Saturday, April 30, 2011

Library: Hastings, Nebraska

Hastings Public Library
517 West 4th Street
Hastings, Nebraska 68901

Built: sometime in the early 1960s (source)
Collection: 145,924 volumes
Circulation: 234,697 items per year
Serves: 31,151 residents
Visit the Hastings Public Library website here
Date visited: March 11, 2011

Hastings had a Carnegie Library: a $15,000 grant was awarded on December 22, 1902 and the library was built in 1903.  One of the librarians that I talked with during my visit said she remembered the old library and thought it a beautiful building but said it was very dark inside.

As you can see from the picture above, there are lots of windows in the new library.  The side shot below shows more windows.


The most prominent architectural feature of the newer library is this grand staircase that hugs the front doors. The openness of the staircase allows a lot of light to stream into the building on both the first and second floors.  The circulation desk faces the front door.  I was there on a sunny day which made the library seem very bright indeed.  It practically glowed.  I was there on a Friday morning around 10-ish and it was very busy, so I didn't take any interior pictures other than of the staircase.

 Looking down into the staircase from the second floor.

Below are two pictures of the old Carnegie Library which was demolished.

The library has its very own bookstore inside that's run by the Friends of the Hastings Public Library. It wasn't open when I was there, but if you visit check it out.  Its on the first floor toward the back.  It looked like they had lots of cool stuff in there!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

by Jenny Erpenbeck
Originally published in Germany as Heimsuchung by Eichborn Verlag, 2008
Translated from German by Susan Bernofsky
Edition I read by New Directions, 2010 

Visitation is a short novel, only 192 pages long, but Erpenbeck's sparse prose (and Bernofsky's translation) coupled with the sweep of history touched upon in snippets of various character's lives left me with the feeling that I had just read a thick tome.  Erpenbeck shows that less is not only more, but that it can be magical and painful as readers are left to fill in what their imaginations so desire.

The main character of Visitation is not a person, but a house.  No, not even the house, but the land that the house sits on is the main character. The house represents human need and is something readers can understand--the need for creative expression, memory, safety, refuge, as well greed, violence, denial, and possession, among other things. The land that the house sits on is at the shores of Brandenburg lake just outside Berlin.  Location, location, location.

The human characters come and go and sometimes come back in this novel—the landed gentry, the Jews, the Nazis, the Communists, the Capitalists.  Other than the land, the only constant, for a long time anyway, is the Gardner.  I am curious about which characters stick with me and what that says about me; why and when I may like and then not like a particular character; which ones I've already forgotten and recall only after flipping back through the book in admiration of Erpenbeck's genius.

I was both excited and exhausted after finishing the book--excited by Erpenbeck's writing and storytelling, but rather exhausted by this trip that shows how humans are impacted by their governments and other social constructions which separate us even as we long for connection.

I don't remember where I first heard about Visitation, but I do know that I heard about it because its up for an award, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the winner of which will be announced on May 26, 2011.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Library: Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Plattsmouth Public Library
401 Avenue A
Plattsmouth, Nebraska 68048

Carnegie Grant Awarded: June 1, 1915
Built: 1916
Building Cost: $12,500
Operating income (2010?): $281,921

Current holdings:
Books: 38,390
Audio materials: 872
Videos: 735
Serial publications: 89
Serves: 6,867 residents

I've visited the Plattsmouth Public Library many times in the past when visiting family/friends who live in town.  By the time I arrived in Plattsmouth during my trip to Nebraska last month it was Saturday evening and the library was already closed.

I remember feeling snug and safe in this library as a kid.  My own hometown library in Cicero, IL was a two story building that seemed too large and intimidated me when I was really little.  I eventually grew into that library.  The Plattsmouth library has grown, too, with an addition that doubled its size as you can see in this picture of the side of the building:
addition on left, original on right

This addition looks similar to the one that the public library in Red Cloud, NE is currently raising funds for.  When I make it back to Plattsmouth I'll update this post with inside pictures, if possible (out of respect for people's privacy, I don't take pictures if people can be identified).

