Kenneth Roberts On American College Football

If you are new to Kenneth Roberts, or are primarily familiar with his novels, then I suggest that you pick up a copy of The Kenneth Roberts Reader (Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1945; also reprinted Down East Books, 2002). The reader is a collection of essays Roberts published in The Saturday Evening Post and excerpts from his novels. The essays from SEP help the reader to get a better picture of Kenneth Roberts the man – his humor, his wit, his quirks, and his pet peeves. He was very observant…and opinionated.

Oxford Rugby 1901

Roberts’ reader contains an essay titled “Oxford Oddities” (originally published in For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays [Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1935]) in which Roberts elaborates on his observations of Oxford and its students. True to form, Roberts finds much of the British and their ways odd (relative to American ways), and comments on how Oxford students approach studies, social life, and extracurricular activities. Underlying most of his observations is his pro-American view of American ways. That is everything except American football.

One feature of “Oxford Oddities” is Roberts’ account of his attendance at a rugby match in London (see this post where I highlight Skip Grimm’s post on this account). I’ve read Roberts’ account before, but when I read it again the other day, I noticed something that was hidden last time – his snarky view of American football.

British Fans vs. American Fans

A large percentage of the sixty thousand patronized those snack bars before the game; yet, incredible as it may seem, there were no drunks, no fights in the stands, no beating of strangers over the head by overstimulated enthusiasts (160).

There were sixty thousand people at the game, which was played on neutral grounds near London…Apparently the sixty thousand spectators had come with no ulterior motive, as is so often the case in America, and were actually eager, not to say determined, to let nothing, not even alcohol, interfere with their enjoyment of the game. This may or may not be an indication that the English understand nothing about pleasure (160-61).

If I’m reading Roberts correctly, it appears that he is making a stab at American football fans who, in his (unstated) opinion, attend games with ulterior motives other than the enjoyment of the game. If the British don’t let alcohol get in the way of enjoying the game, then do Americans see the football game as an opportunity to drink? Whatever the case, it appears Roberts saw British rugby fans as more tame than American football fans.

Fan Attendance

At most games, even at important ones, there are not many more spectators than players. This is due to the fact that those who, in America, would be spectators are off somewhere playing a game of something against somebody else (159).

Prior to this excerpt, Roberts noted the sheer number of extracurricular sports teams and participants among Oxford students (and other Brits?). In his opening of this section on rugby, Roberts says:

The method in vogue at Oxford for selecting the members of a varsity team is interesting and not without merit, even when compared with the American system of keeping eighty or a hundred men working all season without an opportunity to play in a game (159).

We see, first, a knock against how American colleges form their football teams: 80-100 team members for a sport where a little more than a ¼ will play. At Oxford, teams are smaller because (in part) so many are playing. This further impacts the patronage of the games, for when one game is going on, other games are in action as well.

Game Day

The game was played on a Wednesday, that being the day after the universities had closed for the Christmas vac. Apparently it never occurs to the English to wait for Saturday in order to play big games. They play when it’s convenient, and if their dates don’t quite suit the convenience of the public, nobody – not even the public – seems annoyed (161).

As all American college football fans know, gameday is Saturday. It’s not until recent years (with the advent of cable TV and ESPN) that we see college football played on weekdays. Apparently, Roberts found it annoying that Americans expected college football to be played on Saturdays, for his tone regarding the English seems to be one of pleasant surprised. Games are played “when it’s convenient,” and if the game day is inconvenient for some, they are not annoyed.

Cost of Tickets

My seats were on what would correspond to the 50-yard line, and cost 7/6 apiece, or $1.87 – and to the best of my knowledge and belief, no football game in the history of the world was ever worth more than $1.87 (161).

Cornell-Penn Fan Guide, 1922

The first thing I noted was the price of a ticket. Today, tickets at the 50-yard line of a college football game are premium tickets (outside of the box seats). Honestly, I’ve never tried to buy such a ticket, but it’s common knowledge that the more premium a seat is, the more you have to pay. Further, if the game pits two powerhouses or rivals against each other, then you’ll be paying even more.

