Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wuthering Heights Revisited: Nelly Dean by Alison Case

NetGalley sometimes lists books not available but with a button to tell them "I Wish it Were." I clicked on that button for Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case and a few days later was surprised to find my wish had been granted--I was given the ebook to read!

I immediately opened the book up and started reading. Just for a taste, since I had two other books I was reading already, plus my book club books. But I didn't stop reading it. I was hooked.

In Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood tells the story of  Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff as told him by housekeeper Nelly Dean. In Case's novel,  years have passed and Nelly Dean decides to reveal all her secrets to Mr. Lockwood in the form of a long letter. Nelly tells of her relationship to Hinton Earnshaw and his son Hareton, her binding ties to the troubled and violent family, and the unexpected revelation that was the root cause of all her sorrows.

I enjoyed the novel as it stands on its own, and for another view of the classic Bronte story. Readers do not have to be experts on Wuthering Heights to enjoy this book.  I would have liked Case to have offered a little more than references to important scenes Lockwood already knew, to make it richer for those who don't know Emily's book. There are some sections that could be trimmed to advantage, especially concerning breastfeeding. The Big Reveal stretches credulity. Then, probability isn't a feature of the original novel.

I have gone back to reread Emily Bronte's novel once again after reading Nelly Dean.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was published in 1847. Emily's book was anti-Victorian in every way! I first read it in my 20s, when I found it quite romantic and sexy. Twenty years later and found it Gothic and improbable. In 2012 I read all the Bronte sisters works while reading a biography on the family, my post found here.

I thank the publisher and NetGalley for the free ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Nelly Dean
by Alison Case
Pegasus Books
Publication February 8, 2016
$25.95 hard cover
ISBN: 9781605989617

"A gripping tale of familial turmoil and thwarted passion...Alison Case has created a world so real, so grounded in visceral detail, that no prior knowledge of the Bronte classic is required. However, I suspect her debut Nelly Dean will entice many (including this reviewer) to reread the original, with fresh and knowing eyes." Irish Independence.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Aunt Carrie's Quilt & New Finds


My Aunt Pat Ramer had three of my Great-Aunt Carrie Ramer Bobb's postage stamp quilts, which my grandfather wrote about in an article for his hometown paper. One sadly met its end in a washing machine mishap. The other two were were coming unsewn and some fabrics had shredded. Aunt Pat took one quilt apart to repair it. And there it sat in her closet.

I brought the quilts home with me to see what I can do.
Aunt Carrie made the quilts in the 1960s with fabric scraps. 1" squares of fabric were sewn by hand into nine-patch units. Colors are repeated to make larger "x" patterns.


 Below is the top of the quilt Aunt Pat took apart. There are several more pieces as well.

Read my article on Aunt Carrie's quilt making and Chive Dumpling recipe at
http://theliteratequilter.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-quilts-and-chive-dumpling-recipe-of.html
See more about Aunt Carrie, including more of her quilts owned by Sidney Bobb at
http://theliteratequilter.blogspot.com/2012/09/our-heirloom-quilts.html

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lit Up: One Reporter, Three Schools, Twenty-four Books that Can Change Lives

Does teaching literature to 10th graders make a difference in their lives? How do we instill an appetite for serious reading in an age of smart phones, graphic novels, social texting, and computer gaming?  Does economic class, home life, school district, environment, or teacher effectiveness, make a difference? Can literature impact the lives of young people?

In Lit Up David Denby set out to explore these questions by visiting three classrooms in three schools. He chose Tenth Grade because fifteen-year-old's minds are still plastic, they are grappling with identity and their future, and are still 'reachable'. An age, perhaps, when it it not too late for them to learn to read literature for the sheer pleasure of it and perhaps begin to see literature as art.

Denby visited Sean Leon at Beacon High in Manhattan whose reading list was heavy on existential classics; James Hillhouse High in inner-city New Haven, a public school with many troubles; and a Marmaroneck, wealthy New York City suburb school. Each class differed in books and teaching practices. We follow the classes through the reading lists as Denby reports on how the works are taught and student's responses as individuals and as a class. Denby interjects his own opinions and thoughts about what he observes. I don't always agree with Denby, or the teachers, but was drawn into formulating my own ideas in response.

Sean Leon's class emphasized good writing and independent thinking. His reading list was grim, rooted in "the fears and disasters of the last century," as Denby notes. Leon pushed his students to totally engage with life and evaluate societal expectations, their addiction to social media, and the fast food diet of Internet fodder. Denby describes Leon as "a radical in spirit, a conservative in values."

Jessica Zelenski taught at the worst performing school in the state. Social Justice was the theme that year. Her book choices also precluded 'feel good' books. She instituted "Read Around"; students were to chose one of four books: A Long Way Gone: Memories of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nagisi, Night by Elie Wiesel, and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. The students at first rejected the selections. Zelenski explained what the books were about and read from each before asking a volunteer to continue reading. Most students decided to read Beah's book. Zelenski bought extra copies with her own money. The kids soon requested silent reading period to work on their books. These kids understood troubled families, poverty, trust and safety issues, and had a deep sense of justice. Yale University had a college promise program but Hillhouse had no office to help kids navigate college entrance. Zelenski knew that studying literature might not get them into college, but it could help them live. When the students demanded reading time it was a huge leap. Not only were they enjoying reading, they enjoyed reading together. At the end of the school year students were able to meet Beah who was in town. They knew his journey, they knew he had come through and flourished, and now they actually met

The best part of the book are the students. I enjoyed meeting them, hearing their words, watching them grow. There is nothing more amazing than watching a young person's understanding blossom and burst open like flowers in spring.

Reading this book I felt my inadequacies as a writer and as a reader. These 10th grade students were prodded to levels of critical thinking I had only experienced in honors and 400-level classes. I spend hours writing a book review or blog post. Have I become self-satisfied and lazy? It's been nearly 40 years since I graduated university. Have I settled for 'good enough?'

This was an interesting and thought-provoking book.

The Reading Lists

The 10th grade reading list at Beacon, taught by Sean Leon, included A Rose for Emily by Faulkner and Hawthorne's The Minister Back Veil, poems by Sylvia Plath, Brave New World by Huxley, Siddhartha by Hesse, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Notes from the Underground by Dostoevsky, No Exit by Sartre, and Beckett's Waiting for Godot. (As a teen I read Brave New World, Siddhartha, and Man's Search for Meaning and saw Waiting for Godot performed. Slaughterhouse-Five I encountered in a college course on Black Humor. I didn't read Plath until I was post-college.)

At Beacon, Mary Whittemore's 11th graders read Middlesex by Eugenides, excerpts from Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Morrison's The Song of Solomon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Kesey, The Things They Carried by O'Brien, Ceremony by Silko, and Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. ( I read Kesey in the Black Humor college class, Gatsby on my own as a teen, And Eugenides and O'Brien as an adult.)

