Unrequired Reading | Newberry

Unrequired Reading

One problem with bright, shiny books is that they start to look alike after a while. I know: so many books are still published every year in this century of “The Book Is Doomed” that there’s plenty of variety. And yet once in a while one yearns for books with a bit of dust n them.

Well, we’ve had a bunch of those this week, and I note that some of these are by authors you just MIGHT not have read about in People or The New Yorker this month. So here is a quick line-up of SOME of the authors whose work you may find out on the tables at the end of July.

Frances Ridley Havergal: Author of religious books for adults and children, but known most as a poet. A number of her poems were set to music and thus became hymns, the most famous of which is “Take My Life and Let It Be.”

Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney: A lot of women writing books in the nineteenth century used that Mrs. The initials hide Adeline Dutton Train Whitney, poet and author of books for good little girls who would never really want to do improper things like, say, vote.

Kate Douglas Wiggin: You should have heard of her before, but that’s no guarantee these days. Singer, kindergarten teacher, crusader for children’s rights, she also wrote, oh, about a million children’s books, most famously Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which has made several lists of high points in American literature.

Mary J. Holmes: The second best-selling female author in nineteenth century America, whose novels were bought by millions, read, and largely forgotten by the following generation. Her novels set in the Civil War have earned her a little rediscovery in this century: her depictions of women and slavery seem important enough for critics to overlook the sentimental nature of the actual stories.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Okay, you HAVE heard of her. Yes, you HAVE: she was the best-selling female author in nineteenth century America, thanks to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which led Abraham Lincoln to make a joke to her about having started the Civil War. But did you know she wrote dozens of other books? (The public, she said, seemed to be mad for stories.) There were more novels, collections of short stories, and—we get one copy every year—her support of Lady Byron in the ongoing saga of that magical marriage. Her husband Calvin wrote some books, too, but I’ve never been able to get anybody interested enough to buy any.

Mrs. Humphrey Ward: Wildly popular British novelist, whose stories were filled with strong religious instruction and other healthy ingredients. The income from her novels helped support her social causes (she was president of a major anti-suffrage league.)

E.D.E.N. Southworth: Another incredibly popular novelist (even if you judge only by the number of books we’ve had come in this week), she was a pal of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and wrote about upstanding, moral young women who nonetheless went out and had adventures and didn’t believe in doing whatever men told them to do.

Anna Katherine Green: Long before Sara Paretsky, Anna Katherine Green was producing mystery novels people couldn’t wait to run out and buy. She even had a female detective in several of her novels, and may have been the first author to feature a body in a library.

This is just a small sampling of the bygone fiction we have to offer, and at popular prices. If you want to attract attention on your commute by sitting in the train reading a novel more than a century old, we can help you achieve this goal. If you wind up as the president of the CTA ADT Whitney Club, we’ll be proud to have started you on your way.

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