Books are a forest and it’s hard to see the trees, except the tall ones or the old ones. But when you enter the forest, it’s the new growth that emits the sunlight....

Friday, June 16, 2017

Authors I Wish to Collect: Jane Austen & Mark Twain

Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen.

I heard that quote from Mark Twain on MPR a few weeks ago. I thought, Twain and Austen have something in common. In more than twelve years of searching for collectible books, I have never found a copy of either of these authors from before 1900.  I’ve sold Twain in 1920’s editions but no Austen from before 1950. The conclusion is that if anyone has an old edition of Jane Austen, they are not letting go of it.

I scrolled through all of Austen’s editions from before 1900 on Abebooks. Yes, if I ever come across an edition from before 1920, the book is rare. An author I would like to collect just isn’t usually found. And Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn from before 1900?  Very few available.

Twain was an outspoken man about classic literature but his dislike of Jane Austen, which I don’t think is fair, reminded me of a feud in my college English department. I did student work there and heard a few of the frays. A professor that women warned was a misogynist believed that Austen had no place in a college English course. One of my favorite professors taught Austen, attended conferences on her, wrote papers on her, and avidly defended her place in the English department. My typical luck, I had been assigned to the chauvinist professor’s freshman composition course. Following advice, I took it as one of my few Pass/Fail's. I was to pass but after my final paper, he kept returning it to my mailbox with the note that if I didn't fix the errors, I would fail. I looked and looked, knowing it was probably the footnotes, until finally, I found a period missing there. I corrected it and passed the course. No kidding, he was hard on Jane Austen too.

My Jane Austen wishlist: (click on the book to see the listing)



Austen wrote a novel like no one else in her time, crafting her work with the elegance that was within her boundaries. Women then had to marry to have any kind of life, and she had a mission, wanting good matches for life. Her renewed popularity in the early 2000’s was at first puzzling. I thought it might be due to contemporary work situations and the enforced levels of communication between men and women. If there is interest in the modern workplaces, it usually has to occur within a careful framework.

I’ve relished stories about workplaces, from classics such as “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The Catbird Seat” to our time. The workplace often has humor inherent which seems to be from personalities clicking and conflicting.

My adult novel Tug of the Wishbone has a number of scenes from work in it. I think they gave the book some balance from the relationship and interior sections. Maureen’s personal quest and her camera work led to many descriptive scenes. Finally, I had to do some cutting on the book. I had a goal after I researched women’s novels. I did not dare to sprawl like Charlotte Bronte. My goal was the length of an Austen novel which I accomplished, just about. In contemporary terms, I admired Penelope Fitzgerald’s well-crafted snug novels. Some of my cuts were offbeat scenarios and anecdotes about places and people of a region, part of a photographer’s viewpoint, but ideas for another kind of story, essay, or memoir.

Mark Twain might not have known of Jane Austen’s juvenilia.  I thought it hilarious and theorized that she was inspired by Henry Fielding. One of her characters planned an elopement during a wild carriage ride, another demanded a Blifel-like suitor to guarantee an extravagant floral conservatory and novelty carriage, another posed suggestively in acrobatics at a costume party where the rich host, dressed as the sun, sat a hallway away. The teenage Jane had the spirit of a Tom Sawyer. I imagined her clergyman father disciplining her to write an acceptable piece of fiction. I also thought that if she lived today, she might actually have become part of comedy team and never written a novel. After all, she went to a most popular social scene at Bath, and with freedom, might not have made it back to her father’s parsonage.

While I believe that Huckleberry Finn is an incredibly great book if only Twain didn’t write in dialect so much, I had to consider Twain’s female characters - Tom Sawyer’s aunt and the morbid female poet in Huck Finn, both satirized for their gullibility and sentimentality. In fact, American women poets of the nineteenth century often wrote memorial poems for funerals. Many American lives have been described in poetic form, I found in books by nineteenth century American women poets.

