Proper Introductions: Summer Reading

Frank Weston Benson,'The Reader'

There is something about the long, languid days of summer that begs for a particular flavor of reading, in my mind. I have said this before, but books have their own season for me as definitely as my clothes. I’d no more pull on my cabled wool ‘barn sweater’–so de rigueur for frosty winter mornings–in the middle of July, than I’d consider dipping into the pages of such familiar friends as Anna Karenina or Great Expectations when the temperature outside nudges above eighty degrees. And the hotter it gets, the lighter the fare that’s desired. In the dog days of summer, I eat salads and wear sundresses almost exclusively. And while I disdain ‘fluff’ in reading as in everything else, my summer book choices tend to lean decidedly on the frothier side.

Charlotte Mason warned wisely and famously against ‘twaddle’, and I consider it my duty, as writer and bookseller, never to misguide anyone along that line. But permit me to highlight a few volumes and authors which, if not particularly freighted with great moral themes and deathless prose, will at the least prove gentle companions for a slower, lazier time of year. Perfect for reading in a hammock, or tucked in a cool windowseat…

D.E. Stevenson

D.E. Stevenson is a gem. My book club calls her “Elizabeth-Goudge-Lite”, and she’s who we turn to at least once a year between weighty tomes like Eliot and Gaskell. She was a Scottish writer of the last century and a descendant of the great Robert Louis. And her books are simply charming. She writes of houses that remember their past and women who understand the art of being womanly. In D.E. Stevenson, you will find well-laid tea tables and rambles over the Scottish hillsides, not to mention engaging plots which are usually fashioned upon a frame of revered domesticity. And another joy of Stevenson is that once she takes the time to create a character, she doesn’t seem to want to put them to rest at the end of a book, or even a series. She wrote over forty novels, and the people you love in one book have a way of cropping up again in another character’s story, with a delightful sense of friendly recognition.

Celia’s House is the tale of a young woman who surprisingly inherits her family manor and endeavors to make it her own in the stern face of tradition and under the somber cloud of war.

Amberwell is about a manorial family in the Scottish Lowlands and how they and the community surrounding them both survive and overcome the devastations of WWII.

The English Air is a collectible volume that tells the WWII-era love story of a young German man and an English girl.

Music in the Hills is the sequel to the beloved Vittoria Cottage, but like her other sequels, stands on its own as the charming story of a young man who returns to Scotland and settles down to farming after his service in the army.

The Marriage of Katherine wraps up the story begun in Katherine Wentworth and tells of her new life as wife to a hard-nosed but tender-hearted solicitor and mother to three children.

The beloved English author, Miss Read, received a marked revival of popularity after Jan Karon confessed her a favorite and an inspiration. I love Miss Read’s books, not only because they are light and touching—and yet have a penetrating insight into human nature and manners that’s almost Austen-ish in it’s flavor—but because they were much-loved by my Anglophile grandmother. Most of her books are centered in the fictional Cotswold villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green, and tell the day-to-day stories of people who seem like real-life friends and acquaintances. Like Jan Karon, Miss Read wrote of the life she knew first-hand, and let the rest of the world see how charming it was without faltering into clichés or idealism. And as in D.E. Stevenson, the reader gets the chance to encounter beloved characters again and again.

In Village Affairs, Fairacre’s schoolmistress has to face the challenges of running her school under the terrible rumor that it is going to be closed.

Changes at Fairacre chronicles the encroaching effects of modern life on the village and its inhabitants, and celebrates the staunch fact that some things will never change.

The Battles at Thrush Green are over such matters of consequence as the management of the school and the plan for the neglected churchyard. Not to mention the return of an inhabitant that’s been gone for half a century…

Return to Thrush Green chronicles one family’s upheavals and another’s desire to settle down, all against the backdrop of a finely-rendered English spring.

No Holly for Miss Quinn is the story of a mysterious spinster and the interrupted Christmas that impacted the rest of her life.

In Village Centenary the one hundredth anniversary of the village school is celebrated with all due honors amid the usual turmoils and joys of Fairacre life.