The Plattsmouth library is on the National Register of Historic Places.  This plaque is mounted below the light on the right-hand side of the door as you're walking into the library.
The small print reads:
Andrew Carnegie donated $12,500 to the city with the provision the city allocate $1,250 per year to run the library. It was built in the neo-classical revival style. Miss Olive Jones the first librarian held this position for 54 years, retiring in 1940.
There's parking on the street out front of the library and in back.  But if you park in the rear you'd better be going to the library:

The Carnegie library was not Plattsmouth's first library.  The original library still stands across the street. I forgot about this when I was there or I would have taken a picture.  Epic fail on my part, as my nephew would say.  However, here are two pictures of that earlier library from the Nebraska Library Commission.
Historic picture of Plattsmouth's earlier library, circa 1916

A more recent photo.  Years ago when my aunt first told me that this was the old library, it was a private residence. Notice how the windows were altered.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Lieutenant's Lady by Bess Streeter Alrich

The Lieutenant's Lady
by Bess Streeter Aldrich
Originally published 1942 by D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc.
Edition read: 1987 Bison Book
ISBN 0-8032-5914-x

This is the second novel that I've read by Nebraska author Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881-1954). The first was one that I've read several times, A Lantern in her Hand, the novel for which Aldrich is best known. Although she was a very popular writer in her day, I first heard about Aldrich as a grad student while attending the English Department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in the early 1990s.

Last summer I won a copy of The Lieutenant's Lady from the blog Frisbee: A Book Journal and read it shortly after finally visiting Aldrich's house for the first time last month.  (I wrote a blog post about the visit that you can read here.)

The Lieutenant's Lady is about a young woman, Linnie, from the East who's visiting relatives in Omaha in the late 1860s shortly after Nebraska gains statehood. Omaha is booming, the Civil War is over, and the US Army has turned its attention to making the western lands safe for white settlement. After a not very pleasant visit with her know-it-all-money-and-business-obsessed uncle, her invalid aunt, and shallow cousin, Linnie begins her journey home to the East, but doesn't tell anyone that she's first going to travel up the Missouri River to tell her cousin's fiance, a lieutenant in the Army stationed at a remote fort, that he's lost his betrothed to another man.  As she's dashing off to Chicago on her honeymoon after her not-so-spontaneous marriage to the man her father wanted her to marry (a businessman with potential rather than a man rotting his life away in the army), the shallow cousin asks Linnie to write the good lieutenant a Dear John letter for her.  Linnie said she would, but couldn't bring herself to do it because she's secretly smitten with the young lieutenant. He's understandably upset when Linnie shows up rather than his bride-to-be, but he marries Linnie the day she arrives for the sake of her safety and saving face. They eventually fall in love while dealing with the hardships and dangers of Army life on the plains.

Aldrich based this novel on the diary of an Army wife that someone had sent her--she was known for collecting pioneer stories to authenticate her fiction. I'd love to read the original diary to see what Aldrich made up, what she may have left out, and how she transformed the woman's personal writings into fiction of her own. The novel was published in 1942 and I wonder if Aldrich chose this story as a subject at this time due to the pro-army feeling she created.

I enjoyed The Lieutenant's Lady and recommend it to readers who are interested in the historical time period and/or western literature.  It isn't a particularly sophisticated story and the writing is not graceful, so I wouldn't recommend it to a general literary fiction reader.  It's the kind of book I loved to read and deconstruct as an undergraduate as racial attitudes, gender issues, and themes like service vs greed abound.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pat Conroy's next book--THE DEATH OF SANTINI

Rumor had it that Conroy's next book was coming out in the fall of 2011, but that obviously didn't happen. I'll post updates here as I come across them.

The Death of Santini is a memoir of how Conroy's father changed in the years following the storm of The Great Santini.

[11/3/2013] Pat Conroy event in Chicago: November 7, 2013, 7pm, Location changed to Winnetka Congregational Church, 725 Pine Street in Winnetka. Contact The Book Stall for details.

