Books on Wheels: Opportunities in Library Work

Books on WheelsCareer novels don’t get much cooler than Books on Wheels by Mary R. Lingenfelter.  It’s no secret that I work one department over from my library’s wonderful Bookmobile Department and that I’ve been lucky enough to join the bookmobile on about half a dozen trips, mainly school visits.  The technology on the bookmobile has certainly changed since Books on Wheels’ 1938 publication date, but the premise of delivering library services to the community outside of library walls rings true today.

Books on Wheels is part of the Kitson Careers Series, as the editor of the series was Harry D. Kitson, Ph.D., at the Teachers College of Columbia University.  The Kitson Careers series seems to be published around the same era as the Dodd Mead series (think Marian-Martha from 1936) but well before the mid-century Avalon career series (Kitsy Babcock: Library Assistant, 1958 – yes, I finally found her!) or the Julian Messner Career-Romances for Young Moderns series (Nancy Runs the Bookmobile, 1956, and Jinny Williams: Library Assistant, 1962).  Books on Wheels: Opportunities in Library Work includes about twenty pages of back matter with additional resources including a glossary, a list of accredited library schools, and suggestions for further reading.  I wouldn’t recommend these resources as being up to date, but that’s a no-brainer after nearly eighty years.  For example, the section on library school reads, “except in rare cases, library schools discourage a student from attempting to carry part time work.”  Now the opposite is true, and most programs require an internship component.

Anyway, so Books on Wheels brightened one of my days this winter.  Not only is the blue and orange Stephen Voorhies cover art spectacular, but I opened my copy of this book to find it signed by the author!  Best Yuletide Wishes 1938!  To the person who found and sent me this marvelous book, again, thank you.

Our protagonist, Barbara Minton, starts the story off by declaring to her long time boyfriend that she’s decided to pursue a career in librarianship.  David reluctantly gives Barbara his blessing, put out that this will delay their marriage.  Barbara wraps up her undergraduate degree in a chapter flat, sticking near home to save on expenses, while working at the local public library trying her hand in different departments.  She even works part time at her college library for a semester before packing up for Columbia.  Of course Barbara chooses Columbia as the author and editor of this book were working there at the time of publication.

IMG_0500Barbara begins Columbia the fall after she graduates from college and it is the first time she’s been far from home.  She falls behind and resolves her academic troubles by building a strict hour-by-hour schedule.  Seriously, who does this?  Our career novel helpfully dedicated a full page spread to Barbara’s schedule, presumably so young readers could go by her stellar example.  Please.

An honest and up to date (post-2009) career series book focusing on librarianship might have the protagonist search fruitlessly for professional work for six months to a year post-graduation.  Of course, this is not that book and Barbara graduates with a job.  She has an inside connection in that the public library where she had worked previously has a temporary position opening.  The part about accepting a two-year position with possibility but no guarantee of extension is reflective of a lot of the current entry-level library profession.  Her starting salary is $1200 a year, or $20,363 in 2016 dollars.

Barbara’s main conflicts are turbulent weather, getting the city to pass a tax for the continuation of the bookmobile services, and her relationship with David.  Barbara works tirelessly to promote the poor women drivers stereotype in this book.  Honestly, every time there is a severe weather event and everyone tells Barbara not to drive off, she does anyway and gets in an accident.  This happens multiple times throughout the book.  At one point she even gets an assistant driver to help her but then she grabs his arm on an icy hill, resulting in yet another off-road incident.

Barbara and David have various adventures throughout the book, climbing mountains and searching for artifacts.  They of course end up married at the end of Books on Wheels.  Even though Barbara will be returning to work after her honeymoon, it’s also pretty clear that she won’t be a county librarian forever.  In the final chapter, she’s already discussing how much longer she can continue working and when the library will hire and begin training her eventual replacement.  Just “not right away.”

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksMore stories focusing on women’s experiences, including women working in various professions, can be found here.

Posted in 1930s, Mary R. Lingenfelter | 2 Comments

Leap Day 2016

Leap Year

Happy Leap Day 2016!  On our last Leap Day, four years ago today, I posted on Laura Lou Brookman’s Leap Year Bride. 

For this year, all I had to do was find another Leap Year themed romance novel.  Within my collecting scope, I know about two definite titles that would have been PERFECT for this post.  I knew about them back around 2012 too and figured I had four whole years to track these titles down, no problem.  As of February 29, 2016, I haven’t been able to find a collectible copy of either title.  Honestly, I knew I had a small Leap Day problem by the end of 2015.

