Sunday, June 24, 2018

Betty MacDonald and The Egg and I

Betty MacDonald’s THE EGG AND I

Bygone Bestsellers is an Interabang project devoted to works with enduring value, going beyond name recognition or Top 10 lists from years ago. In some cases the recognition is fading; in others, TV or movie adaptations have kept the name familiar. These books’ heyday may have passed, but they offer fresh rewards for today’s readers. Each season Kyle will recommend four of them, all still in print decades after they first landed on bestseller lists.

The oldest book in our first foursome is THE EGG & I, Betty MacDonald’s much-loved memoir about running a chicken farm with her husband. Betty went along for better and for worse, and her humorous account of their misadventures was a Top 10 bestseller for three years in the late 1940s.
      The title of one chapter is

      “I Learn to Hate Even Baby Chickens.”
“I got so I could [pluck] like an expert, but have wondered since how this ability to defeather a chicken in two minutes without once tearing the skin, my only accomplishment, could ever be mentioned socially along with swimming and diving, or gracefully demonstrated as with violin and piano playing.”
MacDonald’s writing is tart and funny, but it doesn’t conceal the difficulties her family faced on the farm. Something that signals that these people lived decades ago is their Greatest Generation-era acceptance of hardship, with an admirable determination to forge ahead anyway. A sense of humor like Betty MacDonald’s must have helped. Her wit is certainly the reason THE EGG & I became a #1 New York Times bestseller … for a remarkable 43 weeks in a row. Also remarkable is that THE EGG & I was her first published work, to be followed by three more autobiographical books and her children’s series about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, whose popularity has proved as enduring as its author’s.

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