28 March 2006

"Why Do You Want a Book? You Already Have One..."

... and other Bookworm Droppings.

Absurd remarks made by patrons of used bookstores. Very funny (including the typos).

03 March 2006

Tom, Dick and...Sam?

Here are some of the e-books I've whiled my way through during spare moments:

The Rover Boys at School

You've probably heard joking references to the Rover Boys all your life—but do you know who they actually were? Penned by "Arthur Whitfield," they were actually the very first series book creation of Edward Stratemeyer, whose syndicate series books for children and young adults later included The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, and a whole stable of others. The Rover Boys are the sons of a famous archaeologist who is lost as the series opens, and the boys drive their uncle so wild they are sent to a military boarding school, very fashionable in that day, and to which they are wild to go. Dick is the levelheaded oldest, Tom is the prank-playing middle boy, and Sam is the youngest. Today they sound ridiculously old-fashioned—in several instances the boys even call someone "old top" and use British expressions—and Tom's pranks would probably get him sent to a psychiatrist, and of course ethnic humor and racial stereotypes abound. Still they are an amusing curiosity.

Miss Elliot's Girls

Cross Louisa May Alcott (children learning to be more patient and kind) with a naturalist story and a bit of humane teaching alá Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe and you have this curious story about a "lame young woman" who teaches the children in her care (mostly girls in a sewing circle, but also two boys) about the joys of insect life and being kind to animals. Pretty dull but a good example of a 19th century instructive tale.

The High School Boys' Canoe Club

H. Irving Hancock's sextet of clean-living American boys (their later adventures chatted about here) purchase a damaged "war canoe" from a show, have it repaired, and then participate in boat races at a nearby lake. Since it would be totally boring if they did nothing but, a vindictive bully from school keeps trying to sabotage their summer. Today the boys' parents would have the bully jailed or sent for counseling; back then the boys just solved their own problems until the bully's father figures out what his kid's been up to and ships him home in disgrace.

The Puritan Twins

I've read negative reviews of this Lucy Fitch Perkins "Twin book" and I must agree with them; pretty dull. The story is mostly about the male half of the twin contingent, Daniel, who gets to do all the interesting stuff, while his sister Nancy has to stay behind and be ladylike, or is always being berated for daydreaming and thinking for herself. So realistic of Puritan attitudes to women that it's boring.

The Motor Boys on the Pacific

Another in one of those series stories in which the boys are lucky enough to have some wonderful machine for themselves. In this case, the boys' wonderful speedboat is actually wrecked before the story even opens and several dull opening chapters are reserved for the filing of the insurance claim on it. Then the boys visit California and (how coincidental!) a boy leaving lets them use his big powerful motorboat for the summer! The rest of the story involves looking for a ship full of valuables. The lead characters are so forgettable that...darn...I've forgotten them.


Nine-year-old Keineth lives a sheltered life on New York's Washington Square with her widower Dad and a Belgian nursemaid. But as World War I encroaches on the United States, "Tante" returns to Belgium to help her people and Dad, who's a diplomat, sends Keineth to live with friends while he goes to Europe to help make peace. Shy Keineth blossoms under the friendship of the family's children and learns many things before her Dad is safely returned. That's it. Think Understood Betsy with a parent and you have the story, if not the enthralling text.

The Boy Inventors' Radio Telephone

Some of the series' books involved ordinary kids; then there were the pseudo-science fictiony Tom Swiftian series that involved fantastic inventions and the boys who worked with them. In this case, one of the boys has a famous inventor dad who comes up with things like a fabulous electric car that goes miles without a charge, a fabulous airship which his sons and his friends get to travel on, and his newest invention, a radio telephone (which is more like a cell phone many years before its invention). Naturally the boys run afoul of bad guys. Despite the cool inventions, yet another set of youngsters so forgettable that I don't even remember their names.

Penrod and Sam

Booth Tarkington's sequel to Penrod is slightly less funny, but still amusing. Way back then the hi-jinks of Penrod and his buddy Sam were just taken as boys' pranks; they'd probably be arrested now.

The Secret of the Tower

A mystery by Anthony Hope that does not involve Ruritanian swordplay, involving a house with a mysterious tower room and the death of an old man. Main item of interest here, in this early 20th century novel, is that one of the protagonists is a woman doctor who neither faints, simpers, or acts like a fragile flower of Edwardian womanhood.

The Red House Mystery

The visit of a wealthy man's Australian brother provides the beginning of the mystery, which deepens after the wealthy man is murdered. Who did it? How did the murderer escape without being seen? Our sleuth is one Antony Gillingham, a friend of one of the people staying at the home of the murdered man, an amateur who slowly discovers all the clues. Most notable thing about this story: it was written by A.A. Milne of Winnie-the-Pooh fame.

01 March 2006

A Name from the Past

I remember reading selections from Mary Antin's The Promised Land in school, but had not thought about her in years. Antin was a Russian Jew whose father moved the family to Boston in the late 1800s. Land is an absorbing autobiography about being an immigrant to the United States.

Mass Moments has a little newsclip, Mass Moments: Crowd Gathers to Hear Writer Mary Antin, that you can listen to and also more information.

You can read Promised Land online here, or read it online or download it in various e-book formats at Blackmask.com.