At Beacon, Daniel Guralnick's 11th graders read Rip Van Winkle by Irving, Hawthorne's The Birthmark, Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, Twain's The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Daisy Miller by James, Crane's The Open Boat, Capote's In Cold Blood, The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, and Invisible Man by Ellison. (I read Hemingway, Capote, and Poe as a teen, and later Crane and James as an adult. I never read any of these in a classroom setting.)

James Hillhouse 10th teacher Jessica Zelenski taught To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, Ursula LeGuin's The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas, Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron, and Hemingway's the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. Students chose to read Beah's A Long Way Gone, Tan's Joy Luck Club, Night by Wiesel, or A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. To prod students to actually finish reading one book was victory. (I only read the Sonnets in a classroom. I read Lee, Tan,  and Wiesel as an adult. My son read Beah in college.)

Mary Beth Jordan at Mamaroneck high taught 10th graders Wall's The Glass Castle, Night by Weisel, Macbeth by Shakespeare, East of Eden by Steinbeck, The Flowers by Alice Walker, Cheever's The Reunion, Saunders's Sticks, and poetry by Shelley, Frost, Eliot, Roethke, and Kumin. Students chose to read Orwell's 1984 or Bradbury's 451, and The Kite Runner by Hosseini or King's The Body. (Again, I read none of these in a classroom setting. I read Wall, Hosseini and Eliot as an adult, and Night, Steinbeck, Orwell and Bradbury as a teen.)

Denby, a movie critic, wrote Great Books in 1996.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lit Up by David Denby
Henry Holt & Co
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
$30.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9780805095852

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Some New and Old WIP

I have many projects going. Of course, Love Entwined by Esther Aliu, but I also made the first part of Little Hazel, a new quilt by Esther Aliu. She has a great tutorial on her blog and I gathered up my courage to make the star center.

I also have Kona Fox Kits in process. I have the tree leaves done and am ready to start the fox.

Shiba owners love foxes because Shibas look fox-like.
Kamikaze and Suki
And I am going to do a modified version of Vintage Baseball featuring the Detroit Tigers. I am reverse appliquéing the "D" and have reversed the colors to blue on white. I will use those big white corners for some embroidered Tiger Hall of Fame stars!
I am still machine quilting a row by row quilt. (Ran out of thread!)

Of course I have loads of blocks waiting to be made into quilts and quilts waiting to be quilted. Pretty normal situation for quilters! Like my Redwork Alice in Wonderland and Pan American blocks, some Wizard of Oz embroidered blocks, and American History embroidered blocks.
Mirkwood Studios Alice in Wonderland Redwork blocks
Pan American Redwork blocks
Love Entwined


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Classics, Literary and Musical: Sister Carrie and Star Turns and Cameo Appearances

Two Reviews today! Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser and Star Turns and Cameo Appearances by music critic Bernard Jacobson.

The Classic American Novel

Our local library book club read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, a book I had never read. It is considered one of the 100 best novels by The Guardian. Dresier's style, called 'Naturalism', was hugely influential. His books had to be a big 180 for readers used to Victorian novels. His characters lacked morals, followed their baser desires for love or material things, and they don't all get their just desserts in the end.
"The critics have not really understood what I was trying to do," Dreiser said later. "Here is a book that is close to life. It is intended not as a piece of literary craftsmanship, but as a picture of conditions done as simply and effectively as the English language will permit … It makes one feel that American criticism is the joke which English literary authorities maintain it to be. When [the novel] gets to the people, they will understand, because it is a story of real life, of their lives."
Sister Carrie was published in 1900 and the book begins in 1880 when unsophisticated, pretty Carrie leaves her rural Wisconsin home for her sister's home in Chicago. On the train she meets a 'masher,' Drouet, a traveling salesman with a golden tongue who eventually sells Carrie on the idea of moving in with him when she can't make it in the big city. Under Drouet's protection Carrie enjoys nice clothes, good food, and a comfortable apartment. Her prettiness becomes beauty, her provincial simplicity is replaced with more worldly manners. She also badgers Drouet about marriage, which he deftly rebuffs with hollow promises.

I had trouble with Dreiser's writing style. I was being told about the inner lives of the characters and their personalities instead of being shown. Until this point I "had" to read the book. Then Hurstwood comes into the picture. He manages a swell bar that Drouet frequents, and the two have an informal friendship. When Hurstwood meets Carrie he becomes infatuated with her. He is wealthy, a workaholic, with a distant wife and children with whom he shares little but a house and income. Hurstwood decides he deserves a little love and pursues Carrie. Carrie gets starry eyed. Hurstwood is not only of a higher class than Drouet; she believes he will bring her social legitimacy and give her the life style she covets. Hurstwood has one problem: his money is in his wife's name as a tax protection and divorce means impoverishment, loss of social standing, and employment. One night he has an opportunity to steal money from his boss.

It is the best scene in the novel, bringing the character to life. Carrie has kicked Drouet out, and he tells her that Hurstwood is married. Hurstwood can't let Carrie go. He grabs the money and lures Carrie away on false pretenses. Carrie is ignorant of what he has done, and blames him for their fall into poverty.  Hurstwood's story and tragic end makes Sister Carrie a page-turner. And Carrie? She ends up on stage, becomes famous and wealthy, but is distrustful of men and lonely.

We had a great discussion of the book. Themes of class and the lure of upward mobility especially interested us, as well as how women's options have changed in 100 years.

One lady said she couldn't put the book down. Another said she would had never chosen to read Sister Carrie, but was glad she did.

"Oh, Carrie, Carrie! Oh blind strivings of the human heart!...Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content."

*****
A Career in Classical Music

Bernard Jacobson's memoir of a life in music, Star Turns and Cameo Appearances, has an index over 20 pages long. "Blessed or cursed" with "nearly total recall," he drops that many names, performances, and works. 

I requested the book because he was as the Philadelphia Orchestra's  "Manager, Publications and Educational Programs," later changed to "Program Annotator and Musicologist," under Riccardo Muti. Our family joke was that we moved to Philadelphia for my husband's favorite orchestra, then under Eugene Ormandy. Muti succeeded Ormandy and we enjoyed several years of his conducting before leaving Philly.

I enjoyed his stories about Muti. It was interesting to learn more about the man behind the baton.

I was thrilled when Jacobson mentioned the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia which he joined for a while as a Bass singer. Sean Diebler organized Choral Arts in 1982 as a 120-200 voice choir. My husband and I had been singing with The Mastersingers choir under Bob and Gail Reilley for years when we auditioned for Choral Arts. We sang with them in their second and third seasons, 1984-5. This was before Jacobson's joining.

