Party Girl

Party GirlOh, Party Girl.  Come for the silly title, stay for the (unsatisfying) discussion of double standards and the modern women’s experience.  Also, for those of us who like Midwestern settings, Party Girl takes place in Terre Haute, Indiana!

Party Girl: a Love Story is a Chelsea House publication.  Chelsea House printed many excellent fiction works, usually subtitled, “An Adventure Story,” or “A Detective Story,” or “A Love Story,” or “A Western Story.”  Since I collect romance novels, I look for the “A Love Story” titles exclusively, and I’ve found them to be more difficult to locate than the Grosset and Dunlap first edition fiction.  A grand total of one library lists this book in OCLC.  Like the Grosset and Dunlap titles, many of the Chelsea House novels have been serially published.  The copyright page of Party Girl only mentions “1929,” but after a little big of digging, I’ve found that the wonderful FictionMags Index Family lists that Party Girl was serially published in the pulp Love Story Magazine (Street & Smith Corporation) starting in v. 67 #1, dated September 28, 1929, weeks before the stock market crashed.  The index also mentions that “Vivian Grey” is a pseudonym for Harry Walter Anderson, although I haven’t been able to find evidence of that in the Library of Congress Name Authority Records.

The basic premise of Party Girl is that Carol “Melody” Sprague returns home late one night with Kent Mayburn, is refused entrance to her home by her father who is sick of her late night adventures, then Kent Mayburn pronounces that he could never marry a “party girl,” and Melody is left to pick up the pieces.  When she’s refused entrance at home, Melody assumes her beau Kent will marry her immediately, which leads to a painfully awkward interchange.  But no, Kent, who has been out with Melody many late nights, and kissed her many times, declares he’s looking for “the right sort of girl – an old-fashioned girl.”  He rejects Melody because he’s already enjoyed her company, but considers “sweet and shy and never been kissed” to be marriage material.  Kent is the worst.

For any readers wondering what Melody’s “party girl” offenses include, the book does list them!  See if any sound familiar to you… I won’t judge (shame):  “She had been gay, perhaps too gay.  She had danced and flirted, laughed at jokes that perhaps would have been better blushed at.  She had been daring.  She had been the first one to slip out of her dress at Lila Longstreth’s party and dive into the pool in moonlight…  Hers had been the first legs to go stockingless in her crowd.  Her sports dresses were always a bit shorter and more extreme than any of the other girls, and her evening dresses a bit longer and more exotic” (33).

Thoroughly without options, Melody spends one heartbroken night at Kent’s apartment while he goes to a hotel, and then she temporarily moves in with Willie Estabrook.  Willie is a girl-friend of Melody’s who benefitted extensively from Melody’s generosity while she was securing the affections of her husband Tommy, and not to mention his family’s fortune.  Willie has a cold personality and is a minor villain of the book, which I don’t feel is entirely fair.  Sure, she’s not the warmest, most supportive friend, but who wouldn’t be a little exasperated at the house guest who overstays her welcome?  Melody stays at Willie’s for about three weeks without making plans to leave, racks up a huge shopping debt her father refuses, causing creditors to call the Estabrook home, and she also catches the eye of Willie’s brother-in-law, Broddy.  When Willie finally turns Melody out, granted on short notice, Melody reacts by telling Willie they were never really friends to begin with.  Ouch.

During this time, Kent dates and becomes engaged to Agatha, who is several years younger than Melody and presumably more innocent.  Most of the novel is a rehashing of Melody being unable to go home, being heartbroken over Kent, being jealous of Agatha, and then dodging Broddy’s advances.  However, trouble is clearly ahead when one character says of Agatha, “Still water runs deep, baby, and there’s a whole lot of mud at the bottom of it” (129).  It turns out that Agatha had been cheating on Kent with a man twenty years older than her, and asks Melody to take the fall for it when Kent discovers them together.  The truth eventually comes out and Kent and Melody get their happily ever after, but the whole Agatha story line feels like a cop out to me.