[8/27/13] Release date is October 29, 2013. Check out the cover art.

[5/14/13] It was announced yesterday that The Death of Santini will be coming out this October. Fingers crossed! Here's a short article and the book is listed on Doubleday's Pat Conroy page. No cover art floating around yet.

[9/17/2012] In an interview for the Tulsa World Scene section dated 9/16/12, James D. Watts Jr. writes that Conroy was finishing up The Death of Santini last week.

[7/2/2012] Here's a video conversation/interview with Pat Conroy and his good friend John Warley from Savannah Magazine courtesy of the Savannah Book Festival. They talk about Don Conroy, The Great Santini, in his last years. Still haven't come across a new release date.

[4/13/2012] In an interview with The Palm Beach Post dated March 29, 2012 Conroy had this to say about The Death of Santini:
Don Conroy, The Great Santini
Right now I’m writing The Death of Santini. I want to write about my father’s extraordinary change. When I wrote the novel, he hated it, and then he changed himself. And when he died, he was a good guy. He turned himself into a good man, and that amazes me. When I was growing up, I hated his guts. I hated him when I was in diapers.
 And what I found in writing the book is that I have to go back to the beginning and tell the true stories about how horrible he was. Beating up my poor mother, beating me to a pulp. Great damage ensued.
 And the next part is quite amazing. He died a beloved man, and I have to tell that.

[4/18/2011] I was so happy to hear that Patricia Cornwell will have another novel out in 2011 (read about it here) and today I just read that another favorite writer of mine, Pat Conroy, may also have a book out in 2011!

Pat and his wife Cassandra King, also a writer, are interviewed in the May/June edition of Writer's Digest.  Conroy says in the interview, which took place in February, that if he finishes Death of Santini by May, it should be out sometime in the fall of 2011.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Those familiar with Conroy will already know who Santini is, but if you're not, click here to visit Conroy's page about the book. The Great Santini is one of my favorite novels and the movie adaptation was good, too.

After Death of Santini Conroy plans to write a novel based on his experience teaching high school in Beaufort, SC for a couple years during the Vietnam era.  And after that?  After that Conroy plans to write a novel about Atlanta.

A novel about Atlanta from Pat Conroy?  The thought gives me goosebumps!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Buddenbrooks & the Unabridged Bookstore

the door
I had some business to attend to today in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.  Afterwards I decided to take a stroll to visit one of my favorite bookstores, one that I haven't been to in years, the Unabridged Bookstore.

And I'm SO happy I decided to go because I FINALLY came across a copy of Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks which I've been wanting to re-read.  I could have gotten it from the library, but I wanted my own copy.  (I've no idea what happened to the copy I read in the late 80s--Did I sell it? Loan it out?  Lose it during a move?  Was the copy I "owned" earlier not really mine?  I may have Bibliodementia.)

I've had the desire to re-read this novel for a few years now and more recently I decided I needed to re-read it THIS summer, so I've been keeping an eye out for it when I find myself in a bookstore.  Since early March I've been in close to a dozen used & new bookstores in three states (Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska) and haven't found a copy on the shelves.  And since I've sort of unofficially challenged myself not to order books online anymore, that easy, almost-instant gratification wasn't really an option (unless I got desperate, I told myself).  Today in addition to Buddenbrooks, I also picked up a copy of Hermann Hesse's Demian and Thomas Wright's Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, all of which were in the bargain section.
the store front
The Unabridged Bookstore has been going strong in Lakeview since 1980.  Part of the Lakeview neighborhood is well known to most Chicagoans as Boystown, a gay and lesbian cultural/business area.  (There's also the Andersonville neighborhood, which is/was more lesbian and where you'll find Women & Children First bookstore.)  I spent a lot of time in Lakeview when I was in college and loved it.  It was great to have a place to hang out where I fit in and felt safe.  I'm glad bookstores and neighborhoods like this still exist and are thriving.  I know society is changing, but sometimes it doesn't seem like its changing fast enough what with all the angry rhetoric about Gay Marriage and Don't Ask Don't Tell, young people being bullied to death due to their orientation, and how the labels "fag" and "faggot" still permeate high schools and the every-day language of some adults.

