Author Edward Payson Roe

One of E.P. Roe’s most popular novels is Barriers Burned Away. In my last post I shared my thoughts on the novel, and how a visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871 inspired him to write it.

This fascinating book was actually his first attempt at writing a novel!


Colbert (1871) p287 Chicago in Ruins, source British Library, public domain

Any history buffs out there?

If you want more information about the Chicago Fire of 1871 (which actually burned for three days, incredible!), I have two recommendations. This excellent multimedia WTTW PBS website, and this website which also includes literature, art and cycloramas, eyewitness accounts, the O’Leary Legend, souvenirs, media coverage and commemorations.

Barriers Burned Away (1872)

Like several novels I have read from this period of time, Barriers Burned Away showcases the talent and the standard of excellence of one of the many great authors in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

And, surprisingly, Barriers Burned Away is relatively well-known today among vintage novel readers, and in my opinion, based on the excellence of his writing, it is a classic.

WorldCat publication graph for E.P. Roe

WorldCat.org provides publication graphs for many authors, including E.P. Roe, as shown below. Interesting to see how publication of his works is high in the 2020’s. In fact, it’s almost as high as in the 1880’s!

At the time of his death in 1888, his publishers estimated that over 1,400,000 copies of his novels had been sold in the United States and abroad.

1878 Reviews of Barriers Burned Away

Diorama of 1871 Chicago Fire – Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

Imagining, and writing, for a purpose

Public domain, Wikidata

Here are portions of a speech given by Dr. Lyman Abbot, an assistant to E.P. Roe, at his memorial. This was recorded in E. P. Roe: Reminiscences of His Life, a book written by his daughter, Mary.

“It is of the latter aspect of his life I wish to speak for a few moments only, in an endeavor to interpret his service to the great American people by his pen through literature.

The chief function of the imagination is to enable us to realize actual scenes with which we are not familiar. This is an important service.

It is well that you who live in these quiet and peaceful scenes should know what is the wretchedness of some of your fellow beings in the slums of New York. It is well that your sympathies should be broadened and deepened, and that you should know the sorrow, the struggle that goes on in those less favored homes.

God has given us imagination in order that we may have noble ideals set before us, and yet ideals so linked to actual life that they shall become inseparable.

That fiction is the highest which by the imagination makes real to our thought the common affairs of life, and yet so blends them with noble ideals that we are able to go back into life with a larger, a nobler, and a more perfect faith.

Dr. Lyman Abbot, quoted by Mary Abigail Roe (1899), in E. P. Roe: Reminiscences of His Life. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 232–233.

You can read another excellent biography here.

More than an author, “Near to Nature’s Heart”

The more I learned about him, the more I admired E.P. Roe (March 7, 1838 – July 19, 1888). He wasn’t just a respected clergyman, author, and historian, he was also admired for his accomplishments in the field of horticulture.

There is a plaque in Edward Payson Roe Memorial Park in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, commemorating his work. The park is part of the property he owned, where he came for a quiet place.

Atlas Obscura offers more photos and some biographical information, with the amusing sub-heading, “A plaque on a rock dedicated to a famous, forgotten author, and put in an impossible place.”

One fan of E.P. Roe made a YouTube video with some biographical commentary here. (A note about the video: it starts out blurry but that only lasts for the first 20 seconds or so, the rest is great.) Included in the video is the claim that at one time E.P. Roe’s books outsold those of his contemporary, Mark Twain!

Here is a great post at The Deliberate Agrarian regarding Roe’s interests in horticulture. I found that he had written several books from 1873 to 1888 on the subject: Play and Profit in my Garden, Success with Small Fruits, The Home Acre, Found Yet Lost. Some of these are available to buy or to read for free.

Here’s hoping you are inspired to “meet” this extraordinary man in some of these ways!

Review of Barriers Burned Away; remembering the1871 Chicago Fire

A visit to Chicago not long after the Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871–151 years ago today–touched the heart of the author, Edward Payson Roe, and inspired him to write this novel, published in 1872.

Diorama of 1871 Chicago Fire – Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

He seems to have asked himself:

How would people respond in a crisis that affected a community regardless of social rank, and how would the tragedy change them and their community, for better or worse?

…and…

How important are some of our typical pursuits—pleasure, popularity, recognition, wealth, and entertainment–compared to a day-by-day inner awareness of our value as a human being, our purpose on this earth, a sense of peace, and a realistic, solid basis of hope and security?

This is quite an extraordinary novel, and I LOVED IT. So much so that I now have this and several other E.P. Roe novels on my Kindle. (And I have given my used hardcover copy to a dear friend who loved the last 19th century novel I gave her!)

It is a detailed book about one of the things in our lives that we don’t necessarily focus on, but which is one of the most important: our spiritual life.

In this story a young man, Dennis, needs to leave his struggling family so he can make money to support them. He leaves his quiet rural area and moves to Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S. in 1871, when the story takes place.

