What are we reading? Throw-back edition.

Sometimes this century is just too much and we seek out popcorn from the past.  Not, you know, classics, exactly, but good stuff that is enjoyable to read and gives a nice snapshot of popular literature of the time.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes— technically this one might be considered a classic, I mean, it was sort of made into a Marilyn Monroe movie (though not really– the book is soooo much racier, despite the lack of a strip-tease).  (Also the main character is a bit racist, but she’s a bit a lot of other things too, and it’s portrayed in a way that the actual author seems to be condemning the casual racism, but still, FYI.)  Don’t know why it isn’t available on kindle anymore, but your library is pretty likely to have a copy.

Dinny Gordon, Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.  These are good.  On the surface they’re silly YA fiction from the 1960s, but there’s a subversiveness to them.  Junior year is especially enthralling.  (Hat Tip to Girl Historian for recommending them!)  Worth checking to see if your university library still has them.

We Shook the Family Tree.  A comic memoir, similar to those by Jean Kerr, though not quite the same.  I used to read these kinds of books by the pile back when I was a kid after I discovered the non-fiction comedy section at the library (after running out of children’s books and being too young for a lot of the SF/Fantasy/Mystery adult books).  I have no idea where I got this paperback… I wonder if it once belonged to my mother (unlikely because she doesn’t tend to keep paperbacks) or if I actually picked it up myself at a used bookstore (also unlikely because I don’t tend to buy things that aren’t SF/Fantasy unless it’s an author I already know).   Maybe it was nestled between Richard Armour and Jean Kerr and I impulse-bought it.  It’s a mystery.  In any case, it was a fun light romp (and kind of funny how the heroine complained about having a thigh gap– only they called it being bow-legged back then!)

While reading We shook the family tree, I decided I was curious about Hildegarde Dolson, and the Wikipedia article made her seem even more interesting.  I’m always a sucker for long-lasting, late-in-life romances.  Anyway, her husband was a mystery writer (a widower) who wrote mystery novels with his wife before she died.  Well, I had to try some of those.  Annoyingly, our uni library has ALL of them and all of the Dolson books, BUT it won’t check them out.  If I didn’t have work or a family I would so park myself in that reading room and just read.  They also have a complete collection of SF/Fantasy paperbacks that doesn’t circulate.  Forget the museum.  I want to be locked into that room overnight!  (I may have to ILL One Lady, Two Cats… you know, for research purposes– or just buy it off amazon). They did have a few random circulating copies of things though, so I ordered neither the first in the series nor the reputed best in the series … and I liked them.

The Lockridges have two main series, one about a couple named Mr. and Mrs. North who are pretty similar to Gracie Allen and a less sarcastic George Burns, if Gracie and George solved crimes, and the other about a police inspector named Heimrich.  The two books I got out, Murder is Served and Spin Your Web, Lady, were both pretty good.  Though definitely products of their time (1947 and 1948)– in Spin Your Web I cringed a bit at the pregnant lady getting drunk and even more at the treatment of a mentally disabled character, and some other stuff that would give too much away if I stated it here.  Both open with really entertaining slices of life– the former gives us a scene at a high class restaurant, the latter puts us in the mind of a somewhat sketchy university extension professor.  I think I’m going to grab more by these authors.  And One Lady, Two Cats is definitely on my amazon wishlist.  I also wish I had some Perry Masons, which are easy and fun popcorn novels though not quite as wholesome as the tv show.

#2 is reading lots of frontlist right now (especially from the library), but on the backlist I’ve recently quite enjoyed Fay Weldon’s Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen.


Come at us with some throwback-reading love, readers!

19 Responses to “What are we reading? Throw-back edition.”

  1. MidA Says:

    I found “We Shook the Family Tree” at my grandmother’s house when I was a kid. The most memorable part for me was also the thigh gap complaint! Probably because I was young and impressionable, so I wondered if it applied to me, too.

    I read “Letters to Alice” in late high school for fun, and remember liking it…might be time to re-read! Or read some of her other work.

  2. Mrs PoP Says:

    I read Villette (Charlotte Bronte) recently… that was a bit too much of a throwback. Didn’t like it at all and had to force myself to finish it. =(
    Mr PoP on the other hand just read a WAY throwback (well, a recent translation of…) – The Emperor’s Handbook, a translation of Marcus Aurelius’ The Meditations. He really liked it and has now added it to my reading list.

  3. Linda Says:

    I’m not sure if this counts as a throwback, but I discovered Precious Bane by Mary Webb about 18 years ago and regularly re-read it. The BBC produced a fantastic version for TV that was aired on PBS around that time. Sadly, it is not available on disc or streaming for some reason. I dearly wish it was since it is such a sweet story.

  4. chacha1 Says:

    I just read two Georgette Heyers, one which I am sure I have read before and one which I couldn’t remember but that may be because I really loathed the “hero.” I may have blocked it out.
    The good one: “Powder and Patch;” the not-so-good: “Devil’s Cub.”

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I feel exactly the opposite– that lecture in Powder and Patch about how a woman needs a man to show her he’s boss and not take no for an answer… I deleted it from my kindle.

      Devil’s Cub isn’t so great on the healthy view of women thing either but I love the part where she shoots him. It’s a guilty pleasure.

      Her later stuff (<3 Frederica) is much less dark-ages romance. You can kind of see the romance novel evolve.

  5. grrlpup Says:

    Margery Williams Bianco’s Winterbound (1937), one of those “the kids have to get along without the adults” books, in a New England farmhouse over the winter. It reminded me of Little Women a bit, with more chores and physical labor. I’m about to start another of hers, Other People’s Houses, which I understand is something of a lesbian touchstone (a la Harriet the Spy).

  6. sophylou Says:

    Dinny Gordon forever! Glad to see some Dinny love. Who knew anti-Semitism was such a fraught issue for teen girls? Emery’s first junior novel, Tradition, is about a teen girl deciding that it’s unAmerican for her classmates to hate on the new kids in town… who are Japanese-American teens fresh from an internment camp. (WorldCat has the description of the novel wrong– the Japanese-Americans are brother and sister).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Oooh, I should get more of her stuff.

      • sophylou Says:

        Image Cascade (or, y’know, ILL) has you covered! Well, sort of, they haven’t republished Tradition (but there’s always ILL…) and some of her other important works (Married on Wednesday) aren’t there, either. But they have That Archer Girl, which I need to write more about (she’s a proto-Mean Girl, but not a “bad” girl). The Pat Marlowe (First Love etc.) books are about how intellectually stultifying “going steady” is (girl discovers passion for the theater and speech as career, steady/fiance doesn’t share interest, TENSION ENSUES). I’m also fond of “Sorority Girl” which is about how shallow and materialistic sororities are.

        Love that someone else is spreading the Dinny love. :)

  7. KeAnne Says:

    The Trixie Belden series is one of my favorite throw-back reads. I love the books so much I even read the fan fiction (there is a thriving community!)

  8. sophylou Says:

    Oh, I remember those. I don’t think I read them all, but I remember thinking of Trixie Belden books as Nancy Drew knockoffs but with a more interesting core group of characters.

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