For me the Unabridged Bookstore has always been the anchor of the neighborhood. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and usually too busy to stand around and chat.  Here's the store description from their website:
Owner Ed Devereux opened Unabridged Bookstore in its current location at 3251 N. Broadway in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood on Saturday, November 1, 1980, and while it has expanded since, his vision has remained the same: to promote and sell great books, focusing on gay and lesbian titles while maintaining an excellent selection for the general public. In an era of explosive chain store growth, the advent of, and a corresponding disappearance of independent media outlets, a thriving bookstore specializing in gay and lesbian books as well as general fiction, children's, travel, and home design titles is worth celebrating. Unabridged is known for its dedicated, knowledgeable full-time staff, (and their hand-written personal recommendations) an unparalleled sale book section, and an award-winning children's section. It's safe to say that Unabridged is the only bookstore in the Chicago area where a shopper can buy the latest issue of a gay magazine, a copy of children's classic Goodnight Moon, or newest title, and pick up the latest literary fiction & non-fiction sensation, all in one stop.
the block (white van is in front of the bookstore)
The title selection is impressive and the store is well laid-out and clean. I liked that they have a separate section for classics and for Europa Editions.  The bargain section is not the usual overstock of former bestselling mystery titles and cookbooks that you see in many bookstores, but is full of literary titles and non-fiction leaning towards history and biography.  And I gotta say that the hand-written staff recommendations are personal and helpful.

I spent about two hours browsing today and it was a good thing that I only had a twenty dollar bill on me or else I could have done some serious damage to my checking account.

Unabridged Bookstore
3251 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Question of Belief by Donna Leon

I've read several novels in Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series and have enjoyed them all, so when a publicist asked if I'd like a review copy of A Question of Belief, I happily said yes.

The Brunetti series is set in modern day Venice. Against a back drop of decaying infrastructure and hordes of tourists, corrupt politicians and shady business dealings keep good men like Commissario Brunetti busy investigating crime.

Donna Leon is the most graceful, consistent mystery writer I've read. Her style is smooth and substantial. "Unpretentious literary fiction" is a phrase that just popped into my head when thinking of her writing style. Brunetti is such a good man and Venetian crime & politics are so base, yet presented through Leon's masterful storytelling and calm voice, nothing seems simplistic or cheapened by this glaring juxtaposition. And although Leon uses the standard mystery novel conventions of red herrings and a main plot along with a seemingly unconnected subplot--the combination keeps you guessing how/if/when they'll come together--nothing falls flat in this novel. She catches the reader (or at least caught me) by surprise for not paying closer attention to all of the senses capable of registering clues.

The atmosphere she creates is delicious.  The characters are delightful.  I'd forgotten that Brunetti is a devotee of the classics and his wife a literature teacher with a passion for Henry James. Book lovers will relate to and delight in the description of Brunetti noticing how the stack of books his wife, Paola, plans to take on vacation regularly changes as the day of departure gets closer:
Preparing for their holiday, each of the family had begun to pack. Paola created a pile of books on top of their dresser, whose composition changed each day in conformity with the books she thought she wold select for the class in the British Novel she was to teach during the coming term. Brunetti studied the titles every night and thus became party to the ongoing struggle: Vanity Fair lost place to Great Expectations, a substitution Brunetti attributed to weight; The Secret Agent lasted three days but was replaced by Heart of Darkness, though the weight differential seemed minimal to Brunetti; a day later, Barchester Towers took over from Middlemarch, suggesting that the weight rule was back in force. Pride and Prejudice appeared the first evening and stayed the course.
Three nights before their expected departure, curiosity got the better of him, and he asked, "Why is it that all the fat books have disappeared, and A Suitable Boy, which is the fattest, remains?
"Oh, I'm not going to teach that," Paola said, as if surprised by his question. "I've wanted to reread it for years.  It's my reward book.

