For all of us who are confined to quarters and find ourselves condemned to read from our own library, let me invite you into George and Ellen Booth’s ample domain. Those of you who know Cranbrook House, the Booths’ Albert Kahn mansion, will have visited the library or attended events there. Perhaps your attention was more taken up by the Herter tapestry or the Kirchmeyer overmantel than by what is on the actual shelves, but art aside, let’s look at the books.
George Booth may well have had a jobber buying books for him to fill those shelves, and he certainly would have been aware of the 1909 Collier’s Harvard Classics, consisting of all the books Harvard President Charles Eliot deemed essential background reading for an educated man of substance.
So, books to impress and accessorize, yes, but now we need to read: we want to be lost in a book that takes us away from this turbulent world. What’s on offer? We will skip Dante’s Inferno, however much we may feel it appropriate, and pick some things at random which you can read either through your e-reader or your library access to Hoopla! and which may do the trick.
Nonfiction: Sven Hedin’s Through Asia. Remember Sven Hedin from Carl Milles’s sculpture at the Institute of Science?
Hedin was a Swedish explorer of Central Asia in the 1920s. His accounts are absorbing and illustrated copiously by Hedin himself. Read Hedlin here.
Who doesn’t love the memoirs of a spy? Here comes Bruce Lockhart’s best-selling Memoirs of a British Agent, his 1932 account of diplomatic shenanigans in Moscow, trying to keep Russia in the war against Germany in 1918. This was the book to be reading in 1933. Purchase Lockhart here.
This next one is really quite a story and a book I knew nothing about. On the Booth shelves it is called A German Prince and His Victim, but in Google Play you will find it as Memoirs of a Young Greek Lady. This is no novel but the autobiographical account of a 14-year-old girl and her abduction by Prince Ernest of Saxe-Coburg. The Coburgs, though minor princelings in theory, ended up marrying into all the royal families of Europe including Russia. This good duke was the philandering father of Queen Victoria’s Albert, and not at all of the same character. If you have watched the PBS series, Victoria, you will remember that the brothers Ernest and Albert were embarrassed that their father was their father. The writing is histrionic, to say the least, but the story is riveting, the duke dreadful, the girl tenacious: the forerunner to reports you will find in newspapers today. I have to say I was mesmerized by this story and gobbled it up. Read the memoirs here.
And novels: I was glad to see that the Booths have a copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. I am told there is a great TV serialization of this comédie humaine, but the book contains everything you will ever need to know about human nature, told with humor and restraint. The writers of the TV serialization of Sanditon, the would-be adaptation of the Jane Austen tale, have certainly borrowed from this novel. Read Thackeray here.
If you have never read these books, you should; the stories are magnificent and the nineteenth century novelistic version of the action movie, and quite possibly the archetype of swashbuckling in movies or anywhere else: The Three Musketeers series by Alexandre Dumas. They are a great read for young adults too. Read Dumas here.
Family time. Try reading Sheridan’s The Rivals out loud. It’s a challenge but very funny. This play has the great Mrs. Malaprop who manages to misuse words in a most perplexing fashion. Your reading out loud will improve immeasurably, and you may even find that some of the expressions find their way in your life. Read Sheridan here.
There are lots of great reads in the Booth library, whether intentionally collected or not. We are just scratching the surface here!
Just a note: the books remaining on the library shelves today represent only a portion of the Booth collection, many of the more notable volumes being housed in the Academy of Art Library or Cranbrook Archives.
If you want to know what happened to the “victim” of the German prince after the period in question, reply in the comments and we can fill you in.
–Lynette Mayman, Collections Interpreter
Editor’s Note: Happy National Library Week, everyone!