Dennis and Christine work together at an art gallery, and have similar interests in art, including creating their own paintings. She and her father (the owner) are from a very wealthy European family, and look down on the newly hired young man with the worn-out clothes. Naturally Dennis is frustrated by that, but his value system isn’t based on popularity and people-pleasing, and he can still be relatively content at work while he earns enough to live on.

He has a heart of gold, and if he finds someone in his neighborhood or place of work that he can help, he pours his heart into it. So even in the unfriendly city he is never without genuine friends that support him. 

Perhaps this is the kind of art on their art gallery walls?
(Frederick Walker, The Old Farm Garden, 1871, public domain, picryl.com)

In time, Christine and the others at work are impressed by Dennis’s kindnesses, and the way Dennis respects himself. They notice he doesn’t compromise his values by mistreating them, regardless of how disrespectfully they treat him.

When Christine pretends to be falling in love with him in order to use him for her own purposes, Dennis calls her on it, scolding her for her rudeness and manipulation. It may be the first time in her life that she hears the truth about herself. She is further frustrated by her artistic limitations, seeming to be unable to paint an authentic expression of love on her canvas. She takes to heart Dennis’s words: “The stream cannot rise higher than its fountain.”

Dennis becomes seriously ill and is away from work for a while. During that time Christine realizes how much she cares for him, but her artistic and social ambitions take precedence over a relationship.

Then… the fire rages through Chicago with complete disregard to social status, providing a crucible for burning up the dross in many lives.

Chicago in Flames, by Currier and Ives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Where to find the book

The fact that it is so prevalent online attests to its past and present popularity.

You can read it for free, or download it in various formats, at Gutenberg.org, Standard eBooks, By the Fireplace, Internet Archive and Free Pages. You can buy hardcover and softcover versions (including facsimile reprints) at the usual places, such as Amazon and AbeBooks, for very reasonable prices.

Here is a short blurb about the book on an excellent website about the Chicago Fire, which includes a sample chapter (caution: spoiler).

There are also descriptions of Roe’s books offered by a fan at this LibriVox Forum page.

Videos and Audio of the book

Here is a video included in the series “You Are There” by Walter Cronkite in the 1950s (scroll down to the bottom of the post for the video).

A silent movie was made based (loosely!) on the novel in 1925
1930s film based on the novel

Next post…

In my next post I will share what I’ve found about the Chicago Fire, the extraordinary talents and interests of author E.P. Roe, and more!

Happy reading!

Best Books Ever at Project Gutenberg

I can’t say enough about the riches found in Project Gutenberg! I have found, downloaded and happily read loads of their books in Kindle format, online, or in pdf form–ALL for FREE.

Here I want to whet your appetite by pointing you to some lists of books. But before you delve into the lists below, keep in mind that you can subscribe to their monthly newsletter here, and learn some of the history of their beginnings starting in 1971.

Go ahead and dive into one of these books that you’ve heard of and always meant to read. Challenge yourself to read straight through to at least the end of the first chapter before you decide whether to keep reading or not.

I have done that challenge many, many times with classic books that I was convinced would be dry and dense, and repeatedly been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became engaged in the story, and what an uplifting experience it was through to the end!

Whether you need a certain classic, or are just looking for your next quality read, here are the top books as of today in their “Best Books Ever” category, sorted by popularity. (Check out my recommendations after the lists!)

I concur with the recommendations of …

Pride and Prejudice (believe me, the book is far better than any of the movie adaptations!),

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (my sons laughed throughout the book as I read it out loud for bedtime),

Great Expectations (had to read it for high school and assumed it would be awful, but it turned out I just couldn’t put it down, loved it),

Treasure Island (not just for boys! this middle-aged woman loved it)

Don Quixote (see my reviews here and here)

[However, I did not enjoy reading Heart of Darkness. It was miserable and depressing and I didn’t find any redeeming qualities to make the misery worthwhile.]

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

OR

Looking for a top quality author? Or more to read by a favorite author?

Check out their Top 100 Authors listing below. Here’s the listing for the past 30 days (showing how many downloads in parentheses).

I have taken the liberty of highlighting authors I am familiar with, who–in MY opinion–are well worth checking out!
Dickens, Charles (81172)
Austen, Jane (80746)

Doyle, Arthur Conan (61764)
Rizal, José (53999)
Twain, Mark (53385)
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (52126)
Wilde, Oscar (52108)
Carroll, Lewis (42389)
Shakespeare, William (39548)
Stevenson, Robert Louis (36602)
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (32567)
Tolstoy, Leo, graf (31347)