At one point, Melody asks her friend Willie, “What’s wrong with me?  I haven’t done anything that the rest of you haven’t done a dozen times” (145).  In a story about double standards and whether or not an experienced man wants a “sweet and shy and never been kissed” wife, it’s a dodge that the character who is supposed to be that role in fact isn’t.  As a 2019 reader, I wanted Kent to realize he loved Melody because he loved Melody, not because Agatha’s a cheater.  Do we get that ending?  Yes and no.  The first time Kent returns to Melody he says to her, “You’re out and aboveboard with everything.  You have kissed more of the fellows than I like to know you have, but it’s out where every one’s seen it.  You haven’t gone to their apartments,” (194-195) and she turns him away.  The time that sticks, Kent instead declares, “I just thought that I wanted that kind of girl [meaning Agatha], but I didn’t… I do know what I want.  I want you and I must have you”  (220).

So, does Kent have his happily ever after with Melody because he’s seen the error of his ways, or because she’s a “good girl” after all, or somewhere in-between?  For 1929, the ambiguity will have to be good enough.  Oh, and Melody’s father also takes her back to complete her happy ending.

Bonus:  It seems worth noting that the male lead character names really threw me off in Party Girl, as they’re nearly identical to Blind Date by Vida Hurst.  In Blind Date, the lead romantic interest is Kenton and the other suitor is Roddy.  At one point in both books (B)roddy even offers to pay off a debt that the main character acquired from an unwise shopping binge.  What book is this again?

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other books published by Chelsea House are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, Chelsea House, Vivian Grey | 1 Comment

Triplicate Cover Art – and an Announcement!

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Sometimes when I buy a book, I have already seen a picture of it and know what I’m getting.  Other times, if the book is described as being in very good condition or better, I’ll buy it “blind” and hope for a great surprise when it arrives.  When I bought Glittering Girl, it was the first time I had ever seen the American edition in dust jacket available for sale and I bought it “blind” hoping for a really unique cover.  That didn’t happen.

And so, I present, not duplicate covers, but triplicate covers.  Better yet, two of these books are written by May Christie.  She wrote a different book only to land the same cover art she had half a dozen years previously.  Love’s Ecstasy was published in 1928, and Glittering Girl was published in 1934, the same year as this edition of Emilie Loring’s With Banners.  Three books, same Skrenda cover art girl.

Next, I have an exciting announcement to make:  tomorrow, Saturday, August 11th, I will be a guest on Rare Book Cafe’s Facebook livestream.  Rare Book Cafe starts at 2:30 EST and lasts for about an hour, and will be available on replay after that.  We’ll be talking anything and everything about 1920s-1930s romance novels as well as book collecting in general.  It should be a fun show, and I hope some blog readers will be able to tune in!

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Substitute Sweetheart

Substitute Sweetheart by Priscilla Wayne“Suppose you loved a man with all your heart and he, while terribly ill wanted you to marry him, thinking you were another girl – Would you do it?”

That is the totally ridiculous question that leads the front panel summary of Substitute Sweetheart by Priscilla Wayne a.k.a. Besse Toulouse Sprague.  I mean, who hasn’t been in that very situation?

Substitute Sweetheart was published in 1936 by John H. Hopkins & Son, Inc.  It opens with a fashionable woman sitting on a plane and then explains how she got there through a flashback.  The C.L.W. dust jacket art depicts our protagonist, Ruth Drayton, at the airport and in her new coat purchased for the trip ahead.  My guess is that C.L.W. stands for Charles L. Wrenn, who illustrated other dust jackets for Hopkins around this time.

Ruth Drayton lives in Iowa and works as a clerk at a department store when one day, two strangers offer her employment that seems too good to be true.  This isn’t the first novel reviewed on this blog where the heroine is offered a gig that pays suspiciously well with all expenses covered – and new outfits – for just the teensy task of pretending to be someone else and executing some kind of manipulative plan.  Joseph and Clara Bradley will pay Ruth $500 dollars a week (according to an inflation calculator, that’s nearly $9k in 2018 currency) if she travels with them to Chicago and pretends to be the step-sister of a man who was recently in a car accident.  His real step-sister is “in quarantine,” because that’s not suspicious at all.  Like what happened in Blond Trouble, our protagonist accepts this shady proposition and then feels really good about her choices based on her new wardrobe.

