Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Yesterday's Dime Novels Today

Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley's Secret has garnered mention on a couple of my favourite blogs recently. Danielle noted that she has long been meaning to read it and Dorothy W. bought a copy last week.

I too have been meaning to read Lady Audley's Secret since picking up a copy at a thrift store. The book jumped out at me from the shelves because I remembered the pivotal role that it played in another book, one of my childhood favourites, Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, the fourth instalment in Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series, begins in 1904. Betsy Ray, twelve-years-old and a budding writer, has fallen under the spell of the dime novels that she surreptitiously borrows from her family's "hired girl" Rena, and passes on to her best friend Tacy Kelly. As the book opens, disaster has struck. Tacy's father found Rena's copy of Lady Audley's Secret hidden under Tacy's bed, and was so horrified at the idea of a child of his reading such trash that he flung it into the kitchen stove where it perished in the flames. Ever resourceful, Betsy and Tacy find a way to earn the funds to buy Rena a replacement—Mr. Cook of Cook's Books remarks that it's "a strange book for ... little girls to be buying"—but the impact of the incident extends beyond this adventure. After mulling over the fact that Mr. Kelly has pronounced the very sort of books she plans to write "trash," Betsy finds herself reluctant to share her latest stories with her mother. When she finally does, this is how the scene unfolds:

     Mrs. Ray gathered up the tablets. The titles flashed past. Lady Gwendolyn's Sin. The Tall Dark Stranger, Hardly More Than a Child.
     For quite a while she did not say a word. She did not open the books. She just stacked them into a pile which she shaped with her hands, thoughtfully.
     Betsy stole a glance at her mother's profile, fine and straight like George Washington's. It did not look angry, but it looked serious, grave.
     "I think," said Mrs. Ray at last, "that Rena must have been sharing her dime novels with you."
     Betsy did not answer.
     "Betsy, it's a mistake for you to read that stuff. There's no great harm in it, but if you're going to be a writer you need to read good books. They train you to write, build up your mind. We have good books in the bookcase downstairs. Why don't you read them?"
     "I've read them all," said Betsy.
     "Of course," said her mother. "I never thought of that."

The happy outcome of this exchange is that Betsy is given permission to go downtown by herself on alternate Saturdays to borrow books from the newly opened Carnegie Library. So begins her love affair with the classics.

With this build up, I can't help but have some preconceptions about Lady Audley's Secret. But more than a century has passed since Rena's copy of it was consigned to the flames by Tacy's irate father. How do yesterday's dime novels read today? Might Mr. Kelly's "trash" be my treasure? I am curious to find out.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Great Affair is to Move

Robert Louis Stevenson on travel:

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.

From Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Conversational Adornment

Robert Louis Stevenson on the women of Monastier:

One thing was notable about these women, from the youngest to the oldest, and with hardly an exception. In spite of their piety, they could twang off an oath with Sir Toby Belch in person. There was nothing so high or so low, in heaven or earth or in the human body, but a woman of this neighbourhood would whip out the name of it, fair and square, by way of conversational adornment.

From Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879).

Friday, July 06, 2007

Reviewed in the Women's Post

There's a good review of my book, All In Together Girls, in this week's edition of the Women's Post. I particularly like this bit:

Sutherland reminds us of our impulse to make sense of the world and ourselves through storytelling, whether by writing or by inventing ourselves, making ourselves up. She also speaks to our intense dislike of having others misinterpret or worse, steal (literally and metaphorically) our stories and erase our selves.

I hoped that I had done that. Click here to read the whole of the review. It's the second article on the page, so you'll need to scroll down a bit to find it.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Parcel From The Book Depository

Another day, another book parcel, this one containing a big, fat history book by David Kynaston titled Austerity Britain: 1945-51. Two rave reviews of it piqued my interest. The Guardian review opened with the statement: "This is a classic; buy at least three copies - one for yourself and two to give to friends and family," while the Observer review opined:

It is very hard to praise the author too highly. […] Austerity Britain is as supple as willow. For all its factual density, it reads wonderfully. And while its purely literary merits are kept skilfully (and modestly) under control, there can be no doubt that this book is both a history and a triumphant work of art.

Given my fascination with the historical period, how could I resist?

Ostensibly the book is available in Canada, but I haven’t seen it in any stores and advised that if I ordered it from them it could take as long as four months to reach me. So I ordered it directly from Britain via The Book Depository and, scarcely a week later, here it is in my eager hands. The icing on the cake is that shipping was free, even overseas. It was my first order from The Book Depository and it definitely won't be my last.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge

I’m not planning any further actual travel this summer, and I’m a great fan of travel writing, so how could I resist the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge? The challenge originates with Lesley of A Life in Books, and the rules are simple. Participants must read six books that connect with the ‘armchair traveling’ theme between July 1st and December 31st. The books need not be limited to conventional travel writing. Fiction or non-fiction will fit the bill so long as the location is integral to the book. Participants are asked to post their list of six at the outset, although making substitutions along the way is cheerfully permitted.

A number of the books that I’m plotting to read in connection with the Reading Across Borders Challenge could do double duty here. But there are many other books on my towering TBR pile that also fit the theme. Here’s a list of twelve from which I expect to carve out my six challenge reads:

1. James Baldwin, Another Country (New York).
2. Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (North Africa).
3. Kathleen Jamie, Findings (Scotland).
4. Alfred Kazin, A Walker in the City (New York).
5. Andrea MacPherson, Beyond the Blue (Dundee, Scotland).
6. Jeremy Mercer, Time Was Soft There (Paris).
7. Mary Morris, The River Queen (Mississippi River).
8. Anna Quindlen, Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City (London).
9. Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey (France).
10. Terry Teachout, City Limits (Missouri).
11. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad (Europe & the Middle East).
12. Virginia Woolf, The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life (London).

Wish me “bon voyage”!