[Merrily I Read] Book Review: Girl About Town, Chapters Four-Five


A man and woman are having a conversation; but it is no ordinary conversation, for they are flirting! The opening of Chapter IV finds Our Heroine, Anne Hartley, and her train buddy, Peter Foster (a.k.a. Nice Young Man), engaging in flimsy banter about…nothing particularly interesting. Perhaps this is just the nature of flirting? Only the participants find it amusing or gratifying.

“You don’t look like the type to be ordered about.”


“I suppose now you do the ordering?” He chuckled with amusement. “I’d love to see you in school. Tell me, where is the school? Can I come and see you there one day?”

“Indeed you can’t! You’ll probably get me the sack.”

“I shall hang about for you till you come out, then.”

“Laughter played around Anne’s lips. “Not if I know it, young man!” she thought.

Someone needs to tell Peter that joking about stalking is never attractive. Of course, neither is lying about being a school teacher when one is actually a lingerie model; but he doesn’t know that yet. I wonder how long Anne will be able to keep her “secret” from her fellow house-guests? She appears in adverts. Shouldn’t someone recognize her?

After what seems like hours of chit-chat, it is finally time for dinner. Seating arrangements at country house-parties are strange, mysterious things–at least to us mere mortals. However, obvious plot devices are much easier to fathom. Our Heroine is, therefore, seated between Robin and the Nice Young Man. Because, of course she is… Continue reading

[Merrily I Read] Book Review: Girl About Town, Chapters One-Three


Girl About Town

Girl About Town


 Two women are having a conversation; but it is no ordinary conversation, for they are worried! Or, rather, the one named Anne Hartley is worried. Felicity Winton is more concerned with the state of her manicure.

Several useless dialogue tags later, Anne is still melodramatically wringing her hands over the lateness of her boyfriend, Robin Gunter. How very English. I’m pretty sure she is the Girl About Town of the title, and that the town in question is London.

At this point, I’m starting to think that poor Robin and his scarlet-and-black racing car are mangled somewhere in a ditch. How will Anne and Felicity make it to the party for which they are preparing, if Robin and his fancy wheels don’t escort them? The answer is, surprisingly, a bus.

Someone, it seems, is dating above her station. Cripes!

Nope, scratch that. A paragraph down we are informed that, although Robin is of the moneyed class and Anne is but a lingerie model (the horror!), they are social equals. How is this possible, you ask? It involves a boring story about dead parents, a wealthy aunt, and our plucky heroine’s very modern determination to make it on her own in the city rather than being stuck living in the country on the sufferance of her relations.

I’m pretty confident that this “social equals” bullshit is going to come in handy later.

Oh, and Robin is not dead! His sexy automobile is also, presumably, fine.

“Why, Felicity!” She turned round sharply as Felicity came into the room and closed the door behind her. “What is it?”

“Darling. It’s not Robin.”


“It’s his mother. She wants to see you. I’ve shown her into the sitting-room.”

Uh-oh. Here’s our plot!

Mama Bear Gunter, it seems, does not want her handsome and dashing cub to marry a poor, tacky-ass model.

“There was going to be trouble and no mistake!”

Mrs. Gunter has sent her son to Cannes, far from the fleshy temptations of “A girl of your class! A girl whose figure is displayed in every newspaper. It’s common! Cheap! Vulgar!” What’s more: Robin has no idea that his dear mother is visiting Anne.

Things just got really real, y’all. (I’ve never written or spoken the word “y’all” before, but it undeniably fits here.)

Then, much to my surprise, our girl Anne stands up for herself!

“How dare you speak to me like that? she cried hotly. “What right have you to come uninvited into my flat and behave like this?”

She continues yelling at her newly-minted nemesis for an entire page. Mama Bear knows that Anne speaks the truth, but, instead of having an adult conversation with her, leaves in a haughty, upper-crust huff.

Anne knows that Robin is out of her life forever!



