The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 8 (December 1, 1927)
Among the Books — The Holiday Bookself.
Among the Books
The Holiday Bookself.
Is it because one is nearing the “span of life” of which Moses sang, that one feels that the best books, like the best friends, are old? I have read, and read (for pleasure, as well as “all in the day's work”), so many new books-novels, biographies, poetry, essays, etc.,—that are more than merely passable, and some that are so excellent as almost to justify a claim to being installed among those select volumes which we like to dignify with the name of “literature” in its very special sense. But we stop to compare them with the work of the masters and that distinctive designation is withheld. It may be that, “stawed” with the frivolity, flippancy and flimsiness of much of our modern fiction, we fail to glimpse (if indeed it exist even in miniature) that seriousness of purpose almost always present in the writings of Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontés, Thackeray, Walter Besant, Charles Reade, and others, and their immediate successors. At the same time I admit, if only to myself, that quite a considerable quantity of old favourites suffered from a too long-drawn-out prosiness which turned the completing of their pages unskipped, from a pleasure into a task. Personally, I like to dovetail my more serious reading with a good book of adventure. At such times even those despised and rejected of the superior bookish person, the wild west stories, find favour in my sight. Some of these, though but-somewhat magnified-types of the ‘bloods’ with which most of us were wont to while away our idle (and, tell it not in Gathl working) hours in our “teens,” are, when the English is tolerable, a welcome change from the story with a purpose and the eternal, and often neurotic, sex novel.
I should advise young readers, anxious to form a good taste in literature, not to waste time adventuring among the newest fiction. Ninetynine per cent. of it will be dead and forgotten in less than six months. Note those books which six months ago were being boomed by bookseller and book-reviewer, and inquire at your local bookseller how such books are selling to-day. The result will surprise you. You will find, almost invariably, that the books, in the announcing of which the scribes exhausted the language of superlatives, have been relegated to the stock boxes, not to be brought forth again until the annual cheap sale comes round. If, after the puff preliminary and book notice are forgotten, a book continues to sell, you may take it that that book has the root of the matter in it, and buy. If you can find no such books-and I admit that they are few and far between-I would advise you to turn to some of the earlier books of our older living authors.
For holiday reading, or for a wet week-end, there is nothing more suitable than a volume of short stories. Here, I think, you had better place Kipling first. “The Day's Work” and “Wee Willie Winkie,” if you have red blood in your veins, you cannot fail to enjoy. Even if you are ignorant of Kipling's youth and upbringing, you do not read far before you feel convinced that your author not only knows the topography of the East, but the mind of the Eastern people, knows it with an instinctive subtility equal to that of the natives themselves. And not only has Kipling this gift, but he has the still greater gift: that supreme gift which by the magic mystery of plain language enables the reader to enter into, and understand the Eastern atmosphere.
If you are a lover of adventure, and have not read them before, I would recommend that you sample one at least of Jack London's stories. I know he was guilty occasionally, of allowing the propagandist to oust the romancer; but, taking him by and large, he will pass muster in company with some of the best, and will be enjoyed by all lovers of fair play and haters of cruelty in any form. Jack London's knowledge of the world was not got from books. He learned in suffering what he tells in story. He travelled and toiled in every part of the globe, at all kinds of rough work, and in all sorts of wild places. “The Iron Heel,” “White Fang,” and several others are in the first rank, especially “The Night Born,” a volume of short stories, of which “The Wonder of Woman,” a thrilling tale of adventure, touchingly beautiful, stands out as a precious gem among many jewels.
Most of our readers have read and enjoyed many of Sir Conan Doyle's books other than page 43 “Sherlock Holmes.” The younger men among you, however, may have missed reading “The Lost World,” and its sequel, “The Poison Belt,” or “Sir Nigel” and “The White Company,” all of which can be recommended to hold till the last sentence! Of books by other living writers, one can scarcely go wrong in selecting a book by Arnold Bennett, or John Galsworthy, W. B. Maxwell's “Spinster of the Parish,” C. E. Montague's “Rough Justice,” Eric Sutton's translation of Andre Maurois's “Mape,” W. J. Locke's “Beloved Vagabond,” Christopher Morley's “Parnassus on Wheels,” David Grayson's “Adventure in Contentment” and others of his “Adventures” series, are all peculiarly suited to holiday reading. To these we might add of lately written books (for the sake of those who like up-to-the-minute literature) Sheila MacDonald's two Rhodesian books, Neil Gunn's “Grey Coast,” John Buchan's “Witch Wood,” Maurice Walsh's “The Key Above the Door,” and Dr. Robert McKenna's “Flo'er o' the Heather.” The sales of the last named have now touched close on one hundred and fifty thousand copies.
Perhaps you do not care for reading novels when on holiday, and prefer lighter and brighter, yet instructive and profitable, reading. Well, those books of David Grayson's and Christopher Morley's will not come amiss. But for that particular type of reading I know nothing to equal the many volumes by E. V. Lucas. You remember that sketch of his in our June number, entitled “Off With the New?” Of course you do! Well, he has a couple of dozen volumes packed full of sketches, essays, and stories, even better than that, good as it was. And not only is his own “stuff” good, but the selections he makes from our best authors past and present, are also of the best. “Good Company: A Rally for Men,” is what its name claims for it. “Old Lamps for New” proves a most profitable exchange. “Listener's Lure,” “London Lavender,” “Character and Comedy,” “The Hambleton Men,” and, please, do not be so unfortunate as to miss getting “Mr. Ingleside” and “Over Bremerton's.” But whichever of Mr. Lucas's volumes you get, once having started to read him, you will find ways and means to get all the others from the same pen. And, what's more: when you have them all, and read them all, you will read them again and again!
There are others, but I have named enough to provide a satisfactory variety of choice. All the books named have been read by the writer of these presents, and he herewith recommends them to the readers of the “N. Z. Railways Magazine,” confident that the result will be an endorsement of his choice, if not always of his taste, by his fellow workers in the Railways Department.