I’m not sure if Roberts was complaining about the price, but what we see here is not an economic complaint per se, but a complaint about the worth of American college football. Roberts never says how many games he had attended in his lifetime, but he must have attended enough to know their worth (in his eyes). It’s worth noting that Roberts attended Cornell University [1908], so he more than likely attended games against Ivy Schools like Yale, Dartmouth, and Harvard. Back in his day, the big games were played by the Ivy Schools.

Coaches’ Salaries

There are no long intermissions, nor do the players leave the field to receive the mental stimulus of a pep talk from a $10,000 coach (160).

This is perhaps my favorite quote from Roberts in “Oxford Oddities.” Complaints about how much college football coaches today abound. Just last month Jimbo Fisher was given the highest paid contract with Texas A&M at $75 million for 10 years. Though college football is an “amateur” sport, the amount of money raked in by football programs leave many skeptical about the “amateur” nature of the sport. Complaints about coach salaries, then, are the norm today.

Complaints about money and college football, however, is not a new phenomenon. The quote just given is in the context of Roberts’ discussion of intermission at rugby games. Where American college football games have lengthy intermissions (too long for Roberts’ liking, apparently), rugby has a very short intermission where teams don’t even leave the field. In the midst of discussing rugby intermission, Roberts slides in a comment about the state of American college football.

The coach, who is seen worthy of a $10,000 contract, does little more than give students a “mental stimulus of a pep talk” at half time. Obviously, in Roberts’ opinion, college football coaches are grossly overpaid.  [$10,000 is nothing today. However, if Google can be trusted, the average salary in 1935 was $1,600/year. Some college coaches, then, were paid almost 10 times more than the average American.]

On American Football

It was as fast and exciting a contest as I ever saw, and more exciting than 90 percent of the big American football games I have seen (161).

If Roberts’ attitude toward American college football was not apparent enough, he makes himself crystal clear by claiming the rugby game was more exciting than practically every American college football games he’d witnessed before. Such an assertion is anathema today, and even then.

Though I’m a Roberts fan, this is one thing I just don’t get. I grew up in Louisiana, where LSU football was (and is) king. SEC football reigns in the South, just as college football reigns in many parts of America. To put non-major sports – like rugby – above college football is…well…it’s just unheard of. But, for Roberts, rugby was more watchable than college football, and he could careless about the national sentiment about college football.

And so we have a look into Roberts’ view of American college football. Quite an interesting peak into the man Kenneth Roberts on a topic we normally do not see him address.

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Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Inscription in Antiquamania

A running theme throughout this website is the joy of finding a steal – a Kenneth Roberts’ work in great condition, a hard-to-find work, and even a signed copy of his work. One particular work that is difficult find is his Antiquamania, published in 1928 by Doublday, Doran, & Company. Much harder to find is a signed copy of Antiquamania. According to Roberts in his autobiography – I Wanted to Write – he published the book on antiques while in Italy (the period during which he was building the “American Wing” of his house in Italy). He says of Antiquamania:

even though delightfully illustrated with drawings by Mr. Tarkington, [it] was as unproductive as the other volumes had been. Its circulation was 1,165 (181).

Recently, some new Kenneth Roberts fans – Melissa and Drew – emailed me a picture of their recently acquired copy of Antiquamania that was signed and inscribed by Kenneth Roberts. See the image below (posted with permission):

The inscription reads:

Rare old Currier & Ives print, Flying Ants in September, discovered by Professor Kilgallen is an Arundel lumber pile and presented to Paul Allen by Kenneth Roberts.

Hanover, N.H./October 11, 1937

It appears that the picture at the top of the page is the Currier & Ives print discussed in the inscription. If I had to guess, Roberts’ humor shines forth here, matching the humor of the book itself.

Now, I’m no expert on handwriting, much less Roberts’ signature, but the signature and inscription above appear legit.

In a recent post, I’d posted pictures of signatures that I have (and know to be real), and another signature that I have that appeared to be forged (see the post here). The image on the top is the signature I’m confident is real, and the one on the bottom is the questionable one:

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

This is the imprint and signature found in the book I received recently.