Ruth’s actual brother Jerry scolds her over the phone not to take the job, but of course she does because otherwise Substitute Sweetheart wouldn’t be much a a story.  When she gets there, the job is sketchier than even Jerry could have imagined.  Joseph and Clara Bradley are criminals (and it’s revealed Clara Bradley once shot a dog for ruining her dress!) who have blackmailed a doctor into slowly poisoning their nephew in a plot to take his money since the hit-man they hired to drive him off the road didn’t kill him.  The Bradleys keep Ruth locked up and monitor her every move.  Their hired man accomplice, Pascoe, is incredibly creepy, like shudder-worthy creepy.

Jerry tracks the Bradleys down just as the blackmailed doctor gets cold feet about the plot, and there is a spectacular scene at the Bradley mansion where Joseph Bradley shoots the doctor, Ruth finally is able to phone the police, Pascoe disappears, and the Bradleys kidnap Jerry.  The whole last fifth of Substitute Sweetheart is the plot’s resolution.  Jerry saves the day all the way out in a remote Colorado cabin, and Pascoe and the Bradleys are finally brought to justice while Ruth quickly clears her name back in Chicago.

Pascoe’s unwanted affection towards Ruth isn’t the only sordid part of this love story.  There’s the attempted murder scheme that makes up this novel’s plot, but there’s also the love interest, Jim Bradley.  He doesn’t do much of anything for the span of the novel although to be fair, he’s also bedridden, temporarily blinded, and poisoned.  I find it unsettling that he’s attracted to his step-sibling’s doppleganger, even though the book mentions by page sixteen that they’re not actually related.  Jim claims at the end of the novel that he quickly knew Ruth wasn’t the real June, but she was similar enough to pass for June among the Bradley family inner circle.  To make it even worse, the real June emerges at the end of the story… to be picked up by Ruth’s brother.  What’s with these guys?

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Priscilla Wayne’s works are available for purchase here.

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Evolution of the Sparkling Romances of The Modern Girl

Sparking Romances of the Modern Girl 1930s Dust Jackets2018 is now in full swing.  In late January I wrapped up my commitments to my regional Mock Newbery and Caldecott committees (and introduced a book for Newbery!) and February kicked off a regional Teen Literature Reading Challenge that I join every year in the hopes of out-reading friendly rivals.  On top of that, I’m still not fully happy with my latest book review.  Instead of further editing that post (it’s coming eventually, I swear) or launching into the Teen Lit Reading Challenge, I decided to embark on a larger project involving all Grosset and Dunlap first edition romances.  Who else has ever done something super useful while putting off another thing?1930s Romance Novel DJs

Earlier tonight, I started pulling books from my shelves to photograph the advertisements for the Grosset and Dunlap project.  At first, I was just looking for the cleanest example of each advertising panel but then I started noticing patterns.  Before tonight, I assumed whatever advertising panel was on the back of my book was random or from a very loose era at best and never paid close attention to it.  That was a mistake.  It turns out, each year roughly corresponds to a separate advertising panel.

The photo at the top of this post is in chronological order with 1929 on the left and 1934 on the right.

Each year has its own advertising panel design for the Grosset and Dunlap romances.  The titles advertised sometimes change throughout the year, but the overall design remains the same.  Also, I’m finding a few straggler titles per year with the old design of the previous year.  For example, the 1931 design does have a few 1932 published titles.  The 1933 photographic design appears to be short-lived, as the final design on the right is a mixture of 1933 and 1934 publications.

Before these shared panels rolled out, my 1929 and earlier Grosset and Dunlap titles have either an author feature advertisement on the back (e.g Beatrice Burton, Vida Hurst, May Christie) or a unique panel.  A few of those authors, like Beatrice Burton, were more likely to continue to have her own advertising panel into the era of the “Sparkling Romance of the Modern Girl” dust jackets.  Around 1934, as the Grosset and Dunlap first edition romances began their sunset, a few were produced with photographic panels displaying characters in a dramatic pose from the novel.

So readers, now we know.  Tonight I learned a new party trick:  how to tell with reasonable accuracy what year a Grosset and Dunlap title was published just by looking at the rear panel of the dust jacket.  Higher quality photos of the dust jackets will have to wait until I roll out my larger project.  This is, after all, a work night.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksSee if the dust jacket advertising panel pattern matches more examples!  Copies of 1929-1934 Grosset and Dunlap romance novels are available here.

