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.

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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

NYC Rare Book Week

What better vacation is there than one that is book themed?  Below is my account of a recent book pilgrimage to NYC.  Read if you wish, or stay tuned for the next book review!

I first started to see advertisements for the ABAA New York Antiquarian Book Fair around November.  At the time, I suggested to my parents that it would be totally awesome if we went, but then didn’t press the issue as I didn’t see myself in NYC in April 2014.  Some time passed, and then my mom and I were trying to figure out what to do about the first weekend in April.  And so it was finally decided that we would spend the bittersweet weekend in which I turned my big sister’s age by having an amazing time in NYC.

True to the book theme, we stayed at the Library Hotel in midtown.  The floors are arranged by Dewey Decimal Classification and there are books everywhere.  I made fun of my mom for sticking to the “theme” but the Library Hotel really is a wonderful place to stay.  (And for the record, I did NOT wear my book print dresses – that would be TOO over the top!)

Thursday was our arrival day.  My mom met me at the gate and then we made the mistake of taking Super Shuttle to the hotel.  There wasn’t anything too book-themed about Thursday.  We went to the hotel’s wine reception and my mom knocked over a full glass of water at a casual diner later that evening.  That last part is only notable because I am usually the clumsy culprit of such happenings.

Friday was the ABAA New York Antiquarian Book Fair, a main event of our trip.  Wow.  It was spectacular!  The show is held at the Park Avenue Armory, a beautiful building.  The books on display at this show are simply phenomenal.  One thing that surprised me was the representation of international booksellers with everything from the most stunning illuminated manuscripts to fantastic children’s books from around the world.  Many of the books were available for careful handling, and my mom and I particularly enjoyed reading through a few of the french pop-up books.  Aside from the romances and career novels covered on this blog, children’s antiquarian books are my favorite and it is a very good thing that these books fall safely outside of my collecting scope.

The highlight of my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair was visiting Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books‘ booth.  I cannot say enough good things about Michael and Earl Manz, and really enjoyed visiting with them.  Out of everything at the book fair, the two books I swooned over were at booth B-24.  My mom suggested I post photos of these books, but I am opting to wait until I have a chance to review them.  Without telling too much, the first book was one that Michael and Earl were kind enough to bring to the fair and hold for me.  It was one of those elusive Chelsea House romances, which my mom purchased on my behalf.  The second book is a department store romance that I didn’t expect to find.   I had been searching for a copy of this title for about a year and a half without any luck, and I totally did a dorky rare book nerd gasp when I saw it.  On our way out, my mom and I visited with Susan Benne, who we hadn’t seen since the NCBCC (National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest) reception in 2012.  My purchases were wrapped for security purposes, so I couldn’t show Susan the books, but it was great to see her again.

Saturday was the social day with back-to-back meetups, family followed by my mom’s longtime friends.  My mom, aunt, uncle and I walked the one block from the hotel to the New York Public Library and very much enjoyed their exhibit, “The ABC of It:  Why Children’s Books Matter.”  Really, there couldn’t be a more perfect exhibit for my mom and me!

Sunday my mom and I went to the Manhattan Vintage Book and Ephemera Fair, otherwise known as the Shadow Show.  On our way in we ran into Mark Dimunation, who we also hadn’t seen since the 2012 NCBCC reception.  My mom and I had a great time, although we didn’t buy anything.  My mom was trying to scout out each booth ahead of me, hoping to discover the next great find.  The item I didn’t buy – for better or worse – was a fascinating set of Clara Bow fan made scrap books.  A very dedicated fan many years ago pasted all things Clara into a set of five hand-made scrap books, which are very fragile but very cool.

After that, we cabbed it uptown to the New York Society Library, which is a sister organization of the library where I work.  Like the Charleston Library Society, the New York Society Library is a gorgeous membership library founded in the mid-eighteenth century.  The librarian at the reference desk was Carolyn Waters, Assistant Head Librarian, and she was kind enough to take my mom and I on a tour of the New York Society Library, a definite high point of the trip!

Aside from those bookish pursuits, my mom and I shopped, ate, and drank a LOT.  We had a great time, and are looking forward to our next adventure, whatever that may be.  And thanks Mom, for an outstanding b-day weekend!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Recycled Cover Art, Round Four!

Identical Cover Art by Mach TeyThe good news is that I have a working draft of an upcoming book review for a really neat book.  The bad news is that said draft is in dire need of serious editing, and in a few hours the entire first quarter of 2014 will have gone by without a post unless I act quickly!  And so, I hastily and happily present my favorite type of stand-by post:  recycled cover art!

