Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Book review "Anybody Can Do Anything" by Betty MacDonald

I don't buy many new books these days - I'll write more about that in another post - but on a recent trip to Hay-on-Wye spent many happy hours browsing through the secondhand bookshops there, and as many the books were £1 or less each, I picked up some interesting bargains.

One of them was "Anybody Can Do Anything" by Betty MacDonald. It was an old-fashioned red hardback, and I was drawn to it as I am susceptible to self-help books, and the idea of a 1940s self-help book was rather appealing. I randomly opened it, read a paragraph or two, laughed, and decided to invest 50p. Anyway, it is a marvellous book; not a self-help book but very topical, as it is an autobiography of a woman in depression-era America, with stories about the bizarre jobs her resourceful, if rather bossy, sister Mary finds for her and other members of the family, and the economical lifestyle her family adopts. I particularly liked the idea of her mother's Saturday evening chilli evenings to which a random assortment of friends are invited, and the clothes-sharing system operated between Betty and her sisters, under which whoever wakes up first gets the best outfit for the day.

It is a very heart-warming story, as the title suggests, and I did find myself believing that anybody really can do anything; Mary enlists her mother to write a radio play, which runs for years; their brother undertakes a series of swaps of his possessions which get him a car so beautiful that Betty's colleagues won't speak to her after they've seen her in it, and Betty herself, hilariously self-deprecating about her lack of office skills, eventually becomes a successful writer.

(Since reading the book, I have discovered that it is part of a popular series, beginning with "The Egg and I", which describes her experiences of marriage to a chicken farmer; I am looking forward to reading that, and the rest of the series.)

A bizarre coincidence: driving home one evening after discussing this book with my sister, who loved it, too, I heard it being read as Radio 4's "book at bedtime".

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