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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vintage Books Can Be Fun Reads

A cozy corner for reading
old (and new) books...
In the past few months, I have found myself surprisingly drawn to vintage books.  Why surprisingly?  Because in years past, I generally found myself bored by older fiction.  Let me be a little clearer - I am not talking about classic literature here.  I am talking to the general, popular fiction that might have been serialized in the magazines of the day.  Things that are often very much related to their own time and place.  Now, I see just how wrong I was!

It all started with a 1935 Ladies Home Journal and a story by one Beatrice Burton Morgan.  The Mainspring was a popular book about a family of two rather spoiled, adult children and the dull but satisfying life of their parents.  It explored that long held problem of children who have taken their parents love and sacrifices entirely for granted.  It was one of those pieces that really captured the imagination and took you to an entirely different time and place.  The descriptions of interiors, foods, clothing and other details was specific enough to evoke clear, colorful images.  Unfortunately, I cannot find the next two month's magazines to finish the serialization!  Even worse, a copy of the book is $75 online.  I'm hoping that I'll just find it out of the blue one day.

This review of retro magazines continued as we looked through our old Christmas issues - Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, Better Homes and Gardens - and brought us to Gladys Taber.  Any of you that have popped over from Susan Branch's blog will recognize the name of Mrs. Taber.  Susan has written eloquently about her and many of the quotes is Ms. Branch's work come from Gladys.  (Visit her tribute via this link.)

Gladys Taber at her stove
at Stillmeadow...  Now that I
look at her, she looks just like my
great-aunt Ardie...

Gladys Taber was a New Englander by choice.  Well-travelled throughout the United States in her childhood, Gladys came to her Connecticut farm, Stillmeadow, from New York City in search of fresh air and freedom for her child and dogs.  Stillmeadow was actually a joint purchase made by the Tabers (Gladys later divorced Mr. Taber) and another couple.  By the time Taber was single, her longtime friend and co-owner of Stillmeadow, Jill, was widowed and the women created a close-knit family of children and pets at the secluded farm.

Taber was a prolific writer of plays, poems and both fiction and non-fiction.  Best remembered for her series of descriptions of life at Stillmeadow and the varied nature that surrounded it, Gladys was the inspiration for the main character, Elizabeth Lane, in Christmas in Connecticut, although in reality, the similarities are nebulous at best.  In her own Stillmeadow books, Gladys Taber takes us through day to day life in her centuries old farmhouse, keeping us abreast of the seasons, the decorations, the natural world and her relationships with friends and relatives.  We learn about her writing, the delicious foods that she cooks and the joys and challenges of living in such an ancient (to us Americans) dwelling.  After reading just a few pages of Taber's books, you might feel more like a warmly received friend than a distant reader.

Gladys Taber was also well-known for her monthly columns in Ladies Home Journal called Diary of Domesticity (started in 1937) called Butternut Wisdom in Family Circle (1959-1967).  If you happen to find issues of these magazines, skip write to Taber's pieces for a cozy treat.

The inspiration for the stories that further
inspired I Love Lucy...

Other recent literary finds include the very funny Mr. and Mrs. Cugat:  The Record of a Happy Marriage by Isabel Scott Rorick.  I don't know why this book stood out as I perused the shelves of the local thrift store, but I'm glad it did.  The Cugats, a purely fictional couple, became the models for Lucille Ball's fabulous radio show My Favorite Husband which, in turn, was the basis for I Love Lucy.  Indeed, as you read through the book you will find Mrs. Cugat in situations that you might think could only have happened to Lucy Ricardo!

(Here's a little sample of My Favorite Husband...  be warned, it's 28 minutes long...  but worth it!)

Bess Streeter Aldrich,
a very demure looking
Mid-Western writer...  her
books are far more entertaining than
you might think from this picture!

Finally, for today, Bess Street Aldrich books...  I've already written a bit about Aldrich's Christmas anthology, Journey Into Christmas, but also came across another of her books, The Cutters.  The Cutters is the charming and simple story of a very normal Midwestern family in the 1920's.  While the book was written over eighty years ago, readers will find themselves relating to everything they read.  Short stories about envy, childrearing, jealousy and other mundane family matters are made witty by Streeter's deft hand.  Each chapter is a story within itself, always coming to a satisfying conclusion.

What all of these books share is a sort of simplicity.  An appreciation of the small, simple things that make our lives interesting and, if we take a moment to really look, quite funny.  In most cases, these are not tales of woe and grief, rather they are stories of life as it really was, and generally still is. 

If you are looking for a cozy winter read, and don't really want to work to awfully hard for literary enjoyment and satisfaction, these books might just fit the bill!

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