Wells, H. G. (Herbert George) (31254)
Garnett, Constance (30801)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott) (26219)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (25917)
Stoker, Bram (25517)
Melville, Herman (25289)
Homer (24437)
Swift, Jonathan (24071)
Joyce, James (23551)
Ibsen, Henrik (23352)
Dumas, Alexandre (22586)
Verne, Jules (21986)
Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank) (21911)
Derbyshire, Charles E. (20733)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel (20472)
Poe, Edgar Allan (20391)
Plato (20198)
Conrad, Joseph (20073)
Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud) (20052)
Kipling, Rudyard (19601)
Jowett, Benjamin (18832)
Poblete, Pascual Hicaro (18331)
Doré, Gustave (17892)
Maude, Aylmer (17481)
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (17243)
London, Jack (17154)
Dante Alighieri (17126)
Kafka, Franz (16810)
Maude, Louise (16807)
Hugo, Victor (16457)
Russell, Bertrand (16273)
James, Henry (15588)
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (15522)
Brontë, Charlotte (15493)
Lang, Andrew (15453)
Alcott, Louisa May (15174)
Christie, Agatha (15079)
Grimm, Jacob (14913)
Grimm, Wilhelm (14913)
Wyllie, David (Translator) (14731)
Pope, Alexander (14606)
Widger, David (14370)
Shaw, Bernard (14218)
Smith, George O. (George Oliver) (13910)
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de (13495)
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich (13465)
Townsend, F. H. (Frederick Henry) (13061)
Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville) (12939)
Defoe, Daniel (12384)
Kemble, E. W. (Edward Windsor) (12317)
Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew) (12303)
Thoreau, Henry David (12279)
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (12162)
Butler, Samuel (12038)
Balzac, Honoré de (12009)
Morley, Henry (11852)
Machiavelli, Niccolò (11814)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson (11444)
Leech, John (11381)
Thompson, Max C. (11273)
Craig, Austin (11177)
Hapgood, Isabel Florence (10761)
Hardy, Thomas (10757)
Emshwiller, Ed (10504)
Foote, Mary Hallock (10472)
Maupassant, Guy de (10459)
Marriott, W. K. (William Kenaz) (10443)
Scott, Walter (10377)
Burton, Richard Francis, Sir (10361)
Ipsen, Ludvig Sandöe (10344)
Anthony, A. V. S. (Andrew Varick Stout) (10344)
Mariano, Patricio (10191)
Bacon, Alice Mabel (10092)
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) (10064)
Irving, Washington (10058)
Wharton, Edith (9947)
Buckley, Theodore Alois (9908)
Cary, Henry Francis (9638)
Robertson, James Alexander (9558)
Ormsby, John (9378)
Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander) (9168)
Burgess, Thornton W. (Thornton Waldo) (9006)
Eliot, George (8998)
Ogden, C. K. (Charles Kay) (8808)
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (8770)
Blair, Emma Helen (8735)
Burroughs, Edgar Rice (8671)
Bourne, Edward Gaylord (8592)

HAPPY READING!

Writing advice from some of Alcott’s characters

As I was enjoying a short story by Louisa May Alcott, I found spirited conversations among the characters about reading and writing. I seriously doubt that it was the author’s intention to pass along writing tips in her story, but I got a kick out of the subtle wisdom and commentaries on the writing life included in the dialogue!

No doubt many fiction writers have received responses similar to the ones below, even from well-meaning non-authors. And maybe there’s some truth in them! You decide…

A little background to the story: Sophie’s aunt had invited her to visit for several weeks in “the wilds of Vermont”, and Sophie in turn invites some of her city friends to join her during the holiday. The friends arrive and meet Saul, who works on the farm. They invite him to share his war experiences with Randal, one of their friends from the city…

* * * *

It took you how long to write your novel?!

Saul responds politely to their request. “When I’ve foddered the cattle and done my chores I’d be pleased to. What regiment were you in?” asked Saul.

Randal replied, “In none. I was abroad at the time.”

“Sick?”

“No, busy with a novel.”

“Took four years to write it?”

“I was obliged to travel and study before I could finish it. These things take more time to work up than outsiders would believe.”

“Seems to me our war was a finer story than any you could find in Europe, and the best way to study it would be to fight it out. If you want heroes and heroines you’d have found plenty of ’em there.”

A pleasant surprise, and appreciation for novels

“Tell us about your book, we have been reading it as it comes out in the magazine, and are much exercised about how it’s going to end,” began Saul.

“Do you really read my poor serial up here, and do me the honor to like it?” asked the novelist, both flattered and amused, for his work was of the aesthetic sort, microscopic studies of character, and careful pictures of modern life.

“Sakes alive, why shouldn’t we?” cried Aunt Plumy. [For Aunt Plumy I translate from the colloquial] “We have some education…a town library…magazines…Our winter is long and evenings would be kind of lonesome if we didn’t have novels and newspapers to cheer ’em up.”

Randal replies, “I am very glad I can help to beguile them for you. Now tell me what you honestly think of my work? Criticism is always valuable, and I should really like yours, Mrs. Basset,” said Randal, wondering what the good woman would make of the delicate analysis and worldly wisdom on which he prided himself.

“Criticism is always valuable to an author”… unless…

Aunt Plumy…rather enjoyed freeing her mind at all times, and decidedly resented the insinuation that country folk could not appreciate light literature as well as city people. “I’m not a great judge…but it really does seem as if some of your men and women are dreadfully uncomfortable creatures.

