Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why I Will Always Love Jane Langton's Books

     I heard her speak once, long ago, a wonderful lecture on the history of children's books. As a child I devoured her books, especially loving a book called The Majesty of Grace (whose title, for reasons unclear to me, has been changed to The Boyhood of Grace Jones). And since I am an avid fan of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and all things transcendental, I also love the stories of the Hall family in their Concord home, with the busts of Thoreau and Emerson in the entry.
The Fledging is one of my absolute favorites. Therefore, as an adult, I am quite happy to discover the Homer Kelly mysteries by Ms. Langton. Dark Nantucket Noon, the first I've read, is so beautifully written and so evocative of the island of Nantucket in its descriptions. It also features lovely illustrations by the author, and I do enjoy illustrated books for grown-ups (see previous post). The Transcendental Mystery is the next I will read, and I envison such a delightful summer, sprawled out on a deck chair in my backyard, fresh squeezed lemonade at the ready, and a Homer Kelly mystery to wile away the warm afternoon.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why I Love Comforting Old Novels

     Yesterday I was working at the Menlo Park Library and I came across a display of just the sort of comforting old books I love to curl up with. I picked one I'd always considered reading, Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter. I've seen the movie, starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor, and I was thrilled with the look of the worn book, with illustrations by Gluyas Williams. (Wasn't it a wonderful thing when novels for adults came with illustrations?) It was a glorious sunny day, and at my lunch hour I walked up Santa Cruz Avenue to Ann's Coffee Shop. It's a vintage sort of place, whose decor looked decidedly 1940s, just like the novel I clutched. I sat at the counter and scanned the menu, which offered specials of "hash" and fresh rhubarb pie, and decided on a grilled cheese sandwich (with tomato). I opened up my novel and spent the next forty minutes reading and eating in perfect contentment. This is bliss, I thought, absolute bliss. Uncomplicated food and an uncomplicated novel (in the chapter I was reading, Mr. Banks' only dilemma was whether to serve martinis or old-fashioneds to his guests). On the walk back to the library I wondered why I was so inordinately happy over such a simple lunch. It wasn't exactly the Ritz, and shouldn't champagne be bliss, rather than iced tea, and shouldn't I have been reading something more intellectual, or at the very least a best seller? But there you are, it was a moment free from worry, I didn't have to worry about how I was dressed, or whether the menu featured something scary like beef cheeks or even the cost, and my book of choice was happy and non-violent (although there were several heated arguments about the wedding guest list and the expense). Today at my lunch I will probably have to face the real world, but yesterday, ah, bliss!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why I Will Always Love Janey Moffat

     Janey, the middle Moffat, is, and will continue to be, one of my favorite characters in literature. I do, in fact, love all of the Moffats, as well as the town of Cranberry. And I love the book's illustrations by Louis Slobodkin too. The Moffat books remain in print and it is easy to see why. They are filled with warmth and tenderness and happiness in living. The family is poor, their father is dead and their mother is a seamstress, yet the stories aren't about angst, they are about dignity and respect and joy. That's why I go back to them over and over again. There are adventures in everyday living and although I have never been to a town like Cranberry, when I read about it, I feel that I know it. And I especially love the "oldest inhabitant" and want to wish "how do" to him!
     What is interesting is that Eleanor Estes told this same family story in her only adult novel, called "The Echoing Green". However, this book is so sad and depressing that I could barely get through it. Sometimes writing, especially writing for children, needs to be about good times. Otherwise, life is much too hard to endure.
      And speaking of dichotomy in writing, I just read two books by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, "Cross Creek" and "Cross Creek Cookery". I had always had an interest in her, mainly because I love her short story, "Jacob's Ladder" so much. Cross Creek was a beautifully evocative book of place and people, at her house in Florida where she wrote "The Yearling". It was also rather shockingly racist at times, although she may actually have been more liberal in her thinking than some southerners of the time. With that in mind, I just finished reading a wonderful biography written by her former maid, Idella. It is so interesting to read about "Mrs. Rawlings", from this point of view, and also to view a writer's life from a close observer. Mrs. Rawlings took to drink and would sometimes write with a bottle of whiskey by her side. I have often heard of her friendship with Zora Neale Hurston, and Idella does write of a lovely visit by Ms. Hurston, when the two writers had lunch and talked all day. However, when it came time to spend the night, Ms. Hurston had to sleep out in the maid's quarters, sharing a bed with Idella, even though there were empty bedrooms in the house.