Sunday, December 9, 2018

2019 Victorian Reading Challenge --- with PRIZES!


The last four years, I've read everything "Victorian" I could get my hands on. I still can't seem to get enough, so this year I'm renewing my commitment toward Victorian studies. I'm still fascinated and there's still so much to learn! Read on for a phantasmagorical reading challenge for 2019---complete with PRIZES---Victorian style!

More than any other time in modern history, the Victorian Age saw the most change to European and American societies. Many agrarian, rural communities transitioned to urban centers of industry. Men and women began to talk about and take steps toward redefining their traditional roles. Theories about God, the origin of man, and the practice of religion began to be publicly put forth, challenged, refuted, or solidified. The Victorian Age saw a great revolution in the western world and it's a topic that fascinates me endlessly.

Over the past few years, I've collected a good stack of Victorian novels and have several on my Christmas list. I spent a week in England a couple years ago, visiting the Brontes' old stomping grounds, and even wrote and taught a class on Victorian Sci Fi and Fantasy literature. This year's reading challenge will be all about the Victorians.

The Rules

*Books published during the Victorian age (1837-1901) are acceptable.

*Books written about the Victorian age are acceptable, no matter what year they were published.

*Stories are not limited to Victorian Britain. Read about what was going on in other parts of the world during this time!

The challenge is open to everyone everywhere---you don't have to have a blog or site to join. Just comment with the link to your online review (Amazon, Goodreads, BookCrossing, or elsewhere) and we'll come visit you.

How to Join

Leave a comment below letting me know you're in and add your blog link if you have one. You can link directly to your home page or to a post you've written about the challenge.

You can join at any point during 2019!

Share this challenge with your friends so they can join, too!

The Prizes

This year I'm teaming up with The Victorian Letter Writers Guild (ok, yes, the VLWG is also me...just let me have my fun) to bring you some superb Victorian-inspired quarterly prizes. To win, simply add the link to each review you do in the comment section below. Each quarter (March, June, September, December) I'll randomly choose one reader to win a fun Victorian-inspired reading/writing package. The challenge is open internationally so share, share, share with your friends!

Antique Christmas Books to Inspire a Festive Atmosphere


I've enjoyed several days of reading and relaxing this past week, having gone through my shelves and dug out a nice stack of Christmas stories. Life has slowed down and I'm ready to dive into the massive To Be Read pile I've been accumulating for years. Ok, fine, the "pile" is actually four shelves shoved full of books from all genres and eras. But 2019 is the year I tackle it....even though it will likely be the same size this time next year---just full of different titles.

But anyway...back to Christmas. This first title, The Man Who Found Christmas, was written by Walter Prichard Eaton, former drama critic and early to mid-century author. The Man Who Found Christmas was originally published in 1913, just before the beginning of WWI. It tells the tale of Wallace, a man who has lost his faith in family and God. He's cynical about Christmas, when something stirs up a memory and puts him on a path to discover its true meaning. In a quaint village, he meets Nora and family who help bring him round to a renewed joy and a higher purpose.

Eaton wrote the updated introduction to this story at a critical time for American men. The war had been over for several years and life had adjusted dramatically after the loss of so many men. America was entering a depression and cynical attitudes were rampant. The author captures this feeling well in the character of Wallace, contrasting it beautifully with the lovely Nora. The story hinges on the idea that "Christmas is service", and this is true! Those of us who celebrate the true message of Christmas---Christ's coming to Earth to save us---know that there is no better way to serve God than to obey him in service to his people.

I really enjoyed this story---it's a timeless one for every generation. I'm sure this will become a traditional Christmas read for me. 

Washington Irving was an American short story writer, biographer, and diplomat who came of age at the turn of the 19th century. (He wrote at the same time as Jane Austen!) Old Christmas in Merrie England is a short essay Irving wrote about a Christmas he spent with a friend in England. It's full of fun anecdotes and insights into pre-Victorian England. I believe it is featured and first published in his work, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, published in 1819.

