Back to Hackney’s: The Sequel

I really did write a sequel to Hackey’s Novel Shop. There was more that had to be said. You can’t stop Art and Thinking and all that sort of thing, you know.

Back to Hackney’s

Clouds loomed and the wind lashed against the glass front doors of the Novel Shop (B. Hackney, proprietor). Someone scurried in from the wet and cold, jangling the bell above the door. It was the recently-celebrated author Faith Tritely, whose book A Heart’s Cry had made a big hit in the Christian fiction market. “And I owe it all to Hackney!” Faith would say fondly.

Today, as she shook the water from her coat and umbrella, she looked around the shop inquiringly. It wasn’t like Hackney to leave her waiting.

“He’ll be here shortly,” a clerk assured her. In a hushed voice she added, “It’s been a trying day.”

In a few moments, Hackney himself appeared. He looked dapper and, as always, delighted to see her. But there was a tightness about his mouth that concerned Faith.

“Is everything right?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, quite all right.” He paused, and drew an elegant hand across his brow. “I had a difficult customer with the most unsettling requests. Gave me a turn. How refreshing to see you, my dear Ms. Tritely!” His smile returned. “Am I to hope you’re here to announce…” He paused significantly.

Faith beamed. “Yes! I’m going to do a sequel!”

“Marvelous news! Congratulations!” Hackney cried. “Let’s waste no time! What can I do for you?”

Faith hesitated. “The story has been coming to me almost unbidden. I can see if unfolding in my mind’s eye. I hope it isn’t… I hope you have…”

For a fleeting moment, Hackney’s smile slipped. His face took on a white-lipped look of ferocity. But almost as soon as it came, the look vanished, replaced by his usual good-humored expression. Faith told herself that she must have imagined it. “Tell me, Ms. Tritely. I’m confident I can help.”

She began diffidently, but soon warmed to her subject. “Well, the story concerns the daughter of my first heroine. I think I’m going to call her Angeline – you understand the reference, of course?”

“Of course!”

“Well, her father has died in a tragic accident, and Angeline feels compelled to discover his roots. Her quest takes her to the South — the war-torn, ravaged South, still on its knees after the fire and blood of the Civil War.” She paused for breath. “She’s inherited a derelict old mansion, you see. Along the way, she meets a nice young minister. But their carriage is held up by a irreverent young highwayman who heeds to pleas not to steal her money, but demands her amethyst necklace and a kiss from her.”

Hackney’s smile was genuinely sunny now. “And that highwayman is really a courageous fighter for the poor – ”

“ – against the false minister and his band of thieves and thugs, yes!” Faith exclaimed.

“And the Christian message is – ”

Together, they sang out, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart!”

Faith gazed at him in amazement. “Mr. Hackney, you are truly astonishing!”

Hackney bowed and beamed. “I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to do business with you. Now, let me show you our war-torn South settings!”

They headed for the green door with the gold lettering. But before they reached it, the sound of a muffled bell stopped Hackney abruptly in his tracks. He whipped around, and Faith saw it again — that expression of white ferocity. He glared over her shoulder, and she turned quickly to see who could warrant such a passionate dislike from the affable Mr. Hackney.

It was a middle-aged man, dripping from the rain, still with his hand on the bell to keep it from ringing out. He saw the look that Mr. Hackney gave him, and didn’t seem surprised. He let go of the bell and gently closed the door behind him. Every line in his body begged an apology before he even spoke.

“I’m sorry to disturb you. Just one more question…”

“Leave my store!” Mr. Hackney warned.

“Just one thing, I won’t take much time, just one question -– ”

Mr. Hackney was breathing hard through his nose. “I do not sell settings of small towns without dark horrible secrets.”

“I know, it’s not that -– ”

“And I do not sell good-hearted heroes who are nevertheless thirty-five pounds overweight.”

“Yes, you told me that -– ”

“I do not sell short, plump heroines with bad teeth!”

“That isn’t -– ” But the man interrupted his own protest. “But why not? I mean, I live in the twenty-first century, and my teeth are terrible. You know teeth in earlier eras had to be hideous. They probably didn’t see it as the stigma we would…” He saw Hackney’s expression and quickly added, “But I didn’t come back to discuss that. What I want to know…”

Suddenly remembering Faith, Hackney blushed a deep red and turned to her. “I apologize, Ms. Tritely. I should not have subjected you to my own temper like this. I apologize profusely.”