It’s an entire year later. Never fear, though, because Anne is realistic and level-headed. Pink geraniums are blooming in the window-boxes! Everything is fantastic! She’s totally moved on with her life. Haha!

“I told you you’d get over it in time,” said Felicity.

“And you were right,” agreed Anne, but in her heart she knew that Felicity was not right. She had not yet got over her love for Robin.

What are the odds that Robin is really an insufferable ass? There is just no way that this guy is all that Anne makes him out to be. And even if he is, has she already forgotten about his mother? Run, girl, run.

Hey, what’s this? Oh, just a timely letter from Anne’s wealthy Aunt Alicia inviting the former to a house-party in the country. Anne’s cousin Muriel is coming of age. This is highly important and must be celebrated with other rich people. Continue reading

Introducing Our Newest Feature, Merrily I Read!

Musty-smelling old books are my jam. The ones I like best have beautiful designs carved into worn hardbacks, patterned endpapers, and thick pages sporadically covered with obscure marginalia. They come with secret histories, impenetrable and mysterious pedigrees of ownership that are all but untraceable. The physical books are weighty, concrete treasures unto themselves. But what of their contents?

They vary, of course, from the sublime to the mundane, from classics to curiosity pieces. All are miniature time capsules. For that alone they have value.

In related news: I want to read all of these books. Maybe you do, too. What an impossible dream to have, my friends! It’s never going to happen. 

I won’t stop buying them, though, as they are so lovely, enlightening, enchanting, entertaining, affordable, plentiful…

Thus was born the idea for the newest regular feature on A Small Press Life.

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888

Louise Tiffany Reading by Louis Comfort Tiffany, 1888. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Introducing Merrily I Read:

It’s simple, really: follow me as I read and review a musty-smelling old book, a few chapters at a time, from start to finish. I’ll not be reading ahead–my impressions will be fresh, off-the-cuff, and (hopefully) witty and intelligent. What say you, dear readers? Shall we throw the spotlight, once again and however briefly, on some fine, fun, and largely forgotten old books?

Let’s do this thing!

Book #1: Girl About Town by Katherine Pent.

A Year in Books/Day 230: Lonelyhearts The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney

  • Title: Lonelyhearts The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney
  • Author: Marion Meade
  • Year Published: 2010 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • Year Purchased: 2013
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: He was a commercially neglected writer with celebrity friends. As the inspiration for My Sister Eileen, she was mildly famous for being mildly famous. Continue reading

Bonus Book Review: Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration

Since I do not own a copy of Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration, this entry qualifies as a bonus review.

  • Title: Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration
  • Edited by: Alzina Stone Dale
  • Year Published: 1993 (Walker and Company New York)
  • Year Purchased: N/A
  • Source: This book is on loan from my dear Momma.
  • About: Let me begin my confessing that I have, at most, read one Dorothy L. Sayers book. I cannot be sure, because it was a long time ago and I have nothing to compare it against. Did it feature Lord Peter Wimsey? Likely, as I know it was a mystery novel. I have a near perfect memory when it comes to everything I’ve read as an adult. Thousands upon thousands of books, and I remember them all. Except, it seems, the one in question. Perhaps I am thinking of something else, and have never really held a Sayers book in my hands. I specialize in dead female writers-not as weird as it sounds, rest assured-but remained in near total darkness about one of the quintessential queens of mystery until a couple of weeks ago. Continue reading

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon Supplement –

Fan to Pro by Steven Savage

A Review

The engineering major gazing at the movie screen, wishing he had been at the computers of WETA studios when Gandalf took on the Balrog.  The retired warehouse worker with his Steelers jersey, hat, socks, beer mug – and faded fantasies of being on the gridiron during the big game.  The overworked store manager who had been told her singing voice was angelic, but that her dreams of singing for the masses were impractical and childish.

From an early age, we are told that our various fandoms – be they for sports, entertainment, recreational sciences, art, whatever – are just silly wish-dreams that should be put aside for the rigors of the seemingly more practical day-in-day-out of work.  We may find no joy in ‘work’, in fact, we may even hate it – yet, we attend our duties faithfully while dreaming of more desirable activities.