Maybe someday I will come across a collectible Jane Austen novel for my changing library. To think that Mark Twain would approve of my shelves because I haven’t run across Jane Austen much, and only editions like Barnes & Noble.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Authors I collect: D. H. Lawrence

Working at a used book and antiques store, my first collection was D. H. Lawrence. I bought First Editions before I set up an internet store. I was convinced that D. H. Lawrence would surmount other authors of the Twentieth Century, despite other opinions. I still feel that he was the Shakespeare of that period because of his prolific output and his “scope” as Shakespeare would put it, producing vivid books set in Mexico, the American Southwest, Australia, and Italy.

Image courtesy of dan at

He influenced me, along with other authors, while I wrote adult short stories and the book that became Tug of the Wishbone. I first read The Rainbow when my mother was reading it for a course. As a teenager, I opened the novel during summer vacation and was swept into the earthy English farm setting. Ursula Brangwen’s ill-fated romance wasn’t so satisfactory then. But the novel fascinated me for portraying a family history where characters were as human as people in my era.

When I picked up the book decades later, I remembered it as fulfilling its title. The Rainbow was number 43 in The Guardian’s 2015 list of 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century.

I’d also read Sons and Lovers and then, at college, hearing girls who were not English majors recommending Women in Love with rhapsodic adjectives , continued Ursula’s story. There aren’t many scenes that outdid the turnaround of her love luck for me – when she threw Birkin’s rings at him in the car and wretchedly complained about men being bullies. 

We lived in a world of psychology, and to me, Lawrence had the ability to show how people liberated from conventions had emerging psychologies to examine.

Books I was thrilled to find in First Edition were The Captain's Doll: Three Novelettes and Aaron's Rod. As The Rainbow was banned in England, D. H. Lawrence was published in plain bindings and, as you can see from my recent Aaron's Rod, the binding and paper were not sturdy.


The Captain's Doll must have been based on Lawrence's wife Frieda, with whom he did a lot of steep walking when they lived in Italy. I found it ironic how he could evoke the suspense of love approaching commitment during pages of walking after he was banned for sexual content. I'd never been kept reading such an interlude since a Tolstoy story (“The Snowstorm”) about a carriage ride during a blizzard which roared on for pages.

Aaron's Rod 1922 Secker edition

Aaron's Rod is about a flute player. Somehow Lawrence had divined the interior of a flute player without being a musician himself. That was especially displayed when Aaron was separated from his flute in Italy, the flute being stolen. Aaron had reluctantly walked out on his family to play the flute without Lawrence imposing any moral to his novel.

"The business of art is to reveal the relation between man
 and his environment." - D. H. Lawrence

Luckily I had read most of the First Editions I acquired. I had doubted The Plumed Serpent, Lawrence’s writings about the American Southwest, and found the same thing. Lawrence wrote about Mayan mythology mixed with Catholicism as if he had lived in Mexico for years rather than the time he spent there. His Southwest was a picture of it. If Lawrence hadn't written fiction, he might well have been famous as a poet. When I open to a poem of his, I'm struck by that and by the poem. Poem-A-Day, an emailing from the American Academy of Poets, has included poems of his lately, and they don't seem to age.

Pansies (poetry)  1929

Love Among the Haystacks and Other Stories 1930

I had relished Lawrence's short stories about England, and then found out that some wealthy people sued him for portraying them, they claimed. This was some sort of lesson. One of my first short stories was written for a high school creative writing course, the first at my high school. My story told why a school official had a scar on his forehead. Before writing it, I had been caught in the hall during class time. My punishment was to sit all day outside our tough vice principal's office. My classmates enjoyed the story but when a creative writing journal was published, my story wasn't in it, only my poetry. I still believe that fiction in good hands isn’t about specific people. 

I sold my D. H. Lawrence collection and now only have another copy of Aaron's Rod and another copy of Lawrence's poetry for young people. The books tempted me to read them again, a problem when a book dealer wants to sell their books in the best of condition. I suppose there will be another decade like the 60’s when D. H. Lawrence is the rage again, according to my opinion of him, and when the prices for his early editions will rise and I will regret selling my collection.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Real Photographs and Chicken Substitute Dishes

 A question I often have at grocery delis: What is this dish?