But Faith understood now. Imagine coming into this store and asking for bilge like that! “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” she snapped. “This is a highly-respected fiction store. It doesn’t carry imperfect and… ugly merchandise!” She turned to Hackney. “I completely sympathize with you. My audience wouldn’t want to read about a plump heroine with bad teeth, honestly!”

The man looked frustrated. “All I want to know is if I can buy one of your heroines.”

Hackney and Faith looked at him suspiciously. “Which one?” Hackney asked. “You didn’t like any of my stock.”

“The brown-haired one, with blue eyes.”

Still suspicious, Hackney replied, “She is flawless and beautiful, with perfect teeth.”

“Yes. All I’m going to do is give her a prominent nose.”

His ire flared again, and Hackney waved at a clerk. “Show this man out! Get out of my shop, sir!”

“But we aren’t all beautiful,” the man protested, backing away from an advance of clerks. “Wouldn’t it be inspiring for readers to identify with a… a pleasant face who can attract… no, wait, listen… attract love anyway… you write Christian romances –- doesn’t God use even the ugly and defiled to show His beauty?” he finished desperately.

The effect was electric. The clerks stopped in mid-stride. Hackney and Faith stared at him, then at each other, in wonder. The man looked from one awe-struck face to another, and suddenly seemed to realize a great horror. He sagged against the doorframe and groaned. “What have I done?”

Hackney called to his head clerk. “Sam! Get the warehouse on the phone! We need to discuss a design for a new heroine. What was it, brown hair, blue eyes, and a prominent nose?”

“But good teeth,” Faith added quickly. “No need to make her repulsive. Just plain.”

“Until love brings out her beauty,” Hackney added. “Why have I overlooked this aspect all this time? Ms. Tritely, I would be honored for you to be the first to use this new line of heroines.”

Blushing faintly, Faith stumbled, “Oh, Mr. Hackney! I –- The possibilities are thrilling! I’d imagined Angeline with raven-dark hair and flashing blue eyes, but she could be plain instead. Until the highwayman sees her inner beauty, and that’s how she finally realizes that God sees it, too!”

They fell into eager conversation, until suddenly Hackney looked up. “And we must thank you,” he said graciously, turning to the man.

But the man was gone, the bell jangling harshly after him. “What have I done?” he was heard to groan as he staggered into the driving rain.

Faith looked at Mr. Hackney, who gazed out the rain-spattered door after the man. “A strange man,” he murmured. “But even the strange ones can come up with a good idea every now and then.”

***

My soul now rests in peace.

Hackney’s Novel Shop

About ten years ago, I read a book that made quite a big splash in the world of Christian romance. It still comes up in conversation occasionally; it deeply resonated with some women.

I guess you could say that it resonated with me, but not exactly in the same way. I mean, those other women felt validated and even healed of past wounds. I, um… well, I wrote a parody of it.

Hackney’s Novel Shop

The bell tinkled as an author pushed open the front door and walked into the shop. The proprietor looked up and smiled. “May I help you?”

The author didn’t answer immediately. First-timers were always a little overwhelmed by the shop. Finally, her eyes stopped on the large, friendly-looking sign above the check-out station:

Your One-Stop Shop for People, Plots, and Places
B. Hackney, proprietor

“Can I help you find something?” B. Hackney prompted gently.

As if shaking off a daze, the author said, “Um, yes. I’m writing a novel.”

Hackney nodded, still patient.

“And I need… well, pretty much everything. A friend recommended me, said you could set me up.”

“My pleasure!” Hackney exclaimed. “May I ask who I have the honor of serving today?”

She blushed slightly. “I write under my pen name, Faith Tritely. You’ve never heard of me.” With a lift of her chin, she added, “Yet.”

“Delighted to meet an up-and-comer, Ms. Tritely. If you’ll follow me, let’s start with the setting. That dictates the rest of your choices, you understand. Can’t have a Southern belle in an ancient Persian palace, for instance.”