Why do we do this?  Sure, we have to keep from starving, but why are people always encouraged to relegate their fandoms to their off hours, always warned against turning their passions into paychecks?  Are we obligated to condemn that which brings us happiness the joyless realm of Never-Everland?

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is a work that doesn’t merely seek the answer to that question; author Steven Savage and editor Jessica Hardy intend to help you get past it.

Fan-to-Pro is a book that revels, praises, exults, and joyfully rolls around in the world of fandom.  Though he has a background in science-fiction and fantasy fandom (as well as extensive experience in IT and career recruiting), Savage makes it clear that fandom covers any number of celebrated subjects, from the aforementioned sci-fi, to sports, and even art.

As the title implies, Fan to Pro refers to turning your hobby into a career that you would love.  What makes the book special is how much it puts itself in the corner of the fan.  A touching element of Chapter 3 is where Savage delves into “Fandom Edges”.  These would be common traits seen among die-hard fans that give them a particular advantage when striving for their goal.  In these fans, Savage sees qualities such as experience, knowledge and passion, tools inherent in any successful artist, football player or entrepreneur.  The goal is to get the reader to recognize these qualities in themselves and fan them into confidence to move forward, improve their skills, and excel in their endeavors.

The book lends itself well to being read.  It is written in a straightforward, informal and funny tone in which it presents sage advice and several exercises meant to help the reader get past the common hurdles, both physical and mental, of making their dream come true.  It’s not simply focusing on what you like that matters; it’s important to look at what you like from different perspectives and see practical ways to turn it into a profession.

The reader is implored to turn away from the disheartening, ultimately empty criticisms of how futile and unprofitable fandom can be, and instead is advised to focus on the actually pragmatic benefits fandom can provide.  Organizing a convention would be a fantastic way to network, for example.  The author himself mentions that his math skills were greatly enhanced from having to work with math while playing RPGs in college.

Fan to Pro, however, is not simply a warm-fuzzy meant to make you feel that all the hours you spend chatting on a Skyrim forum is actual work.  In addition to the exercises mentioned, important topics such as learning about the industries you’re interested in, connecting with others, and even the particularly tricky subject of relocating is thoroughly addressed.

Savage and Hardy have comprised this short (127 pages) work from a series of blogs that had explored the world of fandom and fandom-based careers thoroughly. Through gentle, good-natured humor and encouragement, the reader is instructed to take their passions seriously.  History has proven repeatedly that no great writer, inventor, physician, linebacker – geeks all, in their own way – could have ever made it otherwise.

Fan-to-Pro: Unlocking Career Insights With Your Hobbies is available to order from www.fantoprobook.com in print, Kindle, ePub and PDF format.  To see the blog that brought about the book, check out www.fantopro.com.

Check out Steven Savage’s additional work at seventhsanctum.com and stevensavage.com.  Point your browser to the following for his other books.



A Year in Books/Bonus Full-Length Review: The Outermost House*

With its breathtakingly evocative retelling of a year spent living on a remote Cape Cod beach wedded to solid and careful craftsmanship, ‘The Outermost House’, first published in 1928, is an indispensable classic. It contains a treasure-trove of amateur naturalist Beston’s descriptions of the local terrain and animal-life, especially the many species of migrating birds, set side-by-side with his lush and emotional reactions to the never-still life force unfolding around him. It is sated, brim-full, with the author’s uncanny yet non-judgmental wonder at his milieu. Beston dwells magnificently on the minutia of his surroundings, firing his awed and reverent accounts of the movements of the tides and peregrinations of diverse animal species with soaring, deft prose. From the changing sound of the surf to the ages-old tragedy of ship-wreck, ‘The Outermost House’ is a vivid and vigorous representation of the rhythm of coastal life in its many forms. It is a broad yet hypnotically intimate account of the primitive and plenary pageant of life that was even then slipping into the confines of the modern world. Beston’s lovely and enduring masterpiece never bows to sentimentality but maintains an instinctive and sympathetic understanding of the enigmatic ordering of nature.


