The Atlantic Bookshelf: Conclusion

A wrap up of book reviews from Edward Weeks

AFTER the heavy digestion of fall books it tickles the fancy to find those unconsidered volumes which slip down easily and please the taste. A novel which responsive readers cannot afford to miss this year is February Hill, by Victoria Lincoln (Farrar and Rinehart, $2.50). This, you say at first taste, is a saucy, New England dish. The author tells us she concocted it in St. Louis ‘and there’s so much snow in it because I was homesick for the New England winter.’ It being a first novel, Mrs. Lincoln was wise enough to write about a Yankee household which she could hardly have ex-

perienced but about which she could imagine the close and tender truth. It takes time to be at home with the Harrises, they so outrage the usual proprieties, but beneath the daring and laughable surface of their lives run a loyalty and courage so warmly realized that when catastrophe occurs our laughter fades into a feeling of pity. Jenny, Grandma, and Minna give life to this story; the men, imperfectly seen, don t matter.

Books about books are good for a dyspeptic bookworm, especially if they be as well contrived as Paul Jordan-Smith’s mellow volume, For the Love of Books (Oxford University Press, $2.50). Critic and collector, this author has the happy faculty of infecting others with the zest which he finds both in his work and in his reading. He is, I should say, the perfect counselor for the impecunious amateur. Chiefly he diagnoses the qualities which have drawn him to certain authors: he speaks of ‘the cottage mood in English novels; he gives you his estimate of lasting Americana; he illustrates the pursuit and capture of original letters and manuscripts (at very low cost!); he inveighs against libraries in sets and writes the best chapter of all on ‘one-book authors.’ His choice won’t necessarily be your choice — and in the task of differing with him your spirits revive. Mr. Jordan-Smith sets the example of how to build up — without wealth not a loose but a discriminating library; he discovers authors you will never have heard of, and, best, he shows that price and the rarity of misprint are as nothing compared with the early and intelligent appreciation of good literature. In these days of little money and crowded dwelling, one must decide what books to buy, what to borrow — and what to throw away. Here is a good-natured expert, eager to help.

An elder reader has remarked to me how small is the power of generalization in our modern essays. So often the work of realists, our essays are detailed rather than abstract. Singular among modern critics is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch — the beloved ‘Q’ of Cantabrigia. If you want to see the quality of mind and the bland sagacity of utterance that pack his lecture halls in Cambridge, read slowly and with pause that beneficent little book, The Poet as Citizen (Cambridge University Press, $2.50). Here is criticism in its largest dimension, a different kind of thought and writing than can be had in the staccato of reviews: here is the contemplative regard of the Poetics, of Shakespeare, Dickens, Tennyson, — even of T. S. Eliot, — which corrects so surely the indefinite emotions, the undecisive impressions with which so much of our reading is attended.