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.