*First published in the Atomic Tomorrow, February 2005.


USEFUL READS: The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction Inspiration and Discipline

For writers, there is no such thing as shop-talk. What we do cannot be separated from who we are, cannot be compartmentalized into its own box. It is as expansive and necessary as breathing or blinking. Therefore, we can be very wordy when the subject at hand turns to our words. Whether we are discussing the technical (the fundamental underpinnings of an article or story) the personal (plot, characterization, voice) or the idiosyncratic (writing patterns, philosophy), we can go on and on, until our passion invokes boredom or annoyance in any non-writer listeners. This is not something that can be easily turned off, or satisfied with a quick “this is how my day went” briefing. Yet, speaking to someone who is not engaged in the writing life can often result in feelings of impotence, frustration, and misunderstanding. Explaining why you write is either the easiest or toughest thing in the world, depending on who is at the other side of the conversation.
My significant other–The Chef–is smart, astute, and possesses a large vocabulary. He recognizes my talent but does not begin to know the need I have to write, what it is that compels me to maintain such loyalty and dedication to something that is so hard-to-focus or pin-down. There is nothing immediate to show for writing except words on a page: concrete gratification is often long-delayed and far-short of what, seemingly, such hard work deserves. This is why the writing life is one of such abiding, enveloping loneliness; for who, but another writer, can begin to approach any coherent, compassionate understanding of what it is we do?
The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction Inspiration and Discipline Edited by Susan Burmeister-Brown and Linda B. Swanson-Davies is a squat little window into the strange, amorous and often isolated world of the writer. To be a writer is always to be the oddest person in a room. You could be surrounded by a bearded lady, a fire-eater, a con artist and a hobo, and chances are that you will be the one to come off as a childish slacker. It goes, however unfairly, with the territory. You eventually become accustomed to being viewed as a dreamer with unrealistic expectations by your nearest and dearest: trying to explicate the inner drive to write is simply too difficult.
Reading The Glimmer Train–made up of interviews from Glimmer Train Stories–is like having fabulous, enlightening, and intimate chats with your peers. Although I leaned a few pointers, the book is, for me, not so much a how-to of the writing game but a how-to-survive-the-writing-life guide. It cuts a deep swathe through the layers of isolation and misunderstanding inherent in such a lifestyle. It is sated with words of wisdom, humour, hope and shared perspective.
The interviews are served up, bite-sized, covering all manner of subjects: technique, inspiration, family, art, lifestyle, support, to name a few. What becomes apparent after a few pages is how much in common they–and we–have, in spite of differences in gift, genre,voice, and approach. Almost everyone, it seems, writes because they have no choice, because they cannot imagine not writing, because they are compelled to from some deep and unknowable source. They would write even if no one ever read their words.
The instructional part, for me, was in seeing how different writers approach the immensely painful, lonely, yet joyous task at hand; to see how they discipline themselves to do what is just damn hard work, day in and day out. Aside from that, nearly every page contains multiple gems, presents alternate but easy-to-relate to ways of thinking.
Perhaps the most impactful bit of advice, for me personally, comes from Richard Bausch, of whom I had never before heard. Instead of thinking of writing as an uprooting –of digging things up from deep within–he envisions it as a winding path, endless, where anything can present itself to you. I find that to be beautiful, insightful, doable.
This is a must-have for any writer ever in need of inspiration, understanding, or a pep-talk. It is always within reach of wherever I happen to be writing; it is also often to be found on my bedside table. I know that you, too, will find it well-worth the small investment involved.
I plan on showing the book to The Chef, with the hope that it will help to explain where I am coming from, as reader-writer. I believe that seeing such strong, plain, passionate words out of the mouths of others who share my obsessive sentiments will serve the purpose far better than I could. If, however, that does not work, The Glimmer train will at least provide me with a happy haven.