It seems to me it isn’t wise to be always picking ourselves to pieces and prying into things that ought to come gradually by way of experience and the visitations of Providence. Flowers won’t bloom…if you pull them open. It’s better to wait and see what they can do alone.”

Aunt Plumy continued. “I do feel as if books would be more sustaining if they were full of every-day people and things, like good bread and butter. The books that go to the heart and aren’t soon forgotten are the kind I like. Miss Terry’s books*, now, and Miss Stowe’s, and Dickens’s Christmas pieces, they are real sweet and cheering, to my mind.”

Randal… was quite composed and laughed good-naturedly, though secretly feeling as if a pail of cold water had been poured over him.

[* Just a short note, Miss [Harriet Beecher] Stowe and Dickens we’ve heard of, but I was curious about who “Miss Terry” could be. I believe she could have been the author Rose Terry Cook (1827-1892) who lived in Connecticut, the next-door state to where Alcott lived. And Cook was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who Alcott’s parents knew.]

Differing opinions about making a living

Randal responds, “Many thanks, madam; you have discovered my weak point with surprising accuracy. But you see I cannot help ‘picking folks to pieces,’ as you have expressed it; that is my gift, and it has its attractions, as the sale of my books will testify. People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and as that is the only sort my oven will bake, I must keep on in order to make my living.”

Aunt Plumy adds, “So rum-sellers say, but it ain’t a good trade to follow, and I’d chop wood before I’d earn my living harming my fellow man.

I’d let my oven cool a spell, and hunt up some homely, happy folks to write about; folks that don’t borrow trouble and go looking for holes in their neighbors’ coats, but take their lives brave and cheerful; and remembering we are all human, have pity on the weak, and try to be as full of mercy, patience and loving kindness as Him who made us.

That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening and make them that read it love the man that wrote it, and remember him when he was dead and gone.”

A frustrated author, realizes he’s not writing what he wants to write

“I wish I could!” and Randal meant what he said, for he was as tired of his own style as a watch-maker might be of the magnifying glass through which he strains his eyes all day. He knew that the heart was left out of his work, and that both mind and soul were growing morbid with dwelling on the faulty, absurd and metaphysical phases of life and character.

He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more; but he loved ease and the books brought money readily; he was accustomed to the stimulant of praise and missed it as the toper [drinker] misses his wine, so that which had once been a pleasure to himself and others was fast becoming a burden and a disappointment.

The joy of unexpected support

The brief pause which followed his involuntary betrayal of discontent was broken by Ruth, who exclaimed, with a girlish enthusiasm that overpowered girlish bashfulness, “I think all the novels are splendid! I hope you will write hundreds more, and I shall live to read ’em.”

“Bravo, my gentle champion! I promise that I will write one more at least, and have a heroine in it whom your mother will both admire and love,” answered Randal, surprised to find how grateful he was for the girl’s approval, and how rapidly his trained fancy began to paint the background on which he hoped to copy this fresh, human daisy.

Saul brought the conversation back to its starting point by saying in a tone of the most sincere interest, “Speaking of the serial, I am very anxious to know how your hero comes out. He is a fine fellow, and I can’t decide whether he is going to spoil his life marrying that silly woman, or do something grand and generous, and not be made a fool of.”

How does an author know how to end the story?

“Upon my soul,” Randal said, “I don’t know myself. It is very hard to find new finales. Can’t you suggest something, Major? Then I shall not be obliged to leave my story without an end, as people complain I am rather fond of doing.”

“Well, no, I don’t think I’ve anything to offer. Seems to me it isn’t the sensational exploits that show the hero best, but some great sacrifice quietly made by a common sort of man who is noble without knowing it. I saw a good many such during the war, and often wish I could write them down, for it is surprising how much courage, goodness and real piety is stowed away in common folks ready to show when the right time comes.”

“Tell us one of them, and I’ll bless you for a hint. No one knows the anguish of an author’s spirit when he can’t ring down the curtain on an effective tableau,” said Randal.

* * * *

Thank you, Miss Alcott, for sharing your wisdom in such an entertaining way!

Louisa May Alcott

Was that helpful or inspiring? I hope if nothing else, you got a chuckle!

My favorite lines:

Now tell me honestly what you think of my work.

…Flowers won’t bloom if you pull them open.

…That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening.

People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and …that is the only sort my oven will bake…

He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more.

Louisa May Alcott’s characters

If you care to read the whole short story, you can find the pdf online by going here to find Alcott’s short stories, then search for “A Country Christmas”.

I was also interested to find a letter that Louisa May Alcott wrote to a fan who asked for her advice on achieving success.

And here, a blogger gleans writing lessons from Louisa May Alcott’s journal, along with secrets to her success.

Happy writing! And happy reading!

