family, who sabotages his widowed mother Isabel's second chance at happiness with the man she always loved, but rejected before her marriage to George's father years earlier; and the disastrous consequences for the whole family. The situation is complicated by the fact that George himself is in love with the man's daughter. Yet it is even more subtle than this description can do justice to. It isn't the plain conflict of 'we-have-money-and-they-don't,' or even an issue of social class. It is George's inflated sense of self-importance and insane pride that leads him to wreck his mother's life to prevent an imagined reflection on 'the family name.' Exactly what 'the family name' means George himself does not even seem to be certain, and in the second half of the book he finds out exactly how much it is worth. This is poignantly foreshadowed in a scene concerning his grandfather Major Amberson, who as he approaches the end of his life must suddenly come to terms with the fact that being an Amberson will do him no good now.
Knowing a general outline of the plot before reading, I had expected Isabel to be more of an important character. She is integral to the plot, but largely passive. It's almost as if by so completely spoiling her son and devoting herself to his wishes she has effaced herself. And then there's Aunt Fanny. It's hard to tell sometimes whether she is a designing witch of a woman or simply a colossal blunderer. Tarkington seems to indicate the latter by stressing Fanny's 'sincerity' in some of her crucial conversations with George. If so, this makes her more of a pathetic character than a villainess.
Three-quarters of the way through the book, Tarkington dives into another long narrative section, this time describing the rapid growth and industrialization of a city, the eager attitude of the population towards constant progress and their obliviousness to the negative elements coming with it. I realized as I read it that this passage was the literary equivalent of a cinematic montage showing the passage of time, and it works perfectly, rounded off by the incident of Lucy's redecorating the Morgans' house which brings us back from the city in general to the people with which the story is concerned. The invention of the automobile and its absorption into American culture is a thread that runs through the entire book; besides its important tangible effects on the lives of the characters it acts as another way of showing the passage of time and changing times.
The end of the book is satisfying, though the means to the end are a bit odd. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I think it deserves attention as a classic of American literature for its literary merit and also how well it captures a place and time in our history....more
This book is probably the most amazing and engrossing memoir I've ever read. First published in 1938, it is Edith Eudora Kohl's account of homesteadinThis book is probably the most amazing and engrossing memoir I've ever read. First published in 1938, it is Edith Eudora Kohl's account of homesteading in South Dakota with her sister in the first decade of the 20th century. One point that she stresses in this book is that the American frontier lasted much longer that is usually acknowledged—a fact I'd noted before in the late setting of many Western novels by authors who lived at that time. The last wave of pioneers, one of the largest, continued right up until the U.S. entry into World War 1. This book is a story of those later homesteading days, which were every bit as challenging as the early ones.
Although it might seem surprising, young single women homesteading alone or in groups was not uncommon. Many different types of people—in fact you might say every type imaginable—filed on homestead claims, for a variety of reasons. The Ammons sisters' reasons for leaving St. Louis for South Dakota, a combination of health and financial reasons, were common to many. For a number of young people, both men and women, homesteading was a temporary affair, a few months of holding down a claim to gain ownership of land that they could sell or mortgage to get a start in whatever life they had chosen. Others saw the value in the land itself, and with the industrialization of the East, land prices had become so high there that homesteading on the Western plains was their only opportunity. The more permanent settlers sometimes looked down on those who got their deed and left the land without improving it, calling them 'landgrabbers.'
But Edith and Ida Mary Ammons stayed—although the first time they saw their isolated claim and tar-paper shack they wanted nothing more than to head back home first thing the next morning. How they slowly became accustomed to their surroundings, made the shack into a home and eventually grew to love the prairie land that seemed so desolate at first, is only a small part of the story. A casual offer of a job, and Edith was running the local "proof-sheet" newspaper—an institution that came into being to publish the settlers' notices of proving up required by law. Then came the opening of the Lower Brule Indian reservation to homesteaders. The book vividly describes the crowds of thousands that crammed into the tiny settlements to register for the huge lottery that awarded claims to the Lucky Numbers drawn. As the new settlers flowed in, the Ammons girls moved onto a homestead in the Brule, and before long were running their own newspaper, the post office, a general store and Indian trading post, becoming influential figures in the new and growing community.
Their story is filled with too many adventures to be briefly described. They barely survived a fierce blizzard, helped to outwit claim-jumpers, lived through a plague of rattlesnakes, a severe drought, and prairie fires—and no matter what happened, the mail had to go through and the newspaper had to be printed. The Land of the Burnt Thigh (the title, by the way, comes from the Indians' name for the Brule, the story behind which is explained in the book) was filled with colorful characters, from cowboys to Indians to the many different settlers who became the Ammons girls' neighbors and friends. The book is well and engagingly written, so filled with interesting detail and incidents that it kept me eagerly turning the pages—well, clicking away at the Kindle page-turner, to be precise....more
A few years ago, I got a book titled Max Brand's Best Stories from the library. It was actually a mistake; I'd requested Max Brand's Best Western StorA few years ago, I got a book titled Max Brand's Best Stories from the library. It was actually a mistake; I'd requested Max Brand's Best Western Stories, Vol. 1. But I read it anyway. A couple of the selections were actually excerpts from longer works, and one of these was a chapter from Calling Dr. Kildare. That chapter did what all sample chapters are supposed to do: it made enough of an impression on me that I knew I had to read the rest of the book, as different from my usual reading tastes as it was. This month, I finally got hold of a copy, and it didn't disappoint.
Kildare was first introduced in the magazine short story "Internes Can't Take Money" in 1936. I think (though I'm not certain) that Calling Dr. Kildare was the second full-length novel to feature the character. In this book, Kildare is a young doctor working in 1930s New York City, studying under a famous diagnostician. The older doctor, the temperamental, terminally ill Dr. Gillespie, has his heart set on training Kildare as his successor, but is frustrated by how in his focus on amassing knowledge, Kildare has become an automaton, unable to relate to his patients as human beings or even remember their faces and names. Demoted to working in a city dispensary, Kildare finds himself on a case that brings him into contact with the human side perhaps more than Gillespie intended. He's surreptitiously summoned to remove a bullet from a boy from the slums who is hiding from the police, suspected of murder. Though failure to report the case to the police could mean the end of his career, Kildare keeps his secret and refuses to answer his superiors' questions about where he has been...and a large part of the reason is his falling abruptly for the boy's sister, though all his friends are certain she will be the ruin of him.
Max Brand may have had his ups and downs as a writer over the course of his massive output, but when he's at his best, he is razor-sharp. He didn't focus so much on the bigger picture of story and plot—his gift was for catching a scene, a moment, a person's mood or action. He's like a painter who rapidly slaps on paint with a thick brush, and suddenly there's a picture before your eyes. Every now and then I come upon a line so sharply observant, even if it's as simple as the description of a color or sound, that it stops me in my tracks and makes me go back to savor it again. I think that's what grabbed my attention in that sample chapter, and what kept me glued to the pages of this book.
Those who are squeamish or sensitive to medical talk probably wouldn't like it as much. It's not gory by any means, but the operations Kildare performs, such as a blood transfusion or the removal of a bullet, are explained in straightforward detail. I guess everybody has their own level of tolerance for this—I know I couldn't handle it the least bit in a film or in person, but somehow it doesn't bother me on the printed page.
There is a 1939 film adaptation, incidentally, which from its synopsis looks surprisingly faithful to its source material. Laraine Day sounds like a particularly good casting choice for the part of Mary Lamont, the nurse chosen by Dr. Gillespie to work with Kildare. ...more