I also appreciate the physical quality of the books in the series and the great cover art (at least for the American versions).  They are rich in color and tone and often evocative.  My favorite cover is Uniform Justice, which I believe was the first Donna Leon novel that I read when it was release in 2004.  The cover alone made me want to dive into the story, those two black figures leading me in.

A Question of Belief is a good mystery for those who don't like a lot of gore or gratuitous violence (there are two violent scenes, but they're pretty quick and don't go into gruesome detail).  I always feel like I've been on a mini-holiday after reading a Brunetti mystery.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is an engaging, fun, and smart novel. I really enjoyed escaping into it for a few days.  There was lots of online buzz about it around the release date (2/8/11), so when I received a gift card to a bookstore for Valentine's Day, I knew exactly which book would soon be joining my personal library.

I don't read many vampire novels anymore and I haven't embraced the vampire romance category that's been all the rage of late.  What helped me take a chance on A Discovery of Witches is that the book opens with Diana Bishop, the main character, doing research at Oxford's Bodleian Library.  I was hooked from the first page.  There IS some romance in the book, but not enough that it slows down the action or gets annoying (well, not too annoying, anyway).  The romance is, in fact, not gratuitous, but is a significant factor in the slow unfolding of the world view of the non-humans that Diana is pushed in to. She doesn't get it at first and neither will you, dear reader, but all (or some) is revealed as the story unfolds.

Without giving away too much about the plot, Diana Bishop is a witch who has for years tried to deny her powers so that she could be sure that all of her accomplishments are due to own efforts and not magic. Diana is from a family of witches: she lost her parents when she was a child and was raised by her lesbian aunt and partner.  (A lesbian couple presented in a positive light was a nice surprise!)  At the opening of the book Diana meets a vampire in the Bodleian, Matthew Clairmont, who has been watching her.  He is, of course, hot, as the current literary convention demands, but he's also a serious scientist.  They first meet on the night Diana stumbles across a manuscript that will change her life.

The action moves from Oxford to France to New England.  Clairmont has been a vampire for ages, as are some of his friends, family, and enemies, so there's a nice smattering of historical bits and teasers.  Even George Washington and the Revolutionary War make a brief appearance, which made me happy in light of also recently reading Chernow's bio of Washington. I found it easy to embrace the world Harkness created.

Deborah Harkness is a history professor and while this is not her first book, it is her first novel, which is book one of the All Souls Trilogy.  I plan on reading the second book when it comes out sometime in 2012.

Throughout this fun and often thought-provoking novel, Harkness's obvious love for libraries, books, and scholarship shine like rays of hope that books still--and always will--matter.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Viking Adult, 2011
592 pages

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Library: Red Cloud, Nebraska

Auld Public Library
537 North Webster
Red Cloud, Nebraska 68970

Date opened: March 8, 1918
Cost: $20,000
Holdings: 10,000+ books, movies, audio books
Date visited: March 11, 2011

The library was a gift from local businessman William T. Auld.  The town had received a Carnegie proposal that wasn't accepted.  Auld's proposal followed the Carnegie plan and the town accepted the conditions, which required it to provide $1,000 annually for upkeep and maintenance.

The $20,000 that Auld provided covered the cost of construction, furniture, and books.

Construction started in the summer of 1917 and the library opened its doors on March 8, 1918. The builders were Fiske & Meginnis of Lincoln and the general contractor was William N. Gedney.

I've made the pilgrimage to Willa Cather's Red Cloud several times, but this was the first time I visited the town library.  In the past I was always in such a rush to get to the Cather stuff.  I also probably drove into town coming from the east on US Route 136 (when I lived in Lincoln, NE) but on this visit I'd spent the night in Hastings, NE, which is about 40 miles north of Red Cloud, so I came into town on US Highway 281.

