Archive for December, 2012

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The Main Chance

December 31, 2012

The Main Chance is one of those business-and-ethics-and-someone-has-a-pretty-daughter stories, brought to you by the author of House of a Thousand Candles. It centers on three young men and the fairly new midwestern town of Clarkson. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Just Sweethearts

December 24, 2012

Just Sweethearts, by Harry Stillwell Edwards, is subtitled “a Christmas Love Story,” but it’s not really a Christmas story at all, although it does make a halfhearted stab at the Unity of Christmastimes. It starts with a Christmas Eve meet cute, and ends the following Christmas Eve. I suspect the subtitle was mostly an excuse to publish an edition with a fancy Christmas-themed binding.

Two years ago I spent a day in December at the library and read all the Christmas stories I could get my hands on, plus this. I promptly forgot the title, but I’ve thought of it from time to time over the past couple of years, and when I finally figured out what it was, I reread it to see if I could figure out why it was so memorable, and whether it was as terrible an excuse for a Christmas story as I remembered. And it was definitely the latter, but the former still has me stumped. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman Car

December 21, 2012

You know how some authors have specific things that they really like? Stuff you come across and think, “Well, if I didn’t know this was a book by ____, I would know now?” And you know how some of those things are weirdly specific?

Annie Fellows Johnston has a thing about fairytales and practical life-lessons and jewelry, in combination. There’s always a fairytale, it always has a specific application, and the child hearing it always gets a trinket to remember it by. And hey, that’s cool. All of those things appeal to me, separately and together. But clearly not as much as they appeal to Johnston. And it’s not that weird the first time around, but each time it seems weirder. And I’ve read all of the Little Colonel books, so at this point it seems pretty weird.

That’s a shame, though, because the morally significant jewelry is much more organic in Miss Santa Claus of the Pullman Car than in any of the Little Colonel books. Also, some of the morally significant jewelry isn’t jewelry at all. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Christmas Stories: A Reversible Santa Claus

December 19, 2012

I didn’t love A Reversible Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. I can’t think of anything I wanted from it that I didn’t get, anyway.

It’s by Meredith Nicholson, author of the excellent House of a Thousand Candles, and it’s got a pretty good setup: a former thief known as Billy the Hopper — for the ease with which he’s always made his escapes — has retired with one last haul and settled down on a chicken farm with his wife, Mary, and another former thief, Humpy. Mary used to be a pickpocket. Humpy used to raise chickens in jail, so he’s got valuable experience. All three of them are glad to be living a quiet life within the law, but one day the Hopper sees a wallet sticking out of someone’s jacket on the train and is unable to resist pocketing it. This sets in motion a chain of events that results in the Hopper accidentally kidnapping a toddler.

From the point when the Hopper steals the wallet, through the accidental kidnapping and well into the middle of the story, he seems set on making things worse for himself and it’s a little uncomfortable to read. It doesn’t help that Mary and Humpy are so hostile to him. Things shift into a smoother gear when he tries to return the kidnapped child and ends up being sent on a supremely ridiculous quest. Everything goes a little more slapstick, and a lot more easily, from that point on — maybe too much so, as the various difficulties the Hopper still faces turn out to be implausibly easy to deal with. Still, it’s reassuring after the nerve-wracking beginning, so I didn’t really mind.

That’s the case with most of The Reversible Santa Claus‘ imperfections: there are things wrong with it, I guess; they just don’t seem like problems. This story has all the Christmas story things — a cute kid, a slightly beleaguered young couple, a reformed criminal, two vaguely Scrooge-like individuals, and themes of forgiveness and people being totally ridiculous. And when you take a closer look, none of it makes much sense, but the whole thing proceeds so smoothly and pleasantly that it’s hard to care. I don’t think this is going to be anyone’s favorite Christmas story, because Nicholson doesn’t try too hard with the emotional stuff — probably for the best — but it’s more than adequate.

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Christmas Stories: The Old Peabody Pew

December 17, 2012

I read The Old Peabody Pew last winter, but couldn’t figure out how to talk about it in time for Christmas. Also I was annoyed with it for being a Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin Christmas story about a woman in a small New England town and the man who left town and left her behind, and yet not being The Romance of a Christmas Card. So this year I read it again, trying to keep an open mind and not to skim for things actually happening. It helped to know that they never would.

And on one hand, I liked it better this time. On the other, it’s still not The Romance of a Christmas Card and, well, nothing ever happens. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Weapons of Mystery

December 11, 2012

I keep reading Christmas stories that aren’t Christmas stories, but I guess I can’t blame The Weapons of Mystery or Joseph Hocking for the mistake this time. Project Gutenberg claims it’s a Christmas book — they list it on their Christmas bookshelf — but as far as I can tell no one else does.

There are a lot of things I can blame this book and its author for — terrible prose, extreme stupidity, racism, etc. — and I spent maybe the first third of Weapons of Mystery coming up with mean things to say about it. But the more I read, the less inclined I was to make fun of it. It never stops being terrible, and simultaneously predictable and insane. But it also has a weird appeal, and I say that as someone who had no intention of being appealed to by it. There was the stilted prose, for starters. And Joseph Hocking (a Methodist minister) had named his villains Herod Voltaire and Miss Staggles, which was, to say the least, unsubtle. Read the rest of this entry ?

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When Ghost Meets Ghost

December 5, 2012

I think I’ve been over the whole William De Morgan thing before — how he was an excellent and super-important Arts & Crafts potter, how he had a second career as a bestselling novelist around the time he hit retirement age, how the mere mention of Joseph Vance renders me completely inarticulate, etc. It’s not his second career itself that’s so surprising — it’s that he was so good, and that he’s been so completely forgotten.

I keep wanting to make wild pronouncements about de Morgan writing postmodern pastiches of Victorian novels when the Victorian Era had barely ended, but I worry that I’m pushing it. I’ve read three of his books now, and while I don’t think that When Ghost Meets Ghost is quite as good as Somehow Good, or that much of anything is as good as Joseph Vance, it may be the most William De Morgan-y of William De Morgan’s books, and I continue to be impressed with William De Morgan. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Preface to a book review

December 4, 2012

There are a lot of reasons I haven’t been posting lately — a busy time at work, an overwhelming urge to reread all of the Grace Harlowe High School Girls and College Girls series, my lack of an ereader, etc. If you’re following me on Twitter, you already have a rough outline of the Kindle saga, which started when I admired a coworker’s new Paperwhite but admitted I was probably going to stick with my first generation Kindle until it died on me. Ten minutes later I got on the subway, pulled out my Kindle to continue reading the 850-page book I was in the middle of, and found that the screen was badly dented and wouldn’t display a page. Cue a lot of people telling me that you get what you ask for, which, a) no you don’t, and b) that wasn’t what I meant. Read the rest of this entry ?