Time Reading Program: The Sea of Grass

Cover illustrated by Brigitte Hanf.

“Long after they had gone, I watched him in the bright June moonlight that was almost like day, standing motionless on the big gallery facing the big vega. And that night as I lay in my sleepless bunk staring into the white haze that entered my deep window, I fancied that in the milky mist I could see the prairie as I had seen it all my life and would never see it again, with the grass in summer sweeping my stirruped thighs and prairie chicken scuttling ahead of my pony; with the ponds in fall black and noisy with waterfowl, and my uncle’s seventy thousand head of cattle rolling in fat; with tracks of endless game in the winter snow and thousands of tons of wild hay cured and stored on the stem; and when the sloughs of the home range greened up in the spring, with the scent of warming wet earth and swag after swag catching emerald fire, with horses shedding and snorting and grunting as they rolled, and everywhere the friendly indescribable solitude of that lost sea of grass.”

The Sea of Grass by Conrad Richter, copyright 1936, The Curtis Publishing Company. Time Reading Program Special Edition reprinted with introduction, 1965.


Time Reading Program: A High Wind in Jamaica

Cover by Ilonka Karasz

This Time Reading Edition of A High Wind in Jamaica contains a new, in 1963, introduction by the author. Robert Hughes writes that he was inspired to write the novel after reading a few pages of a letter from an old Victorian woman describing a remarkable childhood experience on a sea voyage from the West Indies to England. The woman, then a girl, and her siblings were sent on the voyage without an adult chaperone. Instead, they were left under the care of the captain. But what do sea captains know about caring for kids? At some point on the voyage, the ship was overtaken by pirates. While the captain of their ship was persuaded to turn over all his valuable cargo, the children were sent on board the pirate ship where they were treated to a marvelous party. The party was so wonderful, the old woman wrote, that they did not want to go back to their ship and resume their voyage to England. But, of course, they did.

Hughes was a young man at the time he read the letter and thought: what if the pirates had kept the children and sailed away with them? So he wrote A High Wind in Jamaica.

The children in Hughes’ version are completely misunderstood by all the adults, although perhaps slightly less so by the pirates. The children, being children (and all between the ages of 3 and 11), also don’t understand the adults motives or feelings. But we the reader understand both. The children are left to run completely wild by the pirates (as did their parents even before they sent them, unchaperoned, on a long sea voyage). The adults seem neglectful and sometimes nefarious. There are even suggestions of sexual inappropriateness from the pirates toward some of the girls. It’s disturbing. And while the children don’t understand why it’s disturbing or that they are neglected, they almost entirely disregard the importance or authority of adults because they know the adults certainly don’t understand them.

It’s a strange, but imaginative tale. The children often seem downright feral and many parts of the story are almost dreamlike and visceral. Some critics have compared it to Lord of the Flies and found it more compelling. Although it’s been may years since I read Lord of the Flies, I’d agree with that.

The cover art on the TRP beauty is by Ilonka Karasz, a prolific illustrator. She is known for her many New Yorker covers and for her work as an industrial designer. This is one of my favorite TRP covers, and one of the first to catch my eye and start my collection.

A High Wind in Jamaica, copyright 1929
Reprint 1963, Time Incorporated

Time Reading Program 1964: The Big Sky

I read and reviewed The Big Sky before my obsession with the Time Reading Program editions began. So, this will not be a review of that book (you can read that here), but more a reminder that it is a FANTASTIC book that I highly recommend in whatever edition you choose. But the cover of the TRP edition is a smasher, as you can see above, done by George Salter.

As much as I am enjoying these TRP books, I am enjoying researching the artists that did the covers. After all, it was the covers that drew me to them initially. Sometimes I can find very little on an artist, but George Salter is an exception. He was one of the most influential book cover artists in the twentieth century, and I not only found a website dedicated to him, but also a book, Classic Book Jackets: The Design Legacy of George Salter by Thomas Hansen.

Salter was both a calligrapher and a designer. He started his career in his native Germany and became a highly influential book cover designer there between WWI and WWII. He really made a name for himself with the design of Berlin Alexanderplatz, which Hansen describes as “the most famous book jacket for a work of twentieth-century German fiction.” He also notes that “Never before had a book design achieved such a powerful fusion of word and image. The author [of Berlin Alexanderplatz] supplied extra text specifically for this jacket.”

Despite Salter’s success in Germany, he lost his job due to Hitler’s rise in power and antisemitic policies. He was among the first wave of artist refugees who fled to the U.S. Luckily, he had contacts and was able to begin working again rather quickly. And from there, Salter began to make his mark on American book jacket illustration. He worked for many publishers (Simon & Shuster, Afred A. Knopf,  Modern Library) and designed covers for many important books and writers: John Hersey, Ayn Rand, Graham Greene, Steinbeck, Isak Dinesan, E.M. Forester, Gore Vidal, Thomas Mann, more.

