Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times is a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.


It must be at least twenty – maybe even thirty years since I stumbled across Elizabeth von Arnim, not that I knew the name but I found a small copy of Elizabeth and Her German Garden which didn’t even have an author’s name on it. I loved it so much that when I did discover who wrote the book I started to collect everything else that she had written.

Some of Elizabeth von Arnim’s books are available free from Project Gutenberg here.

The other books on this shelf are by Lawrence Durrell, I think I read some of his books back in the 1970s, gave them away and then bought these ones again but so far I haven’t got around to reading these ones, now I’m not even sure that I read any of them although I definitely did read books by his brother Gerald.

The Edna Ferber books I read some years ago. I enjoyed them both but particularly Show Boat and that edition is particularly stylish I think as it’s a facsimile of the original 1926 book. Some of her books are available on Project Gutenberg too. I remember I enjoyed reading Roast Beef, Medium it’s a collection of short stories. You can download them here.

Show Boat cover

Roast Beef, Medium by Edna Ferber

Roast Beef Medium

I downloaded this book from girlebooks because I have previously enjoyed Edna Ferber’s writing. I believe she won the Pulitzer prize twice. This reads like a book but I think they were stories which were published in a magazine between 1911 and 1913. It also includes a lot of illustrations, I didn’t even realise that was possible on a Kindle!

Emma McChesney is a travelling saleswoman working for the Featherloom Petticoat Company and travelling in the mid-west of the U.S. The title of the book comes from her advice to stick to roast beef medium at the many hotels she has to frequent in the course of her work. Apparently fancier food with rich sauces ruins your digestion and complexion.

Emma is a single parent, a divorcee with a 17 year old son, Jock, her pride and joy. She has brought him up on her own, is the best salesperson in the firm and earns a man’s wage. She’s determined to stay independent – in fact, considering her character was written 100 years ago, she’s an amazingly sassy and modern lady.

She runs rings around all the male characters and does it all with great style and wit. My only complaint is that this ‘book’ ended very abruptly.

The only other books I’ve read by Ferber are Show Boat and Ice Palace but I’ll be looking out for more. She was wildly popular in her day and quite a few of her books were made into films/movies. Yes, that Show Boat!

Ice Palace by Edna Ferber

I’ve been neglecting my CPR Book Group recently so I thought it was about time I got around to reading another book by an author in need of a bit of a boost. Edna Ferber was a very successful author in her day, which was the 1920s and 30s but she had a long career and her last book was published in 1963. She was a Pulitzer prize winner. I hadn’t even heard of Ferber when Anbolyn at Gudrun’s Tights mentioned her as a possible candidate for The CPR Book Group which is a place where people can nominate authors whom they consider to be neglected or even particular books which they think deserve more attention than they are getting.

I read and enjoyed Show Boat which was made into a musical of course but Ice Palace was written in 1958 and was her second last book.

It’s set in Alaska in the 1950s, a time when Alaska was a territory and not a state, which meant that they were suffering from that old bugbear taxation without representation. Although Alaska was being plundered for all her minerals, fish and such goodies, it wasn’t getting any benefit from all the industrialisation which was going on around the territory. The workers all came from ‘Outside’ and they didn’t even receive their pay until they got back to the States so the wealth was being taken out of Alaska in all ways.

I must say that it took me a wee while to get into this book but after about page 60 I did begin to enjoy it and I learned a lot about Alaska along the way.

Quite a lot of characters seemed to be thrown at me in the beginning but the main ones are Christine Storm and her two granfathers who are completely different from each other. Czar Kennedy is a rampaging capitalist whilst Thor Storm is a conservationist, naturalist, historian and anthropologist, well educated and decent.

Christine’s upbringing is shared by her two grandfathers who have her for three months at a time and Bridie Ballantyne helps out too. Christine is an orphan, in fact according to this book the female mortality rate in Alaska must have been very high!

It’s a book about greed, ambition, murky politics and dodgy people as well as decent ones. In some ways it was way before its time as Christine has no ambition to be the First Lady which is Czar Kennedy’s wish – she wants Alaska to get statehood and plans to become the Governor one day. Fortunately she’s not at all like Sarah Palin!

All in all it’s well written and an entertaining informative read, for me anyway as I knew very little about Alaska but it did seem to end very abruptly with things left up in the air, as if there was going to be a sequel, but I don’t think there was although Ferber did write another book after this one. Definitely one to be given a bit of a boost.

If you have a favourite author or book which you feel should be more widely read don’t hesitate to mention them.

Show Boat by Edna Ferber

Show Boat cover

It was Anbolyn of Gudrun’s Tights who nominated the author Edna Ferber for the CPR Book Group, the idea of which is to give neglected authors and or books a bit of a boost and breath some new life into them. So thank-you Anbolyn because I hadn’t even heard of Ferber who was so popular in the 1920s and 30s and even won a Pullitzer Prize.

I started off with Show Boat which I think everyone will know was made into a Broadway musical in 1927. The 1951 movie is so famous that it’s one of those ones which I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen in entirety or maybe I’ve just seen lots of clips over the years. Anyway next time it’s on TV I’m going to watch it to see if it differs from the book.

I really enjoyed this. The show boat is the Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre and it plies its trade on the Mississippi River, calling in at towns on the river as the local crops ripen and the inhabitants have money in their pockets. Magnolia’s parents are the boat owners, they are Captain Andy Hawks and Parthenia Ann Hawks and while Andy is a popular and kind chap, Parthy is a grim-faced terror with a dislike of the theatre, actors and just about everything else. She has a tongue that would cut cloot (cloth) – as we say here.

Against Parthy’s wishes Magnolia ends up on the stage and when they call in to St Louis she falls for the wonderfully named Gaylord Ravenal, who ends up joining the show boat’s cast.

That’s a brief outline but there’s lots going on in this book with characters being accused of miscegenation (marriage between a black person and a white person) which was illegal in some places in America at the time and that ‘n’ word is used quite a lot by the more ignorant characters. One of the characters is ‘passing’ as a white person.

As a Jew Edna Ferber was no stranger to prejudice but it didn’t stop her from having a very successful career as a writer, which you can read about here. I have one other book by her – Ice Palace, but I’ll certainly be looking out for more in the future.

I’ve loved the idea of a Mississippi river boat since I started reading Mark Twain years ago but I know that the reality would kill me in no time – too hot!

Recent book purchases

Just a quick one tonight. I’ve been managing to buy a few old books on the internet. So in the past couple of weeks I’ve taken delivery of:

The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

Ice Palace by Edna Ferber
Show Boat by Edna Ferber

Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell
Half Term by Angela Thirkell

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

Susanne recommended The Grand Babylon Hotel and Anbolyn at Cousins Read came up with Edna Ferber as a possible neglected author from the past. I must admit that I hadn’t even heard of her before, so I’m really keen to read some of her work as she was so famous in her heyday. Most of the books are quite old but clean, but the copy of Show Boat is a beauty. It’s a facsimile of the 1926 edition and is pristine and I got it for peanuts.

Show Boat cover

Well I like it anyway. I had been doing so well at not buying books until the new year really. Then somehow I just started buying them again and it has snowballed.

I think it’s a bit like when people go on a diet and do very well at it, until they relax a bit and before they know it, they’re even heavier than they were before they started on the diet.

I’ve had book buying binges recently and I just know that I’ll end up having bought more than 52 books by the end of 2011. So by the time I’ve got through my 2011 reading list from my TBR pile – my book pile will be even bigger.

Why isn’t there a Bookaholics Anonymous? And what would reaching rock bottom be for a book buyer?