Faith’s eyes lit up. Hackney shook his head firmly. “No, no, I don’t at all encourage mixing-and-matching. Very rarely works. Best to stick with the package. Trust me, all our settings have been great successes.” He moved quickly across the floor to a large, ornate door. It was painted green, with gold lettering that said, Settings and Backdrops. Opening it, he ushered Faith inside.

It was an expansive room, with floor-to-ceiling rolls of tapestries. Faith looked at the nearest tapestry: it was a green-and-gold forest scene, with a large castle just visible through the trees. A crowd of colorfully-dressed people made their way down a winding road to a village market in the distance, past a row of thatch-roof cottages.

“That’s our Medieval setting,” Hackney said. “Very, very popular.” Indeed, there were a few threadbare places visible here and there, especially around the castle, the tourney, and the romantic moonlit bower. “Is your novel a medieval one?”

“No,” she said, regretfully turning her eyes away. “No, it’s a California mining town, circa. 1850.”

“Ah! A popular choice as well.” Hackney pulled down a roll and gave it a firm jerk. The tapestry spun off and settled on the floor, where Faith studied it with a pleased smile. It was all there: the dusty air, the muddy streets, the ramshackle houses. Horses plodded along with fully-outfitted cowboys on their backs (most of the cowboys wearing red bandanas and brown hats). Along the bare dirt Main Street were four wooden buildings: the Bank, the General Store, the Jail, and the Saloon and Brothel.

“I’m going to need a church in mine.”

“Certainly! That’s an add-in for only $1.49.” He fished in a plastic bucket and pulled out a white clapboard church with a steeple. “And a school too?” he added, holding up a red schoolhouse.

“No, just the church. Thanks. This is exactly what I need.”

“Great!” said Hackney. “I’ll have them wrap this up for you. Let’s move on… Characters, would you say?”

They stepped through the green door, and Hackney led the way to another door, this one painted yellow and marked, Characters, Main and Supporting.

This room was smaller, but brightly lit. Several round racks were hung with full-size cardboard people. Faith read the signs posted above each rack: Heroines. Heroes. Best Friends. Master Villains. Minor Villains and Thugs. Assorted. One rack proclaimed, Clearance! The rack was full of soft, plump, lacy Victorian heroines and hard-edged misogynistic action heroes.

She looked through the Heroine rack, taking her time with the decision. She finally narrowed it down to the tall, slender, red-haired one with flashing green eyes, or the tall, slender, golden-haired one with the alabaster complexion. “Just so hard to decide!” she said. “But I think I’ll go with this one.” She lifted off the blond heroine. Hackney smiled and set it aside.

“Now to heroes,” he said.

This choice was easier: “I’d know him if I saw him on the street!” she exclaimed, thumbing through the choices. “And here he is, exactly.”

“Ah, the tall, broad-shouldered, hard-bodied working man, with blue eyes and dark hair,” Hackney noted, and propped the hero next to the heroine.

“Now for the villain,” Faith said.

“We have several popular Master Villains in stock,” said Hackney. “Here’s the rude and shrewd one… No? Here’s the violently angry one… Not that one? How about this one, the polished and polite, sinister one? Yes, definitely a good choice. You’ll see that he comes with three free phrases: ‘My dear, you look lovely; Oh, my, what a temper you have!’ and ‘I do hate to have to make things messy!’”

“Perfect!”

“And today we have a special. Buy one Master Villian and get a Minor Villain half-price.”

The offer was too good to resist. She chose the dumb, dirty, and violent Minor Villain.

For the next hour, Faith browsed the other racks. She finished with an impressive collection of supporting characters, including a Villain-Who-Reforms, an entire set of The Benevolent Family (“they take in my heroine when no one else will,”) a Loyal Friend, a Wise Friend, and a “Uses Heroine For Greedy Schemes” Villain.

“Excellent, excellent!” said Hackney. “I’ll have these wrapped up for you. Before we move on, please look through this bin of Motivations. Our customers often find helpful tidbits there.”

She ordered the Deeply Hurt and Iron Will cards for the Heroine, and the Sensitivity and Understanding cards for the Hero. Hackney smiled, “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Do you have any pre-packaged scenes for my particular setting?”