After that post, I had someone email me questioning my assertion, and now I am not so confident that the signature is a forgery. I’m not 100% confident it’s Roberts’ signature and inscription, though. I do know that Roberts’ wife Anna helped him considerably in his work, so it’s perhaps Anna’s writing on behalf of Kenneth Roberts (note the “of” in the inscription, as if the writer is writing in the third person. This is not something that someone would do if writing in the first person.). However, I do not have a way of knowing for sure right now. Hopefully more on this later, though!

First Edition Books: For Authors Only

D/J Front – For Authors Only 1st Ed

For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays is one of my favorite books by Kenneth Roberts. The reader gets a clear picture of Roberts’ sense of humor and quick wit, and his views on a variety of matters (like British mystery novels). For any fan of Roberts, his For Authors Only is a must-read to get a full picture of Roberts the man and his writing style. (The first edition was published in 1935 (MCMXXXV).)

As is normally the case, I tend to find Kenneth Roberts books in the least likely places. Today, while in Half Price Books, I found a 1st Edition copy of For Authors Only. I already have a copy of this book, but the book I found today is in pristine condition. More so, the dust jacket is in near perfect condition with no visible tears and only one small area of slight fading. The gold and blue colors are vibrant and beautiful, protected by a dust jacket cover.

The cover boards and spine are also in near perfect condition. Typically, I find Roberts books that are showing considerable wear; however, today’s find is as if it has not seen the light of day. The cover has no wear or tear (with only a small area of bubbling), and the embossing is nearly intact.

Considering the condition of this book, I am quite impressed with my find. I only paid $7, and after some brief research, the book is worth well more than that (on abebooks.com, I found a book of in a condition less than what I have, and unsigned, at $185). So, moral of the story – search your bargain book stores!

Below is a collection of photos I’ve taken of the dust jacket (primarily) and the front/back boards.

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Kenneth Roberts Books: “Boon Island” Advanced Review Copy

It appears that every year around my birthday, I find a unique Roberts collectible. This year did not disappoint. Today I received an Advanced Review Copy of Boon Island.  Below are some photos:

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I must admit that, at first, I was unsure whether this was the real thing. But Ken Lopez, at his website, has a helpful post that discusses uncorrected proofs and advanced review copies. According to Lopez:

While most collectors don’t often have a chance to acquire the manuscripts of their favorite authors’ books, they do have ready access to a preliminary state of the book that precedes the first published edition— that of the “uncorrected proof” or “advance reading copy.” Publishers have long issued advance copies of forthcoming books, prior to the book’s publication date, for a number of reasons: they want reviewers and periodicals to have a chance to read them and schedule reviews to coincide with publication, even given the long lead times many magazines require for production; they want to get the opinions of important buyers who are likely to purchase large quantities of the book if they believe in it — buyers for the major wholesalers, the chain bookstores, and the large independent stores around the country; they want to get early copies to the author’s friends and peers — preferably well-known ones — who can give comments about the book that the publisher can use for promotion, on the dust jacket as “blurbs,” in ads, and in the promotional literature sent out to the news media as press releases.

How the advanced review copies (ARC) were presented has changed over time. Lopez states that “the typical advance copy was a set of typeset sheets, bound directly into the dust jacket — that is, identical to the finished book with the exception of the lack of hard covers.” Publishers began changing how ARCs were presented in the 1950s that it began to be commonplace to distribute paperback, uncorrected copies of the book for promotional purposes (Lopez, n.d.). But, “By the Sixties, the major publishers were routinely doing bound softcover volumes of ‘uncorrected proofs’ — which, for a time, were called ‘Cranes,’ after the printing company that had proposed them.”

Though, with my limited resources, I did not have much to go on regarding the Boon Island ARC, what was posted on eBay seemed legit. So, I bought it (plus, it was at an excellent price). Upon receiving the ACR today, I have no doubt that what I have is the real thing. Judging by the aging of the paper, the creases and fraying of the binder, and how the font was set on the paper, what I have is a unique piece of Kenneth Roberts memorabilia. I hope to have the story behind my particular copy, which I will share.

