You’ll Think Edna Ferber Was Spying On You When She Wrote “Buttered Side Down”

Why I Read Buttered Side Down

Image from a scanned copy of the book "Buttered Side Down" (1912) by Edna Ferber. Image has been cropped and the sepia tones removed. 1912, unknown author

Image from a scanned copy of the book “Buttered Side Down” (1912) by Edna Ferber. Image has been cropped and the sepia tones removed.

1912, unknown author

Buttered Side Down turned up as one of the “you might also like” selections when I was checking books on Amazon, which as you can imagine, happens a lot.  I actually wouldn’t have been too excited about reading an Edna Ferber book.  I read “So Big” years ago, and it wasn’t my most favorite book ever.  I mean I was YOUNG when I read it…in my 20’s…but I remember it as being a farm pioneer type thing and just ok.


But the title “buttered side down” caught my attention.  I’m not really acquainted with the phrase “buttered side up” although I felt as though I should be.  I looked it up and found that “buttered side up” means “the right way.”  I usually just say “the right side up.”  Sometimes I will also say “He doesn’t know which end is up.”


Why you should read Buttered Side Down


So help me, each time I write that phrase, I want to go make some toast.  

You should read these stories, first of all, because Ferber’s style is something that I’ve only very rarely encountered.  It jumps right off the page at you.  In fact, you never know when she is going to start addressing you, the reader, directly.  And this is no mild, “Reader, I married him.”  Oh no.  Ferber is more apt to jump out of the narrative and directly into a writer’s conference where she will explain what technique she is either about to use or about to butcher, depending on her mood. 

For example, at the beginning of “Bush League Hero”, she lavishly describes a day at the baseball field, that American institution…well, until she gets bored.  And then she just announces, “enough with the local color” and gets on with the plot.  The one that surprised me the most is “The Homely Heroine”, in which the narrator tells the reader she is writing a story with a “homely heroine” at the request of a friend, and then, when she takes the plot as far as she feels she can, breaks off, says, “enough”, and ends the story. 

Somehow she manages to withhold the sappy endings that I’m hoping for, kind of, but really don’t believe, but I still don’t hate her.  

I think it’s because of two things: 1. The characters stay true to themselves, even if they are momentarily unhappy. And 2. The “love” you think the characters are going to find rarely materializes; yet you (as the reader) are not annoyed.  

Women, especially, often end up alone…almost always…but they are definitely not sad about and often, often, they get to be the one who makes that choice. 

When does that ever happen? 

Usually, when something is supposed to be “modern”, that’s bad (to me) because it means that the writer is trying too hard.  

But Ferber’s style is extremely modern, and by that I mean fresh.  

Fresh in the way that your favorite summer sheets are when you first put them on the bed.  Does that sound ridiculous? 

The descriptions of the clothes, and a few other anachronistic details are the only thing that reminds you that this book is more than 100 years old, but instead of dating the stories, these details just make the work seem even more amazing. 

Edna Ferber, where have you been all of my life?


Books About Edna Ferber


Who was Edna Ferber?

July 1928 Source Theatre Magazine , July 1928 (page 29) Author Theatre Magazine Company; Nickolas Muray, photographer

July 1928SourceTheatre Magazine, July 1928 (page 29)AuthorTheatre Magazine Company; Nickolas Muray, photographer


Edna Ferber was a Jewish-American who came from the American Midwest.  According to Wikipedia, she was subjected to brutal anti Semitism at times during her childhood, which seems to have resulted in her work often featuring characters who are marginalized in some way. 


She was never married or known to have a romantic partner.  The lack of romantic partner seems a bit sad to me…but of course it’s not being public doesn’t mean she never had one…but if she didn’t, judging from her stories, she was quite happy with that.  A consistent theme is women’s freedom to choose their own path and being quite happy with one that is career oriented. 


Amazingly, at her death she actually left her work to the public domain to encourage women authors.


I mean, I’ve actually taken at least one course CALLED “Women Writers”: why did we never discuss her?? 

If you like old movies or are interested in Broadway theater at all, Ferber may be an author that you don’t know you know. Her novels Show Boat, Saratoga, and Giant were al made into musicals.  Some of her plays that were made into films include Dinner at Eight, Stage Door, and Royal Family

She wrote a lot of novellas and short stories.  Her wide variety of short works coupled with her breezy style makes her an excellent choice if you have a short attention span or limited time.

Although the Jewish Virtual library states, “Edna Ferber gave the United States her writings which encouraged women to become aggressive and assertive so that they enjoy success in their lives”, from what I can tell her major novels are NOT in the public domain, however, her short story collections are. I’m pretty excited about those, since I enjoyed this collection so much, but if you want to read her major novels, which are more well known, they do seem to be readily available through American public libraries and not expensive on Kindle.

I haven’t read all of her novels, but I have heard of quite a few before writing this article.

By Edna Ferber (selected works)

Clicking on the titles below will take you to an Amazon.com page that describes the book. Purchasing through these links will earn The Lois Level a small commission. Alternatively, you can find some of her titles available for FREE download here at Project Gutenberg. For directions for downloading from Project Gutenberg to a Kindle, click here.


You may recognize many of the titles from the films that we made of them.

Can you believe she wrote a book called Gigolo?

Short Stories and Novellas


Free Reads

Most of Ferber’s books are FREE, low cost, or fairly easily available from American public libraries. Project Gutenberg has a good selection.

You Tell Us

Have you read Edna Ferber? Which are your favorites?