It’s okay, these things happen.  Part of the fun/charm/craziness of collecting rare books is that it doesn’t always work out as I had hoped.  Instead, I’m posting two Leap Year postcards, the left undated and the right from 1908.  Enjoy!

Better luck next time, Leap Day 2020.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksDon’t be caught without a Leap Year themed read on February 29, 2020!  Find Laura Lou Brookman’s Leap Year Bride here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Red Hair

Red Hair“I  wonder so much if it is amusing to be an adventuress, because that is evidently what I shall become now.  I read in a book all about it…”  So starts Red Hair by Elinor Glyn, originally published as The Vicissitudes of Evangeline.

Even after reading Red Hair, I have so many questions.  What book or books is Glyn referring to?  This won’t be my first post on a book that pokes fun at others of the era, but I wish I knew what turn of the century novels are being spoofed.  The Vicissitudes of Evangeline was originally published in 1905 (available in the public domain!) but when was this Macaulay reprint published?  The back of the dust jacket lists other Glyn novels including Love’s Blindness (1926) and there is a gift inscription in my copy dated Christmas 1928.  My best guess is that Macaulay reprinted Red Hair in conjunction with the 1928 silent film starring Clara Bow.  Only fragments of the lost silent film are known to exist.  And finally, who is the cover artist for this edition?  There is clearly a signature on the dust jacket but I have no clue what it says.

Evangeline comes from a scandalous background and is brought up by a cruel rich guardian, Mrs. Carruthers, who plots that Evangeline should marry her nephew for inheritance purposes.  Red Hair is a series of journal entries that takes place in the weeks following Mrs. Carruthers’ sudden death.  Her nephew, Christopher Carruthers, arrives and rejects the antiquated marriage arrangement to a stranger, thus turning Evangeline out.  He then waffles a bunch, gets rejected by Evangeline, and has the bright idea to call in his charming handsome friend for reinforcements.  That friend is Lord Robert, who (spoiler alert!) Evangeline ends up marrying at the end of the novel.

The entire adventuress storyline is intentionally quite far-fetched.  Readers looking for the grand adventures of a suddenly penniless protagonist should look elsewhere.  Other characters laugh at Evangeline’s plans and Evangeline is unsure how to venture into the world with no connections or money.  Instead, she ends up staying at an oppressively boring neighbor’s home, then with a society woman who she meets through the neighbors, and finally makes it to London but can only roll out a plan to stay at a hotel very briefly.  No plans are made while all the male characters within a certain radius fawn over Evangeline and we are constantly reminded that everyone thinks she is trouble waiting to happen because of her red hair.

There are two love triangles in Red Hair and both play out with lots of drama but few real surprises.  The scandal level is fairly low in Red Hair: at one point the matronly neighbor sees Evangeline’s nightgown draped over a chair and thinks it much too thin.  There is a plot line about Lord Robert’s sickly half brother involving another inheritance squabble.  Red Hair serves as an interesting example of an early Elinor Glyn novel and predecessor to other romance novels of the decades following.

My thanks to family friend Elizabeth a.k.a. Etsy’s Grandmother’s Attic for finding this book.  I’m looking forward to our spring antiquing plans!

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Elinor Glyn’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in Elinor Glyn, Macaulay | 3 Comments


Written by Harold Morrow, Cover art by Mach Tey

I gasped when I first saw Saleslady.  Department store novels are fascinating, and department store romances are a sub-genre I have been searching for over the years.  I had been looking intermittently for Saleslady by Harold Morrow for about a year and a half when I saw this copy at the 2014 New York Antiquarian Book Fair.  Any 1930s book collector could see the instant appeal of Saleslady.  I mean, she’s holding up underthings!  On the front cover!!  In 1932!!!

The Mach Tey cover art is a bit torn up near our protagonist’s face, but no matter.  Although I couldn’t capture it well with a picture, the cover art extends to the spine of the book so that a “Lingerie Dept.” sign is clearly visible under the title and author.

Saleslady opens with the main character interviewing and finding employment, in this case, in a department store.  Ex-Broadway girl Queenie Sullivan exudes confidence and through the tale of her landing a job at Marshall’s Department Store, we see that she is the most “high hat” character to date, even more than the main character in High Hat!  A former show girl with a questionable past, Queenie lands a job in the lingerie department.  She is immediately paired up with sensible Ida, but draws attention to herself through loud antics.  Queenie receives unwanted advances from a higher up and must navigate the treacherous waters of being supervised by a two-faced floor manager.

