Sunday, April 08, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation

Looking over my collection of Aunt Jane's Nieces books, I find it interesting to look at how my books have aged.

The book at hand, Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation, has aged rather well, aside from a nasty smudge on the corner on the front corner.

Using the advertisement just before the title page, this could be a first edition, as the titles are listed up to this book.
And there's also a gift inscription from someone's Aunt May to her niece May for Christmas, 1913, meaning that this copy cannot have been printed after 1913.

What strikes me is how white the pages are. However, this can depend on a number of factors.

First off, paper stock. For the early runs, they used nice stock for printing, but as the reprints began to happen, eventually the paper stock is changed to something pulpier that doesn't age as well.

My copy of Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad, for example, has the correct frontispiece, a front cover image, and the fancy stamping. However, it's a Reilly & Lee edition, and has paper I handled gingerly while reading the book, because it felt brittle. In addition, some of the latter Reilly & Lee books I bought that I later gave to the Club for auctions had much the same type of paper. It's just business, if a book stays in print, it must be cost-effective.

Another is handling. As I mentioned, aside from the stain on the cover, the book is very clean. In fact, it's the nicest cover in my reading so far, with a notable cream color. (For some reason when I scan these, it takes on a light red tint. Perhaps the scanner light is revealing the color of the boards the cloth covers.) If a book has been taken care of properly and not exposed to the elements, it can stay in good condition for a long time.

Also, I have read that your choice of bookshelves can play a part. Wooden bookshelves are actually not the best, unless they've been treated properly. Acids from the wood can react with the paper in the book and make it age faster. A good lacquer can help prevent this, but for me, I prefer a metal shelf or plastic tubs.

And now I should get to this book!

The nieces are back in Millville! And this time, Louise and Arthur are in the group. Myrtle, Mr. Jones, and Mumbles are not mentioned at all. It was typical of Baum not to go over characters who weren't in the story, but I did wonder why Patsy didn't bring her dog Mumbles along.

The nieces take it into their heads to start a daily newspaper for Millville: The Millville Daily Tribune. Uncle John funds the project, and eventually, the girls begin their paper in a little storage shed behind the hardware store in Millville. They hire a Bohemian girl artist named Hetty from New York, whose rough ways contrast sharply with the nieces.

Trouble arises soon as some employees begin to leave, and a man named Thursday Smith is hired as the paper begins to shave off extra costs. However, the people working at the electric mill don't like Mr. Smith and want him gone and make trouble for the paper.

Thursday proves an interesting character: he can only remember his life from a point about two years before he arrived in Millville, when he found himself in a ditch in the country. He has been unsuccessful in discovering his past life, so he has attempted to start over fresh. Uncle John, however, is interested and hires detective Fogerty to discover who Thursday was.

It's here Baum really draws from his life. Millville seems to be a stripped down version of Aberdeen, South Dakota, where Baum lived and ran a weekly newspaper for a time. Hetty seems to be based on W. W. Denslow, except her rougher spots get polished.

One little part from the book, according to Baum family tradition, was lifted directly from his life. While announcing a social event, the daughter of an unsavory farmer is described as having a "roughish" smile when the word "roguish" was intended. The farmer swears revenge at Arthur, who is the editor in chief in name only, and someone suggests they duel. As they step out into the street and start walking away at paces, Arthur KEEPS walking, until he is stopped and told the farmer is doing the same thing. He turns back and fires a few shots, looking like the hero.

However, I do have to note that stories in the Baum family traditions have proved questionable over the years. Perhaps there is some basis in fact, but Baum was known for exaggerating details to make a good story.

Additional humor arises as a couple old acquaintances from Millville submit amateur entries to the paper, but Baum brings more pressing matters to the forefront. The Tribune, he reminds us, is not a cost-effective paper. And as lofty as the nieces' intentions are, they can't run it forever, and the troublesome folk at the mill, helped by a crooked politician who wanted the paper's support for re-election but was turned down. The staff of the Tribune is eventually stripped down to just Hetty and Thursday. And who is Thursday, anyway?

So, can the Tribune keep going daily, or will it meet a premature demise before the Nieces have to pack up and go back to New York?

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation was odd in the case that it's called a vacation, but they start a business which they actively take part in. But it was a good read. And, yes, you can guess a neat ending occurs, though on the penultimate page, Baum suddenly gives the ending a twist, something I've never seen him do before.

I got the next couple days off, and I normally read on the way to and from work, so who knows what I'll read next. I'm already thinking about what I should save to read on the trip to Winkies in four months, and I know I won't want to be carting around my Aunt Jane's Nieces books halfway across the country. I'm also thinking I should get back to reading my supply of Oziana. I've only read the first issue, the 1990 issue, and the most recent since 2006 and the one from 2003. I don't want to take Oziana on that long trip, either...

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