Thursday, May 31, 2007

Remembering Books

Elizabeth Zelvin

One of the reasons I love being part of the mystery community is the sense of belonging that I get as a reader. It’s not just about mysteries. As a member of DorothyL, an e-list that’s nicely balanced among mystery-loving readers, writers, librarians, and booksellers et al., I marvel at how often these kindred spirits love the same books, all kinds of books, that I do. Even the vigilant moderators have been known to relax the mystery-only rule if the book or author is universally beloved, like Lois McMaster Bujold, whose A Civil Campaign (a perfect cross between comedy of manners and galactic space opera) just might be my favorite book. I remember one extended discussion on DorothyL in which quite a number of DLers admitted they’d go to bed with Bujold’s protagonist Miles Vorkosigan, a brilliant and charismatic charmer who was born with brittle bones and is very, very short.

The kindred spirit phenomenon is most evident among the bookish when the conversation turns to childhood reading. It was on DorothyL once again that I discovered I wasn’t the only kid who loved a book called The Lion’s Paw. It was about some orphaned kids who sailed to the then remote Sanibel Island in the Florida Keys to find a rare shell that would make their fortunes. It’s not in print, but you can buy it through Amazon, which reminded me of the author’s name (Robb White) and displayed a review by a reader who said, “Now that I can collect the books I loved as a child, I look forward to obtaining a copy to read again!” Yep—kindred spirit.

As a mystery reader, I’m a series lover. When a new book in a favorite series comes out, I can hardly wait to read what’s new among the protagonist’s family and friends and what hot water the protag has gotten into this time. The first series I ever fell in love with long predated my introduction to mysteries. I took Elswyth Thane’s six Williamsburg novels out of the library over and over and over again. To this day, I could probably draw the family tree of the intertwined Day, Sprague, and Campion families from the Revolutionary War to World War II. The publication of the long-awaited seventh book signaled what was probably my first moment of awareness of the New York Times bestseller list. Evidently I was not alone.

When I discovered Amazon, I found the Williamsburg novels in a library edition. I was delighted to meet Thane’s characters again. The only problem was that I remember the books too well. The publisher had bowdlerized a few details for the library audience, and it irritated me like, er, a thorn in a lion’s paw. In This Was Tomorrow, set mostly in London in World War II, the American Stephen Sprague falls in love with his British cousin Evadne, who is innocent and passionate and given to Causes. There’s a scene (I didn't have to look this up--I remember it perfectly) in which Stephen offers Evadne her first drink of champagne, and she defies the repressed Hermione (who has drawn her into the Oxford Group and is jealous and controlling) to drink it. In the original, Evadne snatches the glass and stutters, “Give me that champagne!” The library edition renders it, “Give me that wine!” Lead balloon. I guess the publishers agreed with Thane that champagne represents all that is daring and sinful—too daring and sinful for libraries.


Julia Buckley said...

Okay, Liz, you convinced me! I'll get THE LION'S PAW for summer reading with the boys!

This was a great post--it was like those wonderful chats you have with a librarian who turns you onto a million great books.


Anonymous said...

Just read Hawthorn’s version of Elswyth Thane's "Ever After". Not only are references to drinking altered, reference to Melicent Sprague's illegitimate birth as the reason for Fitz’s talent is changed beyond recognition. I'm appalled at the changes made in the name of what? political correctness?

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