“Oh, do we!” Hackney replied happily, and led the way to a large shelf along the back of the main room. “Let’s see, 1850s mining town… Here you go. This entire section contains applicable scenes. You’ll see that your Motivation cards have a colored dot on them. The scenes are color-coded to reinforce the Motivations.”

It was a happy half-hour as she sifted through scenes to include in her novel. She chose a Childbirth scene, complete with flustered husband, serene wife, and pots of hot water. For the Hero and Heroine, she chose a Playful Run Through the Field (useful for breaking down the Iron Will, according to the scene’s specifications). She found several brothel scenes, and chose one with world-weary harlots exchanging hard-edged dialogue during their off-hours.

“Just one more thing for now,” said the author. “My novel is a romance…”

“Say no more!” Hackney led the way to a pink-painted door marked Romance and Erotica. This room looked much like the Settings room, but was quite stuffy. The far back of the store was obscured by an opaque fug. “Light romance or…”

“Light,” Faith said quickly.

Hackney walked up to a roll marked “Western” and pulled off a length of bright red. It steamed slightly in his hands.

“Um, it’s a Christian romance…”

“Right. We’ve got those.” Hackney re-wound the red and turned to another roll. He pulled off a shorter length of pink, which was merely warm to the touch. “How many do you need?”

“Well, none of them too long, but a lot of them throughout.”

“Great! I’ll have those wrapped up for you. Now, if this is a Christian romance, you’ll want to look through our Morals box and see if there’s anything that will help you. Self-Sacrificing Love is a very popular, as is Knowing God By Falling In Love.”

At last, laden down with packages, Faith watched a clerk ring up her purchases. The price pleased her. “This is so much more economical. I heard that J.K. Rowling had a lot of her stuff customized, and it was over the top expensive.”

“Yes. I always recommend going with the pre-fab, at least when you’re starting out,” Hackney agreed.

As he escorted her to the door, he said, “If you need anything else, please come back! We’ve got a new shipment of Crisis and Catharsis Scenes coming in next week. Great for resolving relationship problems quickly.”

“Yes, thank you!”

“And remember,” Hackney added, “we have a special buyers’ program for sequels.”

Faith Tritely’s eyes glowed. “I’ll be back,” she promised.

**

And then I wrote a sequel!

Mock-A-Meme 21

You know how you have those friends who come to mind in times of need? Someone to talk to, someone to help you out, someone to appreciate a really horrible meme… guess which one I qualify for.

In related news, I’ve got a buildup of memes that I need to snark at, so here we go.

Click here if you have no idea what Mock-A-Meme is and why in the world it’s on this blog.

Meme Cliff

This one-session Bible study was entitled, “How gravity can bring us into the presence of God.” It was not very popular.

Meme Plant Woman

She lists all these painful things, but it seems like she’s forgetting a couple of possibilities. I do appreciate that she’s streamlined her wardrobe to only one sock, which is obviously all she needs at this stage of growth.

Losing Beer Pong

Whose yelling at the beer pong table because she’s losing… is what? Don’t leave me hanging!

And this bit of advice specifically states that she’s losing. Not the ideal breeding partner, obviously. You know why? Well, memes tell us why!

Women

In other words, women are created solely to give birth and breastfeed babies. Don’t know what’s wrong with this generation, so busy encouraging women to do anything else! This is what keeps them unique among the standard type of humans, otherwise known as men.

Also, womanly uniqueness is best preserved if you’re young with flawless makeup and awesome hair.

So there you have it. Once again, memes show us the ideal woman. She’s that unique creature who:

  • Grows trees from her body
  • Yells at beer pong
  • Leaps off cliffs
  • Has babies and breastfeeds them

Not necessarily in that order. Guess you need to get busy, girl.

 

And I still have more memes for a future post! That should give you something to look forward to while you’re sprouting saplings.

 

The Journal of S. Roberts J.

20180814_112204-1

The problem with my old journals is… well, me.

As I explain over at Legacy Leather Books today, my younger self was on a mission to make my mundane life as interesting as possible. I also read a lot of Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse. The result is this weird mix of rural Southern life and strained British wit. But hey. It’s not boring!

