Linda Lee, Incorporated

June 9, 2015

Sometime I’d like to read a book set in the silent film industry that’s not full of drug addiction and divorce and debt, and Linda Lee, Incorporated definitely isn’t it. But it does have a wealth of detail about how movies got made circa 1922, and it doesn’t take too many offensive moral stances on its characters’ behavior, so I’ll take it. It also doesn’t have much in common with The Lone Wolf, the only other book I’ve read by Louis Joseph Vance. He, as you may remember, was the one who spontaneously combusted. Or not, I guess, but, you know, let’s just say he did. Read the rest of this entry »



June 1, 2015

There’s a range of weirdness levels in books by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. Molly-Make-Believe reads like it was written by someone who doesn’t not know what to do with a coordinating conjunction. The White Linen Nurse is full of mental breakdown-y things, but in context they sort of work. If you told me the only kinds of punctuation used in The Fairy Prince and Other Stories were periods and exclamation marks, I would want to double check before I told you you were wrong. And Old-Dad makes no discernible sense. I’m not really sure what else to say about it. Read the rest of this entry »


Shorty McCabe

May 26, 2015

Shorty McCabe is no Torchy, but sometimes that’s okay, like when you stop your Torchy reread before the last book because the dog stories make you inexplicably uncomfortable, and switch over to an excellent children’s book about pirates and then a super weird Eleanor Hallowell Abbott book, but then you sort of start to have regrets? But you can’t go back to Torchy as a Pa, because you can’t start a Torchy reading with Torchy living in the suburbs; you have to work up to that. Read the rest of this entry »


Torchy, yet again.

May 8, 2015

I really like to reread things. Especially things I loved the first time. Especially things I loved the third or fourth time. There are a lot of books that make me think, when I’m reading them, “This is the best thing. This might be my favorite thing.” I love Tracy Park the most, and I love the Hildegarde series the most, and I love Pam Decides the most, and those are just the ones I’ve reread recently. But also I love Torchy the most, and I don’t understand why no one else seems to.

I think I talked my mom into wanting to read the Torchy books last night over dinner, so I should be able to talk people into reading them over the internet, too, right? I won’t be able to reproduce the slightly alcohol-fueled “I just love these books so much,” but I think my explanation of how awesome Torchy’s boss thinks he is was more convincing anyway.

So, look. This one time Old Hickory Ellins, who’s kind of a robber baron I guess, gets worried about some sculptor his cousin Inez has taken up with, so he sends Torchy out with $20 and tells him to find out more about the guy. Torchy comes back the next day and reports that the affair is definitely off and the money is gone. And Mr. Ellins says, “Huh!…That’s as far as I care to enquire. Some day I’m going to send you out with a thousand and let you wreck the administration.” Isn’t that great? I think I want it on my gravestone.

Also there’s the time Mr. Ellins returns from a trip to find that Torchy’s been promoted. He asks Torchy about salary, and Torchy says, “I only want what I’m worth,” and Mr. Ellins says, “Oh, be reasonable, son…We must save something for the stockholders, you know.” Isn’t that beautiful? I think that’s beautiful. And then there’s the time Torchy proposes to Vee with a ring from a hoard of pirate treasure. And–oh man, the indoor golf story. And Torchy’s conversation with Piddie when he first gets promoted. And the guy who builds his own airplane. I just. I love these books so much. Maybe give them a try?


Fair Harbor

May 6, 2015

Jenn left me a comment about Joseph Crosby Lincoln the other day, and I suddenly found myself thinking about him, and wanting to read one of his books. The last couple of times that’s happened, I’ve just reread Galusha the Magnificent, but this time I went for something new: Fair Harbor. And it’s a good one — it’s got most of the things I like about Lincoln and none of the things I don’t. I mean. Maybe some of the things. None are coming to mind at the moment. Really the only thing that’s missing is a competent spinster. Read the rest of this entry »


The Top of the Morning

May 1, 2015

The Top of the Morning is the next Juliet Wilbor Tompkins book on the slate, mostly because I didn’t find the title that appealing, and I like to save the best for last. Yes, Joanna Builds a Nest and Open House are probably the two most appealing titles. No, I don’t know why I did that.

Anyway, the title isn’t great, but I like the book a lot. It’s episodic, just short of making me wonder whether it was originally published as short stories. And I haven’t tried to find out, but I’d guess it wasn’t.

The book follows a close-knit group of writers and artists who refer to themselves as “Us” and manage to stay just on the right side of the adorable/cloying divide. There’s Charlotte, an artist in her 30s with a teenage son. She’s very much the mother of the group, and not only because she is one. Paul is a sculptor, and he’s almost too perfect. He’s talented and wise and everyone loves him. Lanse and Evelyn are a pair, but it’s not clear whether they’re an item. They’re both from wealthy, upper class families. Lanse writes plays, and Evelyn is, I suppose, his muse. And then there’s Donna and Lorimer, who are sort of…Carolyn Wells, roughly, and maybe Oliver Herford or Gelett Burgess. Donna writes poems and humorous verse and children’s stories and stuff for magazines, and Lorrimer Ffloyd is a caricaturist. They’re best friends and they may or may not be in love with each other. Charlotte’s son Cameron, with his talent for being an appreciative audience, rounds out the group.

Different chapters cover their different struggles — Lanse’s fight with his father over his career, Donna and Lorrimer’s difficulties dealing with their respective moderate amounts of fame, Paul’s uncertainty about how to fulfill his potential. Most of the chapters left me wanting to stay with their central characters for a bit longer. Some of the chapters left me feeling kind of sad. The ending did both, partly because Tompkins wants to leave things open ended and provide closure at the same time. It doesn’t quite work, and in the last pages I got impatient with both the writer and the characters and decided that never mind, I don’t want to know.

Mostly I want to discount that last minute change of heart, though, because I enjoyed almost all of the book while I was reading it, and I do want to know more about stuff, especially Donna and Lorrimer and how the situation with Paul that I don’t want to spoil is going to pan out. And even in the context of Tompkins’ general focus on work, it’s fun to get these specifics of studio life and relationships between writers and magazines and things like that. Tompkins never names someone’s profession and leaves it at that; you get a pretty clear idea of how everyone’s income breaks down. I wonder if this book is a little more autobiographical than most of Tompkins’ work — it’s hard to find out much about her, but she seems to have been part of a clique that included Burgess, author Frank Norris, and artist Ernest Peixotto. And if it is autobiographical, then I want to hear a lot more about Donna. Or, who am I kidding? I want to know more about Donna either way.


Open House

April 18, 2015

So, Juliet Wilbor Tompkins is definitely going to be a Thing for me. Open House was almost as satisfying as Joanna Builds a Nest, and much less disconcerting.

At this point 75% of the books I’ve read by Tompkins have as a thesis the idea that no one can be happy without some kind of work. That’s a thing I also believe — probably for slightly different reasons — and it tends to produce exactly the kind of book I want to read. Read the rest of this entry »


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