The Portygee (Joseph C. Lincoln, 1919)

Zelotes’s daughter elopes with an Italian opera singer, which in his small town Cape Cod eyes is just about the worst thing ever. There’s nothing he hates more than a Portygee (all foreigners are Portygee, and foreigner can mean anyone from outside the county). Daughter dies, and later, her husband dies as well. Their son, Alberto Speranza, becomes Zelotes’s ward. He can barely contain his outrage at the boy’s half-breed blood. Albert, as he’s now called, is an aspiring writer and poet, and Zelotes thinks that’s just the most idiotic nonsense. He’s not a fan of fiction on general principle. He makes the boy work as an assistant bookkeeper at his lumber yard and hopes to groom him into eventually inheriting the business.

It’s a culture shock leaving New York and coming to South Harniss, but Albert makes friends both among the locals and the summer residents. His best friend, Helen, is a local. He’s fallen in love with a summerer, Madeline. She loves his poems, some of which he’s gotten published. Her family is extremely wealthy and thoroughly disapprove. Madeline is whisked away. In despair, Albert enlists in the army to fight in the World War.

His military career is pretty short. In his first battle, they’re ambushed by Germans and his lieutenant is shot. He drags him to safety, then runs back into the fray to save his buddy and is caught in an explosion. It’s thought he died and he’s hailed as a hero at home and awarded a posthumous Croix de Guerre. Before he left, an anthology of his poems had just been published and now they’re a best seller. Zelotes gets the first $3,000 royalty check and, though he still doesn’t understand it, he has to admit he was wrong and apparently somebody buys these things.

Albert didn’t die, though. He was badly injured but still alive and was taken captive. He spent the war in a POW camp. He returns with a hero’s welcome, although in his own eyes, he’s no hero. He was captured in his very first battle — he’s a dismal failure. Madeline’s parents have completely reversed course and welcome Albert into the family, but he’s changed and he can’t see what he ever saw in Madeline to begin with. He returns to South Harniss and realizes it was Helen all along.

In the end, he’s got a contract to write a series of stories for $500 each and he’s elected to congress. Zelotes evolves as a character, starting as an unrepentant racist, then learning to hide his racist tendencies, and eventually he repents his racism. People can come from anywhere and that’s okay, so long as they speak English. One step at time.

Inscriptions: None, though there was a bookmark evidently torn from some other book. There isn’t much text on it: “fian! Not f/continent/eal to” on one side, “hey’ll not ge/fers met, w/eneral” on the other.

Raspberry Jam (Carolyn Wells, 1919)

Sanford and his wife Eunice are at loggerheads because he won’t give her an allowance. Aunt Abby, who raised Eunice, is visiting and won’t shut up about psychic phenomena. She’s very sensitive to them, you see. One morning, Sanford is found dead, poisoned by henbane poured in his ear a la Hamlet. The bedrooms were open to each other but locked off from the rest of the apartment, so the police figure one of the two women must have done it, and Eunice had just seen a performance of Hamlet. She’s the guilty one — no need to look any further. Private detective Fleming Stone is hired to clear Eunice and find the real murderer.

Aunt Abby says she saw Sanford’s spirit departing from his body and passing through her room. In fact, she bit it on the sleeve and found that it tasted like raspberries. Spirits aren’t known for being so corporeal, but she’s convinced that’s what she saw and she certainly didn’t see a real, live man sneaking out of Sanford’s bedroom and toward her window, and definitely not the one who’s training to be a human fly who scales buildings.

No inscriptions.

The Rider of the King Log (Holman Day, 1919)

A large paper firm is trying to monopolize access to a river dependent on by the local loggers. The X.K. refuses to sell out and won’t be denied their water rights. Since her father’s death, Claire has been the head of the X.K. Donald Kezar is in love with Claire, but with her in power over the firm, he sees himself losing his power over her. He begins secretly sabotaging their operations — at last reaching that point that he’d rather see the X.K. out of business than in Claire’s hands.

