On Sunday, October 24th, 2021, the 125th anniversary edition of the New York Times Book Review came out. Jonathan pulled it out last night to browse through.
“Listen to this!” he exclaimed, citing reviews from early 20th century editions through the present, some of the most renowned authors of all time – Jean-Paul Sartre, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Arthur Conan Doyle – sometimes reviewed by even more renowned authors – Vladimir Nabokov, James Baldwin, Stephen King. Then he turned to the first ever bestseller list of 1942, and his face blossomed into astonished delight.
“Guess who was the first ever #1 bestselling author? In 1942.”
I racked my brain. Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind ? Daphne Du Maurier for Rebecca ? Pearl Buck for The Good Earth ? I asked for a hint. He grinned.
“You know the author better than anyone else in the entire world,” he said.
“Oh my gosh! Rachel Field? And Now Tomorrow! I never knew that!”
Rachel finished And Now Tomorrow under great duress in December of 1941. She submitted the manuscript on December 15th and died exactly three months later on March 15th. In February, Rachel saw the story released in its first, serial form in McCalls Magazine. Later Macmillan published the book. Rachel would never know that her fourth novel sold to Paramount Pictures for $75,000 that May, or that it was the 1st fiction bestseller on the New York Times inaugural list. It I knew most of this history, but the New York Times bit was new information for me this week. I also discovered that And Now Tomorrow was the fourth biggest-selling novel in 1942.
ALSO - in my browsings today I found the book in Kindle version, on sale for 99 cents! I haven't yet uploaded it, so I can't guarantee this is legit, but I am thrilled to learn that someone has produced a digital version.
Rachel continues to surprise and delight her devoted biographer. I guess she isn’t through with me yet.
If once you have slept on an island,
you’ll never be quite the same…
For over ten years, the opening two lines of Rachel Field’s iconic poem took turns as working titles for my book. Rachel reported that she almost didn’t include the poem in her collection for Branches Green; it felt like a throwaway. How surprised she was to discover the power those simple lines wrought over readers from all corners of the globe. Almost 100 years later, they haven’t lost their potency, especially for those of us who have slept on Rachel’s own Sutton Island, in her very own house on a cliff overlooking the sea. But really, there are islands physical and metaphorical everywhere. These lines reach people.
When my publishers at She Writes Press asked me to change my title, I despaired, but soon saw the wisdom of their suggestion that I choose something more descriptive of the book’s story. So I chose, The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine. The poem was relegated to the status of epigraph, not included in full (as I’d hoped) because of uncertain copyright status. I’d like to share the full poem here in two different forms. I hope both will delight you as much as they do me.
The first is page 62 of Branches Green – with Rachel’s complete poem and the “decoration” she drew herself. The original poem was published in St. Nicholas Magazine, then republished in this collection by a series of publishers, beginning in 1924. Tracking down a poem’s publication history can be a complicated endeavor.
The second was an unexpected gem sent to me by Sophie the librarian. “If Once You Have Slept on an Island,” she told me, was her son Teddy’s favorite poem when he was little (he is now 7). This video is one of his earliest attempts at a full recitation. Sophie said Teddy would be thrilled to be famous!
Enjoy! I know I do, every time.
Robin Clifford Wood is a writer and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband and dogs, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her grown children and their multi-species families.