Several years ago I ended up with several boxes of some of my mother’s books that had been stored away after she died in 1974. Some moisture had seeped in during their long hibernation, so some were stained and warped at the edges.
How they got there is anybody’s guess. They were quickly stashed away and as quickly forgotten, I imagine, when my father sold his house. None of us could have done the easy thing, and thrown them away. Because they were books. And because they had belonged to someone we loved.
It’s an assemblage of titles that might have been found in any bookshop in America from the 1930s until the early 1970s. Very few are important volumes that bibliophiles will appreciate being saved.
Yet, to me, they are priceless.
I remember pulling them down one by one from our bookshelves when I was a child, probably wondering what my mother’s fascination with them could have been. A few of the oldest, predating me by a decade and more, were wartime issues so the paper was inferior and by the time I came along to inspect them, the pages had mellowed into a brittle, pie crust brown. Some of the back covers bore, along with a photograph of the author, an encouragement to buy war bonds.
Once they were out of their boxes and in my house, I set myself the goal of reading them, because I had a notion that some of my mother might be hidden away in the little cache of mostly forgotten literature. Maybe in how their stories might have reflected or modified or encouraged her own. After all, many of the books that I’ve read have done those things for me – tough moral stances have sometimes been made easier because I’d met Atticus Finch, and I find myself craving too many rich pasta dishes when reading a whodunit set in Venice by Donna Leon – so surely it was so for her.
As I’ve been reading them, I’ve tried to not see the stories, dated and sometimes predictable, through the eyes of an author and English teacher. Instead, I’ve imagined my mother reading them first when their pages were crisp and their covers sharp.
Books and reading were lifelines in her journey, and knowing when she would have read these (I’m pretty certain she read every book that came to her as soon as she received it) and what was happening in her life hopefully indicates which ones gave her pleasure, reassurance and maybe hope in times good and bad. She had favorite authors – five are by A. J. Cronin – and certain rules (not one page in any volume is dogeared to mark her place; usually she used a piece of a tissue for that). Other than a few memoirs, anthologies and some cookbooks (she read them cover to cover, wanting history and culture as much as recipes), these are all works of fiction.
These are the titles, listed chronologically in order of their publication:
1929 O. E. Rolvaag: Giants in the Earth
1935 The Great American Parade (anthology of stories and poems)
1936 William Sydney Porter: The Complete Works of O. Henry
1937 W. Somerset Maugham: Cosmopolitans (short stories)
1941 Phyllis Bottome: London Pride
1942 James Hilton: Random Harvest
1943 Betty Smith: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
1943 Roundup Time: A Collection of Southwestern Writing (anthology)
1944 Ben Ames Williams: Leave Her to Heaven
1944 I. V. Morris: Liberty Street
1945 James Hilton: So Well Remembered
1945 Robert Dean Frisbie: Amaru: A Romance of the South Seas
1945 Robert Gibbings: Lovely is the Lee
1945 Thomas B. Costain: The Black Rose
1945 Zelda Popkin: The Journey Home
1945 Sinclair Lewis: Cass Timberlane
1945 Bill Maudlin: Up Front (memoir)
1945 Jonathan M. Wainwright: General Wainwright’s Story (memoir)
1946 W. Somerset Maugham: Then and Now
1946 Thomas Surge and E. W. Starling Starling of the White House (memoir)
1947 Sinclair Lewis: Kingsblood Royal
1947 John Steinbeck: The Wayward Bus
1947 Samuel Shellabarger: Prince of Foxes
1948 W. Somerset Maugham: Catalina
1948 A. J. Cronin: Shannon’s Way
1940 Esther Warner: New Song in as Strange Land (memoir)
1949 Sinclair Lewis: The God-Seeker
1951 James Hilton: Morning Journey
1950 A. J. Cronin: Beyond This Place
1950 W. Somerset Maugham: The Maugham Reader (anthology)
1953 Ruth Moore: A Fair Wind Home
1954 Frank Yerby: Benton’s Row
1958 Ruth Hutchison: The Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook
1958 A. J. Cronin: The Northern Light
1961 Gertrude Booth: Kings in the Kitchen: Favorite Recipes of Famous Men (cookbook)
1961 Paula Peck: Art of Good Cooking (cookbook)
1964 A. J. Cronin: A Song of Sixpence
1964 Tom Lea: The Hands of Cantu
1966 Joseph Wechsberg: Blue Trout and Black Truffles: Peregrinations of an Epicure
1969 A. J. Cronin: A Pocketful of Rye
1969 Fulton Miller: German Cookbook for Texans *I bought this in an Army PX and sent it to her from Bavaria in 1972
1974 Lee Foster (ed.): The New York Times Correspondent’s Choice (cookbook) * this one arrived too late for her to read it; she died in early January of 1974
One thought on “Quinda’s Books”
I remember reading Frank Yerby’s “The Saracen Blade” when I was a teenager. I found it on a shelf and I believe it was either my dad’s or his mother’s. It was such a good book and I wish I knew what happened to it. I’d read it again.