The Choral Arts Society participated in a Concert for Humanity at the Academy of Music. The Concert was organized as part of the Nuclear Arms Control Movement. Riccardo Muti conducted members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Pennsylvania Orchestra, and Concerto Soloists.  On November 11, 1984 my husband and I were on stage as the chorus sang Kodaly's Hymn to St. Stephen, and two pieces we had sung before, Virgil Thompson's Alleluia, and Vaughn Williams' O Clap Your Hands. The concert ended with Ravel's Bolero. The program notes for several pieces, including Bolero, were written by Jacobson! I am writing this right after seeing Leonard Slatkin conduct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Bolero last evening. Very cool!




As Jacobson notes, Deibler was demanding but exciting. We sang The Messiah with the Philadelphia Orchestra under William Smith at the Academy of Music, an incredible experience. We also sang in a  Rodgers and Hammerstein pops concert at the Mann Music Center under Erich Kunzel. I was used to Masses and Requiems and enjoyed letting loose with Oklahoma! Another highlight was singing Ralph Vaughn Williams' A Sea Symphony. Incredible. We also enjoyed singing The Brahms Neue Liebeslieder. My husband took a position in New York City, commuting from Philly, and we left the choir. Soon after I became pregnant and my choral singing days were over! Interestingly, Diebler graduated from my grandfather's alma mater, Susquehanna University. Diebler died in 2009.

I also got a kick out of Jacobson's mention of David Grossman of the Temple University Cinematheque screening private viewings for Riccardo Muti. We frequented the Cinematheque and loved seeing those classic films on the large screen. It was here that I first viewed classic films like Casablanca. Grossman's introductions enhanced our enjoyment. We started attending while I was still a Temple student and before the showing Grossman would encourage us to enjoy a cup of coffee without payment. He knew we were poor students. 

Frankly, most of what Jacobson talks about is beyond my ken and made me quite dizzy and overwhelmed with information. His career took him from his native Britain to Holland, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the West Coast. Those intimately involved in the world of orchestras and classical music will better appreciate his stories. But from the start he has an upbeat, excited voice and you feel a sense of his personality and love of music. 

I received a free ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Star Turns and Cameo Appearances: Memoirs of a Life Among Musicians
by Bernard Jacobson
University of Rochester Press
$34.95 hard cover
ISBN:9781580465410


Monday, January 25, 2016

Bill Bryson's Latest Walk in The World's Largest Park

I had never read Bill Bryson. Book after book came out and sounded interesting but I never managed to get a hold of one and actually read it. So when I saw The Road to Little Dribbling on NetGalley I requested it. It was about time I read the man!

The Road to Little Dribbling chronicles Bryson's travels across England, a follow-up to his 1995 travel book Notes from a Small Island. He starts in Buggar Bognor in the south and zig-zags north to Cape Wrath. He revisits places he knew and loved, noting the changes--mostly for the worse. "In countless small ways the world around us grows gradually shittier," he notes. Where quaint gardens beautified houses there are driveways with cars and trash cans.

Much to my husband's chagrin, I opened the book and started roaring almost immediately. He thought he was reading the humorous book. We had a moment of competing busts of laughter, but after four pages I was still at it. He admitted defeat and left the room.

Bryson never misses an opportunity to note the foibles, imbecilities, frailties, and ridiculous in human nature. And, we are educated about the threat of attack by cows. It is very real. In Britain every cow attack is national news. Four people were killed  in 2009 after all.

I was in a cow field at Putt's farm when I was a little girl. I traipsed through the cow pies to pet one. Neither she nor her girlfriends made any threatening moves. (Unlike the goat at a tourist trap in New York State that went after my coat when I was four!) I can't imagine living in a country where a cow attack is considered a threat. Here in America we are fearful of real threats. Like getting Ebola or the plague. The news wouldn't report it if it weren't a threat, right?

Bryson is involved in The Campaign to Preserve Rural England, The Metropolitan Green Belt around London protects against the urban sprawl we have in America. I spent a great deal of my lie in urban sprawl, i.e. the 'burbs. I am used to miles and miles of big box stores, chain restaurants, and houses that look all the same. The Economist magazine argues that the Green Belt limits growth. Who needs pretty, pristine, open spaces when we can have another coffee house?

I actually like the idea of open green spaces in a city. I think of the parks in Philadelphia. William Penn planned five parks to provide open space. Over 60 parks including Fairmont Park along the Schuylkill River and the Wissihickon Park with its gorge that inspired painters like Thomas Moran, cover 9,200 acres in prime real estate areas.

When Bryson is admiring the moor around the River Colne, unchanged for a thousand years, he listens to the roars of Heathrow airport and learns they want to build a runway on that will destroy most of Wraysbury Reservoir. I remembered the Tinicum Wildlife Refuge nestled between the Philadelphia Airport and Gulf Oil. It was a bird sanctuary along the migration paths. Jets flew low overhead as we admired a Green Heron or saw thousands of Snow Egrets turn the trees white.

Bryson covers some things that were quite interesting, but other times I didn't feel much connection to what he was writing about. He can come across as curmudgeonly. I began to think the England I had wanted to see forty years ago had vanished. But in the end he affirms his love of his adopted country, especially for the beauty of land that I have always imagined.
Hedgerow in England

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased
review.

The Road to Little Dribbling
Bill Bryson
Doubleday Books
Publication Date: January 19, 2015
$12.99 ebook
ISBN:9780385539296

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Happy Birthday, Aunt Alice!

My father's sister Alice is having a milestone birthday today!
Alice as a girl. The Military Road house in the background.
I was four when Aunt Alice married Uncle Kenny. Dad took her down the aisle as Grandpa Gochenour  passed away the year before.
Dad and his sister Alice 
In 1935 my grandparents moved to Military Road; the house was so huge it held three apartments. Aunt Alice and Uncle Kenny moved into the upstairs apartment; my family moved from upstairs to the larger downstairs apartment--which Aunt Mary and Uncle Clyde and family moved out and into their own home. I was lonely with my three cousins left. Grandma Gochenour (known as 'Ma') lived in the smallest apartment before moving in with my family.

Soon enough I had a little brother and Aunt Alice had children. We played on the swing set and had a pool in the shade of the spreading willow tree. Then Aunt Alice and Uncle Kenny moved into their own home and my dad and mom packed up and we moved to Michigan.

One of my fondest memories of those early days was Christmas morning visits to all my cousin's houses. Because Aunt Alice lived upstairs, we would go up in our robes.
Mom, Me, Aunt Alice, and 'Ma' on Christmas Morning around 1958
Aunt Alice
Uncle Kenny, Aunt Alice, and Ma Christmas in late 1950s

Tonawanda winters meant snow and lots of it! Dad ran the gas station his father built and had a truck with a snow plow. We had lots of high banks of snow around the house to play on.
Aunt Alice, the gas station behind. 1963
There were parties, picnics, and fun. I always remembered a Halloween costume party at the house. Aunt Alice was Daisy Mae to Uncle Kenny's Lil' Abner!
1959 Halloween; Aunt Alice as Daisy Mae in Military Road kitchen
After we moved my family returned to Tonawanda every year to visit.

