Betsy and Joe get engaged in this illustration by Vera Neville.
Betsy and Joe are friends with other young Minnesota writers, and they all get together regularly to share what they have been reading and writing. They call their group "The Violent Reading Society," parodying a "sedate and ladylike" book club in Minneapolis called "The Violet Reading Society." At club meetings, everyone has to bring a book to recommend to the others. They read their selections out loud and then argue about them -- sometimes loudly and vehemently, which is why they are the Violent Reading Society -- all while drinking tons of coffee. Here's how one of their meetings starts:
" 'First member to get both hands up reads first!' boomed President Jimmy Cliff.
Up and down the firelit living room, books, notebooks, and pencils clattered to the flood as members hastened to obey the unexpected order for two hands. One plump, dimpled pair rose with suspicious ease and the President nodded at the plump, dimpled owner.
'You win, Patty. No doubt because I warned you. However, this club is all for cheating, so you may read. And how nice that you have brought one of my favorite books!'
Tib's bewildered voice came through the hubbub of protest. 'But I never saw a club run like this! Don't you have any rules of order?'
'Miss Muller,' answered the President, 'this club is very anti rules of order.' "
Maud and Delos Lovelace in real life.
So I decided that if I couldn't join the Violent Reading Society, I would at least take a look at their reading list. What did fun-loving young writers in 1914 Minnesota read? Apparently, the Violent Reading Society likes some of the same kinds of books I do: comic writing, adventure stories, literary fairy tales, mysteries, coming-of-age stories. They read some depressing books too, but they tend toward the light-hearted in literature. (Later in the book, they almost kick Tib's awful boyfriend out of the club for insisting that everyone read serious fiction only, such as Theodore Dreiser and George Bernard Shaw.) These are the books and authors that are mentioned in Betsy's Wedding:
Messer Marco Polo, Donn Byrne
Sentimental Tommy, J.M. Barrie
Penrod, Booth Tarkington
The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
Speaking of Operations, Irvin S. Cobb
Bird and Bough, John Burroughs
Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters
archy and mehitabel, Don Marquis
Some of these are authors and books I know very well (especially Charles Dickens and Jack London), but most of them were new to me. I decided to begin with Messer Marco Polo, which I'd never heard of before, and read my way through the list. I'll write about Messer Marco Polo in my next post, but for now I will just say that I loved it. The Violent Reading Society turns out to have been well worth joining.