This is a chicken dish that I made with tempeh. From a Betty Crocker International cookbook, the recipe is Caribbean, like Jambalaya except that it includes green olives. How was it? It was OK. Tempeh is made of soybeans but soybeans don't taste much like chicken.

I bought chicken at the Whole Foods Co-op for years, and still would buy their poultry products. One year as I became more vegetarian, I decided to try meat substitutes in dishes I liked.

Backtracking into the early 1990's, I saw on PBS television how some farmers were keeping chickens in warehouses and often caged. The next time I went to the supermarket, I looked at the chicken and eggs I had been buying and walked away.

For me, it was easier to adjust the meat in my diet than for many other people. As a child, I was goaded to eat meat. There were only a few meats I liked while I cleaned up the family wooden salad bowl after everyone had taken their share. I loved tomatoes, spinach, and cheddar cheese. My mother said she craved tomatoes when she was pregnant with me.

After college, I could eat what I wanted. I remember a Minneapolis cheese market and buying fish. Vegetarianism then was an eccentric choice. I had understood that I should eat meat at least three times a week but eventually, I ate it when I wanted. Sometimes that was after days or weeks however surprisingly, I savored meat when I ate it after a hiatus. If meat lost its freshness or I felt obligated to eat it, I used to throw it out the way I once fed it to the dog under the table.

My experience in the early 1990's proved to me that a photograph can change a person's diet. In my novel, Tug of the Wishbone, this becomes a plot element in a woman photographer’s story.

At the Co-op, I wondered about the tempeh dishes in the deli. I liked tofu but ate it as traditional oriental stir-fry and sometimes vegetarian stir-fry. The next picture is of shepherd's pie made with tempeh. This was pretty good, like a ground chicken or turkey although it lacked the meat flavor. I used LightLife Organic Garden Veggie Tempeh for this.

About the time I knew that tempeh couldn’t really replace chicken, a new “fake” chicken came into the Co-op grocery. I had to try it.  Yes, it was much better in the Caribbean recipe. The Tofurky Slow Roasted Chick'n (its ingredients are on its page) separates into bite-size pieces or shreds. It doesn’t really do for recipes that use pieces of chicken. I thought it worked for Chicken Tetrazzini although the flavor is zestier than chicken, belying its non-meat processing. One serving of this product contains 27 grams of protein. The average adult needs around 40 grams of protein a day.

I felt this chicken substitute was good as a lunch or casual supper choice. For me, it was very acceptable in a cock-a-leekie soup, and in chicken salad for sandwiches, then in a Chinese stir-fry with mushrooms, snow peas, and water chestnuts. It also tasted fine to me in chicken quesadillas - chicken and cheese fried in a tamale “sandwich.”

Cock-a-leekie soup with farro 
Quesadillas with guacamole

Here I made it into a pot pie. I’m picky about mashed potatoes in that I like them piping hot, so I look for recipes where the mashed potatoes are cooked in the oven. This recipe, from a Reader’s Digest cookbook, was surprisingly tasty. The chicken gravy has a little wine in it and some yogurt added to the thickened broth at the last. It uses zucchini rather than peas. Trying it with the chicken substitute, I thought this had the best chance of fooling an unwary person that they were eating chicken.

Another recipe I tried, where the chicken substitute was blended into strong flavors, was a chicken biriyani, made with red cabbage and apples. This is a variation on a basic Indian dish, and attracted me to attempt cooking Indian-style. I hardly noticed that the chicken was a non-meat substitute, perhaps because of the Indian spice base.

While writing Tug of the Wishbone, I researched poultry and today’s farming. For someone who grew up in an agricultural region when most animal products were free range and organic, it was important to have current information. I accepted the inflation of prices for those products.

So far, I don't think chicken substitutes would satisfy meat eaters. Vegetarian delis and new vegetarian recipes might work better so that there isn’t an expectation of meat texture and flavor. I might show what I did with beef and sausage substitute “meat.”