Past Times: Summer reading ran deep in Raleigh

07/31/2014 8:36 PM

07/31/2014 8:38 PM

As we reach for our beach reads this summer, here’s a look back at what patrons of Raleigh’s public library were reading 75 years ago.

With temperature and humidity stewing along several points above average for July, Raleigh citizens have yet to discard their winter longies, at least as far as reading habits go.

Mrs. James S. Atkinson, librarian at Olivia Raney Library, reports a decline in the number of hot weather readers who say, “It’s too hot for stories of war, social turmoil and governmental confusion. Give me something light, easy on the brain.”

Indeed, local readers of both sexes are displaying unprecedented interest in books revealing the “inside” of foreign affairs as well as the longer novels interpreting the individual’s relation to society.

In the former group, books on foreign affairs, Herr Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” hasn’t rested on library shelves since its acquisition. “Through Embassy Eyes,” by Martha Dodd, daughter of ex-Ambassador to Germany William Dodd, and “Inside Asia,” by John Gunther, are also among the most popular volumes on disturbing doings across the seas.

The long series of long novels dealing with life’s moulding of individuals is reported by Miss Elizabeth Page, at Olivia Raney’s desk, as declining a little in popularity but still going strong. Although there are reports of people still reading “Gone With the Wind,” more ambitious readers here are proving their endurance with such recent tomes as “Rebecca,” by DuMaurier, four copies of which are continually out; Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath;” “All This and Heaven Too” by Rachel Field, which one lady tried to reserve under the title “Heaven And All With It;” Krey’s “And Tell of Time;” “The Web and the Rock,” by Thomas Wolfe, and John P. Marquand’s “Wicket Point.”

All this is not to say there is no hope for those wishing to live leisurely and read lightly in the summer. Miss Page submits the following books for them.

You will have to be sophisticated to read Margery Sharp’s “Harlequin House.” Although there are no lightly unmoral women named Julia, as in the author’s “The Nutmeg Tree,” there is still a mischievous, prancing and romantic young woman who has her own way of achieving her innocent ends. The English scene is used in “Harlequin House,” which is written in gay and sparkling style; the sister whose fiance is away; the brother who has just been released for peddling “dope” (he thought it was baking powder), and the jolly promoter of the Bonnie Scottish Tea Room.

While we’re at it, Mr. Summer Reader, here’s an alibi when your friends ask condescendingly about your reading habits: says Meg in Hugh Walpole’s “Joyful Delaneys,” “I can’t read modern novels. If they are intelligent, they’re about the nastiest people and take the gloomiest view of everything. If they’re about nice people and end well, they’re stupid.” The N&O July 25, 1939

The librarians go on to make several more recommendations tailored to their patrons’ reading tastes. However, it turns out that some readers were more conscientious than others when it came to borrowing library materials, as illustrated just a few days before in a report of missing library books.

In a plea for the return of 41 books discovered missing in the recent annual inventory, Mrs. James S. Atkinson, director of the Olivia Raney Library stated that “no questions will be asked” of the delinquent borrowers if they will return the volumes.

Mrs. Atkinson said the library is especially interested in recovering Audel’s “Handy Book of Electricity,” an expensive and recent acquisition, Volume 13 of “The World’s Greatest Books” (“its absence spoils an entire set”), the “American Annual of Photography for 1938” and Clendenin’s “Human Body,” much valued by students.

Among the books missing are, as usual, several on palmistry. The librarian said that books revealing the future by the hand always disappear. Several volumes of poetry are missing and, strangest of all, “Paths to the Presence of God.”

Loss of the 19 works of fiction and 22 non-fiction titles was attributed largely to failure of borrowers to check them out at the library desk, although several batches of new volumes have been taken by persons who later left the city. The N&O July 23, 1939

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes.

Past Times

About Past Times

History fascinates us. We love to linger over old photographs or accounts of years long gone. Discovering our own personal histories can become an enjoyable pastime. This blog will provide some looks into that past. We'll look at NC history in general, and Triangle history in particular. We'll also try to give you the tips and tools (and connections) for looking at your own history.

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