More seriously, not all of the memories I wrote down are pleasant for me to revisit. Those were my “Fellowship” days, when even my private thoughts had to conform to what I thought were God’s standards. I can see it at work in how I wrote spiritual phrases that I didn’t really say naturally; or how I was careful not to mention any “young man” in a way that suggested I thought he was attractive; or how I emphasized the many positives of my life, but didn’t explore the struggles and conflicts that I was going through.

Many of you who read my blog will understand this kind of internally-imposed control, which is why I mention it here. I didn’t get into all that over at Legacy. Over there, you can just laugh at my overly bright and sparkling prose.

Then linger to look at the handmade, family-heirloom-quality leather notebooks

I love these books. My first thought is that nothing I write is actually worthy of a book like this. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that anytime I write down my thoughts and memories, I’m preserving something priceless. Memories that don’t fade — those belong in a book that will last almost forever.

And besides, just look at this book. Or this one. Or this one. 

Oh. Are you still here? Sorry, I was browsing and dreaming.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy a few laughs at my 20-year-old pretentious self, and find a cut-above gift for a loved one… or, you know, for yourself.

A Tip for When You Meet an Author

If you read a book you like, and then invite the author for coffee, here’s a tip: Bring a couple of copies to be signed, and then make sure that your nails coordinate with the cover of the book.

Alternatively, if you’re an author, choose a book cover that complements your readers’ unconventional style.

20171109_124910

I live for the times I hear from readers. Meeting them is a hundred times better.

Check out her blog here to read the thoughts and experiences of someone who grew up in a real-life Fellowship culture.

Thanks for a fun coffee date, Lady Adelaide. I really do love your nails.

Dear ____, Love Sara.

Dear Blog,

I’m so sorry. Between homeschooling, writing a new novel, and — you know — living, I haven’t had much time for blogging.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

I don’t understand how you can say, “I’m working on a new novel, and here’s my first chapter!” Everything I write is in a state of flux until its final edit. I mean, I just changed the main character’s name and her bike’s name. Just not ready to share anything yet.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear AOL Instant Messenger,

I read recently that you have officially passed away. My friends and I don’t use you anymore, but we mourned your passing. You were the social savior for all of us cult kids in the 90s. I’m not even sure I would have gotten married without AIM access to keep in touch with DJ.

I will wave a sad farewell as that little door-closing sound makes it final slam.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Other Novelists,

It’s going to be an excellent story when I’m done. A friendly white girl learns how racial injustice in the not-too-distant past still affects our lives today. So far I have two love interests, a narcissistic grandmother, and at least three Jane Austen references. Ha, I see you baring your teeth in jealousy. That’s right. It’s going to be good.

The bike’s new name is Imogene, by the way.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Enya,

I found out that you released an album as recently as 2015. You were my guilty indulgence in the 90s, along with AIM. I was supposed to be listening to “godly” music, defined by our Revered Leader as any music that emphasized beats 2 and 4 in the rhythm line. (I didn’t make that up.) But you usually didn’t have a driving rhythm line, so I could justify listening to you — despite fears that you were spewing New Age spiritism all over my fragile Christian soul. Thank you for giving me some relief from choral hymns and harp music.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Misguided Readers,

What do you mean, does my  main character run a cute little shop and interact with colorful characters? Do you really expect me to write cute little bumbling romantic scenes? Do you even need a final piece of folksy feminine wisdom to wrap everything up? Oh horrors, I’m not the women’s fiction you’re looking for.

Love, Sara.

*

Dear Grammar Nerd,

Okay, yes, I know. The second sentence of this post should begin with “among,” not “between,” because I listed more than two reasons. Thank you for your contribution. Nerd.

Love, Sara.

A Bride By the Book

You are married now.

You have just taken the name of the most wonderful man in the world and are happier than you have ever thought possible.

You are sure of many things about your marriage. It isn’t going to turn sour and commonplace. The years will be vibrant and alive, exciting adventures of love. Christ is going to have first place in your home. The spiritual roots will be deep and strong. you are going to keep your home what it ought to be by being a sweet, agreeable, efficient wife and homemaker.

So begins The Bride’s Book of Ideas: A Guide to Christian Homemaking by Marjorie Palmer and Ethel Bowman.