Christmas Every Day and Other Stories is an antique collection of Christmas stories told for children from the works of W.D. Howells. Published in 1892, it includes: Christmas Every Day, Turkeys Turning the Tables, The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express, The Pumpkin-Glory, and Butterflyflutterby and Flutterbybutterfly.

I really enjoyed this charming and witty book. These are super funny and imaginative stories with fun interaction between Papa and the children. I caught a neat mention in one story of "postal cards" as being different from letters. I always like reading about Victorian letter writing practices. I'm sure this will become a yearly Christmas favorite.

Handmade bookplate of an earlier owner.
Fabulous illustration by H.C. Ireland, popular illustrator of the time. The image of the Santa looking back and smiling is also featured on one of the postcards I bought and sent out to the members of my Victorian Letter Writers Guild this year.

Lastly is this 1901 copy of Louisa May Alcott's A Christmas Dream. My mother in law gave me this book about 10 years ago to share within the family. Her family read it at Christmas time when she was a little girl and her mother had written the family name and address inside the front cover. 

The volume features two stories; A Christmas Dream and Baa! Baa! Both are stories of the act of serving and blessing those less fortunate. This is a common theme with Alcott and a great one to meditate on---then act upon---at Christmas time and all throughout the year!

What are you reading this Christmas season? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Secret Life of Books: Inscriptions, Inspiring and Otherwise


One reason I love to collect antique books is the fun I have reading the inscriptions. Inscriptions are an important part of a book's history as they give us information on previous owners, dates gifted, and, oftentimes, the thoughts of the previous reader about the book. I always ask my mom or husband to write an inscription when they gift me books and I proudly sign my name and the 21st century date below all inscriptions in my antique books.

I've got just a couple funny ones to share today. First up is this 1945 copy of Best Short Stories of Jack London


Inside is a funny little poem:

The errant cat though long astray
Comes back to home at last one day.
Ah! May this book when lent be feline
Enough to make a homeward beline!
 Zeta Schooler
Dec. 31, 1949
Raymond, Wash.

Next up is this history book from 1942: The Growth of the American People and Nation by Mary G. Kelty. 

This inscription cracks me up:
In case of fire or flood, throw this book out last.

Hmmm...sounds like a winner! Perhaps I'll add it to the kids' homeschool rotation. Ha!!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Secret Life of Books: Hopelessly Devoted to Hawthorne


I've never been the type to crush on a celebrity, but I do have to admit to an author crush. I'm fascinated with the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne---and it helps that he's babelicious, to boot! Nevermind the minor age difference...and the issue of, well, everything. (Hawthorne died 154 years ago at age 60) Nathaniel Hawthorne is my male Jane Austen. In fact, if I ever have another son, I'm thinking of naming him Nathaniel Hawthorne Coller. I'm not even kidding.

Anyway...today I have a couple awesome Hawthorne finds to show you all! My daughter, Lynzie, volunteers at our public library---that same one that has the awesome antique book sale section. A couple weeks ago she found this fabulous 1910 beauty, Hawthorne's Country and, sweet thing that she is, ended up giving it to me. This author, Helen A. Clarke wrote several biographies of 19th century authors, published in these pretty volumes with lots of photographs included.

Maine's Bowdoin College where Hawthorne was a student in the early 1820s.

As is fitting, this book contains a secret! Hidden away towards the back of the book (for maximum weight benefits) are these pressed plants and a note dated from the early 1950s:

"Pulled the leaf from an elm tree that grew in front of a courts cabin we stayed in at Belleville, Kan while on our vacation. June 18, 1953.
Nov. 27, 1952 --sprig of Platte River Spruce
June 16, 1953 -- 2 leaves of supposed Iron Wood collected on shore of Sylvan Lake Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota"

The other side of the paper is a 1950s era ad for Mt. Rushmore Souvenir and Gift Shop. 

Further on in the book, she'd pressed this pretty pink flower. (I haven't shown all this to Lynzie. I'm afraid she'll take it back!!)

