Carolyn Steele Agosta
Faves from the 40's, 50's & 60's
Seeing as I wasn’t alive in the 40’s, and still a child in the 50’s and first part of the 60’s, why do I have favorite books from then? Because I had no money, Honey.
Up until the 1980’s, I didn’t own many books. I got them from the library. No problem.
Except when it was.
Because, after all, it wasn’t always possible to get to the library. Especially after we moved to a rural area in North Carolina and everything was much farther away. Sometimes there just wasn’t anything fresh in the house to read and – since not reading was not an option – I reread the (relatively) few books I had.
Some had belonged to my mother, some had been given me by the neighbor with the bulging bookcase, and others were cheap second-hand paperback books. Almost all were from the 40’s, 50’s or early 60’s.
And that was fine. I enjoyed these books. I was quite happy to reread them. I liked the books of that era.
Among them were Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Tomorrow Will be Better, and Joy in the Morning. I treasured those books. I related to the main characters, even though my life was very different. I loved the way they were written. Published in the 40’s and 50’s.
Mr Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse, by Eric Hodgins, 1946. This was one of Mom’s and I never got tired of reading it. The movie, with Myrna Loy and Cary Grant is delightful.
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. If you’re not familiar with it, the book is about a first-year high school teacher and written epistolary fashion – through letters and memos, kids’ notes, circulars. It’s funny and ironic and gives a good view of an urban high school at the time (1964).
Good Morning, Miss Dove by Frances Gray Patton. Another one of Mom’s, and another story of a teacher, although quite different from Up the Down Staircase. Published 1954.
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, 1958. This one may have belonged either to my sister Lori, or our neighbor with the bulging bookcase. 1958, and quite eye-opening in its day, 1958.
Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank B Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, 1948 and 1950. Funny autobiographical stories about life in a large family. Their father was a well-known efficiency expert in real life, and they liked to tell how he tried to put his theories to work in family life.
Just Be Yourself, by Mary Bard, 1956. This book was definitely Mom’s, but I loved it. The story of a woman with three daughters who makes the mistake of becoming a Brownie leader. Hilarious and heart-warming. Mary Bard also wrote three books for girls in the Best Friends series. Sadly, Just Be Yourself is out of print and can’t be bought for love nor anything less than a whole lotta money.
The Claudia Series by Rose Franken – I discovered these at that tiny little one-room library. Well, at least three or four of the ten-book series. Written between 1939 and 1972.
And my all-time favorites from these years – Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, by Shirley Jackson, 1952 and 1957. Yes, the Shirley Jackson who wrote The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Apparently, whenever she wasn’t scaring the bejabbers out of everyone, she wrote funny little family stories for women’s magazines. These were later put together in these two volumes. I love them. I love her humor and her phrasing, and her depiction of family life. I have whole sections memorized. I love them so much that my oldest daughter Joanna is named for Mrs. Jackson’s oldest daughter in the books. Even Joanna is not aware of this fact.
Well, until now…
Once, I wrote a rave review of a more recent collection of Shirley Jackson’s short stories (a mix of the funny and the scary) titled Just an Ordinary Day, published long after she’d passed away. I was thrilled when I received a responding conversational email from Mrs. Jackson’s youngest daughter, Sarah. I mean, seriously – that was so cool!
Now, I have to say, after the mid-60’s, books changed. Almost all the above are gentle, sometimes humorous tales, often domestic in genre. A lot of that went away. In the late sixties and seventies, we had books like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin (which, though they start out domestic, quickly turn to horror). I had to find British authors like Rosamunde Pilcher and Maeve Binchy for my feel-good fix.
By the time the 80’s rolled around, I was more able to buy books, so I rarely ran out of reading material. However, several of the above listed books, especially Mrs. Jackson’s, still got a good rereading every so often. Still GET a good rereading every so often.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.