Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another weekend, another book sale

It's awf'lly bad luck on Diana,

Her ponies have swallowed their bits;

She's fished down their throats with a spanner

And frightened them all into fits.

Hunter Trials by John Betjeman; The Poetry of Horses, ed. William Cole

Friday night, I got a jump on the weekend and went book shopping at a charity sale held in the back of beyond. I came out, lugging 3 bags of ancient, stinking, flaking reading material and roughly $25 lighter, to find an enormous thunderhead looming. Cursing, I ran to the car and spent the next hour cautiously driving around the storm. This journey was made all the more interesting because I was not 100% sure where I was. I lucked out and managed to never be where the storm was raging at any given time, though I did drive through a few places where it had just drowned the roads and/or knocked down the trees.

But I made it back, as did the loot. They're a mixed bag; more amazing nonfiction selections (somebody must have contributed a lifetime library of racing books) and some tantalizing reeking-but-must-have fiction, and few elderly cookbooks. Which are another minor failing. I don't really cook, but I do like cookbooks.

Horse Fiction
Who, Sir? Me, Sir? by K.M. Peyton (which I've just re-read today and sigh)*
The Poetry Of Horses ed. William Cole*
The Valley Of The Ponies by Jean Slaughter Doty* one of her harder to locate books
Races To The Swift ed by Fairfax Downey - short racing stories

Horse Non-fiction
Horse Crazy by Bronwyn Llewellyn - a collection of essay about women and horses
The Equestrian Woman by Ann Martin - bios of women in different horse sports
The Boy Who Talks To Horses by Ivy Jackson Banks
Mark Phillips by by Angela Rippon
Olympic Vet by Joseph C. O'Dea - looks to be a very interesting read covering half the 20th century in equine sport
Women Of The Year by Jacqueline Duke (about racing fillies)
Women In Racing by John & Julia McEvoy
Forward Motion by Holly Menino

Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell (which I promptly read, having always wanted to read this first of the Bagthorpe saga, which is not simple to locate in the US, and finally, finally finding out about Grandma's party and how it came to burn out the dining room)*

Stranger On The Bay
by Adrien Stoutenburg - some sort of mystery for teens, looks promisingly old

Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapes by James Beard - which has this little DO from a guide to the cocktail party: DO know how many are coming and do know that they are congenial. Remember the Montagues and the Capulets and judge accordingly.

Big Mutt by John Reese- extremely battered dog book.

Wild Animal Man by Damoo Dhotre - a companion of sorts to the circus book I reviewed here one, Circus Doctor.

The Lost Pet Chronicles by Kat Albrecht

Betty Crocker's Guide To Easy Entertaining - oh, how I love this 1959 book; my old copy was in tatters, and this one is perfect. I've never actually cooked from it, the appeal lies in the sense it conveys of a world of serene, universally understood manners: A reasonable hour to leave after dinner is 11, or slightly earlier on a weekday. The good guest, asked for such an affair as tea from 5 to o7, does not linger after the later hour unless specifically invited to do so. Having all but dropped from exhaustion after hosting parties where guests simply refused to leave, I read these pages with a sense of hungry yearning.

Cooking With Soup: A Campbell Cookbook - Again, I will probably never cook from it but it was unthinkable to leave it behind, as I had family who worked for Campbell Soup when it still had factories in NJ, and I went to school in Camden, alongside the big, old buildings where the company originated. This sort of reasoning is why books are running amok in my house.

* These books are, unfortunately, stinkers. A local library is a sick building, one of those monolithic 1960s structures which appear to have been built either to prove that America too could produce Stalinist architecture or to withstand a direct nuclear blast. Concrete from head to toe, it hunkers into the ground, the only natural light coming from a small set of front doors which open not directly into the library but into a tunnel-like entryway, and a smattering of narrow horizontal windows set so high in the walls that they meet the roof. Which has deep eaves. The kicker is that this love song to damp was built in a low-lying area, so it's a mold's paradise. And the poor books smell of it. I've never met books which smelled worse. The fun part is this nightmare library is finally being replaced, and the librarians have been busy getting rid of old books. First they sold them at their own book sales - where I lost my head and bought 2 bags of them, which I clung to grimly for 2 months before admitting it was a lost cause and dumping them - and then, in the way used books circulate through an area, they've begun traveling in ever-increasing circles radiating out from their origins. This latest sale is the furthest I've found them, and I knew they were there the moment I walked in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The perfect number of books

What's the perfect number of books? Personally, I think it's exactly the amount you can cram into a house without sending any one floor crashing into the one below. I am not generally acquisitive; I can window-shop for ages, and leave stores without buying anything. Part of this is frugality, part is a deep horror of adding more possessions to my limited space. But this admirable self-control stems also from the unavoidable fact that much of that space is already filled with books. Books, most awkward and filthy of possessions, are my weakness.