Classic Book Covers contains a couple hundred images of Salter’s book covers. The TRP Big Sky does not appear in its pages, but it is included at the back in a comprehensive list of Salter’s design work. The book also notes that Salter sometimes reused earlier designs. I think he did this for The Big Sky because I found noticed a very similar design on the cover of Early Joys by Konstantin Fedin. I like the TRP version better.

Flipping through Classic Book Covers, I recognized a book that I have on my shelf, The Portable Greek Reader. I found this at a thrift store, drawn by the cover, but didn’t buy it immediately because I thought myself silly to buy a book just for the cover (clearly I have gotten over it). I couldn’t get it out of my mind and drove back the next day and nabbed it for a mere 25¢. I only wish I’d also snagged the Thomas Mann book next to it, also illustrated by Salter. You can see it below, along with a few other jackets that I especially admire.

Time Reading Program 1965: The Member of the Wedding

Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon

This slim novel by Carson McCullers is a wonder — nuanced, sensitive, sad, and sometimes funny. Published in 1948, it tells the story of a lonely twelve-year-old girl, Frankie Addams, at the end of one summer in a small southern town. From the beginning sentences, McCullers announces her major theme:

It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had always been an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid.

This summer, Frankie has grown tall and gangly, “almost a big freak,” and she spends hot, monotonous days mostly hanging around the kitchen table with the family cook, Berenice, and her six-year-old cousin, John Henry. Her older brother, an army soldier who’s been living in Alaska, has returned with his bride to get married. Frankie will attend the wedding with her father, and as the book begins, it is this upcoming event that spurs the action of the story. Continue reading

Time Reading Program 1962: The Ox-Bow Incident

It’s been quite a long time since I read and reviewed one of my Time Reading Program books. But this September, I read The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. In fact, it was the only book I finished in September — which says a lot about how hectic life’s been for me of late.  Walter Van Tilburg Clark published The Ox-Bow Incident in 1940, and Time, Inc. reprinted it in 1962.

Two cowboys return to town in the spring after spending months isolated on a winter range. They are thirsting for drink and interaction with more people than each other. In the saloon, they learn that one or two locals have been the victims of cattle rustlers and tensions are running high. Soon a young man enters the bar and excitedly announces that the rustlers have struck again, but this time, they killed a man, too. The sheriff is out of town, but that suits many of the locals well; they’d rather take the matter into their own hands by tracking down the rustlers and hanging them. Continue reading

Time Reading Program: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Bridge of San Luis Rey

Cover art by Ed Young.

I have always thought of Thornton Wilder as a playwright rather than a novelist. But not only was Wilder a novelist, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1928 for The Bridge of San Luis Rey — which is also on the list of the American Modern Library’s top 100 novels of the (20th) century. It’s a slim thing, not even 200 pages. But Wilder’s style and his thematic interests give it a sort of mythic grandeur. Continue reading

Time Reading Program: The Day of the Locust

The Day of the Locust

Cover art by Bill Berry

The Day of the Locust is widely considered one of Nathanael West’s best novels and a classic, along with his other great novel, Miss Lonelyhearts. When you’ve only published four novels and two are lauded, those are excellent statistics.

The Day of the Locust is a rather bleak satire of Hollywood in the 1930s. The main character, Tod, is an artist who comes to LA for inspiration for his next painting. He meets a series of oddball characters, many of whom are more interesting, to my mind, than he is. Many of the characters have come to California from other parts of the country, and we are repeatedly told that they have “come to California to die.” Continue reading

Time Reading Program: A Sword in the Stone

Sword in the Store

Cover illustration by Alan E. Cober

This copy of TRP’s The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White arrived in my mailbox just as I was starting to read H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It seemed serendipitous to say the least, as I did not know prior to ordering it that T. H. White was a character in Macdonald’s story. I thought it was the perfect follow-up and launched straight in… Continue reading

Time Reading Program: The Sea and the Jungle

Cover illustration by Leo & Diane Dillon.

Cover illustration by Leo & Diane Dillon, a prolific husband and wife illustrator team. The Dillons won numerous awards for their illustrations of both chapter and picture books in their long 50-year career, including the Caldecott (twice) and the Hugo.

My latest read from my ever-growing pile of Time Reading Program books is a travelogue, The Sea and the Jungle by H. M. Tomlinson. Written in 1912, it recounts the journey of the author from the drudgery of his rainy, gray London life across the stormy and unpredictable Atlantic on a steam ship to Brazil, where he then travels 2,000 miles by same ship up the Amazon into the jungle. The route he took was a malarial hotbed and many did not survive this particular stretch of river. Luckily, he lived to tell about it.

Continue reading