This week’s Inheritance Books are from my fellow Uncial writer Miki Thornburg. Hi Miki – would you like a Lindt chocolate truffle? I was expecting an avalanche of them, but it must have melted en route, so I’ve only got this little bowlful.
So, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thank you, Rhoda! Well, to begin at the beginning, I was born in the Los Angeles, California, area, where my father was working in the aircraft industry. Both my parents were from Montana so we came back north after WW2. My brother and I went through school in Washington State and college in Montana. I survived the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, and most of the ’90s in Indiana, in grad school and then teaching, moved with my husband back to Montana when we retired, and here I am today, wondering where all those years went!
I’ve been a reader all my life – haven’t we all? – and have loved living in the past, the future, and in fantasy worlds. I always intended to write fiction… someday… but somehow never got around to it until 2001, whereupon I took off running and have never looked back.
Well done you for taking the plunge. Once you start, it’s hard to stop!
Which book have you inherited from the generation above? Why is it special?
Years and years ago, my mother handed me her copy of a book published in 1915, when she was a child, which she’d cherished and read often: Dear Enemy, by Jean Webster. It’s a novel told in letters from Sallie McBride, a young woman whose college friend has inveigled her, much against her will, to serve as temporary superintendent of the orphanage where said friend grew up. Conditions at the orphanage shock Sallie, but she rolls up her sleeves and takes over, learning as she goes, working to make life livable for the hundred or so little residents, battling the hidebound board of trustees, trying to get along with the institution’s doctor (a grim and mysterious Scot, whom she soon begins to address as “Dear Enemy”) – and begging her friend to please hurry and find a permanent replacement.
The book is a love story in all sorts of ways, although Sallie isn’t aware for a long time of some of those ways. It’s dated in a lot of its perceptions about genetics and inheritance, but in other ways – like its feminism – it’s amazingly modern. And it’s a total hoot; I’ve read it dozens of times and it still makes me laugh out loud. It has at last been brought back into print, and I want to pass it along to readers who haven’t heard of it so they can relish it and also learn something about life a century ago. They should definitely get the print (not electronic) version, which includes Sallie’s (really the author’s) hilarious illustrations.
Sounds great. I haven’t heard of this book before. I must check it out. Which book would you like to leave to future generations? Why?
Oh, there are many books I’d like to pass along to future generations, including dozens or hundreds that are going to get passed along anyway, whether or not I have anything to do with it! But here’s one I’ve read almost as often as I’ve read Dear Enemy, and that I think isn’t much better known today than that one: Désirée by Annemarie Selinko.
This is an historical novel, the story (told in a fictional first-person diary) of the young French girl to whom Napoleon was betrothed before he met Josephine. The book was written in German, in the 1940s, and has been translated into English (and other languages) several times. Selinko takes liberties, but she’s basically true to historical fact. And her narrator – Désirée Clary, whose diary takes her from age 14 into her fifties – is such an engaged and engaging character that those historical facts spring to life. This woman was at the center of things in France from the early days of the Revolution, and again at the center of things in Sweden when the Swedes chose to adopt her husband as their king, so we get the point of view of a passionate, intelligent, but uneducated middle-class observer. I’ve laughed and cried, reading this novel, and have learned so much – and so painlessly – about European history, that I want to introduce the book to anyone and everyone who enjoys a long, beautiful, engrossing, romantic read.
Thank you so much for sharing your Inheritance Books with us, Miki. Good luck with your books. Would you like to take a choccie for the journey home. Go on. Have two.