Round four of identical cover art consists of A Kiss for Corinna by May Christie, published in 1930, and Darling Fool by Mabel McElliott, published in 1933.  This is the first set of Mach Tey twins on this site, and although these gals may be unique for their purple hair, I’m sure more Mach Tey duplicates will be featured at some point in the future.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksFind dust jackets with Mach Tey cover art available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Mabel McElliott, Mach Tey, May Christie | Leave a comment

Hotel Hostess

Written by Faith BaldwinIt is time for me to eat my words, kind of.  One year ago today, on December 30, 2012, I wrote about mid-late 1930s romance novels in my post about You Can’t Eat Orchids, where I clearly stated that these books were somewhat out of my collecting scope and that I had no intention of adding any more to my collection.  Any equivocation in that paragraph is a nod to the fact that even then, I realized I’d probably have to take those words back.  In 2013, since writing that I had no intention of adding any of those mid-late 1930s books to the collection, I have acquired no fewer than NINE books published from 1934 to 1939.

One of those books is Hotel Hostess by Faith Baldwin, published in 1938.  The text itself for Hotel Hostess isn’t terribly uncommon, as it was reprinted by Triangle Books, Bantam, and even was reprinted in the twenty-first century by Thorndike.  It isn’t one of Faith Baldwin’s best known titles, but it certainly isn’t the most obscure.  What drew me to this copy was that it is the original Farrar & Rinehart edition, and between the dust jacket art and the plot summary that was in this title’s catalog listing, I could not resist.  The hairstyle depicted on the dust jacket also may have been a determining factor.

Hotel Hostess starts with Judith Gillmore doing math on a bus when she suddenly spots an old friend who she hasn’t seen in many years.  We learn that Judith is down on her luck but on her way to try for the job of hotel hostess at the Rivermount Hotel.  This is used as a expository plot device so that we are caught up on the last few years of Judith’s life.  Then she runs into an old acquaintance at the train station on the way to the Rivermount and they catch up on the townspeople of Hillhigh.  The repetitive introductory set-ups serve to introduce the reader to the characters, but makes the first thirty or so pages a little clunky.

The story picks up when Judith gets the job as social director, or hotel hostess, of the Rivermount.  It is unconventional for a woman as young as Judith to take on the role of social director, but she feels equipped with the correct wardrobe and attitude for the job.

Judith is essentially a babysitter to the cast of unusual characters that frequent the Rivermount resort:  the constantly arguing elderly women, ill guests, shady “gentlemen” with dishonorable intentions, youth, the lonely set, the boss’ teenage daughter, and the village doctor.  The “villain” of Hotel Hostess is Bert Wallace, whose wealthy parents hold a good deal of control over the resort.  He gets a bad rap in the book, but I think he isn’t the worst shady suitor covered on this blog by a long shot.  He’s about Judith’s age, he’s good looking, he arrives to help Judith during an emergency at her request, and he’s an old childhood friend.  He is almost endearingly sleazy and is spectacularly obnoxious.

The hero, Bill Martin, has a lot in common with Dr. Caleb Powell of Men Forget:  they are both hardworking countryside resort-affiliated doctors who take the protagonist on at least one house call.  His terrible handwriting is mentioned at least twice.  The obstacles keeping Judith from Bill are her lack of money and her rivalry with the resort director’s eighteen year old daughter.

Three melodramatic plot devices are thrown together, one right after the other, to wrap up the book.  A hasty teenage elopement is foiled, Bert Wallace nearly gets himself and Judith killed, and a crazy cat lady aunt provides Bill Martin and Judith with a stable financial future.  Overall this book is a rather light, straightforward read but with a handful of notable moments concerning money, women, and women’s place in contemporary society.  1938 publication date aside, this book is definitely “in scope” and provides insight into the slow evolution certain cliches.  For example, “slapping complacent faces and hissing, ‘Sir, how dare you!’ had gone out of style a good many years ago.  There were other ways.”

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Faith Baldwin’s works are available for purchase here including Hotel Hostess.

Posted in 1930s, Faith Baldwin, Farrar and Rinehart | 5 Comments

The Snappy Revue for Fall and Winter

Stetson's Boot ShopWhile I continue to work on my next book review, I thought I could share this fun shoe catalog from 1926.  It is from the Stetson Shoe Company’s store in Cleveland, Ohio, and covers their fall line.