Thank you awesome photographers! Image credits:

Winter country painting: George Henry Durrie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,

Writing Photo by Negative Space at Pexels

Girl reading Photo by Marko Milivojevic on Pixnio ,

Fireplace and book Photo by Mohamed Hassan from PxHere

Love in a Little Town by J.E. Buckrow

It’s February, the month we celebrate love, and here is a most fitting book to celebrate.

Celia Bassingdale was about to take a long journey—the longest on earth—from the unreal to the real.

First line

Celia’s romantic interest in a young man (whom her grandfather was convinced was only after the fortune she would inherit when he died) prompted a bitter argument between her mother and grandfather. Attempting to right his wrongs, and help build some strong, admirable character in his granddaughter–even at the risk of losing the affection of this beloved girl forever–Grandfather decides to tear Celia away from her sweetheart. He sends her to live with his poor relatives, the Wallerby’s, who are hardworking, respectable people. Furious, she vows never to speak to her Grandfather again.

Celia struggles to meet the challenge of being forced to leave her comfy life to live with strangers. Yet she comes to admire the devotion this family and community have for each other, and their joy in spite of the hard sacrifices they must make. The women of the town’s wealthy society spread ugly, hurtful rumors about her, and twist her good intentions into appearing to be something shameful. Celia’s heart is captured by good-hearted Robert Wayne who works with Mr.Wallerby, and the feelings are mutual. But, although he loves her, he is not wealthy enough to marry anyone, especially a woman who comes from a wealthy family. In the midst of this time, Celia grieves severing her relationship with the one dearest to her, Grandfather.

The author has a deep understanding of human motivation, weakness and strength. Her story inspires readers to focus on what matters the most in life. This beautifully written book is full of warmth, humor, suspense, determination, struggles, honor, family bonds and the most genuine kind of love.

Such a unique cover!

The previous owner wrote their own response in pencil: “Nice quiet book.” That, plus the title of the novel, made me decide to buy it. And it was nice, and quiet, and did not disappoint! Thank you, fellow book lover, for the tip!

The previous owner added her own response, and some nice little poetry clippings

I raved about Love in a Little Town to a close friend, and she–shockingly–wanted to read it for her Christmas holiday book. Even though it is a plain-looking hardcover book written in 1911, and she doesn’t usually read novels like this, she couldn’t put it down. She read it in half the time I did, and loved it, and is ready for more vintage fiction!

Surprise! A clover tucked into one page. Is it from 1911 too???

I get the feeling this is not a very well-known book. Mine is the only review for it on Goodreads , and if you’re interested, you can find a few of my other reviews there. You can get the eBook for free at Google Books , and on Amazon ($41 and up).

Another book by the author

If you haven’t delved into the increasingly popular vintage fiction, this would be a great one to start with! Happy reading, friends!

When Choosing Fiction, Don’t Settle for Less

To borrow and repurpose a related quote:

The book you want exists. Don’t settle until you find it.

It’s fun to browse around the library’s “New and Notable” shelves. I read plenty of classic fiction so I appreciate it when others recommend new novels and authors. But I have noticed something in the past five years or so. Not all of them of course, but the newest books seem more often than not to be dark or depressing. 

What’s going on?

Over the past year I’ve tried to find out what is going on in the literary community to cause such a change. I haven’t found a solid answer yet, but I have some ideas.

First, entertainment–which includes literature–reflects society’s view of life and the world. I have noticed the trend toward dark, serious subjects in movies and TV shows as well. For someone like me growing up on an after-school fare of Sheriff Andy Taylor, Lucy, and Gilligan, it’s quite a switch to see innocent, unsophisticated sitcoms replaced by shows about deadly serious crimes and toxic relationships.

Different generations have different tastes in entertainment. These tastes are brought about by world events, education, morals and religious faith, the condition of the family, changes in the workplace and technology, and many other influences in life. I think the increasing speed of life alone causes boredom with the old, slower ways, which drives many to seek more stimulating, intense entertainment. 

I Wonder

And I wonder… What kinds of books are teachers choosing for their students, from Grade 1 to 12? Here is a great article by an upper school teacher, explaining why she thinks people of all ages ought read sad books, and another article by a student who has the opposite opinion.

I also wonder… What kinds of writing themes are writing teachers choosing for their students, in high school and post secondary schools? Is it a fad to write dark?

For a while, from curiosity, the need for novelty, and a bit of laziness, I SETTLED for new fiction that wasn’t really what I wanted to read. I trusted the recommendations, brought home many brand-new novels, devoted precious evening time, and waded right in. Surprisingly, many caused me to shudder and close the cover after reading a few chapters, and being completely blind-sided by the relaxed, casual mention of horrifically disturbing events, relayed as if a completely natural and common occurrence in one’s day, in the same banal tone as describing what you had for breakfast. And back they went to the library!

So these changing tastes in literature remain a bit of a mystery to me, requiring more research. But as I’ve searched for good quality, enriching fiction, I have found some sunshine! 

pxfuel.com

Finding enriching fiction

Like me, many people are online looking for happy books. In addition to my own posts recommending upbeat books, many others who seek out positive reading experiences have compiled their own lists. Here are the ones I’ve found the most promising.

