What book might surprise people when they hit your shelves?
I have all of Edna Ferber’s books: “So Big”, “Giant”, et al. A few are signed in her regal cursive style. Don’t get me started on handwriting! Her autobiographies, “A Peculiar Treasure” and “A Kind of Magic,” weren’t bestsellers, but they should have been. Everything she wrote then matters now. Returning from a trip to Europe in the 1930s, she wrote about “clownish” dictators, including Hitler, who was considered a joke. The great writers can see into the future. Beware of the clowns.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which children’s books and writers stay with you the most?
I was a constant reader. “Voracious” doesn’t last because it implies enthusiasm or animation. I disappeared into books. My mother was a librarian who taught me to respect books. At home, I remember “The Elves and the Shoemaker,” with photographs by Hilda Miloche, and “The Book of Knowledge,” my father’s 1940s encyclopedia. My mother gave my daughter “Strega Nona”, by Tomi DePaola, when she was born.
The first thing we did as a family in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, was sign up for our library cards at the Wise County Bookmobile. Mr. Varner, the librarian, allowed us to sit on the crutches as long as we wanted. The books were behind wide elastic bands so they wouldn’t fall off the shelves as he navigated the winding mountain roads. He commanded the divine “Charlotte’s Web,” by EB White, “Too Many Mittens,” by Louis and Florence Slobodkin (we don’t talk enough about that master illustrator!), “Pippi Longstocking,” by Astrid Lindgren, and “Theatre Shoes ‘, by Noel Streatfeild.
Ernestine Roller, my elementary and high school librarian, directed me to Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle,” Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen,” “Harriet the Spy,” by Louise Fitzhugh, and the Bobbs-Merrill series “Childhood of Famous Americans.” I like to think I’ve read them all – how else could I tell you about Babe Didrikson Zaharias’ childhood? My friend Douglas Brinkley could, because he was just as obsessed with this series as I am. Of course he made one career as a historian of while I know how athlete Jim Thorpe loved his eggs Middle class reads: “Bless the Beasts & Children”, by Glendon Swarthout, and Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman and Samm Sinclair Baker’s “The Doctor’s Quick Teenage Diet” (drink plenty of water and eat hot dogs without the bun).
Billie Jean Scott, my high school librarian, gave me access to the magazine stacks. I should have read Tiger Beat, but I preferred Life, Time and Look from the 1940s. She recommended Earl Hamner Jr.’s “Spencer’s Mountain.” and “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” by John Fox Jr. at.
When the public library opened in Big Stone Gap, I became fascinated by John Springer and Jack D. Hamilton’s ‘They Had Faces Then’. This compilation of 1930s Hollywood movie stars rarely hit the shelves because I was constantly looking at it. When I last visited the library, I went looking for it out of curiosity. I was the last to check.
You are organizing a literary dinner. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
If I’m understanding this question correctly, it’s essentially a double date that I’m putting together here. So I’m going to punt my husband for the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II (who I find very attractive). We dined with his contemporaries: playwright and critic George S. Kaufman and novelist Edna Ferber at my kitchen table. I would make spaghetti with traditional gravy and add my mom’s bracciole† Good wine because these three would know the difference. Chocolate fudge for dessert from ‘Candy Hits’ by ZaSu Pitts. We would be talking about Scott Meredith’s “George S. Kaufman and His Friends.” I found this beautiful doorstop about life in the golden age of the American theater in the library of the Milbank House, a Greenwich Village boarding house where I lived when I first moved to Manhattan. The library was donated by Irving Berlin. I imagined Berlin had read all the books before giving them away, so they seemed magical. In the end they were.