Earlier this year, I was shopping for school books for the kids and came across this gorgeous cloth-covered edition of Hawthorne's Wonder Book. The print sorta looks like ladybugs...or it could be lollipops...or maybe hot air balloons. Whatever it is, it's sorta steampunky and super neat! 

Ruth Mettler earned this pretty book for good attendance in 1907, but I wonder where the book was in the few years since it was published in 1902? Perhaps it was the teacher's special copy that she decided to pass along to a loved pupil?

We have several newer copies of this volume as it's a great reference to help kids learn some of the ancient Greek myths. However, this one is all mine! Can you believe I won the auction for $5!!

Have you found anything neat in a book lately? Tell me about it!


Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Secret Life of Books: Of Vow and Verse

One thing I love about collecting antique books is discovering the hidden stories they tell. It feels magical to open an old volume and find a photo, clipping, or note that someone left behind long ago. 

I've been putting together my kids' homeschool curriculum for this coming school year and have started collecting the books they'll be reading. They read a lot of books that are 80-100 years old and older, but I usually purchase a newer version in paperback so they'll last longer. Whenever I find an antique version, however, I grab it up for my own library. 

I recently found this 1939 version of The Oxford Book of English Verse at my local library's book sale shop. It's the "new edition", spanning years 1250-1908. Its navy blue cover is just the right amount of worn and its ribbon bookmark is set at Coleridge's Kubla Khan. It's going to look lovely in my collection but what I'm most excited about was the treasure I found inside.

On one side is the minister's notes for a long ago marriage ceremony. One side has been torn off---I'm sure it's marking a spot in some other old book somewhere. 

The other side is someone's notes for his marriage vows. My imagination tells me it's the night before the wedding and the couple has just finished the wedding rehearsal at the church. All went fairly well, until the future bride pulled a folded note from her purse when the minister said it was time to practice their vows. On it was the seventeenth draft of the wedding vows she'd been rewriting all week. An awkward silence follows the groom's little white lie, "I'm still working on mine."

After everyone else has left, the groom says to the minister in a panic, "Why didn't you tell me, man?! I don't know how to write wedding vows---I thought that was your job!" The minister tells him to just make a list of a few things he likes about her and end it with something Laurence Olivier would say. The groom pats his pockets, searching for something to write on. The minister grabs the order of service from his Bible and rips a portion off to keep back for a bookmark. "Here man, use this. Now pull yourself together. It's your wedding, after all."  The groom grabs the paper and offered pen and scribbles the following:

sense of adventur
flex indep.
love of nature
comm to family
your wonderful soul
Together, I want to seek, through life's adventures, to expand our hearts & minds

Shaking, he hands it back to the minister. "How's this?" he asks. 
"Excellent," he answers. "Now put it somewhere where you won't lose it."



Sunday, February 11, 2018

Antique Books by Frances Hodgson Burnett -- A Prized Set

This article has been a long time coming! Waaaay back in May 2016, I told you about an antique copy of Little Lord Fauntleroy that I found on my city library's book sale shelf. I did go back and get it that pay day, but haven't posted here yet because I had found something even more exciting!

Within the same week of finding this gorgeous copy of L.L.F., I saw that Michael Popek, author and bookseller, had a matching copy of a book I'd never heard of!



One of Hodgson Burnett's most famous stories is that of A Little Princess, published in 1905. It featured Sara Crewe, the delightful daughter of a British Captain stationed in India. However, I was not aware that the novel had begun as the short story, Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's, published 17 years earlier in 1888. This very copy was featured on Popek's site, Forgotten Bookmarks, before I snatched it up! It's called Sara Crewe, Little Saint Elizabeth, and Other Stories, published in 1898. 


I love the cover design on these. Little Lord Fauntleroy features a crown motif around the title, while Sara Crewe is decorated with Indian elephants. I'm so excited to read these lovely copies. I'll let you know what I think when I'm through!