Aunt Alice in the 1960s

Aunt Alice and Uncle Ken in the 1970s
Aunt Alice reminds me of her mother: Easy going, optimistic, contented, and happy; crafty and capable; family-oriented with a uncomplicated faith in God. I am sorry I did not inherit more of those 'Becker' traits!
Aunt Alice, Aunt Mary and 'Ma'. Three lovely ladies!
Aunt Alice visiting Dad with her grandchildren
Aunt Alice is the Gochenour/Becker family historian and genealogist and I have learned much from her on visits.

Here's to a wonderful birthday, Aunt Alice, and prayers that you at least match your mother's long life!  
Aunt Alice, Uncle Kenny, and my cousins

Friday, January 22, 2016

Old Quilts by Florence Peto Part II

Today I share Part II of Florence Peto's article, Old Quilts Tell a Story, found in the 1938 magazine The American Home.


Pictured: (Top)The Bride's Quilt of Mary Ann Dubois--signed, dated 1835, and patterned after famous original conception of the Star of Bethlehem or Rising Sun design created in 1810 by Mary Totten of Staten Island. it is owned by Miss Ella Butler. (Lower) Baby's Building Blocs Quilt made in Devonshire, England, in early nineteenth century. Here scintillate silk and satin create bright, arresting beauty. Courtesy of the Newark Museum in Newark N. J.
Liberty Quilt, top left
In the category of a patriotic inspiration there is a fine old Liberty Quilt made by Hannah Childs of Warren, Rhode Island. Very soon after Congress formally adopted the device which is now on the Great Seal of the United States of American, the eagle was used lavishly by craftsmen and needleworkers to embellish furniture, china, woven textiles and even the patch quilt.

Not much is known of the quiltmaker's early history. Hannah Childs became Mrs. Wood. In time, her son, Jonathan Perry Wood, married a Pennsylvania-German girl named Mary Heckathorn; the couple emigrated to Dayton, Ohio, and the cherished Liberty Quilt went with them. All of Jonathan and Mary's children and some of their children's children were born in Dayton, including the granddaughter, who is the present owner of the quilt.

The President's Wreath is happily illustrative of the fine and even distinguished workmanship expended on patch quilts. Louise Kline was born in 1824.

At twenty-one, having been engaged for a short time, Louisa announced to friends that her wedding had been set. There commenced a great cider making, cake baking, dressmaking, and housecleaning on the farm; turkeys were roasted in the great round red-brick oven which stood out-of-doors and then there were stored in the cool cellar. All the usual preparations for festivity, dear to the heart of the Pennsylvania-German, animated the Kline household for a week before the important day. When the hour finally arrived every inch of the house, porch, stone steps, and walk had been scrubbed. 

People stood around and waited; the men smoked and talked about the crops and strolled toward the barns; the womanfolk sat in parlor and gossiped. There was a flurry when the minister arrived and there followed some joking and teasing of Louis'a expense because the bridegroom was late. By sundown those left of the wedding party were looking pretty grim. Some of the guests stayed and waited all night, others went off in wagons and on horseback. But the disappearance of the young groom on the day of his wedding remained an unsolved mystery. She lived  to be a "dea old lady," never married, and died at eighty-three.
*****


Picture: New Spreads in Old Quilt Patterns. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have inherited from grandmothers and great aunts the old things instinctively loved and appreciated; nor does everyone have the time to tour the country looking for antiques. But you ca go into your favorite store and find bedspreads copied exactly from the quilts made by hand many years ago in the colors you wish today.

An accompanying article touted quilts and coverlets for sale. "One good reproduction, made of double fabric of the same quality as the original, is the loom-quilted Bates spread at the top of the page. It comes in six colors, including old red and dark blue, each combined with white. A variant of the star motif is incorporated in "Norwich," a spread (shown at left) by Monument Mills, in pastels or strong colors. A Kentucky coverlet was the inspiration for the spread of jacquard construction (at lower left). It is particularly effective in rich blue and white and is made by Bates. The spread in the center at the bottom is from R. H. Macy and is named Bristol. It is difficult to believe it is machine made. The Sunflower pattern at the lower right has long been a favorite. Instead of tiny pieces of calico put together by hand, modern mills weave the same effect by machine. Neisler Mills make this attractive quilt."
*****
More About Florence Peto

From an article written by Gwen Marsten found here, "Few would argue that Florence Peto was the most influential quilt authority of the mid-twentieth century...A well-known authority on quilts and quilt history [she] worked as a consultant to museums in the selection and documentation of their collections."

See photos of Peto and her quilts at Vintage Textile's post here and here.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Old Quilts Tell a Story by Florence Peto Part I: The Bride's Quilt and Houseman Quilt

The July 1938 issue of The American Home featured antiques as hobbies with articles on 'old' glass, silver, bookmarks, Barber's bottles, and old quilts. Florence Peto wrote the article on antique quilts. I am sharing the article in two posts.
*****
Old Quilts Tell a Story by Florence Peto

Have you a patchwork quilt made by your grandmother, or by her mother? What do you know about it? How many times the writer has heard the expression--"I wish I had asked Mother about this quilt!" For the ones who can tell the story are passing on and the quilts are not everlasting. The magnitude of the patchwork quilt as a work of art may be controversial, but its importance as a family document cannot be questioned.

Look at your Rising Sun or Old Dutch Tulip, not as just another piece of needlework, however amazing its stitchery, but as a relic of the past which, carefully examined, will vitalize the personality of the maker and may reflect the influence, surroundings, and circumstances under which she lived and loved and plied her diligent needle.

Pictured: (Top) The Baltimore Bride's Quilt, of album or friendship variety having blocks autographed, demonstrates a peak for elaborate, yet beautiful needlework. Made in Baltimore, Md. about 1851-2. Natural flower colors used. Courtesy of Mrs. Lawrence Ullman. (Right Bottom) Magnificent central motif from Baltimore Bride's Quilt. (Top Right) Princess Feather and Compass in Newark Museum, and made by donor's grandmother and great aunts in 1835.

