Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Break Book Selections

As a child (and I may be dating myself here) I can recall one of the things that signaled the beginning of the holiday season was the arrival of the Sears "Wish Book" in the mail. This fabulous catalogue displayed all the toys that my brother and I could possibly hope to find under the tree on Christmas morning (along with clothes, and other less desirable items.) We would spend hours pouring over the pages, dogearing the items we intended to include in our letters to Santa.

These days catalogues have given way to online shopping.  I remember the shocking news of Sears discontinuing their "Big Book" in 1993, and now the company offers an online version of the catalog - complete with Wish Book.

Canada had a similar store in Eaton's.  T. Eaton & Co. a dry goods store and haberdashery opened in Toronto on December 8, 1869.  The store was successful and grew rapidly, becoming the first store in Canada to have electric lights and elevators.  In 1884, Eaton's introduced the first mail-order catalogue to Canada, it offered everything from clothing to farming equipment, and even pre-fabricated houses. 

As Canada's population became more urban, shoppers were less reliant on catalogue purchases.  In 1976, Eaton's announced that the Spring-Summer catalogue would be their last.  Many Canadians were in shock.  Unfortunately, the whole chain folded in 1999 and Eaton's corporate assets were acquired by Sears Canada. 

Fortunately, for those feeling nostalgic this time of year, Internet Archive provides a window into Christmas shopping past.  The Eaton's Fall and Winter Catalogue 1913-1914 is available in its entirety online for perusing pleasure.  These days my desire to browse for toys has lessened (unless I'm shopping for my nephew) and I've never had much success purchasing clothes I couldn't try on, but the book selection looked interesting.  While nothing beats walking into a bookstore and diving into the stacks, end of semester assignments often allow little time for shopping.  Plus, with the magic of the internet I can browse the 1913 selection.

With winter break just around the corner, I'm looking forward to some leisure time and a little reading for pleasure - a luxury grad students can't often afford.  So I picked out a handful of books from the 1913 catalogue and using more internet magic, managed to locate some grad-student-budget-friendly (read:free) copies.  Here are some of my holiday reading selections.

Since this time of year always inspires me to try new recipes in the kitchen i decided to check out the cookbook section.  What better women to turn to for hosting advice than the First Ladies?  The White House Cook Book: A Comprehensive Cycolpedia of Information for the Home, is touted as being "comprehensive, filling completely, it is believed, the requirements of housekeepers of all classes.  It embodies several original and commendable features, among which may be mentioned the menus for the holidays."  While this 600 page book full of the "choicest recipes" would have set me back $0.75 in 1913, the full text is available online for free today. 

While preparing my meals fit for a President, I thought I might want to brush up on my table manners as well.  Fortunately for me, right under the cookbooks are numerous books on etiquette.  The Encyclopaedia of Etiquette: A Book of Manners for Everyday Use, seemed like a promising resource.  Eaton's describes it as "a guide for your every-day conduct on all occasions, whether in private or public.  Deals with calls, cards, dinners, table manners, balls, wedding, receptions, musicales, invitations, correspondence, etc."  With this handy manual I never have to worry about not knowing the proper use of a finger bowl or if it would be appropriate to bring my ladies maid to the next house party.

The next book I found is one that was on the shelf in my childhood bedroom.  I think it may have belonged to one of my parents as it had seen a lot of love before I started reading it.  The Little Lame Prince is a story for children about a young prince whose legs are paralyzed due to a childhood injury.  The prince is given a magical traveling cloak by his fairy godmother; he uses this cloak to go on various adventures, and develops great wisdom and empathy in the process.  I can recall enjoying, if not fully understanding the story as a child, and though my hard copy is packed away in a box somewhere, I can enjoy this digital copy as an adult.  "If it draw a few tears, they run into smiles; and the last page leaves us with a gentle, quite feeling, such as grown men and women call peace."

There are a handful of books that I frequently reread, each time enjoying as much as the first.  It doesn't seem to matter that I know what is going to happen, or how the story will end, it still touches me each time I pick it up.  Stepping Heavenward is one of those books, and I'm glad I came across it in the Eaton's catalogue and managed to find it online.  My paper copy is well loved, but like so many of my books right now, it too is packed away in a box in the basement.  I can think of no book I would rather take a break with over this holiday season.  This is a journal-like account of a 19th century girl who learns, on the path to womanhood, that true happiness can be found in giving oneself to others.  It reminds me so much of my halting attempts at a journal in my youth and I am captivated by Katherine's story.

Earlier this year, I went on a history field trip which included a stop at Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site.  This site commemorates the life of Reverend Josiah Henson.  An active abolitionist and participant in the Underground Railroad, Henson's memoirs served as a source for Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.  While at the site, I was inspired by Henson's story, one that I knew nothing about prior to this visit.  I was familiar with the book, but have never read it.  But with a full text version available from the Internet Archive, I am able to tackle this 19th century best-seller whenever I find the time.

Along with the books with which I was familiar, I wanted to look into a couple new titles.  This highlighted one of the downsides of the book selections in Eaton's catalogue.  Though there was an abundance of fiction titles from which to choose, there were no descriptions.  So as much as we are warned to not judge books by their covers, I was forced to pick on title alone.  My first choice Not Like other Girls, sounded promising.  I hopped over to to see if they had a summery of the book.  I was in luck, "this is a ripping yarn written in the manner of Jane Austen.  Three daughters and their mother fall into gentile poverty after their father's death left them somewhat destitute...They are 'not like other girls' as the book is titled, because they manage to earn admiration and respect despite their reduced circumstances...The book is an interesting window into gender politics of the late 19th century."  One of the things I discovered trying to find a copy of this book online is that it was published in volumes.  The first one I opened was just the second volume - or the middle part of the book.  Something to keep in mind if you undertake a scavenger hunt like this in the future.

The final book that I selected was from the "high-class recent fiction" list of books in the Eaton's calalogue.  The Woman Haters by Joseph Lincoln sounded like an entertaining read.  This one, like my last selection, also posed a bit of a problem when I looked for the full text online.  There was a misprint in Eaton's and the book was listed as The Woman Hater (singular, not plural.)  Turns out there is a novel by Charles Reade of that name.  It was easy enough to sort out the difference, and find the book by the correct author.  Without a description I Googled the title and provided me with a summary for my last read, a "light and amusing tale of a Cape Cod lighthouse keeper and a young new Yorker who becomes his assistant."  I especially enjoy the depiction of the salty lighthouse keeper on the books cover.

I wasn't entirely surprised at the selection of books available online, I am familiar with many Epub books.  I expected to find the well-known titles easily, but the lesser-known ones were a pleasant surprise.  Not only are you able to read all the books I selected online, but they can also be downloaded to a mobile device, like an e-reader.  I have a Nook Color, so I can add all my winter reads to this device and bring them wherever my holiday travels take me.  I was hesitant at first to get on the e-reader bandwagon, I am such a fan of books, and there is nothing like browsing in a bookstore.  But it's hard to beat the convenience of holding dozens of books and magazines (not to mention pdf articles for class) on one device.  With so many of the classics accessible on sites such as Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, Google Books, and Hathi Trust, my personal digital library need never be empty.

1 comment:

  1. And to think, I've been using finger bowls incorrectly for all these years... Thanks for sharing.