Humans of New York Stories

Humans of New York isn’t just my favourite website, it’s one of my favourite things in the world. Period.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Only it can do itself justice.

The companion book, Humans of New York Stories, came out a couple of months ago. I cannot recommend it enough. Brandon, his subjects, and the entire HoNY community are immensely open and giving. It’s beautiful.

Humans of New York Stories

Humans of New York Stories

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

CHAPTER IV:

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.”

“No?”

“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

INFO:

  • TITLE: GIRL ABOUT TOWN
  • AUTHOR: KATHERINE PENT
  • YEAR PUBLISHED: 1937
  • PUBLISHER: HILLMAN CURL, INC. (A STREAMLINED ROMANCE)
Girl About Town

Girl About Town

CHAPTER I:

 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.”

“What!”

“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!

Sob.

CHAPTER II:

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

[Merrily I Read] Girl About Town: Educational Marginalia

Girl About Town

Girl About Town

My copy of Girl About Town has some interesting, and unusually informative, marginalia.

At one point, it belonged to “College Libraries” (“The Convenient Reader Service”) in Dayton, Ohio:

For Rental Only!

For Rental Only!

Fortunately, it doesn’t say anything about not using their property as a notebook. Otherwise, someone would have been in big trouble…and we’d be out a lot of useful information:

The Last Horse Car

The Last Horse Car

July 27, 1917-when the last horse car was used

and

the country with the oldest unchanged flag (Denmark)

Things go a bit downhill from there:

A Killing Frost

A Killing Frost…

“answer 1816 with a killing frost in several states”

New York. Phil. &

Penn. & New England State

**

I’m a bit concerned about this unknown person’s grades. Was geography their weak subject? Were they hung-over that day? Did they even pass this class? What profession did they go into after (their hopeful) graduation? How did they manage to bring a novel about lingerie models to school, but not a notebook? So. many. questions. And I haven’t even started reading the actual book…

**

Next time: Chapters One-Three of Girl About Town

“A bright, entertaining romance as modern and up-to-date as its title suggests.”

I’ll be the judge of that.

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

A Year in Books/Days 228-229: Frontier Madam/Amedeo Modigliani

FRONTIER MADAM THE LIFE OF DELL BURKE, LADY OF LUSK

  • Title: Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk
  • Author: June Willson Read
  • Year Published: 2008 (A Two Dot Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2012
  • Source: Half Price Books
  • About: I really wanted to like this book. It has elements that make it ideally suited to my weird tastes. The narrative focuses on an interesting period and place little discussed elsewhere, and the heroine is something else: strong, fearless, unconventional, and largely forgotten. All things that make my heart flutter with anticipation. If the whole was as good as any of the components were in life, it would be a great read. Instead, it is unsatisfactory. Not bad or shoddy, but oddly flat, simplistic and bloodless. Dell Burke was a girl from a solid working class background, with a loving family but few prospects. A tale as old as time, of course. She turned a pragmatic foray into prostitution into a decades-long career as a powerful, wealthy, fair, civic-minded madam in Wyoming. The contents of her life could probably fill several books. Unfortunately, the lady was something of an enigma. The material for an interesting, complex biography just isn’t there. What we are given is a civic history of Lusk, Wyoming filled with third and fourth hand anecdotes about its most notorious resident. Many of the brief stories are entertaining, but they add little to the flow and structure of the book. The passages of imagined dialogue, which are mercifully few, are stilted and unbelievable: a great idea poorly executed. The conjecture used to fill in the gaps between anecdotes and facts is boring and without colour. I wish I had bigger things, nicer things, to say about this book, but the story is paper-thin. The biographer tries hard. Hailing from the same part of Wyoming as her subject, she is genuinely connected to the legend of Dell Burke. It’s obvious that she is excited to share this remarkable woman with the rest of the world. Perhaps that is the problem: whilst the shell of the legend is intact, the substance of the real woman is long gone. There’s nothing left but a disjointed jumble of local in-jokes worn threadbare and a vague memory woven into the collective subconscious of the town’s residents. It’s no wonder that this book reads like a padded-out pamphlet for an annual town festival in Lusk. Continue reading