Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Trail of the Serpent, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915)  is best known for her novel Lady Audley's Secret, published in 1862.  This wonderful mystery was very popular, and has remained in print ever since.  (I defy even experienced readers to guess the true nature of "Lady Audley's secret" before the end.)

Miss Braddon was a very prolific author, though, with more than 150 novels to her credit, and her other work deserves attention too.  The Trail of the Serpent was one of her earliest novels.  It was originally serialized in 1860 as Three Times Dead, in which form it met with only a cool reception from the reading public.  In 1861 she re-worked the novel and published it in book form under its new title.  In this form it became a best-seller that remained popular for many years.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Daybreak - 2250 A.D., by Andre Norton

I attended grade school in a small town that might remind you of Andy Griffith's Mayberry.  My father had a shop on Main Street, and he dropped me off at school every morning.  There were two schools, for first through fourth grade and fifth through eighth grade, both also on Main Street and within easy walking distance of my father's shop. Afternoons, I walked along the sidewalk from school to my father's shop,  being careful not to break my mother's back, and pausing at the town's single stoplight to wait for one of the town's two policemen to help me cross the street.  I'd wait for my father to finish his work, then we'd drive back home.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"Cousin Mary" and "The First Primrose", by Mary Russell Mitford

Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1855) worked for much of her life as a professional writer.  It seems to have been work she loved and was well-suited to, but it was also necessary, since her income supported herself and her parents.  Mitford experienced an amazing life of booms and busts.  Her mother was an heiress who married a likeable, happy, but irresponsible man.  He shortly squandered all of his wife's wealth, leaving the family in poverty.

But, at the age of ten, Mary picked a winning number in the Irish lottery and won a prize of £ 20,000.  This made the family wealthy again, and they moved into an opulent house and lived well for a few years.  But Mary's father once again squandered the family's money, and soon they were forced to move to the small village of Three Mile Cross in Berkshire, in Southeast England, where Mary's growing career as a writer supported them all for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From Atoms to Stars, by Theodore Askounes Ashford

There were tobacco warehouses along the French Broad River in Asheville, North Carolina, where I grew up.  During the off-season, when they were empty of tobacco, these huge buildings housed flea markets.  When I was a kid, my father and I spent a lot of great Saturdays rummaging through them.   We both loved junk.  For us, visiting junk shops or flea markets was like exploring a marvelous cave or a tropical jungle.

Mostly, I was looking for books, and they were there in abundance at prices almost anyone could afford.   I bought science and math textbooks and old Science Fiction magazines, and browsed through boxes of pulp magazines from my father's era. (Doc Savage! The Shadow!) The pulps were too pricey for me to buy though, even then.  Most of the books I bought cost around 25 cents.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Pickets", by Robert W. Chambers

Robert W. Chambers (1865-1933) was a very prolific author who wrote in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His work covered many genres: humor, stories of the civil war, romances, historical fiction, stories of the supernatural, and others.  His popularity and wide appeal gained him the epithet "the shopgirl scheherazade".

Chambers' supernatural fiction was a powerful influence on such later writers as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, all of whom incorporated the names of places and supernatural characters from Chambers' writing.  Chambers' best known writing in this genre is his collection of connected stories The King in Yellow, which tells of encounters with a book called (naturally) "The King in Yellow" that drives each of its readers mad.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Golden Book Encyclopedia of Natural Science (Volume 1)

It was the early 1960s, and I was about three years old.  I was spending the day at my Aunt Flora Mae's house.  My Aunt was in the kitchen, and I was roaming around the living room, exploring.  This book was lying on a shelf underneath an end table.

Books were scarce in  the houses I visited then.  Other than a Bible, there might be no books at all.  After some  hesitation, I picked up the book and opened it.  It was wonderful!  It had so many things in it!

 My Aunt came into the room.  She smiled at me and said, "Do you like that? You can have it."