I must confess that Boon Island has not been my favorite Roberts novel in the past. However, as things have fallen in place, I’ve found today several articles published in the past several years regarding the true events that served as the basis of Boon Island. As I continue to read upon the fateful wreck of the Nottingham, I find the story fascinating as one side blames the captain of the ship, and another side blames certain crewman for spreading false reasons for the wreck (Roberts took the latter side). The wreck of the Nottingham is so intriguing that papers and websites in Maine (in particular) and New England (in general) still write about it. In light of this, Boon Island is quickly becoming one of my top Kenneth Roberts’ novels.

Keep your eyes open; I’ll be writing on this intriguing story soon!

Kenneth Roberts on Immigration: An Unflattering Opinion Reflected in Today’s Political Landscape

The cover of "Europe's Morning After", 1921 1st ed. Courtesy of Townsend Books.

The cover of “Europe’s Morning After”, 1921 1st ed. Courtesy of Townsend Books.

One thing I enjoy about running this site is coming across current websites and blogs that interact with Kenneth Roberts. Though Roberts is no longer in the mainstream, there still exists a loyal following of Roberts and his works. For the most part, any mention of Kenneth Roberts is favorable, particularly toward his more well-known novels. (I’ve tried to share any favorable mentions of Kenneth Roberts. I’ve recently begun a Twitter feed that posts to the Kenneth Roberts Website Facebook page where I share recent findings. I find this easier than posting them as a blog post.) However, not all mentions of Roberts are favorable. In fact, one area in which Roberts is frequently discusses is that of immigration.

Before Roberts began his work as a novelist, he worked for for The Saturday Evening Post (primarily) as a correspondent. Though Roberts penned many essays for The Post, what he is primarily remembered for is his work on immigration reform. The Post‘s audience consisted primarily of white, middle-class, conservative readers, and one area of concern among this group was the influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Roberts viewed these immigrants as “worthless” and a bane to society. For Roberts and those of like-mind, it was those of the Nordic race who had contributed the most to populating young America.  In an effort to influence public opinion and government policy about immigration reform, Roberts devoted several essays to the call for tighter restrictions for immigration. We can still read Roberts’ Post work on immigration in Europe’s Morning After and Why Europe Leaves Home, two collections of his Post essays.

Facsimile of the dust jacket for "Why Europe Leaves Home". Courtesy of Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC.

Facsimile of the dust jacket for “Why Europe Leaves Home”. Courtesy of Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC.

For those today who study the history of immigration to America, and those who study current attitudes toward and policy for immigration, Kenneth Roberts is viewed as the spokesperson of past and present fears of conservative Americans toward a more open immigration policy. In fact, Ronald Bailey in “Silly panic: The fuss over a ‘minority white’ nation” (2012) claims that Roberts’ Europe’s Morning After influenced Congress, in part, the 1924 Immigration Act “to change the national origins formula, limiting the annual number of immigrants to two percent of the number of people from any country who were already resident here based on their numbers in the 1890 Census” (Bailey, 2012). Bailey is not alone is making this claim; indeed, Roberts’ influence in writing predated his work as a novelist; it began long before as a correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post (I hope to write another post or two on other works written about Roberts and his work on immigration).

Roberts’ opinions regarding immigrants reflect a growing trend among some Americans, particularly those among Trump’s supporters. With the recent tragedies at the hands of ISIS, and President Obama’s recent attempts to address illegal immigration in America, the attitudes of the early twentieth century (as illustrated in Roberts) are alive and well nearly one hundred years later.

This image is the cover of the Post edition containing Roberts' article titled "Scraps from a Wanderer's Notebook" - a collection of thoughts from his travels in Eastern Europe. Courtesy of The Fiction Mags Index.

This image is the cover of the Post edition containing Roberts’ article titled “Scraps from a Wanderer’s Notebook” – a collection of thoughts from his travels in Eastern Europe. Courtesy of The Fiction Mags Index.

