Old books can charm or revolt


If stranded on a desert island and only allowed one book, I’d take Mixed Marriage written by Elizabeth Cadell and published in 1963. Written in diary format, it’s the story of a young English girl about to marry a young man from Portugal. Doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, does it? So why is it so special to me? The writing style is superb, the characters lovable, the story line intriguing, and, most importantly, the portrayal of family spot on and timeless. Uncle George huffing about as patriarch of the family could be your uncle. And, it’s funny, often laugh out loud funny. Here’s a snippet of the bride meeting the groom’s family.

After lunch, entire disappearance of everybody; all reappeared for dinner, with addition of Ana, Valeria and black-clad companion known as Senhora Dona Beatriz; in all fourteen at table; Mama said with obvious sincerity that so nice to have little family party.

Another charmer is The Blue Castle, written by Lucy Maude Montgomery and published in 1926. While depicting an era foreign to us, it too has a timeless quality that sucks us into the story of Valancy’s love and adventures. Colleen McCullough was accused of plagiarizing The Blue Castle when she wrote The Ladies of Missalonghi, and indeed, there are passages that seem to have been lifted almost word for word.

I liked another oldie, Jim the Conqueror, written in 1929, so much that I searched for other books written by the author, Peter B. Kyne. I found one called The Pride of Palomar which turned out to be an unbridled racist rant.

I’ve tried other authors like Wilkie Collins and found those books to be unbearable reading now even though I liked some of them when I was younger.

Scrolling through the thousands and thousands of books available today, I wonder what people fifty to eighty years from now will think of our efforts. Will our novels still be available to readers then? And, if so, will our stories charm or revolt?


16 comments on “Old books can charm or revolt

  1. Its funny how some books from our past lose their charm while others can be read over and over with pleasure. I never tire of Little Women or Anne of Green Gables.I have yet to read The Blue Castle.

  2. Great choices. I would hope something from this time will charm. I know I’m reading books (yours included) by the new generation of authors that thoroughly charm me right now.

  3. Once, while working for the Alberta government in a job that could account for only one hour of the eight allotted for it, I was going crazy until I found, tucked away in the corner of the basement, a library of old books. I read them all in the year I worked there, and what an education it was in writing, in history, in values. One line I’ll never forget came from one of those, the story of the first woman in interior British Columbia – amazing. A native was taking her cross-country in a snow fall accumulation of 26 feet deep. She began to go on about the sparkle, the sun, the immensity. The old Native finally turned to her and spoke his first and only words of the day, “You see it. I see it.” His way of life and his values revealed in two short sentences. There was something in those books that was so real and so honest. Nor was there a poorly written one in the bunch.

  4. I find some of the old books in our small library quite fascinating. One thing I love about the authors of these books is their writing style — direct and simple for the most part (in terms of words). Dad tells me he’s a big fan of crime/mystery fiction. I guess reading his collections and the ones he inherited helped influence my writing.

    Away from that, I love the smell and feel of a good ol’ book.

  5. Like all your commentators, I love old books! This said, to answer your question, I think that the digital revolution is a game changer: books are up on those digital shelves forever. Anyone interested can always find them…Unless our digital world crumbles to dust, Google evaporates and Amazon is swept in the dustbin of History.
    Barring that, we should all be up there forever.

    Which raises the second intriguing question: who would ever think of looking us up? It’s the “discoverability” problem. Perhaps somebody bored with their job, like Christina was in Canada, might roam the Net and find you by chance…And that’s about it. If it happens 300 years from now and your book is very 21st century, it might be interesting from an archeological point of view!

  6. I would have to take something like “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” or its younger cousin, “If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People.” They could keep me occupied with laughter for many decades!

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