When Books Speak to You

When I am out and about looking for dusty old copies of novels that most people don’t want, I come across other old dusty novels that I’m not really sure I want, but which have covers that say, “Hey, what about me? I think I may be up your alley.” And sometimes when those books speak to you, they really know what they are talking about. Two fairly recent examples include when I stumbled on Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker and Victoria 4:30 by Cecil Roberts. Two old books I took chances on only to be rewarded more than I ever could have imagined.

So in early December right before I had a tonsillectomy I combed my TBR shelves to see what I might want to read while I recovered from surgery. The doctor told me it would be seven to ten days of pain and no work. As I tried to figure out which way to go, I got a hankering to tackle at least a few of those old dusties that I had picked up over the years but hadn’t gotten around to reading.

Some of the old dusties I thought I would dip into while I recovered. The Little Ark, and Sorrow Laughs didn’t work for me at all and ended up getting donated. But I did read New York 22 and A Trip into Town as well as a third one not pictured here for some reason.

Happily, the first two days post surgery were really not too bad so I got a lot of reading done. But as the doctor warned me, on day three things started to get really painful, and even worse, on day four the narcotic pain meds had me ejecting what little food I had in my stomach. So, days five through ten found me trying to manage the pain with ibuprofen and ice packs. Still, I did manage to finish three of the dusties in the ten days I was laid up.

Lucy keeping me company while I slept off my surgical stupor.

Oddly, the three books that I got into and really enjoyed were all set in New York City. As I have mentioned before I love books that take place in the past, but I don’t quite trust historical fiction. What I prefer is fiction that is old. That way when they describe a scene, I don’t spend all my time second guessing whether the author was accurate. This is especially true in these three books, I would have constantly been asking myself, would this character have done that in the ’50s or ’60s? The answer is, apparently, yes.

The oldest of the three, but the second one I read, was New York 22 by Ilka Chase. Published in 1951, the book is set on the Upper East Side, and eventually Paris, in the years immediately following the Second World War. A well-written compelling love triangle and a fabulous look at the publishing/magazine/society in New York and Paris just after the war. I loved getting this snapshot into that milieu during that time period. It was like literary archaeology. Each description providing a marker for social scientists to study the time and place.

I think it was a much more interesting, or at least much more enjoyable, look at France in the immediate post-war period than William Maxwell’s The Chateau. 

I was delighted, but not at all surprised that the Chase novel had these instructions for a bed jacket penciled in the back cover.

 

Published in 1959, Just Off Fifth by Edith Begner was the last one I read, but the middle of the three chronologically. It’s a fun look at the lives of tenants in an apartment building, not surprisingly, just off Fifth Avenue. Like the other two books, I relished all the period details and loved the story of the still famous, but severely blocked, novelist who moves into the building with her husband. She ends up being the fulcrum around which much unpleasantness takes place. This was full of great characters and a totally enjoyable read, but not as well done as the other two novels.

The first of the three I read but third in the line-up chronologically was Michael Rubin’s A Trip Into Town which was published in 1961.

Away from the confines of Westchester and Long Island, away from indulgent parents and prosperous homes, come Suki, Esther, and Steven–to savor freedom and explore the city, and incidentally, to attend the university.

 

This was a pretty fascinating look into college life at the time, and particularly what it was like for women whose families weren’t necessarily expecting them to get a degree. Written by a man, and dated in some ways, I was still surprised at how relevant it seemed. Of course I was on oxycodone at the time, but I think it would hold up. Suki reminded me of Jessa from HBO’s Girls.

And just to prove how much of a dusty this one is, I am the only, I repeat, the only person on Goodreads who has read, or at least rated, this book. There was a different edition already cataloged there, but no one has actually rated it. Until now. And given Rubin’s rather common name, it was hard to find anything about him. This, it turns out, was exacerbated by the fact that he died in 1989 before digital footprints existed. Thankfully one of his classmates at Bard, writer Eve Caram, advocated for his inclusion in Bardians of the 1950s exhibition, or I wouldn’t know anything about him.

I bought each of these mainly because their covers got my attention. What a lucky thing that was.

Even more fun seeing the covers of this accidental New York Trilogy lined up is seeing the author’s lined up.