And this weekend, I managed to add more, mostly nonfiction of the large and somewhat moldering variety. W. Menzendorf's Kavalkade, which is in German and of which I can understand exactly three words: "Hans," "Winkler," and "Halla." A strange, small Scholastic edition of Son Of The Black Stallion, in which Satan has a very odd look in his eye. I don't believe I've ever seen any Farley book put out in the smaller format. The Horseman's Bible by Jack Coggin, which I recall with great fondness, the sort of book which shows you exactly how to put on a bridle. Creative Horsemanship by Charles de Kunffy, a 1978 printing, which will go straight into my stack of books which I should read, and will do directly I finish both my sensible, balanced dinner and my core-strengthening exercise. Riding The International Way. Successful Show-Jumping by Daphne Machin Goodall. Show Jumper by Dorian Williams. Ruffian by Edward Claflin. And, most fun of all from the perspective of a pony book fan, Horsemanship For Beginners by Jean Slaughter, who as Jean Slaughter Doty would go on to write some of the very best American horse books - Summer Pony, The Crumb, The Monday Horses.

There will need to be evictions. There will need to be shuffling. But not until the heat breaks. Until then, I will huddle beside the air conditioner and read.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Sorry about the lack of illustrations on the preceeding review; I'm working on a borrowed computer while doing research to replace my latest deceased PC, and only using images I already had stashed on a flash drive. This blog may look more like a chamber of commerce ad for the Delaware Valley for a while, as local shots are what I have for illustration.

If, like me, you haven't gone on vacation in a while, here's a vicarious riding vacation in Iceland, courtesy of the Horse Breeders' Association of Iceland. Beautiful, but terrifyingly rocky terrain. When I fall off, I like to hit sand or soil, not stone.

(Also sorry about the generally low-tech style; I'm wrestling with an iMac, and I've never liked Apple computers so it's a learning curve trying to get this one to do what I want.)

A book to keep an eye out for this summer is a new nonfiction about Snow Man, the show jumper who was rescued off a slaughterhouse-bound truck. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts is due out August 23 from Ballantine.

And a completely unhorsey and unbookish tangent just because.

Well, I had to include a seasonal reference. So here are two bald eagles, residents of a wildlife rehab center/nature center in the Pine Barrens. There is something about their coloration that makes them just surreal to see in person, so to speak.

A somewhat gimlet-eyed Peregrine Falcon.

A cedar lake, shining brown in the sun. It's like swimming in tea, and just as effective at dying you, your bathing suit, your hair...

And the culprit, the cedar trees.

It's a bit more complicated than that, but I'm content with blaming the trees.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Horse Show Hurdles (1957)

Horse Show Hurdles
Joan Houston, il. Paul Brown1957, Thomas Y. Crowell Company  

A June wind, blowing down from the Vermont hills, parted Tam's dark bangs and flattened her shirt against her thin arms and chest. Her mouth was open a little, and her thick brows were pulled down in a frown of concentration as she pressed her heels against Bobolink's sides, urging the sorrel horse to a faster and showier trot.

13-year-old Tam Wade is finally back in the country at her uncle Pete's farm after the winter of New York City and school. Her favorite haunt is the Wilby Stable, but this year, it's under threat. A newer, flashier establishment is luring away customers. Tam is loyal, but Frank Wilby, the forthright old horseman who owns the barn, is his own worst enemy. Sure, LeRoy's stable is competition, but Frank's bad temper when faced with the sleazy LeRoy is the bigger problem.  

"What do I care where you ride?" Frank's jaw was set dangerously. "It's no business of mine." He gave a kind of growl in his throat, rather like a dog when it is angry, and strode off to the barn.

Loyal despite Frank's tantrums, Tam spends the summer working hard to save the barn with the help of stableboy Steven and her fickle sister Cynthia. Also in the mix is LeRoy's new instructor, the glamorous French dressage master Captain Boudreau, and Frank's sister Miss Wilby. Tam's easy, youthful dismissal of the latter shows she's not quite the free-thinking young tomboy she pretends to be, but she gets a sharp surprise late in the day. The rivalry between the barns builds all summer, culminating in a near-tragedy at the local horse show.

The book's good points include generous illustrations by Paul Brown, a strong plot and some nuanced characters. On the minus side, the action drags in the middle, and the villain is flat. Although the author's treatment of the inevitable 'emotional growth' aspect of the heroine's story is subtler and most effective than most, it's also a bit clumsily done. One oddity is how the barns are presented - while LeRoy is clearly a sleaze, Frank Wilby is an angry crank whose instruction apparently isn't up to much. The emphasis is all on loyalty, with little interest in our heroine as to how best to advance her riding. When her sister Cynthia, under the sway of a snobby, image-obsessed pal, defects to the rival barn, Tam's incensed.

A good, brisk read which lacks something. Perhaps it's that Tam, for all she loves horses and her own adored Merlin, is usually more caught up in arguing with her sister or scheming against LeRoy than actually riding.

Bobolink - sorrel gelding
Pinwheel - chestnut mare
Merlin - black gelding
Firefly - filly
Riot - Irish Terrier (dog)