What is the purpose of this post? Why bring up this unflattering picture of Kenneth Roberts? For this post in particular, I want to open the discussion on the one area of Roberts’ work with which I do not agree. I admire Roberts’ ability to write, his wit and sarcasm, and his love and loyalty for his home state and country. However, I find his views on race objectionable. Though there are those today who hold to similar views as Roberts, the tone and tenor of our society for the most part has significantly changed such that there is greater sensitivity and understanding toward issues of race.

As such, how are we to understand Kenneth Roberts – the man and the author? Does his view on race dictate how we view his novels? Are we to respect him less as a person? These questions – among others – are ones that I’ve had to struggle with as a fan of Kenneth Roberts. For a time, I just sat on the issue, unsure of what to do. However, as we inch closer to the 2016 presidential election, the hot topic of immigration will continue to garner more and more attention. As such, more will be written on the issue or immigration (and race), with more references to Kenneth Roberts’ and his influence on early twentieth century immigration policy. I feel, then, that it’s time for us to wrestle with Roberts’ stance on race and immigration, and how it plays into his overall body of work.

I should say now that I do believe it is possible to appreciate Kenneth Roberts as a man and author in spite of his views on race and immigration. While there are various reasons for this, I think one key factor is that Roberts was a product of his time and culture. Though his views on race and immigration are (to me) objectionable, it is anachronistic to condemn him in light of today’s sensibilities and standards. This is not to justify Roberts’ views; rather, it’s saying that we can accept a person despite their flaws. For instance, I strongly disagree with Sam Harris on a number of issues; however, I appreciate his honesty, his clarity, and his desire to pursue truth. I respect Harris as a person while simultaneously object to a number of his views. In this light, I believe we can approach Roberts in the same way. (I think it is fair to say that we approach nearly everyone we know in this manner. It’s rare to agree with someone in every single area. There are those with whom you agree with more than others, but on some level we respect others for who they are in spite of certain areas of disagreement. There is a question, though: at what point do you disassociate from someone due to their views? This question, I believe, goes well beyond the scope of this website for it is philosophical and theological in nature. But, in light of the topic of this post, it is one we must all reflect upon and come to a conclusion consistent with one’s worldview.)

Kenneth Roberts Books: Good Maine Food

Being a book collector on a budget is both a challenge and exciting. This is the case for me when it comes to Kenneth Roberts’ books. Sure, I can buy books on Amazon or eBay, but where is the fun in that? I’ve found greater joy in finding a Roberts book at an antique store or a used book store. It’s the excitement of the hunt; the hard work is paid when a Roberts book is located and purchased.

One of the most difficult books to locate is Marjorie Mosser’s Good Maine Food – a book in which Roberts helped his niece to compile recipes and provide notes on various recipes. Roberts is well-known for the love he had for his home state; intimately linked to this love is his adoration for his grandmother’s cooking, which is evident in his various essays. Though I prefer to purchase Roberts’ novels, I have kept an eye out for Good Maine Food to add to my collection. I’ve found, though, that this cookbook has been as difficult to locate as Roberts’ earliest publications.

Good Maine Food, 1974 edToday, however, was one of the most successful hunts I’ve had in quite some time. I randomly stopped at a local antique mall to just browse, and to my surprise, I found a 1974 edition of Good Maine Food! This is the first copy I’ve ever found since I’ve begun collecting Roberts books in 1999. Granted, it is nowhere near being a first edition, but considering how long I’ve been looking for this book, I snatched it up and held on to it for dear life.

I found the pictured copy of Good Maine Food in literally the last booth I looked through; then, to my delight, one of my daughters told me that there were more booths in the basement (my other daughters chided her for bring up this delightful news). And so, on to the basement we went. About halfway through, I went to a booth that had only a few books (the booth owner focused primarily on decorative items); lo and behold, my eyes immediately landed on another copy of Good Maine Food – this one a 1947 hardback edition. I couldn’t believe it! I could not find a copy for 17 years, and in one day – within 20 minutes – I find two copies! Further, I find a cookbook on Maine food in Louisville, Kentucky – not the hub of Maine cuisine. (Below are some images of the spine, the front cover, and the title page.)

Kenneth Roberts penned the introduction to Good Maine Food, and even here his classic wit is evident.

