I sincerely thought when I began writing this blog (and buying seriously obscure books) that I’d be stumbling upon diamond after diamond in the rough: excellent, overlooked books just waiting to be discovered and blogged about by yours truly. Well.
Diane of the Green Van ain’t it.
Diane of the Green Van, by Leona Dalrymple, had some promise (that is, before I started reading it). It was published in 1914 and I found a first edition in a used bookstore in Fairbanks, Alaska this summer. Dalrymple won a competitive prize of $10,000 in 1913 for her manuscript (judged by Ida Tarbell, of all people), which was the primary reason I gave this book a go and stuck with it til the end.
Firstly, because I thought Ida Tarbell really ought to have known what she was talking about, and secondly because, according to the online inflation calculator, $10,000 1913 dollars would be worth over $258,000 in 2018. So this woman was paid a quarter of a million to write this nonsense. But, I could tell pretty early on that this book just didn’t have the goods.
I can break down what’s not awesome about this book, but there’s a far funnier review (complete with spoilers) by a woman named Hannah on Goodreads from March 2017 that I recommend. She gives away the ending, but trust me – she’s doing all y’all a favor and saving you 400 or so pages. My dad always says that life is too short to waste on bad books AND DAD IS RIGHT. But I felt I needed to finish this one to be confident that booting this book out of my library was the right decision. It was.
So, there are lots of things about this book that are problematic for a contemporary reader, but even if I could manage to disregard those issues (outright sexism and racism, stereotyping Seminoles, having such shaky grasp of geography that your heroine somehow crosses magically from Kentucky straight to Georgia at one point, having characters that call each other “his Nibs” and “Old Top”), the story still isn’t written very well.
Even taken for what it is (a romance), you don’t get much of an idea for what motivates the romantic entanglements of the main characters, the plot moves either painfully slowly or confusingly quickly depending on what part of the book you’re in…It. Is. Just. Bad. Writing.
But then again, in some ways it was helpful to read such a stinker. It makes me realize how lucky I’ve been with the books I’ve read thus far. Even the weirder ones I’ve picked up have been well written up to this point! I definitely now have a bad book to use as a basis of comparison for what comes after.
The other book I was reading simultaneous to Diane of the Green Van was not silly or badly written at all – nothing could be further from the truth. While not a proper part of my library, as it’s not women’s 20th century fiction, I finished Audre Lorde’s masterpiece collection of essays, Sister Outsider.
I’ve read many of the essays here and there before, but I hadn’t read them altogether at one time, so I finally decided to do so now. Taken as a whole, they are so powerful. I only wish that times had changed enough to make some of Lorde’s message obsolete, but I don’t find that to be the case.
Almost every sentence of hers speaks as much to our present time as they must have to her audiences in the late 70s and early 80s. Sister Outsider was definitely the antidote I needed to Diane and her improbable Green Van followed by Old Tops and His Nibs across mysteriously disappearing states…
And, fortunately, the next book I finished, Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction, was a tremendous improvement over Diane’s Green Van. I can’t wait to tell you all about it the next time I blog (which won’t be three weeks from now!).