Wednesday, November 07, 2007

CELIA GARTH by Gwen Bristow

The Book: Gwen Bristow, CELIA GARTH. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1959 (first edition). Book is missing dust jacket, otherwise in good condition; slight cocking and rubbing to spine, small stain of something that appears to be coffee along the edge of the first few pages. Book appears to have been deaccessioned from a school library, with the acquisition date (6-2-59) written in pencil on the front flyleaf, along with the resale price (15 cents).
First read: 1978 (approximately)
Owned since: 1980 (approximately)

Last week worked so well that I thought I might start structuring the blog around weekly themes. If you haven't already figured it out, this week's theme is historical fiction of early America.

Tomorrow we'll move into the 19th century, but I'll spend one more day on the Revolutionary War. Celia Garth is a 16-year-old dressmaker in Charleston, SC, who loses a fiance to the Redcoats, becomes a rebel spy, and along the way finds maturity and true love.

I probably read this book first in eighth grade, along with everything else by Gwen Bristow on my school library's shelf (Jubilee Trail and Calico Palace are the two other titles I remember). Celia Garth was my favorite, and I snapped up a copy when I found one at a school book sale sometime later.

The Charleston setting was a big part of my enchantment with this book; I missed the city a lot after my step-grandmother's death ended my visits there. I loved the social history, the etiquette of caste and the detail of how people lived without electricity or engines or telephone wires. And I loved Celia herself, described without irony as "sassy." She was brave. She was resilient. Most important, she was useful, and she was loved for it.

Gwen Bristow is a kind of object lesson in the ephemeral nature of bestsellerdom. I bought this book and kept it for sentimental reasons, but all of her books are now out of print -- with the exception of Jubilee Trail, a monster bestseller in 1950, reprinted last year by the Chicago Review Press. Jubilee Trail had been out of print for decades, and while I'm glad it's available again, it seems to be presented as an artifact of early feminism, not as the epic entertainment I remember it being.

Tomorrow's book is an even more powerful example of this phenomenon, which I hope I can explain better then. What I always want to say to my author clients is that bestsellers don't last, for the most part. I'm sure it's nice to have the money and the fame, but wouldn't you really rather write a book that lasts? (And yes, I know their agents have to be able to sell something. But that's a discussion for a future post ... tomorrow, maybe.)

Five Random Songs

"Bizarre Love Triangle," New Order. How much do I love this song? A lot. I know all the words by heart. Want me to sing it for you? I'll sing it for you ... wait, where are you going?

"The Acid Queen," The Who. One of the things I dislike most about the movie version of Tommy is what Ken Russell did to both this song and Tina Turner, by matching them up.

"From Me to You," The Beatles. I sing this song too, to Dizzy, with some regularity. Dizzy thinks I have a lovely singing voice.

"The Beast and Dragon, Adored," Spoon. Scott first turned me onto Spoon through his blog -- thanks, Scott -- and maybe I should mention here that my brother Ed has launched his own music-based blog. Check it out.

"Things Behind the Sun," Nick Drake. Can't go wrong with Nick Drake. This is from Pink Moon.


Ed Lamb said...

Thanks for the shout out. At the risk of being labled a blasphemer, I much prefer the Frente cover of BLT to New Order's original. Check out what appears to be the Australian version of Frente's video (

AnswerGirl said...

I like the Frente cover, which strangely enough is not on iTunes -- although iTunes has more than 60 different covers and remixes of this song!

New Order's version is still my favorite.