The whole reason I have the book is because of a Facebook photo that makes the rounds occasionally. It purports to be advice to a 1950s housewife, and is incredibly blatant about the fact that the wife’s entire purpose is to make her husband’s life comfortable and stress-free. That was the job of a good wife, definitely; but I wonder if it was ever really stated so baldly. Someone said that the advice was from a Better Homes and Gardens bride’s book, so I went looking for it. Couldn’t find that book, but I did find The Bride’s Book of Ideas and ordered that one instead.

20170814_221126

 

Then I found out that I’d gotten the 1985 version. I developed a burning need to read the 1970 version — so I got that one, too.

20170814_221153

I was looking forward to comparing the two volumes and soundly mocking all of the advice therein. The updated version has a much-improved layout and design, with a few wording changes here and there; but the substance is the same as the earlier one. The first part contains advice to new brides on such practical matters as choosing insurance, finding a family doctor, first aid, kitchen essentials, how to set a table to entertain guests. The rest of it consists of easy recipes to get a new wife started in the kitchen.

So it’s with some disappointment that I report that, by and large, The Bride’s Book of Ideas is fairly tame and actually kind of useful.

But it is of its time, and I can poke a little fun at that.

(Note: I’ll refer to both volumes as one book unless I’m quoting from a specific edition.)

Marriage Advice
Naturally, the book has some space devoted to motherly wisdom, The Precepts of a Happy Home. Most of the points under this heading are unobjectionable:

Be content with what you have (1970 warns against buying too much on “the installment plan.” 1985 cautions against credit card debt.)

Treat your husband with courtesy and respect and expect the same from him. Despite this even-handed heading, the actual advice is aimed only at the wife, reminding her not to take advantage of her husband’s love by giving way to anger and frustration, and to practice the Golden Rule. Obviously it’s a bride’s book, so it’s talking to her; and I don’t disagree with the advice at all. But this is an example of the kind of wifely advice that persists even today in Christian circles, directed only at the wife with no discussion of her husband’s behavior toward her.

Don’t let disagreements and differences go unresolved. This is probably the area where my husband and I have had to do the most work. We don’t fight, therefore we don’t face conflict, therefore we don’t resolve problems.

(The book concerns itself quite a lot with keeping home like “sweet and harmonious,” which sounds great. But sometimes “harmonious” really means “not facing conflict.” Trust me on this.)

The two points that irked me were ones that I heard as a bride myself, but haven’t found to hold entirely true.

Give the Lord his rightful place in your marriage. “If you want God’s help in making your marriage successful, you must give your lives completely to him.” The authors warn against a new couple being so caught up with each other that they let church attendance become sporadic, and daily Bible reading and prayer turn meaningless and indifferent.

No argument that this can happen to a new couple — but because they’re too in love with each other to let God in? Seriously? What a way to instill insecurity in a new wife, by telling her not to love her husband too much or God won’t bless her marriage.

And, of course — Remember that your husband is the head of the home. The two editions have an interesting little wording change:

1970: Some brides resent a subordinate role and are determined not to allow this antiquated precept to have any place in their lives.

1985: Some brides resent what they view as a subordinate role and are determined not to allow this “antiquated” precept to have any place in their lives.

Note the 1985 version implies that it’s really just the woman’s perception of subordinate role. By the time I was hearing marriage advice as a teen in the 90s, teachers fell all over themselves to explain how it’s not really a subordinate role at all! It’s a blessing! It’s an honor! I kind of prefer the straightforward 1970s version.

Both versions put these upstart brides in their place by adding, “But God charges the husband with the responsibility for making major decisions and being the spiritual leader of the home.” I can see some basis for the “spiritual leader” argument, but where exactly does God state, “And husbands are to make all the major decisions, because I won’t bless a marriage where the wife has an equal say.” Hint: he doesn’t.

So, anyway, if you “practice these precepts,” your marriage “will be happy and will bring honor and glory to God.”

Housecleaning
They cheerfully advise the new wife to do some special cleaning in addition to her regular cleaning — and remind her not to neglect the out-of-the-way areas because she’s building good habits for the rest of her life.

“If you have a job, as so many of today’s brides do…”

Then your husband should pitch in and help? Ha ha! Nope..

“…the [housework] must be condensed into after-work hours.”

