Friday, December 20, 2013

November Reading

These seven books will always hold a special place in my heart because they got me through the weeks of Margaret being in the hospital. I would read at night until I finally fell asleep, and when I woke up afraid and worried, I would start reading and the stories helped divert my mind. 

One of the things I love about ebooks is the accessibility of old books. I have discovered treasures. Books that I love, books that are every bit as fresh and appealing to me as if they were brand new. I’ve always been fond of the Samuel Butler quote: 'The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.'

64. The Agony Column
by Earl Derr Biggers
fiction, 1916
Kindle book
finished 11/2/13

Do you know the British phrase ‘agony aunt?’ I’ve heard it for ages without really understanding what it meant.

agony aunt(or agony uncle)
nounBrit. informal
a person who answers letters in an agony column.

And then you might ask, what is an agony column?

agony column 
nounBrit. informal
a column in a newspaper or magazine offering advice on personal problems to readers who write in.
• dated - a personal column.

This book has the 'dated' meaning. 

If you are interested there’s a great page about this. 

Agony columns were the Facebook and Twitter and Match dot coms of older days. 
At the Carlton news stand West bought two morning papers- the Times for study and the Mail for entertainment … seated himself at his usual table and, spreading out the Daily Mail, sought his favorite column. … Any one at all familiar with English journalism will recognize at once what department it was that appealed most to West. During his three weeks in London he had been following, with the keenest joy, the daily grist of Personal Notices in the Mail. This string of intimate messages, popularly known as the Agony Column, has long been an honored institution in the English press. In the days of Sherlock Holmes it was in the Times that it flourished, and many a criminal was tracked to earth after he had inserted some alluring mysterious message in it. Later the Telegraph gave it room; but with the advent of halfpenny journalism, the simple souls moved en masse to the Mail.Tragedy and comedy mingle in the Agony Column. Erring ones are urged to return for forgiveness; unwelcome suitors are warned that “Father has warrant prepared; fly, Dearest One!” Loves that would shame by their ardor Abelard and Heloise are frankly published - at ten cents a word - for all the town to smile at. The gentleman in the brown derby states with fervor that the blonde governess who got off the tram at Shepherd’s Bush has quite won his heart. Will she permit his addresses? Answer; this department.
When Geoffrey West becomes enchanted by a girl with violet eyes, who prefers grapefruit to strawberries in the Carlton’s breakfast room, he decides to make use of the Agony Column which he had seen her reading.
CARLTON RESTAURANT: Nine A.M. Friday morning. Will the young woman who preferred grapefruit to strawberries permit the young man who had two plates of the latter to say he will not rest until he discovers some mutual friend, that they may meet and laugh over this column together?
Upon reading it, the girl gets a ‘mischievous smile’ and ‘read, with that smile, to the end of the column.’ And in a few days, Geoffrey is thrilled to read a response.
STRAWBERRY MAN: Only the grapefruit lady’s kind heart and her great fondness for mystery and romance move her to answer. The strawberry-mad one may write one letter a day for seven days - to prove he is an interesting person, worth knowing. Then we shall see. Address: M.A.L., care Sadie Haight, Carlton Hotel.
And with this the reader is off on a delightful, fun adventure which is indeed full of mystery and romance. The book is a bit of an epistolary story with all the letters, which made it even more appealing to me. I absolutely adored this book. As I went searching to find the quotes, I thought to myself that I could happily read this all over again.

65. Seven Keys to Baldpate
by Earl Derr Biggers
fiction, 1913
Kindle book
finished 11/11/13

 This book had such an interesting concept. Billy Magee leaves the high life in New York City for Upper Assquewan Falls. He is a writer of 
Wild thrilling tales for the tired business man’s tired wife - shots in the night, chases after fortunes, Cupid busy with his arrows all over the place! It’s good fun, and I like to do it. There’s money in it. … But now and then I get a longing to do something that will make the critics sit up - the real thing, you know. 
He recalls that 'once a critic advised him to go away for ten years to some quiet spot, and think. I decided to do it. Baldpate Inn is the quiet spot.’