Grace Livingston Hill

So, I’m curious—how many of you have heard of Grace Livingston Hill? She was another author that I first discovered on my grandmother’s shelves. I used to come home from her house on summer afternoons with my arms loaded, only to return them the next week for a fresh batch. They were my great-grandmother’s copies mostly, with the dates of her readings penciled carefully inside the front cover—many of them with second and third notations. From 1887 to 1948, Grace Livingston Hill was the author of over 100 books, most of which were written to keep the wolf from the door. Nevertheless, her stories are all different, even though each of them bears certain hallmarks that her readers came to trust and expect: every story highlights the constant, daily reality of good and evil, and every single of one them carries a message of grace. Her books are endearingly old-fashioned and romantic—chivalrously so!—and she delights with an immersion in period detail, from the cut of a dainty 1930’s frock to the setting of an elegant table on limited means. I still remember being enchanted with the account of a character whipping up a batch of fresh mayonnaise to garnish a salad for a special luncheon! And if Hill’s heroines are a bit idealized, they are absolutely lovely girls and a joy to keep company with throughout the duration of the book. Modern readers, accustomed to the requisite subtlety of our age, may smile over the overt Christian themes of Hill’s books. But I, for one, am an unabashed admirer, in great measure for the quiet delights I received at her hands as a girl and the sweetest dreams which they inspired. I really could (and perhaps will) write an entire post about Grace, but for now, I’ll reign myself in by saying that I may not have read every single one of her 100+ books, but I’ve definitely read enough to vouch for her. Grace Livingston Hill is light reading at its most decent and fine.

The 1916 story, A Voice in the Wilderness, has a young woman stranded in the Arizona desert with no one to help her but a stranger.

Bright Arrows is the sweet story of a girl fighting to preserve her inheritance from scheming relatives, only to find an inheritance that is even more valuable.

Happiness Hill sheds a gentle light on how one can be selfish without even realizing it. This is one of those “what do you really want” stories.

Spice Box is a doctor’s search for the identity of a young patient he saves in a snowstorm.

In Silver Wings 1930’s sophistication meets tragedy when a young pilot goes missing.

The Search is a WWI love story that crosses the class divide.

illustration from "The Trumpeter Swan", by Temple Bailey

In the 1920’s, Temple Bailey was one of the highest-paid writers in America. Yet another discovery among my great-grandmother’s books, I actually didn’t read any of Bailey’s books until fairly recently. But I do love her style. She has a voice that is completely unique, almost fable-like at times, and she manages to write on some very sentimental themes without sounding corny or hackneyed. Reading a Temple Bailey book is like watching a magic lantern show of the twenties and thirties—there is a certain gorgeousness that is never too much. She writes with a lighter hand than many popular novelists of her day, and manages to pull off some worthy morals without ever lapsing into preaching.

From the dust jacket of the 1928 Silver Slippers: “a dance in the moonlight, days of delight and disillusionment, and a day when Joan threw her silver slippers into the sea…”

In Little Girl Lost, a girl of 19 takes a year to make up her mind just which man she wants to marry…

The Gay Cockade is the 1921 collection of 14 of Temple Bailey’s enchanting short stories.

Well, there’s a start, at least, and a peek at four writers with whom one can while a gentle hour or two. (Or more!)

So, what are you reading this summer? I’d love to know.

Proper Introductions is a series dedicated to highlighting some of the titles that can be found on the shelves at Lanier’s Books.

32 Responses to “Proper Introductions: Summer Reading”

  1. Teresa says:

    As a new reader to your lovely blog, I have not yet commented. But this post is just delightful and I had to tell you so. I so very much appreciate these recommendations. I have been a fan of Grace Livingston Hill since my girlhood, when a distant cousin gave me boxes of old books from their attic and I discovered many many volumes of GLH books. They had an enormous influence on me and to this day remain a standard for me of feminine goodness, purity and domesticity. Your readers who have yet to discover her are in for such a treat. And now, having never found anyone else quite like Miss Grace, I am so excited to explore the authors you have introduced me to here. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. I am very excited!

  2. Rebecca says:

    Although I have been ashamed to admit it, I have read nearly everything G.L. Hill wrote. I loved her stories as a young girl and credit them for having inspired my high ideals for courtship and marriage as a woman. There is such a temptation to be cynical in this world, but it is stories such as Mrs. Hill’s that keep the sweet wonder alive, deep down.

    It would be lovely to revisit a few of your favorite passages from these other authors.

    My current reading? church history and biblical hermeneutics–lighter fare would be a welcome treat in temperatures edging upwards of 100 degrees!