Inscriptions: From the Stratton Public Library, in Stratton, Maine. First added to the collection in 1933, last checked out by H.S. Dexter in August 31st, 1953. Not a very fast reader — kept it out for six weeks, altogether.

The Cup of Fury (Rupert Hughes, 1919)

The adopted daughter of English aristocrats begins to suspect her parents are German spies for the very good reason that they are. The authorities are not without some doubt of Marie Louise herself, but as she’s an American citizen, she’s not arrested. Back in the US, she becomes involved with a ship builder named Davidge. Filled with patriotic fervor, she takes a job at his new shipyard. A German agitator she knew in England appears and threatens to blow up all of Davidge’s work unless she can stop him.

Inscriptions: There’s what’s probably a name and address on the front flyleaf, but the handwriting is perfectly indecipherable. I’m not even going to guess.

The Ranchman (Charles Alden Seltzer, 1919)

Squint Taylor is elected as the first mayor of Dawes, a ranching town in the southwest. Carrington exploits a corrupt judge and politicians to oust Squint and install himself in his place, intent on turning the town into his personal fiefdom and milking it for all it’s worth. (Sound familiar?) Arriving in Dawes with Carrington is Marion Harlan. She and Squint fall in love, but Carrington has claimed her as his own and tries to force himself on her. (Sound familiar?) In the end, Squint beats Carrington nearly to death and an angry lynch mob takes cares of the other conspirators. (Sound familiar?)

Inscription: E. Blanche Guilford, on the front flyleaf.

From Now On (Frank L. Packard, 1919)

An underling of a crooked bookkeeper thinks he’s set for life when he manages double-cross his employer and make off with a hundred thousand dollars in cash, but the theft only lands him five years in prison. On his release, he’s hounded by the police, who expect him to lead them to where the money is hidden; by his gangland compatriots, who expect the same; and by the mafia, who he foolishly accepted a favor from without realizing that it came at a price. In the end, after much bloodshed and death, he comes to realize that the money simply wasn’t worth it.

No inscriptions.

Jeremy (Hugh Walpole, 1919)

A coming of age story about a boy named Jeremy and the growing independence he feels during his last year at home in the nursery before he starts to school — a life that, to an adult, would seem terribly monotonous and dotted only by the most trifling events, but events that in the eyes of a child loom great and important.

Written as a memory of 30 years ago, the author simultaneously seems to condemn the stifled emotional atmosphere and detached parenting style of Victorian England while also wistfully recalling it.

Nearly all of the books I read are quite old, and most have inscriptions on the front or end papers that can sometimes be as interesting as the books themselves. I think I’ll start a new tradition: from now on, I’ll quote a bit of whatever is scribbled or stamped in the books I read. This copy of Jeremy came from a lending library in Skowhegan, Maine. The first loan stamp dates from 1927, but it was last borrowed by Katherine Robertson on May 15th, 1962 — a rather young girl, I should guess, based on her handwriting.

Half Portions (Edna Ferber, 1919)

I was a good way through the second segment before I realized this was a collection of short stories and not a novel. I was wondering how all those new characters and settings would work back into what I had guessed was the first chapter.

Ferber’s writing style took me a while to get used to. I frequently lost the subject of sentences and had to re-read them a couple times to figure out what she was talking about. I’m not sure why — the stories are told in a simple and conversational manner. With all the 1910s and 1920s media I consume, I’m generally comfortable with the slang, but Ferber still manages to throw me a curve ball now and then.

The stories are variable. The only one I truly disliked was the one about the amnesiac veteran, because it was stupid. I enjoyed most the story about the farmer that marries poor and is forced to move to the city. I also liked the story about the all-too-temporary dropping of social barriers during the war, but I have to deduct points since it’s essentially just “The Admirable Crichton” (J.M. Barrie, 1902) (adapted for the screen in 1919 as “Male and Female”) with WWI being subbed in for shipwrecked.

I must say to Ferber’s favor that, with few exceptions, she doesn’t pull any punches. The stories conclude the way they actually would in life — nothing magically comes together to fix all the conflicts and few characters have entirely happy endings.