He doesn’t plan to stay for ten years, but for two months. He intends to write a fine piece of literature that will make the world pay attention to him as a serious writer. He decides to go to ‘the lonesomest spot on earth’ so he won’t be distracted. He decides the place to be is a summer resort in the wintertime. There are fireplaces and candles, and a caretaker who will bring in water and food. But the plans go awry when people start showing up. They might or might not be criminals. No one tells a true story about why they have come to this place. 

I was interested in the book, but it wasn’t that great, I didn’t think. Pleasant enough, but no where near as good as The Agony Column or the Charlie Chan books.

I went on a Hildegarde Withers spree for the rest of my November reading. It was so much fun to read one right after the other. I’ve talked about Stuart Palmer’s creation in other posts, and honestly the books don’t pale as they go on in the series. Something I particularly want to mention is that Stuart Palmer seems to have an acute concern for animals that isn’t that common in books of this era. I’ve had to avert my eyes and skip past some short sections in the books that deal with animal cruelty such as bullfighting, and rental horses in New York City. Hildegarde is an animal lover and has two dogs over the course of the series, and it is clear that Palmer loves them. He understands dogs very well. 

There is a terrific article on the author here

66. The Puzzle of the Red Stallion - book 6 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1936
Kindle book
finished 11/16/13

67. The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla - book 7 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1937
Kindle book
finished 11/20/13

68. The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan - book 8 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1941
Kindle book
finished 11/23/13

69. Miss Withers Regrets - book 9 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1947
Kindle book
finished 11/24/13

70. Four Lost Ladies - book 11 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1949
Kindle book
finished 11/28/13

Hildegarde says to her friend Inspector Oscar Piper,
“I was thinking, said the schoolteacher, “about the snowflakes. Oscar, isn’t it a little frightening to realize that a human being can slip away like one of these snowflakes, to disappear forever?” 
She asks him if he happens
to know just how many lonely, middle-aged, unattached women disappear right here in this city every year?” “More than three thousand, according to recent estimates by the YWCA and the Travelers Aid Society.”
She is concerned that no one tries to find them, including the police, because 
they haven’t importance enough to be missed, they haven’t any close friends or near relatives, so nothing is ever done about it.”
I think that’s a pretty amazing thing to find in a book from 64 years ago. Stuart Palmer is not only progressive and ahead of his time in his concern for animals, but also for women. I wonder if he is the only male author who even considered this subject, which I found so very sad. 

These books have humor but also tackle serious subjects, though not in a preaching sort of way. 
Hildegarde seems to take many leaves of absence and vacations and the reader is thus exposed to a variety of settings in addition to New York City. This keeps the series fresh, and gives us a chance to see Hildegarde operate when she is away from home. She and Piper are great friends but also get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes they work together as a team, and other times they are adversaries. As the Cast of Characters says in the one I’m reading just now, Nipped in the BudHildegarde ‘is both the light of Oscar’s life and the bane of his existence.’


  1. I am so with you regarding the discovery of old books through our kindles, Nan! From the book reviews I post on my own blog, you know that I have not always been lucky with the free ebooks I download, but there has been the occasional gem. And even from the less-than-gripping ones, I have learnt a thing or two.
    The Hildegarde series sounds great, and from the quotes you give from the first two books, one would not guess that these were written and published a century ago, they sound so fresh and modern.

    1. Hildegarde is a very modern woman, even though she didn't know it. :<)

  2. Oh thank you Nan....for your wonderful posts all year and for the book suggestions (some new additions to my list here of course!).;... I want to wish you and your husband the most wonderful Holiday season (your first as grandparents -- you have so much fun ahead of you!!).... and although I haven't been in the exact situation you were with your darling Margaret, I do know just what you mean about books during specially stressful times ... the right ones have helped me through a few!

    1. Thank you for all your wishes, and your understanding, as always.

  3. The Agony Column sounds like so much fun! I have managed to download kindle onto my computer, so I'll look to add this one to my slowly growing list of books on the computer. I remember Agony columns, too, or the Personals as they were known by my time in the 1970's. Now reading the newspaper today, there is nothing fun like that in the ads, is there?

    1. I love my little Kindle. It is just the ticket at bedtime. Light to handle, and lit as well. :<)


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