My friend Karen pointed out that it’s actually very nice when a couple can split the earning duties and life duties between them. But I thought it was interesting how these authors never stopped to re-evaluate a woman’s responsibilities in the case of an outside job. The house is the woman’s responsibility, the end and amen.

Cooking for Husband
This is a different heading than just “cooking” because the book makes it very clear that a “sweet, agreeable, efficient wife and homemaker” will feed her husband well.

And let me say that in nearly 17 years of marriage, the fact that I feed my husband well has contributed strongly to our happiness.

But this book gives menus not just for suppers… but for breakfast and lunch, too. Like, complete menus that include a beverage and dessert. I laughed out loud when I saw the breakfast menus. DJ and I agree that we don’t think I have ever cooked him breakfast. If he worked close enough to come home for lunch, I’d have something for him — but to be honest, I’m pretty glad I don’t have to worry about it.

The authors acknowledge that in this day and age, the wife might herself work outside the home as well. So they provided the menus so…

… So she and her husband could take turns doing the cooking?

Ha ha! Nope.

… so the good wife can get these meals cooked and on the table. After all, the book admonishes, “You may not be able to prepare a large meal every night, but it is wise to do so as often as possible.”

Wise to do so. They don’t say it, but everybody knows a hungry husband might go astray or something.

Entertaining
I found this section interesting mostly because of the obvious change in social rituals. There’s a discussion of the proper places to seat guests at the table. I’m not sure DJ and I ever worried about where we placed guests. In fact, we’ve always preferred to eat in the living room because it’s more comfortable.

There was also some helpful advice about what to keep on hand “in case of unexpected guests.” I discussed this with DJ, and we agreed that we have no idea why this is a big deal. Did people really just drop in unannounced, stay till suppertime, and expect to be fed? Plus think badly of the housewife who didn’t have enough food on hand to feed them? Judging from the book, this was a real source of anxiety to some women. The authors suggest keeping some staples on hand for quick meals, namely:

Instant mashed potatoes
Small box of dried milk
Tin or two of canned meat, ham, Vienna sausages, or tuna
Can of baked beans
Box or two of fancy crackers
Cake mix
Canned pie filling to top the cake
Can of fruit cocktail (You can leave this in the freezer for weeks; remove both ends of can, slide out fruit, slice thick or thin, put on salad plate, top with a dab of mayonnaise, and NO GUEST WILL EVER WANT TO SHOW UP AT YOUR HOUSE UNEXPECTEDLY AGAIN. Ahem. I added the last part.)

Cooking
Most of the book is devoted to recipes for everyday meals. And it’s very useful in that respect — assuming you crave mid-century Midwestern American food.

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled cheese, canned tomato soup, fried halibut, buttered frozen peas, orange-cream jello salad, macaroni-tuna salad, hamburgers, ham sandwiches, broiled franks wrapped in bacon, tossed salad, celery and lettuce wedges, baked green bean casserole…

This book is not one of culinary adventuring. The one section devoted to “Foreign Dishes” (1970) or “International Dishes (1985) lists five recipes, one of which is “Italian Spaghetti” and another of which is “Vera’s Chow Mein.”

I can laugh at the food, but this book was written by women who had grown up in the Depression and married sometime around World War II. Good, solid, easy-to-store food was what they prized. My grandmother cooked this way, my mother somewhat, and I still do a little.

Still… a snack of chocolate-covered Wheaties is kind of sad. And I’m not really tempted by “frank boats,” which appear to be hot dogs filled with American cheese and topped with a sauce of pickle relish, “catsup,” Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard. Is there a more of-its-time recipe than Chicken a la King, a casserole consisting of chopped chicken and cream of mushroom soup?

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Marjorie and Ethel would get a real kick out of today’s recipes that take nine ingredients to create a dish that isn’t even actually what the title says it is.

The Bride’s Book of Ideas is dated and, in these days of Googling whatever information we need, obsolete. Still, I’m glad I have both volumes. They take me back to the world of a bride whose priorities were a vibrant spiritual life, a happy husband, a clean house, and friends over for good food. And what do you know — that’s really very  much the same life I want.

“Using [this book] should help make you a gracious hostess and a better, more efficient wife.”

So there you go.