Positively Good Reads
Just reading Marianne Goss’s elegant description of her search for “hopeful literature with relatable characters,” is a delight in itself. She created a website called Positively Good Reads in answer to the many people who asked for her help in finding “positive literary books” that people “would actually enjoy reading.” What a relief to find this long list, and to detect a camaraderie with the author as I noticed many on her list that I own, have reviewed on my blog, or have read. I first found Marianne Goss in this 2020 post “When you need upbeat fiction,” which I also highly recommend. 

Goodreads

As expected Goodreads has plenty of lists to help you find the kinds of books you want to read. Here is just one example: a list pointing you to feel-good books that are “Light, but not (too) dumb“.

Your local Library

When I search my library for lists of “books that are not depressing” I find 3 lists; “books that are upbeat” gives 5 lists, including this list of Up-Lit for Book Clubs; “books that are positive” gives about 10 lists for various audiences; “books with happy endings” gives 9 lists for all ages; “gentle reads” gives 5 lists. No doubt your local library has its own recommendations or lists.

Library Thing

This website is filled with all kinds of book information, including lists such as this one, “Curious as to an upbeat literature list“.

Short Fiction

If you prefer short fiction, check out American Literature’s webpage, “50 Great Feel-Good Stories” or Project Gutenberg’s book, “The Best American Humorous Short Stories“. NPR received 7,000 votes for the books, stories and poems that make their readers laugh, and they compiled 100 of them in this categorized list. Also, Reedsy has a webpage entitled “1700+ Short Happy Stories to Read

A good story doesn’t need a devastating twist. Nor does it have to plumb the darkest depths of the human conditions. These happy short stories might be exactly what you’re looking for in these uncertain times.

Reedsy

Any thoughts or recommendations?

If you are looking for less depressing fiction, or if you like dark fiction, or if you have a book or short story to recommend, or if you just want to say hi, please leave a comment.

And may whatever you’re reading bring you hope, peace and inspiration!

Hedgerow Tales, Mrs. Gatty’s Parables of Nature

Of all the revived, republished classic books available, the 4 Hedgerow Tales are my favorites.

These were ahead of their time, “retold” back in the 1980s, forerunners of the latest trend. The illustrations by Sandra Fernandez are exquisite and appear on almost every page. (Note that these Hedgerow Tales are not related to Enid Blyton’s Hedgerow Tales.)

From the cover, they appear to be children’s picture books, which usually have few words. But these are fairly lengthy stories.

And as the author was schooled in the early 1800s when students were required to demonstrate an excellent vocabulary and use of language, these have more depth in the plot and a richer language than a typical picture book.  In fact, you’d probably need to read it aloud to children under 8.

The story of Charlotte the Caterpillar is about hope, faith and eternal life. Just as Charlotte learns faith from the lark’s wise words, to have faith is to be sure of things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

The theme of Benjamin Bee is contentment, and a willingness to use the particular gifts God has given us so that the whole community (in this case, the hive) works together.

The story of Robin Redbreast is about God’s provision for those who trust him, even in difficult times.

The theme of Jeremy Cricket is “the heart’s true home–heaven. “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

In the Hedgerow Tales, Pat Wynnejones retells 4 of the 29 stories from the 1855 book by Margaret Gatty, Parables of Nature.

Mrs. Gatty begins her preface to her collection of stories, Parables from Nature, with a quote from Sir Thomas Browne from his Religio Medici:

There are two books from whence I collect my divinity; besides that written one of God, another of his servant, Nature–that universal and public manuscript that lies expanded unto the eyes of all: those that never saw Him in the one have discovered Him in the other… Those strange and mystical transmigrations that I have observed in silkworms turned my philosophy into divinity. There is in these works of Nature, which seem to puzzle reason, something divine…

Mrs. Gatty was also a marine biologist.

She was well known among professional marine biologists and had several species named after her! The book she wrote in the mid-1850s, British Seaweeds, was of such high quality it was still being used in the 1950’s.

One account of her life says, “To be treated as an equal by men of science gave her a pleasure as great as any of her achievements in the literary world.” It also tells how a memorial tablet in Ecclesfield Church was raised by a public subscription by more than a thousand children ‘as a token of love and gratitude for the many books she wrote for them.’

Publishing timeline of Margaret Gatty’s books

Here is an interesting graphic from WorldCat of her publishing timeline. I love seeing how interest in her books has increased since the turn of the (21st) century!

An interesting side note is that Margaret Gatty’s daughter, Juliana Ewing, was also an accomplished writer, and lived for a time in Canada. Rudyard Kipling mentioned Juliana in his autobiography, and Henry James called her book Jackanapes “a genuine little masterpiece, a wonderful little mixture of nature and art.”

I think it’s delightful that so many homeschooling families use the classics as part of their teaching materials. AmblesideOnline, a free homeschool curriculum, includes a rephrased version of Parables of Nature here.