Saleslady is set smack in the depression and Marshall’s Department Store struggles to stay above water.  They try holding a gimmicky swimsuit sale led by Queenie.  As some modern day department stores that will go unnamed could use to learn, quality products win out over silly gimmicks, and the fictional Marshall’s sale backfired when their products proved to be defective.  Finally, Marshall’s Department Store hires Stephen Alden to turn the store around.  He starts by calling a mandatory meeting.  The store workers, who already had their paychecks cut, are clearly resentful of being called in extra unpaid hours to hear a pep talk.

At this point, the story becomes fantastical.  Stephen promotes Queenie to be his assistant and together, they produce a musical play to promote positive employee in-store behaviors.  A play depicting staff training instructions through song sounds painful.  The tale of how a department store manager can properly score a musical and how employees just all happen to perform with Broadway quality requires an abundance of suspension of disbelief.  The play is so popular that it even launches as a regular theater production for a non-department store audience!  I’ve read time travel novels that sound more plausible.

Queenie’s rise is abruptly threatened when her past resurfaces.  Her mother abandoned her at a boardinghouse and Queenie never knew her father.  Of course, as is the case in these types of romances, her father just happens to be the millionaire owner of Marshall’s department store.  Everything wraps up nicely, as these stories often do, and Queenie doesn’t even have to work a holiday season in the department store!

Babylon Revisited Rare Books

More department store fiction is available for purchase here, including Miss 318.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Harold Morrow, Mach Tey | 3 Comments


Written by Temple Bailey, Cover art by R. Pallen ColemanWallflowers is a 1920s romance novel classic.  Penned by the prolific Temple Bailey in 1927, this relatively widely read romance was reprinted by Grosset and Dunlap in the 1920s and by Dell as a paperback in the 1940s.

Wallflowers Bookmark Reviewed here is the Penn Publishing Company first edition, with R. Pallen Coleman dust jacket art, complete with the publisher’s  promotional bookmark still attached.  Also, a “R.H. Macy & Co. Inc.” imprint stamp graces the title page.  A copy this beautiful and complete could only have come from one place, so my thanks are owed to Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books!

Unlike the past couple of 1930s romances I’ve read, Wallflowers is one of those longer, more melodramatic sagas.  When the going gets tough, the main characters turn to prayer.  Our protagonists are Sandra Claybourne (played by Jean Arthur in the 1928 silent movie adaptation!) and Theodora “Doady” Claybourne, who are living in Washington, D.C., along with their mother.

Wallflowers reflects the changing of the times, contrasting the sentimental wistfulness of yesteryear with the more modern and practical ways of the 1920s.  Sandra daydreams on balconies while Doady immediately gets a job at an antiques store and practices her image in society.  Wallflowers is but a moment in time, and the novel starts off with the hero, Rufus Fiske, reminiscing about a “bleak March day” when he had attended (Theodore) Roosevelt’s inauguration.  Bailey introduces Rufus with a nod to the past and our second hero, Gale Markham, with a nod to the future. Gale’s present moment of first seeing the twins warps into the future’s past as, “He was not aware that she had made more than a slight impression on his mind, yet years after, when he thought of her, it was as she had appeared to him then, a slender, smiling child clothed in a pink frock as became her youth.”  All that about the sister he doesn’t end up with!

Rufus Fiske and Gale Markham are as different from each other as Sandra and Theodora and they each come with their own melodramatic plot line.  Gale Markham salvages the twins’ evening at a party where Sandra and Doady awkwardly realize they are wallflowers.  He is comfortable and friendly but has a riches-to-rags story, complete with the socialite ex-fiance who is still very much in his life.  Whereas Gale, “was not handsome, was not graceful,” Rufus is described as being incredibly good looking and is used to swooning women.  Rufus’ plot involves an evil step-mother and family heirlooms, which naturally has turned him into a jaded, brooding character that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in one of today’s young adult novels.