22 thoughts on “When Books Speak to You

    • Karen K. January 12, 2020 / 9:58 pm

      What lovely covers and excellent finds! I’m also really getting into mid-century fiction. I love finding books that nobody else seems to read (though sometimes, the reason is that they’re not that great. But I’m always willing to take a risk). And I hope you’ve recovered, sorry to hear about your pain. I’ve never had my tonsils out but I remember how bad my wisdom teeth were! And how nice of Lucy to keep you company!

      Like

      • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:08 am

        I had my wisdom teeth out at 19 and it was a breeze. Singing in Vivaldi’s Gloria three days later. But tonsils at 50 were quite another story.

        Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:06 am

      I know. Which one do you want to invite to dinner?

      Like

  1. Liz Dexter January 13, 2020 / 1:45 am

    I love those covers and author photos! When I had my surgery in 2017, all I could read was Debbie Macomber Alaska romances for a week so I think you did well! Also, I love this: “I love books that take place in the past, but I don’t quite trust historical fiction. What I prefer is fiction that is old” as it’s exactly what I was trying to explain to my husband about myself yesterday. A good way of putting it.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:09 am

      I’m glad that resonated with you. I’ve been trying to adequately express that for years. I’m glad I finally found an explanation that works.

      Like

  2. winstonsdad January 13, 2020 / 1:53 am

    Love these old paper covers I visit our flea market most weeks and often turn gems up

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:09 am

      It’s also nice that one generally isn’t competing with others to get them either.

      Like

  3. Jenny Colvin January 13, 2020 / 7:38 am

    First question, how is your voice post surgery?

    Second, I just read If Beale Street Could Talk and really enjoyed the 70s details written in the 70s so I definitely know what you mean.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:11 am

      I even read a Penelope Lively from the 1990s that was full of period details.

      The voice is fine, but I think I need to work on new singing technique. It definitely feels and acts differently when I try to sing.

      Like

  4. Constance January 13, 2020 / 8:00 am

    I often find that books speak to me at Library Book Sales, sometimes when they tell me they really want to come home with me and will play nicely with books I already have and sometimes when the covers still exist and are intriguing. I don’t recognize any of yours but I used to live in the 10022 zip code in NYC which I assume Chase refers to.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:12 am

      Yes! A world before real zip codes.

      Like

  5. Audrey Driscoll January 13, 2020 / 2:34 pm

    An interesting perspective here on “old” books. If their authors could read this post, they’d be delighted!

    Like

  6. TravellinPenguin January 15, 2020 / 5:26 am

    I love covers like these old books and often leave them behind though they are quite plentiful in charity shops. This post has inspired me to pick up the next couple I see and have a go to see if they are good or not. Hope you’re better now and good on Lucy for raking care of you so well. Dogs are good at that.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:13 am

      Some get re-donated fairly quickly, but when it works out, it is quite gratifying.

      Like

  7. Joan Kyler January 16, 2020 / 10:56 am

    “I love books that take place in the past, but I don’t quite trust historical fiction. What I prefer is fiction that is old.” Exactly how I feel. I hope you’re fully recovered. I’m sure having Lucy with you helped.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:14 am

      Lucy is always a comfort, except when she barks at the mailman when I am napping.

      Like

  8. Geoff W January 16, 2020 / 3:09 pm

    As I have mentioned before I love books that take place in the past, but I don’t quite trust historical fiction. What I prefer is fiction that is old. That way when they describe a scene, I don’t spend all my time second guessing whether the author was accurate.

    Like Joan above, this. So. Much. This.

    Some historical fiction I can get on board with (the really old stuff that’s harder to verify), but the more recent stuff that’s been super studied and/or part of the mass-media culture not so much.

    I think the Rubin would’ve caught my eye as well, I like the style.

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:15 am

      I just questioned a bit from a Jack London short story and then realized it wasn’t historical fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Simon T January 22, 2020 / 10:02 am

    Sorry you’ve had all that pain, horrible :/ But these all sound a delight. The premise that appeals most is the one you said wasn’t as well done, so that’s a quandary…

    Like

    • Thomas January 26, 2020 / 12:16 am

      Definitely good enough to satisfy your interest. Just not as solid as the others.

      Like

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