I like good food; and ever since I’ve known anything at all about such things, I’ve known that the best foods are the simplest. Good Maine Food ignores cookery that is namby-pamby, twiddly, cloying, fussy, messy and immature, and emphasizes foods that appeal to men and women whose tastes are sound and sturdy (xi).

Even in the introduction, Roberts provides excellent biographical information and a look into the Roberts the man. At the beginning of each chapter, Roberts provides a small blurb about the kinds of food discussed. Also included are “Maine Maxims” – nuggets of wisdom to consider when preparing your food or preparation area. In short, Mosser and Roberts provide not only a cookbook of Maine cuisine, they provide a short history of Roberts and of Maine – an interesting reading indeed.

Good Maine Food (1947) - Title Page

Good Maine Food (1947) - Front

Good Maine Food (1947) - spine

Kenneth Roberts Books: John Pierce’s Journal, Moreau de St. Mery, and Nordwest Passage

Today my family and I spent some time in Frankfort, Kentucky, to visit the state capitol and visit the quaint downtown area. The day would have been a win with just the visit to the capitol; however, our visit to Frankfort’s downtown made the day even better. Why, you may ask? Because of the treasure in Poor Richard’s Books – one of those now-rare local book stores that lack the corporate feel of the box stores and the virtually impersonal feel of e-books. The walls were lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and the middle of the store was filled with more bookcases. Then, you go upstairs to find another floor full of older, dustier books. Books lined the walls and filled bookcases in the aisles, while overflow books…well…flowed onto the floor. It was magical. A book store where you could literally spend an afternoon looking through the books for anything and everything.

Our trip to Poor Richard’s led me to two Kenneth Roberts’ books. I stress “two” because it’s rare to find more than one book of Roberts’ in a book store outside of New England.  The first book I found was a first edition of Moreau de St. Mery’s Amerian Journey. Roberts consulted the journals of de St. Mery when he was writing Lydia Bailey. The journals gave him insight into “the French refugees who fled from San Domingo and France at the end of the eighteenth century” (front flap). De St. Mery’s approach to writing is similar to that of Alexis de Tocqueville, but is a better read than Tocqueville.

Another find from Poor Richard’s was a copy of Kenneth Roberts’ Nordwest Passage. No, I did not misspell anything there. It’s a German copy of Roberts’ book Northwest Passage. I’ve seen online before a copy or two of Roberts’ books in another language, but have never come across a copy here in the states. Most books translated into another language are not worth much, but for a Kenneth Roberts fan, this is a neat collector’s item. Note in the pictures below the artwork on the dust jacket (I’ll need to get a protective cover for the dj); it reminds me of Eric Carle’s artwork in his children’s books. As for the book, it’s a good thing I already know what the book is about so I don’t have to brush up on my German. 😉

 

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I also found several copies of Lydia Bailey, but I already have so many copies of this book that I passed on buying one (though I did consider it!). I highly recommend you visit Poor Richard’s Books if you ever find yourself in Frankfort, Kentucky. You can also visit them on the web (www.poorrichardsbooks.com) or on Facebook.

Finally, one of my bigger finds was earlier this summer when I found a copy of John Pierce: Journal by the Advanced Surveyor With Col. Arnold on the March to Quebec. Roberts did not publish this book (more like a booklet) by itself; rather,  if my memory serves me correctly, this booklet was included with a copy of either March to Quebec or Arundel (fellow K.R. fans, help out my memory on this one). I’ve been looking for a copy of John Pierce for quite some time and stubmled across my copy while on Amazon.com. The book ran for about $50 or so, but I found my copy for $15. Not too shabby.

 
And, to conclude an already lengthy post, I found another first edition copy of I Wanted to Write at a great book store in New Orleans called Crescent City Books (www.crescentcitybooks.com).

It can be frustrating being a Roberts fan on a shoestring budget. Kenneth Roberts collectibles are to be had, but you have to be willing to pay a pretty penny. However, there are those wonderful days when you stumble across a first edition that fits your budget. And this summer, I’ve had several of those days!

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