Griselda the cat is one of the many elements that draw Sandra and Rufus’ story together with Gale and Theodora’s.  Sandra is drawn to Rufus in part because she is “enchanted” by his cat and thinks that Griselda is a cute name for the beast.  Rufus dumps both Sandra and the cat at one point, and I honestly judged him more for leaving the cat behind.  Griselda also brings Gale and Theodora together as Theodora trips and falls on a decoration that the cat had dislodged on a set of stairs.  Being a 1920s novel, Doady of course then faints in Gale’s arms.  No other ending would do.

Babylon Revisited Rare Books

Copies of Temple Bailey’s works are available for purchase here including Wallflowers.

Posted in 1920s, Penn Publishing Company, Temple Bailey | 2 Comments

Midsummer Madness

Written by Sterling North, Cover art by SkrendaMidsummer Madness may be listed in the line up of Grosset and Dunlap’s “Thrilling Stories of the Modern Girl,” but this novel’s writer sets it apart.  Unless I’ve missed something, this is the first time I’m reviewing a romance novel written by a Newbery Honor author.  Sterling North is best known for Rascal, which not only received a Newbery Honor in 1964 but was also adapted into a Disney movie. North additionally wrote Midnight and Jeremiah, which was adapted into the Disney movie titled So Dear to My Heart, as well as many other midcentury children’s books.

This novel was published in 1933, fairly early in North’s career.  It takes place mainly in the woods of Wisconsin, familiar territory to Sterling North and a marked difference from the urban settings found in many romance novels.  This 218 page light melodrama features a large font with wide margins, so I can at least say this novel didn’t plod on endlessly.

Barbara “Bobbie” Manners meets Jack “Horner” on a train while on vacation traveling to a remote lodge.  Bobbie has left Chicago for two weeks of relaxation and to forget Eddie, a former beau gone bad.  Jack just so happens to be going to the same place, which may or may not be haunted.  Without getting too bogged down in crazy plot elements, it turns out that Eddie’s gang is using the secret passages of the lodge to smuggle large amounts of alcohol.  A Chicago based gang using secret passageways to facilitate a large illegal smuggling operation?  I’ve read this one before.  Anyway, Bobbie falls for Jack and bids farewell to the no good Eddie and in the final plot twist that should surprise no one who has actually been reading the book, Jack “Horner” turns out to be the son of Bobbie’s employer, a famous architect.  They reunite in Chicago and live happily ever after.

That’s the gist of the plot.  It’s nothing to write home about, but that is exactly what Bobbie does.  North includes a convenient plot summary letter home to anyone who is tuning in or who had previously tuned out, and the letter reads with a degree of hilarity.  To sum up, “Dear Aunt Pearl, … I went canoeing and had an accident…  Some men in a big motor boat stole our gasoline… Jack and three others fellows had a slight misunderstanding.  These events, plus seeing a wolf… and a few other incidents are all of importance that have happened to your loving niece… So you see I am perfectly safe, and I don’t want you to worry one bit.”  For the record, the “slight misunderstanding” involved Jack very nearly getting shot in the head.

The next highlight in Midsummer Madness was whenever North vaguely attempted to describe Bobbie’s fashion sense.  Typical of these romances, the forward movement of the novel would randomly pause to describe an outfit at length.  These passages read as comically forced, awkward, and as out of place as an ankle-length dress of aquamarine blue chiffon with matching slippers and a cape of black velvet is in the Wisconsin woods in the middle of the summer.

My next favorite part of Midsummer Madness was when Bobbie attempts to canoe away from the lodge in a storm.  It’s a stupid plot setup for an implausible scenario, but the lead up is a priceless rarity in literature.  “She was no amateur with the paddle.  She did not shift from side to side, nor trail the paddle to guide the boat, nor splash as she lifted it smoothly from the water and slipped it in again.  She knelt low in the boat and started each stroke from the shoulder.”  Yes.  In all of the obnoxious virtues that glorify a protagonist, here is one I finally care about.  No matter what poor choices and questionable actions Bobbie executes in this book, at least she is a decent canoeist.  Thank you!

