You’ve seen those “How Many of These Books Have You Read?” quizzes that populate the Internet? You click on the titles and the little people inside the website tally them and tell you what percentage you’ve read. I’m sure their purpose is to make me feel inferior.*
Some do more than count. One calculated my age. Imagine my surprise/embarrassment/shame when I learned that, based on the number clicked, I’m in my twenties.
Boy, did they get that wrong.
But the fault is mine—I haven’t been reading much as I should.
To remedy that, on January 1, 2020, I resolved to read more** books.
In January, I read the following:
The Bloody Bead, co-written by Helen Currie Foster and Manning Wolfe, part of the Bullet Books Speed Reads*** collection. When sweet Miss Cherry goes missing, garbageman Juan Agosto reports his suspicions to his older sister, Teresa, a police officer. The investigation that follows provides a suspenseful read. And a fast one—like the other Bullet Books, it’s a novella, designed for busy people who want short reads. Or, for that matter, idle people who want short reads.
No spoilers here, but I will say there are some things Juan Agosto would prefer not to find in a garbage bin.
Broke,***** by Kaye George. In this third volume of the Immy Duckworthy series, wannabe private eye Immy moves out of the double-wide where she and her daughter, Nancy Drew, have been living with Immy’s mother, retired librarian Hortense. The three-story house Immy rents—the one she can afford on what she earns as (real) PI Mike Mallet’s secretary—looks like it’s about to fall down, and some parts of it are. But it’s filled with antique furniture. Plus a room filled with dusty old books. Plus a ghost. Plus, on the third floor, something that doesn’t belong there at all.
Immy’s policeman boyfriend, Ralph, is his same, dependable self, but the gorgeous Vance Valentin proves a formidable competitor, sort of. Also present are pet pig Marshmallow and Larry Bird, the vicious hen.
And then there’s the body.
The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors, edited by Elizabeth Jordan. This collaborative novel, conceived by author and editor William Dean Howells, concerns the effect an engagement has on an entire family. The book comprises twelve chapters, each by a different author. Each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character. Chapter I, written by Howells, introduces Mr. Talbert, the father of the prospective bride, and alludes, briefly, to the others in his household. One of these is Mr. Talbert’s sister, described as “a lady of that age when ladies begin to be spoken of as maiden.”
Here’s where the fun begins.
Chapter II, entitled “The Old Maid Aunt,” was written by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Mrs. Freeman was forty-nine when she married a man seven years younger than she. One critic reports that Mrs. Freeman didn’t appreciate the phrase maiden lady, so she scrapped the stereotype.
The aunt she created is young, attractive, and vibrant. And she has a past—she and the prospective groom have recently engaged in a flirtation—or something. We don’t know exactly how serious the relationship was, but it was serious enough to make the visiting groom turn white when he sees her— and to catch the first train out of town. To complicate things further, the Talbert’s new neighbor had once threatened to shoot himself if the aunt wouldn’t marry him. Neighbor’s wife is not amused.
In other words, Mrs. Freeman hijacked the plot.
The rest is a romp, with each character—the bride, her mother, her grandmother, her teenage sister and pre-teen brother, her older brothers and their wives, the groom, and others—weighing in with their own descriptions of events, opinions of other characters, and plans to help fix things. There’s a lot to fix and they are oh, so helpful.
The Whole Family was published in 1908, so, compared to contemporary novels, it begins slowly. When the maiden aunt appears in Chapter II, however, things pick up considerably.
An Amazon note: One Amazon reviewer, who gave the book four stars, writes, “I would say they [the authors] did very well , except for one, who’s chapter was so rambling and unintelligible I had to just scan the paragraphs to get any sense out of it. But, all in all, it was a good book.”*****
My note: The “unintelligible” chapter was written by Henry James. With all due respect to Mr. James, don’t feel bad if you have trouble getting sense out of it. It’s been said that Mr. James “chewed more than he bit off.” (Attributed to Oscar Wilde, Mrs. Henry Adams, and the author’s brother William) All in all, it’s a good book.
* Important to consider when deciding how inferior to feel: Lists vary according to the whims and biases of the makers. Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Winnie the Pooh show up on all the lists I’ve examined. The Twits appears on just one.
** Goals and objectives should be quantifiable, and this one isn’t, but I’ll deal with that later. The way I’ve been going, more might mean three.
*** As I’ve mentioned before, numerous times, I co-wrote a Bullet Book, too. See the sidebar.
**** Read my review of Choke, the first Immy Duckworthy mystery, here.
***** I would link directly to the review, but when I do, an enormous picture of the book cover appears on this page.
The authors: Helen Currie Foster, Manning Wolfe, Kaye George, William Dean Howells, and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman