Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Last link to another century's authors

The University of Missouri had an old library, my link to nineteenth and early twentieth century American novels. I browsed when I could, and they stoked my deep desire for more time to just read!  When a history course required a research paper on social history, I decided to read as many of the first ten years of bestsellers as were available. 

1896   from Wikipedia[edit]

      I didn't head for the heavy duty classics like Quo Vadis (1896) even though my grandmother had once seen it in my high school library and remarked that she'd enjoyed it. 

       Instead, I concentrated on the lighter reading, what she called "good stories."

      Some of the titles, like Pollyanna, The Virginian, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Trail of the Lonesome Pine became movies. Remakes kept a few alive for another generation. But even updated film versions only draw new readers for so long. I've never talked to anyone who actually read Girl of the Limberlost which had four adaptations. 

      These old novels have vocabulary far beyond that of most casual readers, and the settings seem so removed from today, most are just titles on a Wikipedia page.

      Yet they transported me to early America, and led me to imagine an arduous, mostly rural society. Still, I empathized with the characters' struggles, the injustices they bore, the satisfaction of conflicts resolved and wisdom gained.

      What contemporary youngsters will grieve with Jody when Flag destroys the corn and and his mother demands he kill the fawn (The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)? Who will live in Jewish Poland through the folk stories collected and  written Isaac Bashevis Singer? She won a Pulitzer for her book, he, the Nobel Prize for literature.  

      Cleaning out my old books (written before 1960) makes me sad. Half a century later, I know many of those gems of style and story will be lost to  future generations. Many of my favorite titles are on an endangered list now. Eventually they'll be as extinct as the quagga.

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