While Midsummer Madness is not the most compelling book I have ever read – or even have ever read for this blog – I did discover a “new” idiom.  When Jack trails some of the gangsters in a half-baked attempt to infiltrate their lair, he overhears one of the men discuss Bobbie and Eddie’s past.  “She gave him the gate.”  The meaning is clear, yet I’ve never come across that phrase before.  Will anyone reading this blog integrate this phrase into everyday conversation?  Probably not, but we can try.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Sterling North’s works are available for purchase here, and additional romance-adventure novels can be found here, here, and here.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Skrenda, Sterling North | 2 Comments

High Hat

Written by Alma Sioux Scarberry, Cover art by Mach TeyRecently, I heard from a very good source that radio-themed romances appeal perhaps exclusively to a dwindling aging audience.  This is very likely true, but in my humble opinion these romances are equally as fabulous, if not more so, than other romances of the 1920s and 1930s era.  I’m not a vintage radio novel collector, but rather I approach the radio romance as a sub-genre of the popular narrative of “girl from small town moves to big city to pursue a career in ___.”  A bunch of these career paths have evolved over the course of the last eighty years:  stenographer, dime-a-dance girl (perhaps we should adjust for inflation), silent film star, and yes, radio star.  It is very fitting that change in popular demand and one’s attitude toward it are central to High Hat:  A Radio Romance.

High Hat:  A Radio Romance is one of Alma Sioux Scarberry’s many Grosset and Dunlap “sparking romances,” complete with Mach Tey dust jacket art.  High Hat was published in 1930 and adapted into a 1937 film.  Scarberry is one of the better documented romance writers of the time, with archival collections available for research at the Austin Public Library’s Austin History Center and the State Historical Society of Missouri.  Scarberry had many occupations aside from romance novelist, the most relevant to High Hat being radio drama writer, radio journalist, singer, and songwriter.

The protagonist, Elanda Lee, moves from a small town in Georgia to New York City to become a radio opera star.  Problem is, America prefers jazz.  High Hat is all about attitude, and Elanda’s struggle to reconcile her perceived self with the reality of her situation.  WWBC radio station immediately offers Elanda a job despite an uneven audition, but only because Elanda had recommendations from the right people.  Elanda keeps being promoted to different shows and finally becomes the voice of La Paloma, but it is for her compromises and connections combined with her talent rather than solely her singing abilities.

Suwanee Collier is the hero of High Hat.  His easygoing, unpretentious mannerisms, paired with his primary occupation of ukulele player, cause Elanda to dismiss Suwanee repeatedly.  A credible character whose job it is to know Suwanee’s business, the WWBC journalist, flat-out tells Elanda that Suwanee is “only a uke player.”  There is a bit of a bait and switch regarding Suwanee, but I’ll get to that later.  His foil is Gregory Du Pont III, who is described as a nincompoop.  Elanda likes the idea of Gregory Du Pont III, but feels lukewarm towards the man himself.  This prompts a convoluted series of events that winks at a typical melodramatic plotline involving a jealous socialite nicknamed Whoopee and phony English Lord who refers to himself in the third person as “Old Dussie,” and sports a monocle.

One of the strong points about High Hat is that Elanda’s actions do not occur within a bubble.  Elanda is not a perfect character.  The characters surrounding her accept this and point this out.  The women doing secretarial work at WWBC complain about Elanda as soon is she is out of earshot.  Far from pretending not to see Elanda’s high hat ways, Suwanee calls Elanda out on it, commiserates about it with Elanda’s closest friend, and even writes a song about it titled “Snooty Cutie.”  Elanda looks down her nose at popular music, and as a result finds her career and future success in jeopardy, which brings us to the morals of this story.

  • “Being high hat doesn’t bring in the bacon, sister!”
  • Compromising your artistic ideals guarantees overnight success.  The book where the protagonist starts to broaden her musical scope only to barely scrape by with very modest success?  High Hat is not that book.  It is, after all, a 1930s romance novel.
  • The sympathetic character who the reader should respect for his kindness, trustworthiness, and strong work ethic is all well and good but… he is also secretly a millionaire.  Of course.

The radio aspect of High Hat includes a few interesting nuances.  The technology of the time made higher pitched voices rather shrill, which makes Elanda’s mezzo voice praiseworthy for being low so as not to “blow the tubes out of the radio.”  There are also a few descriptions of radio show recordings, such as Home Folks Hour.  Elanda dresses up for her audio recording sessions, and various characters make unheard appearances to see and be seen in the studio.

High Hat reads like a fairly typical romance of the time.  Elanda is put in her place while achieving success, Suwanee composes the most popular song on the air, and they both live happily ever after.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Alma Sioux Scarberry’s works are available for purchase here, and additional radio-themed books of interest can be found here, here, here, and here.

Posted in 1930s, Alma Sioux Scarberry, Grosset and Dunlap, Mach Tey | 2 Comments