Sunday, December 05, 2010


I may have mentioned that I don't really buy books.  There's no point: the books I own always get put off behind the books that come with deadlines (ie. library books), and I'm congenitally unable to stop checking out library books.  My owning a book is the kiss of death to any chance I ever had of reading it.

But I do collect Sandra Dallas books.  I think I'd have a hard time keeping up with them even if I used the library--she's prolific, and has been producing one a year for a while now.  This is particularly amazing given the amount of historical detail that goes into each story, and the wide variation in when and where the books take place.  From a quilting circle in the Depression-era South (The Persian Pickle Club) to a Civil War bride in Illinois (Alice's Tulips), a Midwestern farm girl growing up next door to a Nisei camp in the '40s (Tallgrass) to the denizens of a prosperous bordello in 1880s New Mexico (The Chili Queen), there is hardly a slice of American history that Dallas hasn't learned about in intricate detail.  (Nothing more than 500 miles from the ocean, anyway.)

It's not that I'm a particularly huge fan, either.  I usually enjoy the books--Tallgrass is a particular favorite--and the only one that I didn't like a lot was the first one I read, The Diary of Mattie SpencerI can't even blame her for that, either--it was a good story, but so sad I almost couldn't bear it. 

No, I like her books very much.  But that's not why I collect them.  The reason I buy them is because my grandmother loved them.  Grammy--Mary Kayros Smith--was always a reader, and it's something that brought us together all my life.  She was from a different era and had had a hard life; she wasn't usually patient with people.  But we both loved to read, and I think that helped her feel connected to me.  It's funny to think about her practical, the-opposite-of-dreamy farm wife mentality getting lost in all the fantasy worlds that are part of a literary life, but there you have it.

Anyway, this made her degenerating eyesight in her last years particularly hard for her.  We'd read to her often--my aunts and uncles would come by and read her different things, and I did, too.  Aunt Nancy brought The Diary of Mattie Spencer once, and Grammy loved it.  Poor Mattie, married to a dashing, charming, sometimes violent drunk, far from her loved ones in their sod house on the Colorado frontier.  It made Grammy cry, I think because she felt for a woman who had a hard life, without the love she imagined when she was a girl.  But there are other joys, and successes, and I think that meant a lot to her--though I found it just too sad to bear.

After that, we read them all--The Persian Pickle Club, about quilters (everyone's a quilter in Dallas's books) and a small town murder mystery, and Buster Midnight's Cafe, about a group of friends from a small town, one who became a silent film star and another a famous boxer. The last one we read was Alice’s Tulips, about a flighty young bride who is left living with her new mother-in-law when her husband leaves to fight the Civil War.  I can't remember if we had finished it when Grammy passed away.

And so since then, I collect Sandra Dallas books.  Unsurprisingly, I've fallen behind--I'm three books behind in what I own, but I'm even further behind in what I've read.  New Mercies has been on the shelf waiting for me for quite a while now, but I haven't bothered to read it.  I'm not sure why--I always do enjoy them.  I think it will go on my Personal Library Renaissance list.  Maybe someday soon I'll get to it.  If, you know, the public library becomes infested with poisonous spiders.

I'm kidding.  I'm doing okay, PLR-wise.  And I think I will read New Mercies soon.  It looks good.  I bet Grammy would have loved it.

1 comment:

Linden said...

What a lovely reason for a collection... I have a few of these myself.