  3. Jessica says:

    Fun post! I recently discovered Miss Read and found “Battles at Thrush Green” at a booksale….very simple and English. :)

    My sister-in-law introduced me to Grace Livingston Hill and I’ve only read one so far (and I can’t even remember the title), but really liked it…I’d love to find more!

  4. Susan says:

    I remember also reading Grace Livingston Hill as a girl, also borrowed from my beloved Grandma Zelma. “Crimson Roses” was one of my favorites. Just reading this blog and remembering the books is making me miss my dear Grandma. Thank you for this post.

  5. Janice says:

    Wonderful wonderful wonderful. I love coming here especially when you do these kinds of informative posts. I have read a few of the “Miss Read” books and I have a small collection of the Grace Livingston Hill books. The others are on my wish list. THANK YOU and PLEASE continue with these wonderful sharings.

  6. Lisa says:

    I’m deep in the mire of summer school at the moment, but I have a glorious month-long break following! I’ll put these on my reading list. Thanks, Lanier!

  7. Kristen says:

    I have heard of Grace Livingston Hill. Come to think of it, I believe I saw them on my Grandma’s bookshelf years ago. I also believe inherited my love of books from the same dear Grandma, who passed away just after my 16th birthday. Of course, I have to order a couple GLH books from you now :)

  8. I have all of Grace’s books except a few of the harder to find (and more expensive!) ones. I’ve been hoping for years (decades!) to come across a copy of “Pansies for Thoughts” somewhere where someone didn’t realize the value of it. I started a collection of her books in the original dust jackets, but had to give that up before I could complete the set. I love some of the artwork on them. So wonderful for the time period.

    My favorite stories would be “The Prodigal Girl”, “The Substitute Guest”, “Beauty for Ashes”, “The Christmas Bride”, “The Gold Shoe” and “Matched Pearls”. I’m probably forgetting a couple!

    Although her stories are idealistic in many ways, I do think they very positively impacted me as a young girl/woman.

    I think Grace would be a fascinating woman to talk with, especially since her own life did not exactly play out like her books. Her grandson (Robert Munce) wrote “The Grace Livingston Hill Story” and it’s hard to understand why she married the man she did after the death of her first husband. I remember how surprised I was the first time I read that story. The wisdom of her heroines did not translate into her own love life. But I’m thankful for the gift she gave us in her stories! :-)

    I have a brief bio of her on my own site: http://aquietsimplelife.com/?p=8918

  9. jodi says:

    Well, I just finished The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter. And I’m looking forward to reading Freckles :) I’m also reading Anne Dillard’s The Maytrees. I have read most everything of Miss Read’s. I guess you know that her real name was Dora Saint. Have you ever read A Fortunate Grandchild, one of her autobiographies? I really enjoyed it. There’s another about her later years entitled Time Remembered.

  10. Kathie says:

    My favourite of DE Stevenson is Miss Buncle – absolutely delightful! And perfect summer reading. there are 2 more in that series.

    I’ve read all of Miss Read’s, most of Stevenson’s and a few of GL Hill – I find her to be a little too sentimental for me now although I enjoyed her as a teenager. I also loved Gene Stratton Porter in those days too. Especially Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost.

    I like to read (and re-read) children’s books for lighter fare – Amazons and Swallows series by A Ransome is prefect summer reading as is any of LM Montgomery’s of course :)

    Right now I’m re-reading the Damershay trilogy by Goudge (one of my favourite authors of all time). Also The Island of the World by Michael D. O’Brien – not light but a rewarding read.

    Happy summer reading to you Lanier!

  11. Kathie says:

    Oh and PS – I can’t forget Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South – an lovely Librovox audio version that is keeping me company on my walks!

  12. […] a new author courtesy of my sweet Bonnie, who shared a link at Lanier’s Books. She talks about Temple Bailey, a new author for me, alongside ones I’ve already grown to […]

  13. Laura S. says:

    I have read a few Grace Livingston Hills, my favorites being “Homing” and “April Gold.” Delightfully light fare, indeed! And I love the vintage domesticity.

    I have not yet met the other authors mentioned… thank you for the very pleasant introduction!