Unfortunately the librarian wasn't in and the woman who was filling in didn't know the history of the library, but it's easy enough to find some basic info online.  However, I was hoping for a little gossipy history about the library and Willa Cather. Did she frequent the library on trips home to visit the family? Donate books or money? Sit in any of the chairs?  You know, the I'm-a-crazy-fan-and-want-to-know kinda stuff.  I'd also like to know the reasons why the Carnegie library proposal was rejected.  Was it simply good, clean civic pride that preferred a local contribution or was there some sort of nasty back-room-dealing going on?

Anyway, the Auld Library is a one room library and the librarian's desk and bookshelves looked original.  There was a patron using the resources (it was late morning on a Friday).  I spent most of my visit browsing the Nebraska author's section and the Willa Cather section, although a book about cat behavior caught my eye in the general non-fiction section.

I didn't take pictures of the inside for which I'm now kicking myself, but it was good to just be inside and experience the room.  There's a great big wonderful radiator in the non-fiction section that I fear the coming renovation may eliminate. They are currently raising funds to build an addition onto the back of the building which looks like it will double their space.  In addition to the radiators, I'm afraid the old coal chute door on the back of the building will also find its way to the scrap heap (or antique store):

Coal chute.  The house I grew up in had one.

Here's a picture of Red Cloud's main drag, looking south when standing in the middle of the street directly in front of the library:

The library has a blog that you can check out here and they also have a Facebook page.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Patricia Cornwell's next book--RED MIST--coming 12/6/2011 (updated)

[12.6.11]  To read my review, click here

UK cover

[10.17.2011] Patricia Cornwell posted a picture of the back of the uncorrected proof of RED MIST on her Facebook page. Check out the new head shot.

Backside of uncorrected proofs
[9.9.2011] Patricia Cornwell awared the RBA International Thriller Prize 2011 for RED MIST. Read about it here.

[4.21.2011] What is RED MIST about? Here's the synopsis of RED MIST from Cornwell's Facbook page:
RED MIST.  A Scarpetta Novel.
US Cover
As Patricia Cornwell’s remarkable nineteenth novel featuring chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta opens, Scarpetta is driving through Savannah’s low country, on her way to the Georgia Prison for Women. She has agreed to meet with an inmate there, a convicted sex offender and the mother of a vicious and diabolically brilliant killer. Against the advice of her FBI criminal intelligence agent-husband Benton Wesley, Scarpetta is determined to hear this woman out, and to continue on her quest to find out exactly what happened to her former deputy chief, Jack Fielding, murdered six months before.
     The quest is personal, but it is also professional. As the director of the new Cambridge Forensic Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and with her connection to the Department of Defense, Scarpetta has urgent reasons to learn more about a string of grisly killings that she feels are somehow linked to Fielding’s death. The murder of a Savannah family years earlier, a young woman on death row, and then other inexplicable deaths that begin to occur at a breathtaking pace – all of these are related, but who is behind them and why? Driven by inner forces, Scarpetta discovers connections that compel her to conclude that what she thought ended with Fielding’s death and an attempt on her own life is only the beginning of something far more destructive: a terrifying terrain of conspiracy and potential terrorism on an international scale.
     And she is the only one who can stop it.

If you haven't checked out Cornwell's facebook page, she's been doing a regular post called "On the case with Scarpetta" which are pictures/clues of the book she's writing.  She and her admin also post other news updates include tour dates. I'm hoping she comes through Chicago again if she tours for RED MIST.

[4.7.2011] The cover art for Red Mist has landed on Amazon, both the US and Deutschland sites. The German cover will no doubt change once the international versions are available.

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (December 6, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0399158022
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399158025
[4.3.2011] While messing around on Books in Print today, I saw that Patricia Cornwell's next book--Red Mist--is coming out in December 2011!  Funny thing is, is that when I Googled the ISBN number (978-0-399-15802-5), the only sites that came up are German websites and one from the Netherlands.  Go figure.  I checked Amazon and they do have it listed (no cover art or description yet) with a release date of December 6, 2011.

