Sunday, June 29, 2008

Still Good After All These Years

I sent in my manuscript for Death and Doilies on Monday and other than getting caught up on laundry and house cleaning, my number one priority was reading. I find it hard to read fiction when I’m writing and before I start my fourth book, I wanted to read about somebody else’s characters.

I have been so wrapped up in mystery I wanted to read something different. I have a personal history with the first book I chose. The first time I read it I was in seventh grade. Our class had its own library made up of castoffs of the school’s library. We might have been allowed to take the books home on the honor system. In any case I loved the beat up book with the red cover so much, I never brought it back. I still have it here somewhere.

Even though a movie was made of it – a very bad movie at that – I thought the book was out of print and unavailable. My old copy too beat up to be readable anymore, so I thought it was lost to me forever.

By chance I was talking to a friend recently about books written in the form of letters, which my seventh grade favorite was, and I thought of And how easy it is to find needle in the haystack old books – after all I’d found a children’s book I’d adored as a kid called Amos and the Moon. It was long out of print, but I still managed to get a copy in good condition. So, I typed the title into the search box.

To my surprise, I found out it was a classic of sorts and had been re published and brand new copies were available with extra information about the author. Of course I ordered it. The book is called Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster and was copyrighted in 1912. No, I’m not that old. Apparently when I read it in seventh grade it had been around a long, long time already.

I had to wonder how a book written almost one hundred years ago that I had last read in seventh grade would hold up. It’s the story of an eighteen year old young woman who grew up in a fondling home and is offered a college education by one of the trustees of the home. He wants to remain anonymous – she’s only caught a glimpse of him once as he was leaving and he reminds of her a daddy long legs spider. She’s to write him once a month to tell him about her studies.

The book is her letters to him. Once I started, I couldn’t stop reading. I loved it just as much now as I had in seventh grade. What a surprise. And there was even a mention of crochet.

Dead Men Don’t Crochet which comes out in December centers around Irish crochet. For anyone not familiar – Irish crochet is made with thread. It is most often has motifs of things like flowers or leaves that are joined into a collar or even a gown with crochet stitches so fine it’s hard to see them. It has a lacy appearance and got its start as a way for Irish woman to earn money during the potato famine. It also made lace type items available to more people as only very rich people could afford the Venetian lace it was based on.

In Daddy Long Legs, Judy (she’s the fondling/college student) talks about the clothes she gets a lot. It makes sense. After growing up wearing a uniform of blue gingham, who could blame her for getting excited about having gowns and lovely dresses. Her benefactor pays for her schooling and gives her a generous allowance so she won’t feel different than the other girls. She mentions getting things made of Irish crochet which at that time were contemporary. It was like seeing it from a different angle since when I was doing research, everything I looked at was old.

I guess maybe I didn’t get away from my writing as much as I thought. I have crochet on the brain. But it was nice to know that a book can hold up with time and be read by a seventh grader and someone way beyond and work for both ages. Wouldn’t we all like our books to be that good.


Allison said...

Have you ever seen the movie "Daddy Long Legs" with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron? It's one of my favorites; I had no idea it was based on this book you described. It airs every once in awhile on TCM (my favorite TV channel).
BTW, loved "Hooked on Murder" and can't wait for more.

Camille Minichino said...

I have to know ... does she ever find out who her benefactor is??

Betty Hechtman said...

Allison: I found out in the notes of the new edition that there were three movies based on the book. I have only seen the one you mentioned. I probably would have liked it better if I hadn't read the book first. But now that I've read the book again, I'd like to give the movie another chance. I'm glad you enjoyed Hooked on Murder.


Yes, she does find out who the benefactor is. The book has a very nice ending that makes you feel happy inside.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Congrats on sending in your manuscript, Betty!

Monica Ferris said...

I remember reading that book, too, when I was in seventh or eighth grade! I saw the Fred Astaire movie years later and was vastly disappointed; they seemed to have missed the heart of the book!

But I don't remember the Irish Crochet -- which is odd, because my mother, whose mother was Irish, used to ornament the edges of fine linen handkerchiefs with crochet lace, very delicate and beautiful. She didn't learn it from her Irish mother, I know, because her mother didn't do needlework. My Mom learned to knit and crochet from a neighbor. I wonder if she was Irish? I'm going to see Mom this weekend, I'll ask her. Thanks for the memory!

Beverly said...

I, too, discovered the book in my school library when I was around twelve. I now have my own copy. This book and Little Women are ones that I have to re-read every few years.

It's great to have a crocheter writing mysteries!