In theory I love to “spring forward.” By tomorrow I will love Daylight Savings time. But today I slept late, though not as late as the clock said, and I have been groggy all day, somehow oppressed by gloom. It’s four o’clock (really three), and all of us, even the cats, are off our normal schedule. Next year remind me: I might as well spend the time at the movies going from theater to theater at the cineplex.
Well, at least I went to the 50-cent Vintage Book Sale at the public library this weekend!
The public library has been discarding books faster than I can find them. The Angela Thirkells are gone, Gladys Taber’s Mrs. Daffodil is discarded, and all the Ruth Suckows and Bess Streeter Aldriches have been transferred to an Iowa Special Collections Room, where they cannot be checked out.
All except one apparently. Because look what I found!
Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A White Bird Flying is one of my favorite novels. Born in Iowa and living for most of her adult life in Nebraska, Aldrich (1881-1954), author of A Lantern in Her Hand, was less famous than Nebraska writer Willa Cather, but a best-seller in her time and equally beloved by some of us who enjoy her quieter writing. A few years ago we visited Aldrich’s house (now a museum) in Elmwood, Nebraska. She composed her stories between household tasks, and her manuscripts were spattered with dish water because she jotted down notes while washing the dishes. Her desk was in a front room with many windows so she could keep an eye on her four children. Because she wrote by hand and hated to type, she designed a secret compartment in the desk to hold the typewriter, which pops up when you push a switch. She hired high-school students to type for her.
A Lantern in Her Hand, Aldrich’s most famous book, tells the story of Abbie Deal, the matriarch of a pioneer Nebraska family. A White Bird Flying is the sequel, the story of her granddaughter, Laura Deal, an aspiring writer. At the beginning, Abbie has died, and Laura is looking through Abbie’s scrapbook of clippings from newspapers. The last entry is a poem by Margaret Widdemer.
She read it through twice, her heart beating fast in response to the attractiveness of it. She and Grandma always liked the same things. Grandma had found it in a magazine, loved it, and evidently saved it for her to read. She and Grandma liked the same things. Grandma had found it in a magazine, loved it, and evidently saved it for her to read.
As always, the rhythm and exquisite loveliness of the thought caught and held her emotions. She thrilled to the lilting symmetry of it and the sadness of its beautify. Nimble in committing verse, already she could say it without looking. the line that captured and held her fancy the most was the third one:
But all there is to see now is a white bird flying.
I look forward to rereading Aldrich.
We found some other stunning books.
No, really, can you believe it? I can’t. I’ve noticed that even English bloggers know Betty MacDonald’s humor classic, The Egg and I, (1945), the best-selling memoir of MacDonald’s hilarious experiences as a young wife on a chicken farm in the Pacific Northwest. Onions in the Stew is another very, very funny book, about the MacDonalds’ years on the island of Vashon in Puget Sound. Even the book jacket is hilarious: “It was here amid the untamed grandeur of fog, raccoons, and 4th century heating” that the MacDonalds lived chaotically. It’s a shame to weed these books. Couldn’t they promote vintage humor classics in a display instead of selling them?
I snapped up The Collected Plays of Lillian Hellman. One of the most famous playwrights of the twentieth century, Hellman is now out of style. They also have a 50-cent copy of her memoir Pentimento, but I already have it!
And how about Edith Wharton’s Hudson River Bracketed, published in 1929? Whether it’s her best or worst hardly matters–all they have to do is weed a book from the nine or ten shelves of Danielle Steel and there’s room! II don’t know how I missed this one over the years. I thought I’d read all of Wharton.
Last, but not least, is a discarded library book a friend in the UK sent me back in 2009, Pamela Hansford Johnson’s The Bed Thy Centre. If you’re still out there, let me know because I am finally reading it and I love it. This is a brilliant first novel, not an apprentice work at all. She is one of the best writers of the twentieth century, and I hope the publication of Wendy Pollard’s biography of Pamela (I interviewed Wendy here) is promoting Johnson’s work.