Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Now and Then, by Emily Kimbrough, and which books of hers I think you should read (and which avoid)

This 1971 book is I think the last that Emily Kimbrough wrote - or at least it's the last that I have collected. It is a memoir, a series of remembrances, not one of her travel books. She began with stories about her twin daughters and then went on to write about events in her own childhood and adolescence. I enjoyed reading them, seeing how they fit into what I already knew of her life, particularly from her first autobiographical book, How Dear to My Heart. There is a chapter about the birth of her younger brother, which plays a part in the earlier book, but here we see it from another angle and learn a family secret, one I found genuinely touching (and a little eerie). I enjoyed meeting Emily's parents again, as well as her stepmother Achsah (first met in Through Charley's Door, she was apparently still alive at the time this book was written). There is a brief cameo by Cornelia Otis Skinner - and a cosy tête-a-tête dinner with Katharine Cornell to boot. I was also interested in a chapter detailing a family trip to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. During their stay in the city, Emily spent most of her time with a theater troupe rehearsing a series of Greek plays, eventually earning a place in the Chorus. (I learned a lot more about the fair itself from Laura Ingalls Wilder, who stayed with her daughter Rose for the exhibition; her letters home to Almanzo were published in West From Home.)

So I will put this book on the "keeper" list. Not the "you have to have this book" list - see below. Now, just for my own entertainment, I'm going to rank the other books of hers that I have read.

In the "You have to have this book" category, there is only one: Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, written with Cornelia Otis Skinner. Seriously, everyone should have a copy of this book.

In my "Really good - worth looking for" category, I would put most of her memoirs:
  • How Dear to My Heart - life as a child in Muncie, Indiana, before the Great War
  • Through Charley's Door - entering the working world in the 1920s
  • ....It Gives Me Great Pleasure - her career as a speaker, touring small-town America in the 1940s
  •  We Followed Our Hearts to Hollywood - this one about traveling to Hollywood with Cornelia Otis Skinner to write a screenplay of Our Hearts Were Young and Gay just squeaks in. She tries too hard to be funny in the beginning, but it gets better once they arrive in California and set to work. 
  • Now and Then

The best of the travelogues:

A bit "meh" but readable and mildly amusing in spots:
  • Forty Plus and Fancy Free - a driving tour of Italy and a trip to London for Queen Elizabeth's Coronation
  • Time Enough - a canal-boat trip in Ireland

Don't bother:
  • The Innocents from Indiana - a memoir of her family's move to Chicago when she was eleven (I was really disappointed in this one)
  • Floating Island - a canal-boat trip in France (despite Cornelia Otis Skinner being one of the party)
  • And a Right Good Crew - a canal-boat trip in Great Britain
  • Forever Old, Forever New - a return to Greece

Avoid like the proverbial plague: So Near and Yet So Far - a tour of Louisiana (I'm not even sure why I still own a copy of this)


  1. Thanks for the rankings--I would like to read Kimbrough, having only read Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, but picking another is such a shot in the dark. I think the Hollywood one appeals to me most--I love behind-the-scenes books.

    1. I do too, Jane, especially Hollywood in the Golden Age!

  2. Every author should come with a list like this; it would save so much time to know which books not to bother with before spending hours, days, even weeks reading a book you end up wishing you hadn't. :)

    1. It's a very arbitrary ranking, Lark! Your mileage may vary, as the saying goes.

  3. Oo, useful! A full-length author's books guide for the new-to-Emily-Kimbrough crowd!

    1. It's a completely subjective list, Jenny! You might hate them all, except Our Hearts were Young and Gay, because no one with a heart can hate that one. And Through Charley's Door is almost as good.

  4. I loved her Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, and wrote down the other titles you recommend. Thank you.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!