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Fall 2017 News – Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize

13600054_10103146283524395_7739613961780628611_nHappy Thanksgiving weekend!  In addition to being grateful for good food, wonderful company, and elastic waistbands, there’s something else I’ve been grateful for in 2017.  It’s taken me a while to write about it, and I think word has already gotten around, but I won the inaugural Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize.

I’m incredibly grateful to Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney of Honey & Wax for starting this prize.  Even before I knew I had won, it was a really great opportunity to update my files on my collection, and yes, work on my bibliography.  The bibliography that I first started in 2012 has been growing intermittently over the years.  It’s still not fully updated, but it is currently just shy of thirty pages.  The Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize asked for a fifty book maximum, so I picked fifty favorites and revisited those entries.  It was pretty intense.  It felt like I had cranked the “book nerd” dial to eleven as I started tracking down census records, closed department stores, and even old addresses.

Side by side with my 2012 NCBCC entry, it was really something to see how much had changed in five years.  A side note to blog readers who know me or my family personally, I entered the contest on July 13, 2017.

Heather called with the good news in September, and I was super excited to see the announcement in the Paris Review.  I had fun surprising my mom with that news.  Since then, I’ve had a super busy fall.  To all new blog readers who came to this blog through the Paris Review or subsequent coverage, welcome and I promise to have a new book review up shortly!

Over the past few months, several articles have covered different aspects of the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize as well as my collection.  There are still a few more articles in the works, which I’ll continue to add here as they roll out:

The Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize is an annual award for women book collectors aged thirty and under.  Read more about the contest here.  The deadline for next year’s contest is June 1, 2018.

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Blind Date

Blind Date by Vida Hurst“What must a girl do to be popular?”

Cynthia Carter couldn’t get a date to her town’s Valentine’s dance and has just been stood up in the worst way.  A blind date scuttled off after pretending to be called away, only everyone could see he had been holding down the receiver on the landline.  What happens next makes up the plot of Blind Date by Vida Hurst, published in 1931  with dust jacket art by Mach Tey.

This is the second Vida Hurst book to be covered on this blog, the first being No Such Girl.  Like No Such GirlBlind Date features an incredibly naive young protagonist making groan-inducing choices, and is set away from the east coast.  No Such Girl is set in Michigan, and Blind Date is set in Missouri.  How many other 1930s romance novels are set in Kansas City, Missouri?  After having recently visited there for a literary-themed wedding, I think Kansas City is a great choice for a romance novel.

Our three main suitors are Kenton Field, Roddy Nelson, and Houston Harrison.  Kenton is the boy next door, Roddy is the date-dodger and Houston is the family friend.  Of the three suitors, Cynthia can’t get rid of Houston quickly enough.  She describes him as, “the sort who, after knowing a girl for years, would ask permission to hold her hand” and scoffs at his beautiful “feminine” handwriting.  The turning point with Houston is when Cynthia turns him down for an evening out, and then, upon being asked to go, Cynthia’s older sister turns him down too.  Considered an old maid in her late twenties(!), Hollis stands up for herself and refuses to be “second choice.”  Houston is then stuck going with the sisters’ MOM.  After learning that Cynthia isn’t interested and Hollis doesn’t want to be second choice, Houston changes his tactics and before the novel ends he and Hollis are married and expecting a baby.  Maybe Cynthia was wrong in her previous estimation of Houston.

Houston wouldn’t be the only character Cynthia misjudges.  After her friends dismiss Roddy following his landline stunt, Cynthia continues to pine away for another two hundred pages.  Deciding she would like to be the sort to impress men, our protagonist embarks on a self-improvement mission.

In Cynthia’s quest for fashion greatness, Blind Date has a subplot I hadn’t read before in a 1930s romance: a cautionary tale about store credit charges.  Cynthia opens a line of credit and immediately charges $434.95 in clothing purchases.  If that sounds like a lot, take inflation into consideration too.  According to one inflation calculator, that would be about $6,890 today!  Her inability to pay this off makes her creditor’s escalation a driving force of the plot.  She finds out what it means to have her credit ruined in town at other stores, and almost loses her job.  After having learned hard lessons about buying clothing out of her price range, Cynthia takes out a high interest loan and makes good on her debt.  She also decides to wear only black, white, blue, and pink, for whatever that’s worth.