You can read the 450-word Parables of Nature book for free!

You can buy the four individual Hedgerow Tales books from Better World Books. I like this online bookstore because they have great service and low prices (with no shipping cost–including international shipping!). I’m partial to them because of their values and impact .”Every time you purchase a book from BetterWorldBooks.com, we donate a book to someone in need.”

You can read Parables of Nature online here , download it free to read in various formats at Internet Archive, and download the audio book at LibriVox .

Treat yourself and your family to feel-good, inspirational stories and visual feast of realistic, vibrant art!

I’d love to hear if you’ve read these, or anything like them–drop me a note below!   {{{HUGS}}}

Valentine’s Day Toss-up: Something old, something new

With all the romance novels out there, it’s hard to know where the good quality reads are.

So here are some recommendations of clean, well-written romance novels I’ve read over the past couple years.

Some are set in past history, others are set in present day, and one is both!

Calgary Zoo Conservatory - Valentine's Day 2020

 

Falling for June

by Ryan Winfield (2015)

This is a sweet story about a foreclosure clerk Elliot who meets David Hadley, an elderly man living as a hermit in rural Washington State. David needs Elliot’s help to fulfill a promise to his wife June, whom he met in his fifties at the top of a 70 story building. A unique, beautiful love story.

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Fair Game

by Elizabeth White (2007)

A classic example of me falling for the cover, but this time the image delivered what it promised! Humor, excellent writing, good plot, wholesome values and witty dialogue. Jana wants the land for wildlife rescue and Grant wants it for hunting. But God knows even stubborn enemies sometimes fall in love…

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Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler (2016)

I read this voraciously, as I do all of her books. The introverted 28-year-old devoted daughter of a brilliant microbiologist is asked to do her father a very big favor in order to help bring all of his years of research to a successful conclusion. Brilliant fun, good-hearted book!

Vinegar Girl

 

The Grand Sophy

by Georgette Heyer (1950)

Sophy is a free-spirited young woman who has been left alone far too much by her ever-traveling father, much to the consternation of proper society. A typical Georgette Heyer heroine, this one is shockingly direct and audacious. While he is overseas for an indefinite period of time, she is sent to live with stuffy relatives. They certainly don’t want her there and they look down their noses at her, but she is a take-charge gal and sets out to solve the many problems in the bedeviled family. Along the way, however, she stirs up some new problems. You can’t guess how it’s going to finish until the very end of the breathtaking roller coaster ride, in the last few pages. The version I read was 403 pages, but I didn’t want it to end. It lived up to its high rating as one of the greatest written by this best-selling author of 57 books.

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Love Letter

by Rachel Hauck (2018)

In this excellent split-time novel, a love letter is found by someone in the twenty-first century who is related to the writer of the eighteenth century love letter. It switches from authentic depictions of characters, relationships and historical events in 1780 South Carolina, to intertwined storylines in present day Los Angeles. The characters are realistic, with fallible personalities and struggles with faith. Brilliant storytelling, and suspense as the author flips back and forth between the two time periods and the two couples, make it a fascinating read!

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I hope you’ll share your favorite Valentine’s Day reads in the comments section below!

Happy Valentine’s Day reading!

Calgary Zoo - Zoo Lights

Fun and Frolic: Stories for the Young from the 1800s

Such a pleasant peek into the

simple family life of the late 1800’s

Ah, the simple innocence of that era. It makes one want to time-travel there for a day, or a year! Obviously, not everyone in 1888 had the leisure shown in this book, there were certainly just as many who had hard and meager lives. But no doubt a book like this brought smiles to many.

This sweet picture book of 45 pages has a short story or vignette that fits on one page, and an illustration in color or black and white to go with it. In tiny writing on the bottom left corner of the cover it says, “Copyright 1888 by J.L. Blamire.”

 

On the front cover, children are spending time indoors with an unhurried mother, playing with wooden animals and soldiers. It’s interesting to me that children throughout history have enjoyed playing with toy animals, and that animals in general have drawn the attention and affection of children.

I have also seen toys, and toys in books, from various periods in history that include soldiers and equipment for battles. Does that mean that wars are constantly raging throughout history, and children are aware of them because their fathers are away fighting? Or perhaps many of the famous men and women in countries all over the world have been war heroes, and the children grow up wanting also to be heroes?

The inside cover has the neatly hand-written name of the book’s owner, whose last name appears to be Ratledge. But with a little imagination it could instead be Routledge, to match the name of the publisher…a gift from the publisher, Uncle Routledge?

The stories in the book are not earth-shattering or dramatic. They are everyday happenings. But they are related here as the little joys that are present in each day, if we pay attention to them.

The first story pays homage to the world’s grandmothers, which I appreciate, being a grandma of 14 months. It tells of a grandson who learned to whistle before his first birthday, from hearing the other boys in the neighborhood whistling as he was wheeled around in his carriage.

The next story is in noticeably larger type, and includes dashes in the words to divide the syllables for the benefit of young readers.