The Football GirlsFirst up, we have “The Football Girls” wearing the “Miss Jerpi” shoe.  There is a darker variation of the “Miss Jerpi” a few pages along, and we are promised it is the ideal shoe for autumn wear.  I have never been to a collegiate football game, but I somehow doubt that these snazzy shoes regularly make appearances at college stadiums.

The Halloween GirlsNext are “The Halloween Girls” featuring the “Miss Melba” shoe.  The “Miss Melba” is the most popular model of “Snappy Ties” with two eyelets and a handful of color variations.  It should also be noted that the fabulous illustrations paired with each shoe show only the upper half of these fashionable women, and the shoes aren’t really a big part of it.

Unfortunately, this catalog skips Thanksgiving, but thankfully predates any mention of Black Friday.  In place of a fashionable shoe picture, I will instead link to the recipe for my Grandma Grace’s Sweet Potatoes, a family favorite.

The Christmas GirlsReturning to the shoe/holiday theme, “The Christmas Girls” have many Stetson shoe boxes under their Christmas tree.  Pictured opposite is the “Miss Charlotte” but these shoes are beginning to all look alike to me by now.

The New Year's GirlsFinally, we have “The New Year’s Girls” but no featured shoe.  Their “Good Resolution for 1927” is “Wear Snappy Ties.”  Based on the 1927 catalog, I can say that more varieties are featured in the New Year.

My takeaways from this shoe catalog are that the illustrations are fabulous, but I wish they wouldn’t refer to the women depicted as “girls.”  The shoes are cute, although a tad repetitive, and are still being imitated today in the footwear trend drawing from the early decades of the twentieth century.  I could easily see myself buying a pair of “Snappy Ties.”

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksFind many more great vintage fashion illustrations from the Jazz Age and Depression Era here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Road to Broadway: A Love Story

Written by Ellen Hogue and Jack BechdoltHello, blog readers!  It has been a while since my last post.  In June, I moved across the country and started a new job.  The “About” page has been revised to reflect that, and the latest book review just so happens to feature a protagonist re-starting her life, although for very different reasons!

The Road to Broadway: A Love Story is co-written by Ellen Hogue and Jack Bechdolt, and published in 1929 by Chelsea House.  Overall, I’ve found the Chelsea House “A Love Story” romances to be extremely costly and much more difficult to locate than the Grosset and Dunlap first edition romances I read.  The Road to Broadway was a great find for the collection for so many reasons: the authorship (Bechdolt also wrote children’s books, short stories, and more), the premise of a Coney Island romance, the scarcity of the title, and even the Harlequin design on the cover art.

In all the wacky plot lines previously covered in this blog, The Road to Broadway presents the first (but probably not last!) amnesia plot line.  Don McManus, who owns International Carnival of the Dance, finds Alice Smith/Polly Smith/Miss Carnival of Coney/Polly Travis/Polly Kane/Polly Travis lost and confused on the beach.  She has no idea who she is or how she got there, but the reader is immediately bombarded with descriptive passages of how pretty and perfect this mystery woman is.  She’s delicate.  She’s graceful.  She’s lovely.  “She looked intelligent and honest, and her manner and speech showed that she had been trained to speak beautifully and move softly.”  My guess is that Polly is described this way so that the reader doesn’t question her morality or strength of character at any point, but I found it tiring.

More interesting is the romance between Merle Vantine and Porky Rivers, who are both performers on Coney Island.  Merle is a dancer for Don’s show and Porky is a thin man who performs as, “Marvello – is he man or machine?”  Their romance provides this novel’s comedic relief, and the book ends with Merle and Porky’s happy return from their honeymoon.

However, this story is mostly about Don and Polly, as well as Polly’s dancing career in Don’s show.  On page seventy-one, Don declares, “you came along here and you joined my roughneck show – and you’re too darned good for it…  You’ve got class…  You’re better than any of us, Polly…  [I’m] not good enough for you, darling.”  This passage summarizes the entirety of Don and Polly’s interactions.

The plot of this novel lies in Polly’s unknown past.  It’s a big mystery what has happened to her and as soon as Polly remembers, she tells Don (and thus the reader) that she isn’t going to talk about it.  We eventfully find out, of course.  Polly’s past involves a popular film star with a shrill voice, and includes a line from Tennyson in the middle of the melodrama.  I’ll end this post on a telling note and say that the plot line is a real train wreck.

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

Posted in 1920s, Chelsea House, Ellen Hogue, Jack Bechdolt | 3 Comments