Just wanted to put it out there for all you Cornwell fans.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"The Elms": Author Bess Streeter Aldrich's home in Elmwood, Nebraska

The day after I wrote my last entry about filling the rest of March with posts from my literary trip to Nebraska, my desktop crashed.  I wasn't able to repair/recover it myself, so off to the repair shop it went.  I'm happy to have it home and in tip-top shape.  So here we go--

One of my favorite stops in Nebraska was FINALLY being able to tour the inside of Bess Streeter Aldrich's home in Elmwood.  The home was given to the Bess Steeter Aldrich Foundation in the early 1990s and although they opened the house to tours while I lived in Lincoln, for some reason I was never able to make it there when they were open.  I regularly drove through Elmwood on Highway 1 on my way from Lincoln to visit family in Plattsmouth and could see her house from the road.  It sat there all locked up like a big tease. This time I made it there forty-five minutes before closing time. 

Not many people outside of Nebraska seem to have heard about Bess Steeter Aldrich these days.  My aunt from Plattsmouth told me about her shortly after I fell in love with Willa Cather.  My aunt and I went to the Cass County Museum in Plattsmouth on May 11, 1991 where she bought me a copy of A Lantern in Her Hand.  I still have the book (hence knowing the date and location of the purchase) and it's a wonderful memento to have from my aunt who is no longer with us.

Aldrich was a popular writer in her day.  For example, the top three best-sellers of 1931 were, in descending order, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather, and A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich.  In 1933 her novel Miss Bishop came in at #8 for the year.  That novel was also made into a movie, Cheers for Miss Bishop, in 1941. Aldrich was also one of the highest paid magazine writers at the height of her career and was published in outlets such as "Saturday Evening Post," "Ladies Home Journal," "Collier's," "Cosmopolitan," "McCall's," and "The Writer."  Aldrich published over a hundred short stories & articles, nine novels, and other works.  Her novels are listed at the end of this post. So far I've only read A Lantern in Her Hand and The Lieutenant's Lady, but I read Lantern at least four times.  I'll have more to say about them in a subsequent post.

Aldrich was born in 1881 in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  She attended college in Iowa and then taught for some years in Iowa & Utah before heading to Elmwood, Nebraska in 1909 where she lived until 1945 when she moved to Lincoln to be closer to her daughter.  The Bess Streeter Aldrich Foundation has more biographical information that you can read here and there's also a good book-length biography written by Carol Miles Petersen: Bess Streeter Aldrich: The Dreams Are All Real.

Before I post pictures of her house, here is a sequence of pictures showing how her cool typewriter desk works:
Just a regular old desk
and then . . .
you just lift this handle . . .
and viola! it's morphed into an ergonomically correct typewriter desk!
Driving north into Elmwood on Hwy 1
The Elms, where Aldrich lived from 1922-1945
A side view, click here for copy of historic marker text
The sun room was Aldrich's favorite room
My guide in the sun room
The living room
The dining room
Table & chairs from the drugstore cafe (?) that Aldrich frequented
The kitchen (remodeled after Aldrich moved out)

Me in the hallway leading upstairs to the bedrooms
Each bedroom is themed after one of Aldrich's novels and features a themed quilt.  The following pictures are from The Lantern in Her Hand bedroom...which was my favorite bedroom

Now we're back downstairs in a room just off the sun room.  Aldrich's desk is in this room, but is obviously not pictured--it's off  to the right
A picture of a picture of Aldrich

On the way out of town I stopped and visited Aldrich's grave, which some friends had helped me locate years ago
Novels in chronological order:
Mother Mason* 1924
The Rim of the Prairie 1925
The Cutters 1926
A Lantern in Her Hand* 1928
A White Bird Flying* 1931
Miss Bishop* 1933
Spring Came on Forever* 1935
The Man Who Caught the Weather 1936
Song of Years 1939
The Drum Goes Dead 1941
The Lieutenant's Lady 1942
Journey Into Christmas 1949
The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader 1950
A Bess Streeter Aldrich Treasury 1959

The * symbol indicates the book is available (as of 4/1/2011) for free download through Project Gutenberg Australia, not the US site -- click here to go there.
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