These little stories told in first person talk of domestic life and the regular events of mothers and their children, who dearly love their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Fun and Frolic Stories includes poetry and information about nature and animals.

The poem “Blowing Bubbles” is surprisingly philosophical, likening the bubbles to our dreams.  It asks a question of the adult reading the book:

Will it be always so–are we the same?

We blow our bubbles too, changed but in name.

We have fond hopes, that expand and look bright;

We watch our fancies with eager strained sight.

Tucked between the back page and the back cover is a drawing of a butterfly on 5″ x 7″ lined paper, likely inspired by the “Butterflies” poem. I doubt that this is was drawn by the book’s first owner in the late 1800s, or even from the early 1900s. I suspect it was drawn on a lined pad for letter writing from the 1950s or later.

 

The back cover shows another scene of mother relaxing with her child outside on a grassy slope. In the scene are baby birds nesting in a woman’s bonnet, looking for worms from their busy mother.

There are remnants of some dried blue flowers tucked into the pages. I always love little surprises like that!

Various artists contributed their talents to the book, but at that time they apparently didn’t include the names of the illustrators, although some of the drawings include signatures of initials or names in the corners.

I couldn’t find another copy of this book anywhere online, but there are many books from the late 1800s published by George Routledge & Sons, such as Little Snowdrop’s Picture Book, published in 1879, available as a Kindle book. J.L. Blamire appears to be the manager of a New York Routledge & Sons bookseller and possibly an author, and/or editor.

I hope you enjoyed “reading” this with me. What fun to have such a pleasant and colorful history lesson couched in with a lovely piece of literature!

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

What a joy to know that this 1885 book is still current,

and still bringing the same wonder and delight to new generations of children–and adults!

                       Illustration for the poem “The Lamplighter”

 

A Child’s Garden of Verses is my VERY favorite children’s book

…as evidenced by the fact that I have 3 versions of it. It is the author’s imagination and remembrance of his own childhood that I love the most.  One of the introductions to his books says that Stevenson “writes as a child, rather than about children”. He was “able to enter into the heart of a boy” –and, I might add, also into the heart of this tomboy!

Robert Louis Stevenson grew up in Scotland. He wrote many other works besides poetry, including short stories, travel writings, plays and novels. Two of his best known novels are Treasure Island, a book the author wrote to keep his stepson amused during a very inclement summer; and Kidnapped, inspired by real events in Scottish history. It is said that Stevenson has never been out of fashion, and that there was an increased interest in him and his works in the 1980s.

The introductions in two of these versions are interesting, and endearing, and tell more about the author…

 

 

In elementary school, I learned several of the poems in this book, and I just realized that I can still recite one from memory. Some I memorized because they were an assignment from my teacher (remember memorizing poems and reciting them at an assembly?), others I probably remembered because the rhythm and rhyme held me spell bound and I couldn’t stop reading them over and over.

 

This first version is near and dear to my heart. It was the first book I bought, and may have been the first thing I ever bought with my own money.

We had a carnival at our elementary school and this was for sale for 75 cents. It never occurred to me before today, but…why would they have sold it? How could my school library have wanted to part with it? I hope it was because they were getting a new copy.

The inscription on this is my mom’s, recording the special event, “School carnival March 5, 1965.” When she wrote that, could she have imagined I’d be sharing it in the new millenium, in cyberspace for all the world to see?

 

 

“The Swing” and “Happy Thought” are my two favorites.

This next version I found about 5 years ago at a used book store in Denver, Colorado, while visiting my family. It is dated 1902 and has, of course, illustrations from that era which are quite different, very antique-looking.

 

I love that each of my copies has an inscription in them for the child receiving it! And I love knowing that it is still on the shelves of bookstores and libraries for more children to enjoy, and to receive as a gift.

 

 

I think “The Swing” is my favorite poem because I can feel the wind, the sunshine, and the FREEDOM…

 

This older version has a word list at the end.  Just look at all those “juicy” words (as we call them at my school)!!!

 

The last version I bought was at a thrift store in Calgary. It is the newest one I have.

I thumbed through it for a long time, but put it back on the shelf because I already had two of them at home. Then I changed my mind. I decided that this one’s illustrations were a glorious feast for the eyes on every page. No doubt it cost me just a little more than a current cup of coffee, and for the joy that it brings my heart it’s so worth it.

 

Again, here is my favorite poem “The Swing” in this version. Illustrations can sure make a book!  Look at the girl’s hair, and her shoe–brilliant!

 

I can hardly believe it took me so long to post about this book! But in my mind, it wasn’t a vintage book to be reviewed. It was one of my most treasured possessions.

 

 

It’s so sweet how Robert Louis Stevenson devoted many pages of this book–apparently written when he was in his mid-30s–to his beloved family, nanny and friends.

This lovely book is EVERYWHERE — as it should be!

May many more generations have the opportunity

to lose themselves in A Child’s Garden of Verses,

its fun, delight, wonder, imagery, peace… and its beauty.