For several years the writer has been collecting data and photographs of early American bed coverings--quilts, spreads, and woven coverlets. While beauty was important, they were selected primarily for interest in their historical and biographical backgrounds. It was woman's job to spin and weave, save scraps and sew. Frequently her imagination was stimulated to creative effort: designs were born which often were crude by usually vigorous and vital. A large percentage of the pieced blocks, being divisions of a square of sections of a circle, were geometric in composition and many of them must be as old as geometry itself. It has been said that men, better informed on mathematics, adapted geometrical diagrams to workable patterns for their womenfolk, but in developing patterns, it is known that women could and did employ methods which answered the same purpose. Deftly folded pieces of paper and skillfully wielded scissors were the answer to our quilt-making foremothers' need for triangles, diamonds, and five-, six-, and eight-pointed stars. Scientific-minded or not; she found a way. Also variation in the pieced four-path or nine-patch was fairly easy, but eventually appeared more intricate amnesiacs, composed of diamond, triangle, and hexagonal units, which we have no doubt were the result of many patient hours of extensive experimentation.

Certain traditional units and motifs of design were often employed which obviously have had their origins in antiquity, neither the American quiltmaker nor her presumable more inventive spouse having created them.

It was in the field of appliqué or 'laid-on' work that the greatest opportunity was offered for originality and for practically limitless good and bad effects from an artistic point of view.Sometimes the early quiltmaker achieved beauty through slow, back-breaking, eye-straining toil by taking one incredibly tiny stitch after another, spacing each with mechanical precision until a quilted pattern emerged as delicate and elegant as a piece of rare lace. In style, quilts run the gamut from those all-white quilted or French-knotted examples which show sheer technical perfection and good taste, through those pieces whose dramatic vividness demands the background of massive mahogany four-posters, if they are not to overpower everything else in the room, thence to quilts whose names, such as Liberty Quilt or Slave Chain, project and impassioned patriotism or partisan politics, coming finally to those pieces made so obviously because they were really fun to do!

An Album quilt, which reached a peak in elaborate design while still retaining the elements of good taste, is exemplified in the Baltimore Bride's Quilt, an autographed composition comprised of twenty-five appliquéd blocks, each different, yet with balance maintained, exquisite and even inspired workmanship employed, and brilliant but harmonious coloring used. From graceful baskets and horns of plenty pour forth flowers and fruits in luxurious profusion, while appealing birds and whimsical dogs seem to have been executed with deliberate humor. Instead of the more common use of embroidered stitches to indicate realistic details, India ink has been delicately and artistically applied. In no sense is there a feeling of over-ornamentation--an effect which easily might have resulted from the assembling of so elaborate a piece of needlework. Though each block carries a different signature, it is more than likely they were made by one needleworker; a characteristic technique peculiar to the workmanship points to one pair of hands, since twenty-five different women, however expert, could not have produced such uniformity.

Though the quilt's personal history was not available to us, it was obviously made for a bride. One revealing block showing a liberty blue anchor encircled with voluptuous full-blown roses bears the inscription in elegant handwriting, "In the Port of Bliss," signed "Lizza Reynolds."

Central interest is furnished by a spirited American eagle, the Flag and Shield, inscribed, "E Pluibus Unam" and "Albert Mussa." The good ship Alabama with billowing yellow sails and all flags flying, carries an ecstatically engrossed couple on her forward deck. As this part of the design bears the name "Susan Catz," there is no way of being sure if Susan was the happy girl or whether it was Lizza who was sailing toward the "Port of Bliss"; or, for that matter, whether Albert, holding central interest in the quilt, was the figure of importance to the bride. At the right of the ship there is a tree under whose dense shade an overfed and slightly wooden terrier ogles a not-too-shy dove, with the name "William Parrish." The valentine heart motif enclosing two more hearts and a pair of doves was sponsored by "Mrs. E. Gapes." Next to upper left, there is a house before whose fence a young lady in pantalets, carrying a basket on her arm, walks with her dog; two quite handsome white geese keep carefully ahead; "Jacob Miller's" name adorns the space between the chimneys. Regal and aware of his male grandeur, a gorgeous peacock poses (lower right) in a rose tree; his plumage is ingeniously suggested by the employment of a wavy, iridescent print, but the "eyes" in his tail feather have been produced by applying additional tiny patches of turquoise blue. "John Bush" signed this block. Other legible signature were: Mary Parrish, John Parish, Henry Bush, Prudence Bush, Mary Bush, Eliza Bush, Mary James, Mary Liza Larkin, Charlotte Miller, Sophia Miller, Amelia Cadis, George Boerie, Sallie Mitchell, Joshua Harrington, and Sarah Price. Most of the signatures bear the date 1851. A red, white, and blue border, over which was quilted the shell pattern in triple lines, makes an effective frame for a supremely lovely piece of needlecraft.

Pictures: (Top Left) A Liberty Quilt made by Hannah Childs Wood of Warren, R. I., when Congress adopted the eagle device on the U. S. A. Great Seal in 1782, is one of oldest and most exquisite extant American quilts. Owner, Mrs. A. Lindstrom. (Right center) Union Quilt is typical Pennsylvania-German design of Civil War period. This bold, vivid example was made c. 1861 by Mrs. Charles Burk. Owned and shown by Mrs. C. Knepper. (Lower Right) The Housman Family of Staten Island, whose Dutch ancestors settled there in 1675, inherited this merry quilt. Courtesy of Mrs. Frank Carroll. Major colors are red, green, and orange.

Although little verifiable biography enlightens the genesis of the merry Housman Quilt, the spirit of a locality animates it and it is vibrant with sentiment, symbolism, and the interests of a family. It was made in 1859, which is not old as quilts go. The present owner inherited it from an aunt whom she had seldom seen and she knows only that it was made in the Housman family which had Dutch ancestry; historical records show them to have lived on Staten Island as early as 1675. It is believed that some young son of the Housmans emigrated to Pennsylvania where he married a girl born and bred to German traditions. Being, therefore, well versed in local folklore, her patchwork took on the exuberant quality of a regional document which, at her passing, went to the Staten Island branch of the family.

Occupying central position is the red calico homestead with building-stones, and chimneys embroidered in chain stitches; ornamental stitchery is so often seen superimposed on the appliqué work of Pennsylvania-made quilts, it is tempting to call it characteristic. On both sides of the date have been placed pineapples, domestic symbol of hospitality. One of them, pieced of tiny rectangular patches hardly as large as your own small fingernail, has acquired a remarkable realistic effect. Left of center are two formalized trees of life, a little stark and primitive, but often seen in this form on other pieces of local handiwork. On each side of the house are more naturalistic, fruit-bearing trees under whose branches cocks and hens strut and feed. Baby's hands, scissors, and the baby's cradle over which hovers the dove, in this instance symbol of innocence, suggest woman's occupations. The capacious coffee mug, fancifully inscribed "John Demorest" and the Masonic and Odd Fellows' emblems, indicate masculine tastes and interests. There is speculation in the meaning of the Punch-and-Judy-looking figures; they may be Grandpa and Grandma Horseman; one or both may have had the disconcerting habit of mislaying his or her spectacles. Under the debonair horseman in orange breeches and green coat, "Euphemia" is stitched in outline; there is sad implication in the little riderless pony, who, by the way, carries an English saddle.