Despite limiting herself to four clothing colors and getting into debt, the most cringe-worthy choices Cynthia makes are about Roddy Nelson.  He’s jealous and sleazy throughout the novel.  He lies about being engaged to another woman and just about everything else.  Cynthia’s infatuation with him ends in a change of heart, and she instead ends up with the boy next door who had been listening to her problems for the length of the novel.  Just to drive the point about fashion home, Cynthia is wearing a dark plain flannel bathrobe (color not specified!) for her happy ending with Kenton.

Blind Date was made into a 1934 movie by the same name, starring Ann Sothern, Neil Hamilton, and Paul Kelly.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Vida Hurst’s works are available for purchase here including Blind Date.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Mach Tey, Vida Hurst | 7 Comments

Kaleidoscope Books

Back in the fall of 2010, I had a part-time student job that really wasn’t me.  On the surface, I couldn’t complain: I worked with great people, I had a reasonable supervisor, and the pay was decent for a part-time student job.  The work itself was the poor fit, but for the record I did my job dutifully until the day Jeff Pickell saved me from it.

Kaleidoscope Books was my go-to place that fall.  I had long talks with Jeff, the owner, about anything and everything as I escaped from some of the pressures of my first semester in grad school.  For everyone else who has been drawn to Kaleidoscope, we all know that my descriptions of Jeff, his store, and the good times there can’t do any of them justice.  Having a bad day?  I would have recommended going to Kaleidoscope.  A good day?  Kaleidoscope.  Not any kind of day but just generally putzing about the Kerrytown area?  Kaleidoscope.

Luckily for me, Jeff had an opening because his previous assistant’s first book had been published and was a serious contender for the 2011 Caldecott Medal, which it went on to win.  Those are some pretty large shoes to fill, but Jeff was willing to take a chance on a twenty-two year old grad student who rambled on a bunch about 1920s romance novels.

I started working odd hours in the store late that fall and went to work there regularly as Jeff’s Online Business Manager starting in January of 2011.  We took our descriptions and listings seriously, but always had fun with them.  They’d say something like “this book about orange cats, a favorite subject of a Kaleidoscope employee…” or “the owner and his assistant disagree on whether this book is in near fine or fine condition – purchase now and cast your vote.”  Together we listed nearly 1,000 items that year.

In 2013, I moved out of state but tried to visit Jeff at Kaleidoscope Books anytime I was in Michigan.  My most recent visit to Kaleidoscope Books was in November 2016, when Jeff surprised me with some news.  He was retiring, and a majority of the store was going to auction in 2017.

Kaleidoscope Books was all about its people, and its books.  Everyone was welcome and friends stopped by regularly.  Needless to say, I also purchased some really special books from Kaleidoscope.  In December of 2016, my boyfriend surprised me with a final few books from the store.

I had said goodbye to the store as I had known it back in November, but I couldn’t miss the auction.  I needed to see the store off in style.  So, I woke up early one unseasonably pleasant February morning and headed to the Saline Fairgrounds with my mom and Daniel.  Nearly the whole gang was there.  It was bittersweet, seeing some familiar faces I hadn’t seen in nearly four years.  Even the old weatherbeaten outdoor sign was in attendance, one of many, many items in three full warehouses.  My mom was ready to go before I was, and Daniel stayed with me so I could get the visual closure of seeing an auctioneer selling items table by table.  It was my first auction, and a lot to wrap my head around.  Finally, I said farewell (for now!) to Jeff, Deborah, and Isaac before taking the picture at the top left of this post.  The top right picture is from 2011.

It was tough saying goodbye to a place that means so much to me.  But this also marks the beginning of Jeff’s much-deserved retirement, a new chapter and the next adventure.  Today, June 5th, is Jeff’s birthday and this post is for him.  Happy Birthday, Jeff!  And thank you, for everything.

… Missing the experience of buying a book from Kaleidoscope Books?  Good news!  Kaleidoscope Books may no longer be in Kerrytown, but a curated subset of its inventory is available online at Abebooks!  The digital storefront can be found at:

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