Old Friends on the Book Shelves

One of the best things about buying used books on the Internet, I’ve discovered, is getting reacquainted with old friends.

Over the years I’ve been picking up books I read in years gone by. These are books that for whatever reason made an impression on me, so much so that I wanted to have them on my shelves.

And these old friends, though fiction, have led me to more reading on various subjects.

The Secret of the Samurai Sword was written by Phyllis Whitney, the redoubtable mystery and suspense writer, Edgar winner and MWA Grand Master who died in 2008 at the age of 104 after a career spanning 80-plus years. First published in 1958, The Secret of the Samurai Sword is one of Whitney’s many mysteries for young people, and it involves several children, one of them Nisei, and a mystery about a Samurai ghost in a garden.


I first read the book when I was in elementary school and it led to a lifelong interest in Japan, its people and history. Whitney, by the way, was born in Japan to American parents. That, I suppose, made it all seem so real.

Another book involving Nisei made an impression on me while I was in high school – The Moved-Outers, by Florence Crannell Means. This book, published in 1945 and winner of the Newbury Award, describes the experiences of a Japanese-American family from California who are interned during World War II, at the camp called Amache in Granada, Colorado.

I have family in Granada and in subsequent years I have been to the Amache site, but at time, I knew nothing about the wartime internments. of Japanese-American citizens. This was a case of fiction leading me to learn more about history.

That’s also true of another favorite, a historical novel for adults called The Cactus and the Crown, by Catherine Gavin. I picked up a paperback years ago while on vacation in Mexico, and with the advent of Internet bookselling, I went looking for a hardcover copy.

The book tells the story of a young Southern woman who, with her brother and other former Confederates, leaves the defeated south after the Civil War, heading for Imperial Mexico, ruled at that time by an Emperor and Empress, the Austrian prince Maximilian and his Belgian princess, Charlotte, known as Carlota.

Well, ruled may be stretching the point. Maximilian and Carlota were propped up by French troops and the machinations of Napoleon III. Not very successfully, since Benito Juarez was about to claim his position as President of Mexico. Maximilian wound up on the wrong end of a firing squad and Carlota, never very stable, went mad in Europe.

Until I read this particular novel, I wasn’t aware that this group of Southerners went to Mexico and formed what they called Carlota Colony. Nor was I familiar with the history of the French adventure in Mexico. I now have several non-fiction books about Maximilian and Carlota on my shelves, intrigued by a real-life story that reads like fiction.


One Response

  1. I’m glad you mentioned the Moved-outers. I don’t know whether Florence Means is any relative of mine, but I’ve always wanted to read that book. And yes, I had to give away so many “old friends: when we moved last year to our condo. YOur bookish post increases my nostalgia.

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