Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Betty McDonald, famous American writer?


The wife-bear finally came back! She's been gone two weeks, first for a four-day trip to New York City, where she met up with two women from Czechland, then for an extended sojourn to Seattle, Washington. Her best friend, Dasha, has been talking for decades about seeing the home of her favorite writer, Betty McDonald.

What? You never heard of Betty McDonald. Well, rest assured -- you're not alone. One of the idiosyncrasies of growing up in a communist country -- prior to 1989, anyway -- is that certain American writers get absurdly famous for sometimes incomprehensible reasons. Here's everything you ever wanted to know about Betty McDonald but, in short, she's a forgotten popular writer of four autobiographical novels centered on life in the northwest during the 1940s. Although her commentary about the local Native Americans has not aged well, she's mildly amusing in an ironic sort of way. I've only read The Egg and I, purchased in the Czech Republic, but didn't quite grasp Dasha's obsession. Martina, for her part, really loved the book as a kid but, after re-reading it recently, found herself really put off by the mild racism, and also found that the jokes weren't as funny as she remembered. C'est la vie.

Oh, and speaking of American writers strangely popular in the communist eastern bloc countries: James Thurber is another of Martina's favorite. When we first started dating, she was shocked to learn that I lived in Columbus, OH for two years without ever reading him or visiting his house, just a few blocks down from Ohio State. So, when we spent time in Columbus, we made the Thurber house a must-see destination. Pretty nice -- they even fund a writer-in-residence. I bought a copy of his collected short stories there in the gift shop as well. I really enjoyed My Life and Hard Times, which is also what Martina remembered best from her childhood, but the rest of his work -- mostly columns for The New Yorker -- lacked anything really important to say, so I never finished them.

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