Of not so personal but more general interest are the flower forms. Left of the house is seen a conventionalized passion flower. The lute as a motif was often employed by music-loving people, while oak leaves (top row, right of center) bring to mind German songs and stories; it is written that in ancient oak groves Germanic forebears worshiped their gods and held their communal assemblies. In Pennsylvania the double rose, fuchsia, pomegranate, and tulip are constantly recurrent motifs in the adornment of dower chests, household utensils, and needlework.

Your old quilt may be decorated lavishly with hearts or there may be just one tucked away unobtrusively in a corner; the presence of a heart or dove indicated a bride's quilt. In the Housman Quilt a circle of hearts has been arranged in a round patch. The Star and Crescent (upper right-hand corner of the quilt) painted on a barn was a potent talisman to ward off unfriendly spirits from cattle and still other symbols had the property to insure prolific increase. Left of the Star and Crescent is the St. Andrew's Cross; though more often placed in a circle, in this quilt it has been set in a square. The St. Andrew's Cross, sure protection against sorcery, was a favorite hex mark. For instance, a witch, placing her hand on a door-knocker into which the occupant of the house as previously had the foresight to cut a St. Andrew's Cross, would be rendered helpless and impotent. Tools and guns, so marked, never disappeared or behaved badly.

In the Housman quilt a green leaf appliquéd close to the corner of each unit block becomes a group of four leaves when the blocks are set together; leaves cut in three lobes supply a pleasing border finish. this piece is owned and shown by courtesy of Mrs. Frank Carroll.
*****
Here ends the first part of the article The second part will post on January 23, 2016.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Ophelia Street was" : What Evil Lurks?

"Memory grows plump in youth and wastes away to skin and bone."

John Simmon's novel Leaves waited forty years to be published. The novel is set in North London in 1970, the year Simmons wrote the first draft. Simmons went on to forge a career teaching writing. Returning to his languishing novel after forty years Simmons rewrote it from the perspective of the narrator looking back to the events and people of Ophelia Street, a cul-de-sac of "pre-Raphaelite fancy" that had become a prison for occupants "straining to burst free from its hold."

The narrator is a London newcomer, a journalist starting his first job. Over the year he lived on Ophelia Street the narrator observed and recorded the people of the street. Now after thirty years passing he tells us the story of Ophelia Street and the events that gave him the story that made his career.

The inhabitants of the street seem ordinary at first glance. A young family, a brother and sister, grown men living with their mothers. A factory at the end of the street is owned by one family and employs others. There is a pub that brings men together and separates families. Children play on the streets. The street empties when summer vacations lure people to the sea shore.

The book opens with the death of a stray dog which brings three people together to check out what had happened and to deal with the body. Over the year, as the leaves change, we learn more about the inner lives of the inhabitants. There is the death of a marriage and of several elderly people, the conception of a child, the murder of small animals and the murder of a child. At the end of the year almost everyone has left Ophelia Street which is to be torn down and replaced with modern dwellings.

I had mixed feelings about the book as I read it. Early on it felt voyeuristic and recalled Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock. The narrator tells us we are all being watched in the city. I also felt I understood the narrator and have been just as bad! My high school diary is full of observations about the people I knew, even down to my recording everything that happened during one study hour, who dropped a pencil, who passed notes, who set their head down and napped. The narrator justifies this as practicing journalistic observation. I will gladly accept that understanding!

The structure is complicated. The author has written a narrator whose story is told in both in real time (30 years later) and in real time (1970) with dialogue, action, and descriptions of people's inner thoughts and feelings (circa 1970).  It raises questions. Is the narrator a voice for the author? Is he a reliable narrator? How much has the narrator reconstructed the events of Ophelia Street based on imagination?

There are mysterious and dark goings on but the reader is left to connect the dots. I actually appreciate that belief in the intelligence of the reader, although some readers will grouse that the mysteries were not 'solved'.

Reviews talk about the beautiful writing and that is what drew me to request the book from NetGalley. Epigrams and quote-worthy sentences abound. "We all have a tendency to romanticise [sic: this is a British novel!] the past, particularly to romanticise our own past." "He suddenly realized how fragile was the glass of this friendship." And, "Ophelia Street was,"..."A place that had seen better and grander times. Like a once-fine ocean liner slumped on a deep sea bed, but breaking up, for better, for worse."

I do wonder about the title, based on the changing seasons, when I would have thought that "Ophelia Street" would have better suited.

I look around at my suburban street and wonder what secrets and horrors, loneliness and isolation, hopes and dreams reside in these houses? Is there a story to be told in every street? I sincerely hope we are quite boring.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Leaves by John Simmons
Urbane Publications
$14.95 soft cover, $2.49 Kindle
ISBN:978190927377


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Seeking The Man Behind the Icon: Lay Down Your Weary Tune by W. B. Belcher

I was intrigued by this novel about a folk singer and a young writer's searching for the man behind the mask. The great cover was another incentive!

Jack Wyeth's youthful idolization of protest folk singer Eli Page lead him to discard a conventional life of college and career to pursue music. Now at thirty years old, his music career non-existent, Jack blogs about folk music and sleeps on his married friend's couch. Then he gets an unexpected call offering the chance of a lifetime: Eli Page, now a recluse, has agreed to his agent's suggestion to let Jack ghostwrite Eli's memoir.

But nothing is what is seems. Eli is losing touch with reality and won't talk about his work or past. Eli's agent is putting on the pressure for assignment completions on the memoir. Jack finds himself invading Eli's privacy in a desperate search to discover the man behind the mask. Meanwhile, Eli is accused of being behind a series of local crimes. And Jack falls for an artist, Jenny, with a mysterious past and unspoken ties to Eli.

Jack, Eli, and Jenny struggle with their own demons that divide them from each other, each needing to come to terms with their past to trust revealing themselves wholly.

The music behind the story is the folk music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s--Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger--protest and roots music.

The story's action takes place on the farm Eli has retired to, situated in a small town suspicious of outsiders. Much of the action is internal and relational until the climax, and yet the story has a way of propelling the reader along.

I have read quite a few novels lately dealing with the need to face one's demons in the journey to grow personally and in relations to others. This story doesn't flinch from the depression and self-doubt of abandonment, loss, and failure. It does offer examples of people struggling with to reach out and bridge the things that divide us.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Lay Down Your Weary Tune
W. B. Belcher
Other Press
$17.95 paperback
Publication Date: January 26, 2016
ISBN: 9781590517468

A heartening, timeless, and stirring song for the ‘perfectly broken.’ Beautifully thrownback. Openhanded. True. W.B. Belcher is my kind of writer.
— Matthew Quick, New York Times bestselling author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and LOVE MAY FAIL

Friday, January 15, 2016

Selected Poems by Thomas Hardy

In Modern Poetry our professor taught poems by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), including Channel Firing  In The Time of 'The Breaking of Nations," and Neutral Tones. They were not poems I forgot, and I have forgot most of what we read that semester.