  14. Martina says:

    I love visiting your place; almost every time I learn about new, unknown to me authors. Thank you for the lovely introduction!
    Right now, I am slowly savoring again “Pilgrim’s Inn”, which I got to know also thanks to you. I read it really slowly as I don’t want to leave this magic old house, the forest, the river, Damerosehay, the characters…. I think I could read it again every year!
    (And some day, I will pay you a special visit as I own only a not so pretty seventies paperback edition. This wonderful book deserves a truly wonderful copy!)
    Blessings, Martina

  15. Kendra says:

    Thank you for this lovely introduction to several new authors. I look forward to reading some of the titles; our library has many of them I just discovered. It was through your blog that I originally learned of Elizabeth Goudge and have enjoyed her books ever since.

  16. Sharon says:

    I’ve long been familiar with the name of Grace Livingston Hill; the lens of memory suggests a row of her titles on a shelf at the small town library of my girlhood–and yet, I can’t recall which I may have read.
    A little research brings up the author Grace Brooks HIll–who wrote a series of books about the “Corner House Girls”–typically plucky, well-behaved heroines of a similar era. I found and read ‘The Corner House Girls Odd Find’ on my Mother’s bookshelf.
    The demands of a too large garden have cut into my reading time this summer. In late May I read Jan Karon’s Mitford series and the two subsequent Father Tim novels–I hadn’t previously read them in proper order. Karon’s writing presents such quirky and beleivable characters–the plots show us people doing battle with good and evil–but the tone is never sugary or preachy. My cousin and I agree that we are quite “attached” to the folks of Mitford!
    Over the years friends have loaned me books in the “Christian Fiction” genre–all of which have disappointed with shallow characters, predictable plots and grammer school vocabulary…a sad contrast to the readability of Jan karon [another lady whose life story doesn’t show the good marital choices she wishes for her characters.]
    I’ve spent time this summer on genealogy projects, denominational and doctrinal history [on-line.]
    Good recent reads have been ‘The Tale of Robin Lyth’ by Christine A. Jones [a retelling of Blackmore’s Mary Anerley] ‘The Land of Green Ginger” by Winifred Holtby; ‘The Forgotten Garden’ by kate Morton [a mystery spanning three generations]
    In the “pile” are Holtby’s ‘South Riding’, a re-read of Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Gilead’…and nearly everything I’m slowly unpacking from boxes–what I like I read again!
    You’ve inspired me to seek out and try some of the gentle ladies mentioned in this post.

  17. Our house was hit by lightening early last week, leaving us without TV or Internet. So, I have been reading a lot more than usual. :)

    I read Vittoria Cottage and Music In the Hills as well as Katherine Wentworth and The Marriage of K.W. this week. They were delightful ways to unwind and get to sleep with a lot on my mind.

    I, too, loved Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married. They were the first two books of hers that I read. A friend of mine is a member of the International Stevenson society and has been instrumental in encouraging me to read her works (as you and Sarah both introduced me to Goudge). :)

  18. I’ve been reading Stevenson since the late 60s and she is my go-to author whenever life needs calming down and cheering up. I’m thrilled to see you recommend her here. She wasn’t a descendant of RLS, though in the same rather famous engineering family. Her father was his first cousin. I like all the other authors you mention too, though perhaps know Temple Bailey less than others. But you’ve inspired me to do some more rereading.

  19. Olivia says:

    I love your posts!
    Almost all books have particular seasons for me, and there are a few that I really love to read in the summer. Linnets and Valerians has always seemed a very summer-y one to me, especially, I think, because I first read it outside in blazing sunshine. I love the Mitford books. They are a relaxing and realistic read ~ ideal for light summer reading, or before bed.

  20. Abby Maddox says:

    I am actually reading Anna Karenina 😉 I wish I’d read your recommendations before I started blustering through all these Russian winters! I have been looking for an old copy of Anna Karenina for a couple of years now, so when Lauren and I stumbled upon it in a tiny book shop in Pike Place (at a VERY reasonable price!) I couldn’t help but buy it…and dive right in. Can’t wait to try out some of your recs when I finish this one!

  21. Terri says:

    I’ve long been a fan of D. E. Stevenson. Just recently read two of her novels I found on the library shelf: Amberwell and Fletcher’s End. I have Vittoria Cottage and Blow the Wind Southerly beside me now. Love Miss Read and am beginning my collection of her books (as well as Stevenson’s) and I have about half of the books written by Grace Livingston Hill. My two favorites: The Honor Girl and Re-Creations and a very old one The Strange Obsession of Victoria Gracen.

