Sister Sue (Eleanor H. Porter, 1920)

Sue is a talented pianist and shows great promise for a career in music, but she puts all that aside to care for her family after Mother dies and Father has a nervous breakdown that leaves him with the mentality of a child. After scraping by for six years to provide for her younger brother and sister, who of course show not the slightest appreciation for her sacrifice, she at last finds herself free. Sue returns to her music teacher, but in the waiting room meets her idol — a famous, unnamed female pianist — who has just received a letter from her childhood friend. The friend, like Sue, also had aspirations and also gave them up. She writes to congratulate the pianist for her success, but the pianist tells Sue that her friend is far worthier of praise than herself.

Inscription: Discarded from the Livermore Falls, Maine public library in August, 1939. Scribbled in the top margin of the first page is “Look on Page 54”. Turn there, and you’ll be told to look on another page, and so on and so on until you reach page 310, where the reader is rewarded with “ha-ha-ha-ha SUCKER -> TO HELL WITH YOU!”. Delightful, 1930s teenager.

The Road to Understanding (Eleanor H. Porter, 1917)

Burke is the spoiled only child of John Denby, a wealthy widower. John is greatly attached to the boy, not only as a son, but also as the only living reminder of his wife. Used to getting what he wants, Burke ignores his father’s criticism when he falls head-over-heals for a maid. It isn’t the difference in wealth that troubles John so much as that Burke and Helen have absolutely nothing in common and have no shared interests. Burke elopes without his father’s blessing.

The newlyweds are not happy, and once the novelty of married life wears off, all that’s left is bitter resentment, on both sides. John proposes a vacation apart — inviting Burke to accompany him on his trip to Alaska and offering Helen $10,000 to go where she will. Burke agrees. Never mind what John’s intent was, Helen takes the news the only way it might be taken. Helen disappears with their infant daughter, Betty. Selfish as always, Burke initially blames all his woes on his wife, but as years pile on years, he comes to understand how responsible for the situation he was and is crushed by remorse.

Eighteen years later, Burke is recommended a new private secretary by an old friend, the sight of whom rekindles many long-suppressed emotions. It’s Betty. Helen had gone to Burke’s friend at once with the mad Eliza Doolittle-ish scheme of learning how to be a swell so that her husband would stop being ashamed of her (beginning with not using words so gauche as “swell”). She eventually abandoned all hope for herself and devoted her life to ensuring that Betty would grow up to be socially refined. The secret comes out and the three reunite as a family: Burke, chastened; Helen, beatified; and Betty, unconsciously classy.

Inscription: on the title page, “To Vesta Day, from Marjorie, Dec 19th, 1919”.