Many know Hardy's novels because of the films based on them. Hardy was unable to publish his poems until his novels brought fame and financial security. He wrote 900 poems over his lifetime and 14 novels.

The poems in the Dover Thrift edition include selections from Wessex Poems and Other Verses (1898), Poems of the Past and the Present (1901), Time's Laughingstock and other Verses (1909), Satires of Circumstance (1919), and Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917.)

You don't turn to Hardy for happy love poems. He recalls the losses and divisions, not the lyric joys and bliss of love.

The Voice is one of my favorites. "Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me/Saying that now you are not as you were/When you had changed from the one who was all to me/But as at first, when our day was fair." Hardy wrote this after the death of his estranged first wife in amends for his later treatment of her.

Neutral Tones was taught in my Modern Poetry class. It is atmospheric and concise, with sympathetic nature reflecting the inner desolation of a man who reads betrayal in the smile of his beloved.

There are poems which tell a story.

The Burghers (17--) concerns a man discovering his wife with her lover. He raises a knife but seeing his wife's love for the other man he stays his hand, considering his choice of righteous vengeance or mercy.

In Her Death and After   a man is called to the death bed of the woman he loves but who married another. She has given birth to a lame child and wishes it had been theirs. Time passes and the husband remarries and has more children. The narrator watches helplessly as the lame child is pushed aside, unloved.  He spins a lie and claims the child is his own.

Most memorable and disturbing are Hardy's war poems. We meet the the war dead in throngs and as individuals. The Boer War and WWI were waged during his lifetime. You won't find war glorified in these poems.

In Drummer Hodge a young lad dies in the Boer War and is buried under "strange stars."

The Souls of the Slain come home to England's coast to "feast on our fame", only to be told that their loved ones do not think of their sacrifice but hold dear to memories of 'old homely acts'.

In The Man He Killed  a soldier muses over the irony that the foe he killed in battle he would have treated to a a drink had they met in a bar.

The poem that has haunted me is San Sebastian  (August 1813) With Thoughts of Sergeant M-- (Pensioner), Who died 186- . Two men met on the Ivel Way. One remarks on seeing the other's daughter. The father responds by telling about the girl he "wronged in Peninsular days," when out of the trenches the soldiers stormed San Sebastian for five hours. Victorious, the men ransacked the city where he came upon a girl and raped her.
She raised her beseeching eyes to meAnd I heard the words of prayer she sentIn her own soft language...Fatefully I copied those eyes for my punishmentIn begetting the girl you see! 
The father finishes by saying,
So, to-day I stand with a God-set brandLike Cain's, when he wandered from kindred's ken...I served through the war that made Europe free;I wived me in peach-year. But, hid from men,I bear that mark on me.
Researching and reading about San Sebastian brought understanding of  the horror behind Hardy's poem. The British siege of San Sebastian took place during the Napoleonic war when Spain was ruled by Napoleon's brother Joseph. The town was well defended and the British and Portuguese suffered heavy losses before finally breaching the wall and taking the town. After weeks of war and carnage the soldiers, victory finally won, they found wine and became a drunk mob. They burned the town, killed up to 1,000 citizens, and raped the women.

According to one first hand account, "From every quarter we heard the cries of distress of women who were being raped, without regard either to their tender you or to their respective age; wives outraged under the eyes of their husbands, girls dishonored in the presence of their parents...Other crimes more horrible yet were committed on this day, and it's only a sense of 'modesty' which prevents us naming them."

And of this dehumanizing massacre Hardy explores how men live with what they have done. It is a powerful poem, relevant to all eras.

These are not poems you read in great gulps. I spent several weeks reading this volume and have not read all the poems yet.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Selected Poems by Thomas Hardy
Dover Publications
$2.50 paperback
ISBN:9780486287539

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Love Entwined Update

So many little pieces! I am finishing the fourth border and started prepping the corner blocks. I am determined to finish this section of the pattern! Well, some time this year!

The pattern includes two more appliquéd borders with even more little pieces! Quilters have actually finished the entire quilt! Hats off to these intrepid quilters! Each is beautiful. My workmanship is primitive in comparison. I am sure this border is my final addition. At this point I can't face all the little pieces in the next section. (But if my husband has his way I will trudge on.)

In 2013 Esther Aliu announced her pattern Love Entwined, based on a 1790 coverlet she found in Averil Colby's book Patchwork. Working from a black and white photo she drafted a detailed and complicated pattern. Read about it at her blog: http://estheraliu.blogspot.com/2013/06/introducing-love-entwined-1790-marriage.html

Esther continues to design new patterns which can be accessed for free, now on her Facebook groups, and later may be purchased.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hope for the Best: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Schulman

Over all I have neglected to write much about one of my early loves, something more intellectual folk turn their nose up at--television. I once wrote that Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone taught me many of my basic core values, including what cigarette I would have smoked had I ever taken up the habit. I mentioned liking Alfred Hitchcock as a kid. The truth is, I am a Boomer and those of my cohort grew up with television. You could say we MADE television. Television shows made just for us: Romper Room, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, The Micky Mouse Club, The Wonderful World of Disney, Disney's and Wonderful World of Color (which I saw in black and white).

Could the the medium have survived without our parents supporting their sponsors? Like Wonder Bread: Buffalo Bob on the Howdy Doody Show told us kids to look for the wrapper with the red, yellow and blue balloons. See? We made television!

The Westerns that dominated TV also dominated childhood play. Pacifist me as a preschooler wore a gun belt with two six shooters as I took on the mask of Singing Cowboy. I fought to be Gene Autry or Roy Rogers in our make-believe play. I was devastated when my Bat Masterson cane broke.

There was Lassie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sea Hunt, Sky King, Phil Silvers, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dennis the Menace, Robin Hood, Dick Van Dyke, Make Room for Daddy, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, My Friend Flicka, Shirley Temple's Storybook, I've Got A Secret, Donna Reed, Topper, Mr. Wizard, Art Linkletter, 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock, Candid Camera-- And Saturday Night at the Movies.

How I found time to color a page in my coloring book or cut out a paper doll with all that television watching I don't know.

And I watched Dobie Gillis. It was meant for older kids, but the man was talking right to me! How could I resist? And he had the most incredible friend in the whole world--Maynard G. Krebs. I was only seven to eleven old when the show aired. I didn't have a clue about the perils of teenage love. But I loved the show.