    Agnes Sligh Turnbull is a favorite. I’ve just finished The Nightingale which was quite good and well developed, The Bishop’s Mantle has long been a favorite as well, but the book I read last week was disappointing, Whistle and I Will Come.

    Nelia Gardner White is another good novelist and I have several of her books on my shelves here at home. And I am rather fond of lighter fare now and then in the form of Emilie Loring romance/mysteries. Most were written earlier in the last century, but paper back versions were republished with ‘modern’ covers that do little justice to the story hiding behind the cover. My lovely husband has acquired several first edition, dustjacketed copies for my Christmas gifts over the years.

  22. Heather says:

    I’ve never read Grace Livingston Hill before. I see her books from time to time, so I will have to pick up a copy. I just returned from a book sale, where I found “A book of Comfort” by Elizabeth Goudge. It looks like a good read for the summer!

  23. Maria says:

    Lanier, you do have such a way of making these author-friends seem so delightful…and like the close friends that they clearly are to you. I’ve not yet read any of their works (though I think there are a few Miss Reads, here, that I found in a freebie bin earlier this year).

    You’ve certainly intrigued me with D.E. Stevenson, especially, since she describes “rambles over the Scottish hillsides.” One frustration that I have with Sir Walter Scott is that there aren’t enough Scottish nature descriptions. I often groan and say to him, “Please send your character out for a two-hour walk and have him tell what he sees!”

    I have been flitting around through piles of books like a ding-dong this summer, not settling down to anything. I did string the entire Little House series alongside my other intermittent reads, which is always a delight, besides being a good touchstone for goodness, common sense, contentment with one’s lot, frugality, and work ethic. Otherwise, it’s been bits of Kierkegaard’s Journals (ack! too heavy for this weather, I know!), St. Francis de Sales, some favorite north woods naturalists, a few Lang fairytales, a little Irish poetry, and…bits of Country of the Pointed Firs, simply because I saw it on your background and the title had an intriguing summer sound. (Yes…true confession…I took out a magnifying glass one day to read even the teeniest titles on your bookshelf background…:-)

  24. claudia adams says:

    I just finished reading Hide and Seek by Wilkie Collins.A most enjoyable book …especially the London setting. I remember last year having a cold and spending one whole delightful day reading Grace Livingstone Hill’s Ladybird. GLH is like “comfort food” for my soul …..which book did the girl live in a box and eat saltines and milk?

  25. Janice says:

    Keep these wonderful authors coming. 9 out of 10 are new o me. I just keep adding to my wish list.

  26. Sharon Dominy says:

    Like so many of your other “commentors” I love the Grace Livingston Hill books. I have all but two of her books and have read and re-read them. They are my favorite of all times. I also love the “Little House” books and books by Janette Oke. My favorite GLH books are “Recreations”, “The Honor Girl”, “April Gold”, “Homing”, and “Crimson Roses”.
    Learned of your blog on “Coffee, Tea, Books and Me” which I love. Brenda is such an inspiration.

  27. Sooo very glad to ‘meet’ you. Saw your link at Ravenhill Cottage, so I had to come and visit.

    I love old books and I’m looking forward to finding out what you have on your shelves. It’s always fun to discover ‘new’ authors to add to our reading pleasures.

    Wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places….. (in our case, that’s so often between the pages of a book!!)

  28. Pamela Wolfep says:

    I grew up reading and loving “Grace Livingston Hill” books. I saved them all now my daughter can also grow up reading them. Wonderful books !!!

  29. I realize this comment is two years late, but I wanted to say, I grew up reading Grace Livingston Hill. I’ve not read any of these other authors, but I look forward to reading them. I just “discovered” Bess Streeter Aldrich, thanks to you, and I find her delightful.

    Also, you waxed poetic about Rumer Godden and In This House of Brede in some post somewhere. That book I read six months after my twins were born, when I was beginning to come back to the light after the darkness of postpartum depression, and I loved it. It fed my sagging, battered soul, raised my eyes back to the hills, so to speak, and reminded me who I am and why. It is so beautiful and true, and Godden’s writing! She is a much-overlooked master. Brede remains a favorite–the gift of the right book at the right time. Almost no one I know has even heard of her, let alone read her. So I was very happy to see that you love her, too.

    Thanks much for all your wonderful book lists. I am poring over them and wishing for more hours in my days to read read read!

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