Pirates in Polite Society: Wharton’s Buccaneers

An unfinished book by a favorite writer always raises questions: How would it have ended? How would the story have changed as the author developed the characters and explored their lives? If the author started out with a plan, would that have changed as the book progressed? Stories inspired by real people and events also intrigue us, because they show us the writer at work, transmuting life into art through imagination.

image-of-buccaneers-by-wharton.jpgEdith Wharton’s last novel, The Buccaneers, has both of these fascinations, besides being a great story that’s both romantic and humorous, cynical and touching. The “buccaneers” are a group of young American women who set out for England in the 1870s in search of the social success that has eluded them at home. Armed with beauty and wealth (or the reputation for it) they conquer the English aristocracy, though the consequences are not always the stuff of romance. Unfinished at Wharton’s death, the novel was published the following year in its incomplete state along with her detailed plan for its story; many years later it was given not one but two endings at more or less the same time: one by Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring and one by screenwriter Maggie Wadey, who also wrote the script for a BBC adaptation. Two of the plot lines echo aspects of the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American heiress who married, and later divorced, an image-of-consuelo-and-alva-vanderbilt-book-cover.jpgEnglish duke; Consuelo’s later wrote an autobiography, The Glitter and the Gold, and there are also two biographies about her: Consuelo: Portrait of an American Heiress by James Brough, and Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: the story of a daughter and a mother in the gilded age, by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.

All the best stories leave you wanting more, and fortunately, with The Buccaneers, there’s plenty of more to explore!

                                                                               ~ Janet

High adventure and inspiration

 Do you like a touch of inspiration with your real-life adventure?

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Fight Tby Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin errorism and Build Nations — One School a3cupsoftea.jpgt a Time

OK, I’ll admit I picked up this book because “everyone’s reading it.” It was featured in The Seattle Public Library’s “September Project” and the author Greg Mortenson, mountain climber turned humanitarian, spoke at the Library (listen to the podcast).  But what really grabbed me once I started reading this book were the descriptions of mountain climbing in the forbidding Karkoram mountains of northern Pakistan and Mortenson’s encounters with tribal people in Korphe, a village nestled high in the mountains, who had never seen foreigners before. Continue reading “High adventure and inspiration”

Happy Birthday, Betty MacDonald!

image-of-egg-and-i-book-cover-courtesy-of-pat-sum.jpgEvery so often history offers us a chance to revisit a good book. This March is the centennial of the birth of Betty MacDonald, author of The Egg and I (1945) which is a memoir of life on a “chicken ranch” on the Olympic peninsula near Chimacum from 1927-1931. Betty observed the very rural and undeveloped farmland and forest and commented on the facts about farm living. Her large cast iron cookstove which she nicknamed “Stove” was a constant source of frustration for her; baby chicks seemed to be self-destructive; her neighbors throw-backs from evolutionary development of the species. She wrote the book after her divorce and she had remarried and moved to Vashon Island. Here’s a sample:

“By one o’clock on winter Sundays the house was shining clean, my hair was washed, Bob had on clean clothes and dinner was ready. Usually, just as we sat down to the table, as if by prearranged signal, the sun came out. True it shone with about as much warmth and lust as a Victorian spinster and kept darting behind clouds as if it were looking for its knitting and sticking hits head out again with an apologetic smile, but it was sun and not rain. The mountains, either in recognition of the sun or Sunday, would have their great white busts exposed and I expected momentarily to have them clear their throats and start singing Rock of Ages in throaty contraltos.”

                                                                   ~ The Egg and I. p. 77 Continue reading “Happy Birthday, Betty MacDonald!”

Happy Birthday, Doris!

Century GirlA friend told me about the book Century Girl: 100 years in the life of Doris Eaton Travis, last living star of the Ziegfeld Follies, by Lauren Redniss, a mind-blowingly original and unique illustrated biography of Doris Eaton.  I love this book so much for all its cultural cross referencing and magnificent handwritten text, memorabilia and photo montages.  It discusses the social and cultural movements that shaped her career from the age of fourteen when she became the youngest chorus girl to ever join the Follies.  She interacted with so many stars and famous people, you’ll hardly believe it’s possible!  It would take 10 lifetimes for most people to accomplish what she was able to do in just one: “from receiving her honorary doctorate at age 101, she starred in silent and talking pictures, performing for presidents and princesses, bantered with Babe Ruth, offended Henry Ford, outlived six siblings, wrote a newspaper column, hosted a tv show, earned a Phi Beta Kappa degree in history (at 88), raised turkeys, and raced horses. And that’s just for starters.”– from the title page.  I can’t say enough wonderful things about this one-of-a-kind book–by far the best I’ve read in a long time.   March 14th is her 104th birthday—Happy Birthday Doris!

~ Amy

Dijiste Que Me Querías: Como Sobrellevar lo Impensable por Maria Antonieta Collins

 Our library serves people speaking many languages. Here is one of them.

dijiste-que-me-querias-book-cover.jpgMaria Antonieta es una escritora fácil de leer, con un colorido y peculiar lenguaje. En este libro nos narra el sufrimiento y dolor que soporto con la enfermedad de su esposo Fabio Fajardo; para después descubrir que su amado esposo cometió bigamia y estaba casado con otra mujer en Colombia. ¿Cómo un hombre que dice quererla como nadie pudo haberla engañado de esa manera? He leído casi todos los libros de María Antonieta pero este me ha sorprendido muchísimo. Quizás porque no logro entender por que ella siguió con él al descubrir el engaño. ¿Es posible perdonar un engaño de esta naturaleza? No lo sé y tampoco quiero averiguarlo. Pero si nos enseña mucho de la calidad humana de Maria Antonieta, que se enteró de toda la verdad de a poquitos. ¿Qué lleva a un hombre a cometer ésta clase de delito? ¿Piensa acaso que nadie lo va a descubrir como quiere hacernos creer Fabio? Este libro es como una telenovela, con María Antonieta como la actriz principal y Fabio como el malo de la telenovela. Ojala les guste a ustedes, como me gustó a mí pero que me dejó un sabor agridulce cuando lo termine de leer.   ~ Marcela