Now we have Netflix and HULU I have watched Dobie Gillis again. It's like looking at a whole 'nother civilization! Set in days of saddle shoes pony tails, and malt shops, male-chauvinist pig Dobie sees women as objects of desire, beautiful, but displaying little mental depth.  His 'oddball' friend wears a beard (which today would make him trendy). Dobie sitting like Rodin's The Thinker, contemplating the problem of how to get a girl and never managing to keep one.

NetGalley offered the Max Shulman collection of stories The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  It sounded like fun. I requested it; I got it. Reading the first page I was roaring.

The American National Biography Online website quotes the New York Herald Tribune, August 11, 1956, saying Shulman was "the master of undergraduate humor, the outrageous pun and the verbal caricature" relying on broad wordplay or the ludicrous non sequitur.

Dobie Gillis speaks to the reader in each of the eleven stories. Although his major, age, and father's business may change, his dilemma is always the same: there's this girl, see... He does anything to get this girl. He changes his major, lies, cheats, bargains, borrows money, and goes into debt.

The girls are usually rich and Dobie has to scramble to afford them. In The Sugar Bowl an intellectual 'ugly Betty' pursues Dobie but he isn't interested until she invites him to a student meeting at a professor's house where Big Ideas are discussed-- and a jar of money is available for student discretionary needs. Dobie joins the group hoping to get his hand in the jar. He needs $10 to take a beautiful, rich girl to the prom. 'Ugly Betty' gets to the money first, spends it on a makeover, becomes one of the 'beauties', and gets her man.

In The Face is Familiar, But-- Dobie meets a girl at a dance but he doesn't catch her name. Over several dates he tries to discover her name. The movie theater has a weekly drawing. Dobie gives the girl his ticket, she easily wins $640, and is asked her name. Dobie learns she gave a false name. He lost $640 and gained nothing.

In The Mock Governor a beauty has an overprotective uncle with political aspirations; Dobie joins an imaginary campaign to get on the uncle's good side.

In The Unlucky Winner a girl keeps Dobie too busy to attend class or write a theme. He plagiarizes an 1919 essay and his professor enters it into a contest. The original writer is the judge! He doesn't turn Dobie in; he is gratified that students still read his theme.

In my favorite story, Love is a Fallacy, Dobie plays Pygmalion, teaching a beautiful girl logical thinking to make her his intellectual equal. When he deems her up to snuff to be a lawyer's wife he asks her to go steady. But the girl tears down his every argument using the critical thinking skills he helped her to hone.

The last story in the collection, You Think You've Got Trouble, finds Dobie's grocer father commiserating with the mother of a Bryn Mawr drop out.  Mr. Gillis explains that he worked hard to build his little business which he had hoped Dobie would take over. But no, Dobie wants to be an Egyptologist.

"You work for them, you make plans for them, you hope, you dream, you pray, and then what happens? They turn around and do exactly what they wanna." He continues, "You're licked. You can't stop 'em. You just gotta let 'em do what they wanna and hope for the best. You and I lady, it ain't our world no more. It's theirs. We've lived our life."

Truer words were never spoken.

Max Schulman (1919-1988) was born in Minnesota and started writing at age four. He attended the University of Minnesota where he edited and wrote for the humor magazine--just like Dobie. During his time in service during World War II he wrote two books. His play The Tender Trap and his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! were adapted into films. The Dobie Gillis stories were first published in magazines including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post.

All around me was poverty and sordidness,'' he said. ''But I refused to see it that way. By turning it into jokes, I made it bearable.''

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Praise for Max Shulman
“The first person I ever laughed at while reading was Max Shulman.” —Woody Allen

“Students of humor [should] brainwash themselves with the best expressions of the art by reading . . . Max Shulman.” —Steve Allen

“Ribald, outrageous, careening humor that was no respecter of boundaries.” —Los Angeles Times

“Shulman was a satirist with a sunny disposition. . . . A Woody Allen without neuroses.” —Richard Corliss

“Wry, cynical, intelligent, irreverent—nothing is sacred on Shulman’s campus.” —Elinor Lipman

“Shulman is a brilliant satirist. His extraordinary word choice is the core of his humor. Often the bitter core.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A combination of artists shaped my sense of humor: Robert Benchley with the printed word. Max Shulman and James Thurber.” —Bob Newhart

“Funny and frantic . . . Very wise and sharp satire.” —Ed Grant, Media Funhouse


The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
Max Shulman
Open Road Media
Publication January 12, 2016
$7.99 ebook
ISBN: 9781504027823

See my post on NBC's 1964 Star Guide here
See my post on I Was A Card Carrying Member of U.N.C.L.E. here

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Nuclear Reactor Accident Inspires Novel

The Longest Night by Andria Williams is inspired by the only American fatal nuclear accident that occurred in 1961.

Young army wife Nat has come to Idaho Springs when her husband Paul is assigned to a nuclear reactor there. With two young children and no support system in place Nat struggles to adjust. Paul realizes that his boss is hiding problems in the plant and when he clashes with his superior he is sent to the Arctic for a six month deployment. Left on her own, a pregnant Nat finds an unlikely friendship and support from a local man. Vicious rumors isolate her from the other wives and threaten her marriage as Paul wonders if he can trust his wife.

The accident in the novel is based an the actual accident which took the lives of three men. Read about the SL-1 reactor and the accident at http://www4vip.inl.gov/publications/d/proving-the-principle/chapter_15.pdf. An Army video illustrates in detail what happened on youtube here.

We recognize in Nat the 60s housewife yearning for more than children and kitchen. I could relate to Nat. Military wives and itinerant pastor wives face some of the same problems: lack of control over when one moves, where one moves, and housing; the need to find friends and support in new communities; husbands with stressful jobs and limited pay. Although the army families had some socializing there was not a lot of mutual support. She is a spirited but idealistic young woman.

I found Nat better drawn than Paul whose actions sometimes baffled me. Nat contends he was not violent by nature, but he hits his boss several times, participates in a near fatal road rage accident, and judges his wife without hearing her story. I actually wondered why she didn't run off with the loving and sensitive local guy.

I was interested to learn about early nuclear reactors and how they worked. The accident was gruesome; the cover-up disturbing.

Readers will find the novel an interesting study of a marriage and informative about early nuclear power.

I requested the book based on this review by David Abrams, author of Fobbit, whose blog I read:
"It's hard to believe The Longest Night is Andria William's debut novel. Her command of language, character, and plot--the three essential ingredients for a riveting read--is extraordinary. This is the book I will be pressing into my friend's hands this year when they ask me what they should be reading."

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Longest Night
Andria Williams
Random House
Publication January 12, 2016
$27.00 hard cover
ISBN:9780812997743