Stories of My Home Folks (C.A. Stephens, 1926)

If Haps and Mishaps is adjacent to the Old Squire series, Stories of My Home Folks is the prequel. Only the first chapter is original content, you might say, although I don’t think any of the rest had been published before.

C.A. Stephens begins by describing when he first started writing for The Youth Companion, a Boston-based family-friendly literary magazine. He traveled extensively to write location stories and spoke to many readers to find out what resonated with them. While the adults understood the concept of fiction and enjoyed it, the kids mostly didn’t, and when they learned that the stories weren’t true, they soured on them. His editor pondered on this. Real-life stories are often mundane or only of interest to those that were there, but someone with a strong hand for writing fiction might spin a tale based on reality in a way that’s still interesting to read. Knowing Stephens’s background growing up on his grandfather’s farm in Maine, he suggested he try to write something based on that.

The remainder of the book is just that — several proof of concept short stories that would serve as the prototype for the Old Squire series that would come out decades later. The content is similar — and, indeed, some stories overlaps with those in the series proper — but a great deal less polished than the Old Squire books.

Inscription: “Cordial greetings to all my kind friends of The Youth Companion C.A. Stephens” on the front flyleaf.

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A Great Year of Our Lives at the Old Squire’s (C.A. Stephens, 1912)

The second volume of the Old Squire series chronicling a boy and his several cousins orphaned by the Civil War and taken in by their grandfather. Unlike the others where every chapter was more or less a stand-alone story, more than half of this book is about a single incident. Tibbetts is the town grocer but the store is just a front — he’s actually a rum-runner. He’s at odds with the Old Squire, who’s all for temperance. Tibbetts connives by buying voters to take control of the school district and slash its funding. Joel Pierson, the much beloved teacher, is replaced by Sam Lurvey, a good for nothing son of one of Tibbetts’s cronies. Tibbetts is eventually caught tampering with the mail and to avoid prison agrees to restore the school’s funding and re-hire Joel.

Inscription: “Milton Harman, Columbus, Ohio, Dec 2, 1921” on the front flyleaf.

Haps and Mishaps at the Old Farm (C.A. Stephens, 1925)

This volume actually has an ad in the back for the other books in the series. When Life was Young is the first of the Old Squire series proper.  A Busy Year is the third installment. I don’t have two or four. I would assume they record the author’s life at ages thirteen and fifteen. Haps and Mishaps is adjacent to the Old Squire books. Some of it is more of the author’s stories, but mostly it’s the author relating stories he’s heard from his friends and neighbors, or from his grandfather — stories stretching as far back as to the pioneering generation of the late 18th-early 19th century.

Inscriptions: There’s a check-out card at the back, so it’s from a library, but I don’t know which. It isn’t stamped or otherwise written anywhere.

A Busy Year at the Old Squire’s (C.A. Stephens, 1922)

A continuation of When Life was Young. The kids are two years older, making the unnamed author fourteen; Addison and Theodora eighteen; and Halstead, Ellen, and Wealthy… two years older than whatever they were. Wealthy is the youngest, I think Halstead and Ellen are the same age as the author. Otherwise, it’s simply more recollections of the author’s youth at his grandfather’s farm in Maine after the Civil War. Notable stories include meeting Hannibal Hamlin on his senatorial campaign, where he gave a speech in a disused church infested with bees that eventually drove the listeners to make a hasty retreat. It ends with Addison buying a stand of what’s thought to be ordinary maple trees but what are actually valuable curly maples. It had been a lean year without much money to spare, but Addison’s windfall will pay for both his and Theodora’s admission to college.

Inscription: Ex libris of the Mantor Library at Farmington State College. The library is still called Mantor, but the school is now the University of Maine at Farmington. On the fore-edge is written “D.F. Brown”.

When Life was Young at the Old Farm in Maine (C.A. Stephens, 1912)

During the Civil War, all of the Old Squire’s sons are killed. His grandchildren come to the farm to live with him and his wife. The book never actually says where the farm is, but from the description of the land and neighboring areas, there’s no way it isn’t Norway. The author character (I should say, I assume this is autobiographical, but I don’t know how fictionalized it is) is a twelve year old boy from Philadelphia, unused to rural living or farm life, but eager to give it a go. He’s never met any of his five other cousins before but he quickly becomes friends with all of them, except maybe Halstead. The book has no overarching narrative, it’s merely a series of incidents and little adventures of the sort that twelve year olds get into. Rather similar to Farmer Boy but not going into such detail about mundane farm activities.

Inscription: A plate pasted on the inside front cover says it’s from the Weld Public Library.

Buccaneer: James Stuart Blackton and the Birth of American Movies (Donald Dewey, 2016)

I don’t as a rule mention the nonfiction books I read here, but I have before and I might as well this time.

This is a biography of J. Stuart Blackton, one of the founders of the pioneering film studio Vitagraph. I should say, the larger part of the book is simply a history of Vitagraph — it spends as much time on Smith, Reader, and Rock as it does Blackton — but I’m not complaining. The focus does shift more to Blackton in the later part, after Warner Bros. takes over the studio and the once millionaire director descends rapidly into poverty, never losing his optimism or delusion that his fortunes are just about to turn.

The trouble with biographies of the Vitagraph founders is that Blackton and Smith were both, depending on your outlook, either tireless self-promoters or bald-faced liars. It’s difficult to untangle fact from fiction in their and their families’ personal versions of the past. This account doesn’t accept Blackton at face-value, but is less cynical than some and takes Blackton’s own words and Trimble’s memories of her father as being broadly speaking true.

Inscriptions: none, it’s brand new.