November 2006 Archives


All those who, like me, ate up Nancy Drew books as kids, will love this intriguing real story behind the fictional sleuth. Although it does shatter the myth of "Carolyn Keene" (a pseudonym invented by Edward Stratemeyer, owner of the powerhouse Stratemeyer Syndicate), it replaces her with three even more satisfying women: Mildred Wirt, the ambitious tomboy from small-town Iowa who ghostwrote the Nancy Drew books for $85 to $125 per book, with no royalties or rights to her work; Harriet Otis Smith, secretary to Edward Stratemeyer who kept the Syndicate running at the beginning of the Great Depression; and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, who took over the Syndicate after her father's death and ran it with a firm if slightly paranoid hand, radically revising and shortening Nancy's adventures during the 1960's. I found the stories of the dynamics among the characters during shifting and difficult times, as well as the Stratemeyer system of outlining plots and shipping them off to ghostwriters, to be captivating.

I first learned the secret of the Stratemeyer Syndicate from Carole Kismaric's The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and got the nitty-gritty background details from Diedre Johnson's Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer Syndicate, but Girl Sleuth is by far the most thorough and engaging history of Nancy and her creators thus far. Melanie Rehak does a great job of outlining the pertinent historical framework and relating it back to the specific stories of individual women and men involved with Nancy's story. This is especially true when relating the history of feminism and anti-feminism in America to the evolution of Nancy Drew and her creators. Overall, very interesting and well-written.

Library Tuesdays: Mrs. Dalloway

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In the spirit of giving thanks for some of the best things in our lives, I decided to include my short review of:

Mrs. Dalloway
by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway is very special. I know that some people hate it, but I cannot comprehend that. To me it is the most beautiful, perfectly-realized novel in the English (or perhaps any) language, and reading it convinced me that art is worth making. The use of language; the subtle ways in which communication is difficult, effortless, impossible or transcendent for the different characters at different times; the ways that compromise is both heartbreaking and gorgeous; the anger and love; the gifts that people give one another without realizing it; the way that simple objects become fraught with real significance and everyday, domestic scenes become beautiful moments to treasure...the hat-making scene! The scene where Peter and Clarissa roam in and out of each others' thoughts! The way that everyone in London is interconnected! Elizabeth's ride on the bus! Clarissa's explanation of why she wants to give the party! Every sentence in this novel is gorgeous, the book as a whole is one of the most scathing-yet-kind, brutal-yet-beautiful true inventions I have ever come across.

Library Tuesdays: China Doctor of John Day, Oregon

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China Doctor of John Day, Oregon
by Jeffrey Barlow and Christine Richardson

This is a fascinating look at two enterprising Chinese immigrants to the small gold-mining town of John Day, Oregon, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, Ing "Doc" Hay and Lung On were servicing a flourishing Chinatown with their general store and Chinese apothecary. (They also sold fireworks, booze, opium, and, later on, motorcars.) But as the gold veins dried up, the Chinese immigrants moved to bigger cities, and the two entrepreneurs ended up catering to the largely white settler population. For many years, Doc Hay was the only medical practitioner for many miles, and he often cured ailments that western medicine had given up as lost causes. "China Doctor" addresses issues like the gender imbalance in Chinatown and the West in general; Hay's diagnostic methods; and the complex and blatant racism toward and within the Chinese community in rural Oregon during the early part of the 20th century.

The general store that the two men ran was in operation until Hay's death in the 1960's, and is still intact and available to visit as a museum. The story of these two remarkable men is a very interesting read, both for their individual histories, and for the snapshot of cultural history it provides.

Library Tuesdays: The Little Prince

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I recently joined LibraryThing, an ultra-cool (to me) online service that lets you catalog and tag all your books. They even have a selection of different covers so you can pick out the one that matches your actual copy of the book--and if yours isn't already uploaded, you can scan it in yourself.

There are so many cool things possible with this site, especially for someone who, like me, is interested in book-indexing and library science in general. Because of the tags, I can now pull up a list of all my books that feature first-person narrators, all works involving father-daughter relationships as a main theme, or all those which are instructional in nature (cookbooks, knitting patterns, etc.). I can see easily how many Modernist works I own versus how many Victorian works, how many works that I consider to be "witty," and how many that are concerned with mental illness.

The lists I end up with are sometimes very surprising, juxtaposing books that I would never think to put together. Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye, Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? All feature prominent father/son relationships. Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, and Morrison's The Bluest Eye? All are told by a first-person narrator about another person. The fun is endless! (I am serious, but you don't have to be.)

LibraryThing also allows you to write reviews of your books, and in honor of this fabulous new discovery (and all the LibraryThingers who have been linking to this blog--Hi y'all!), I thought I would start posting the reviews I write for it on Tuesdays. Some of these will be quite short, some may be way too long, but they will all be about books that I love (why else would I bother, really?). I love that LibraryThing has encouraged me to revisit some old loves. So, without further ado, I give you my little rave about:

The Little Prince
by Antoine Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince never fails to make me cry now that I'm an adult, although it didn't when I was a kid. I think the difference is that now I've had to let go of things I really loved. The fox that wants the Little Prince to tame him so they can be friends, even though he knows that the Prince has to leave him eventually and then he'll be's such a simple, bittersweet parable of deciding to live life fully even though it means you're sure to get hurt.

I love the bravery of the Little Prince when he travels among strange "grownup" customs, and when he explains that he needs to die in order to return to his home, but that the narrator will always remember him when he looks up at the sky or sees waving fields of wheat.

I also love the circular logic of the drunkard, and the absurd miser who counts his stars even though they'll never do him any good and saying he owns them is obviously ridiculous. And how the Little Prince has to guard so carefully against baobab trees, or they'll destroy his tiny planet. Can't we all relate to guarding that tiny, beloved part of our lives against disaster?

And when the Little Prince can tell what the narrator's drawing is, after everyone always thinks it's a hat! Isn't it the most special thing in the world when you meet someone who can see and understand the world you've created? Someone who is enthusiastic about the things you imagine?

I think The Little Prince is about how we must live carefully, in a way that's full of love, in order to live well, and how we also must accept that living well will mean feeling heartbreak as well as happiness.

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link to Wolves 2011 reading list
link to more disgust bibliography