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eBook available: Step Lively!

Hair-Raising Tales

Hair-Raising Tales

When we rediscovered century-old paper-covered books in our basement a couple of years ago, the collection included four volumes from Street & Smith’s Humor Library. We have previously converted three of these (Atchoo!, Jiglets and What’s Your Hurry?) into eBooks, and now the fourth and final title in our collection has also become available.

Like two of the three aforementioned volumes, Step Lively! was written by vaudevillian George Niblo and consists of a transcript of one of his comedy routines accompanied by cartoons. Like the other volumes, the humor here relies largely on puns and stereotypes and is unlikely to induce much laughter from a modern reader. Still, it provides further documentation of a once-popular entertainment form from an earlier time.

If you care to read the entire book, you can find it on Project Gutenberg for download or online reading. If for some reason you just can’t get enough George Niblo, you can find one more volume of the Humor Library on the Internet Archive, courtesy of Harvard University: There and Back; or, A Little Trip to Humorville.


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Available for proofreading: The Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice

Dreadnought Boys on Battle PracticeA few months after the release of our previous Captain Wilbur Lawton eBook, The Ocean Wireless Boys on War Swept Seas, we have begun another Distributed Proofreaders project for a title by the pseudonymous author. The Dreadnought Boys on Battle Practice is the first of six volumes about adventures in the navy, released just a few years before the beginning of World War I.

To help bring this century-old adventure into the digital age, you can learn how the proofreading process works in this blog post, then proceed to the project page to begin work.


eBook available: Motor Matt’s Race

Motor Stories #5Hot on the heels of Motor Matt’s “Century” Run comes another issue of Motor Stories: Motor Matt’s Race; or, The Last Flight of the Comet. In this adventure, the series’ conflicted view of race is brought to the fore: the plot revolves around Matt’s part-Native American friend Tom Clipperton being wrongfully accused of a crime. He is unwilling to present evidence that could save him because it would further expose him to the community’s racism; he also takes a fatalistic view due to the all-white jury. At the same time, Tom himself readily uses slurs against other races, and the book itself portrays other Native Americans in as offensively stereotypical a way as it possibly could. All of this makes the book an interesting (and sometimes disconcerting) sociological study.

Following the main story, the book contains some filler material that further emphasizes that this is a product of a different time: an article about strange fish found near Cape Cod (including an obscure creature called the “horse-mackerel” or “tuna” that is sometimes eaten overseas) and an explanation of how fireflies generate light using vacuums and the ether.

The whole book can be read online or downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

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Available for proofreading: Lancaster’s Choice

Lancaster's ChoiceOur latest Distributed Proofreading project is yet another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel: Lancaster’s Choice. This title, reportedly one of the author’s personal favorites, was originally published in the short-livedĀ New York Monthly Fashion Bazaar, a departure from the more mainstream story papers that hosted most of Mrs. Miller’s stories. The edition we have digitized is a later reprint from the Arthur Westbrook Company’s Hart Series.

To learn more about how you can help create a modern electronic edition of this long-forgotten novel, read this earlier post. When you’re ready to begin work, you can visit the project page to get started!


eBook available: Motor Matt’s “Century” Run

Motor Stories #3It’s been a few months since we released the second issue of Motor Stories through Project Gutenberg. After a bit of a wait, the third issue is now here. In Motor Matt’s “Century” Run; or, The Governor’s Courier, heroic motor enthusiast Matt King finds himself helping local law enforcement break up a gang of smugglers who defy the Chinese Exclusion Act.

As is usual for the series, there’s plenty of fast-paced action as well as some signs of the changing times in which the story was written. Perhaps most interesting is the tension, also seen in earlier volumes, between clearly racist views (blood determines behavior, ethnic slurs are part of normal conversation) and more open-minded perspectives (characters question the fairness of Chinese exclusion, the villains aren’t portrayed simply as one-dimensional evil-doers). While the contemporary reader will undoubtedly see a lot more bad than good here, it is nonetheless interesting to see even small cracks in the racist assumptions of the period’s literature, as well as to observe discussions of contemporary social issues in what is otherwise a lightweight adventure novel for youthful readers.

More Motor Matt adventures will be coming soon. In the meantime, you can find the full text of this issue online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be easily downloaded to the reading device of your choice.


eBook available: Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 801

Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 801

Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 801

The “boy’s success story” genre made up a relatively small but significant percentage of the dime novel and story paper universe. Within this genre, the long-running Fame and Fortune Weekly was one of the most notable titles. Our latest eBook release through Distributed Proofreaders is one of the later issues of this publication, no. 801, from February 4, 1921.

The bulk of each issue of Fame and Fortune was devoted to a short novel. This issue’s offering is Dick Darling’s Money; or, The Rise of an Office Boy. While some of the success fiction of the time was often designed to inspire its readers to better behavior — and, indeed, the hero of this tale is a nice guy who is richly rewarded — the actual narrative shows little direct correlation between good behavior and financial benefits. Instead, in true dime novel fashion, a series of random incidents occur, culminating with Dick Darling becoming rich, not because of his skill or personality, but by sheer dumb luck. This ending is foreshadowed through encounters with a gypsy fortune-teller (perhaps not the sort of Fortune usually alluded to by the periodical’s title). Interestingly, the story’s portrayal of gypsies, while highly stereotypical, is at the same time surprisingly positive.

Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 341

Fame and Fortune Weekly, no. 341

The rest of the issue is filled out with an astonishingly brief serial installment, a short story, capsule articles of unusual news (such as a discussion of a school where conflicts are resolved through teacher-moderated fist-fights), and many advertisements (one of which features a product that rather shockingly promotes itself to children by encouraging them to play pranks on people of other races).

The whole issue can be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg. Readers might also be interested in seeing the original page images in our Digital Library or in comparing this issue to Fame and Fortune Weekly no. 341, which features a more colorful cover and includes an earlier appearance of Dick Darling’s Money in a slightly longer form.


eBook available: Little Nobody (our 50th release!)

"Little Nobody"

“Little Nobody”

Today marks the release of the 50th Project Gutenberg eBook drawn from our digital collections. The previous 49 titles are listed here.

The title which brings us to this milestone is Little Nobody, another story paper melodrama from the pen of Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller. This novel follows the adventures of Eliot Van Zandt, a Boston newspaper reporter visiting New Orleans. This being a Mrs. Miller novel, those adventures include a fair amount of romance and mayhem.

While many Mrs. Miller novels have held up surprisingly well for the modern reader, this one features a crucial plot twist built around a fundamentally racist premise, a fact which rather diminishes the pleasure of reading it. Still, there is some value in documenting the bad along with the good — seeing the way certain ideas of race were ingrained into popular culture at a time when the Civil War was still within living memory provides an interesting historical perspective and sheds light on what were likely common social attitudes of the time.

To see the story for yourself, you can read it online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in the some of the most popular electronic formats.


Now in proofreading: Sybil Chase

Sybil ChaseOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is another early Beadle’s Dime Novel written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, who also happens to be the author of the very first book in the series, Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. This title, Sybil Chase; or, The Valley Ranche, is a self-described “tale of California life,” first published in 1861.

If you are interested in helping create a modern electronic edition of this vintage book, first read our earlier post about the proofreading system, then proceed to the project page.


Now in proofreading: The Fiction Factory

The Fiction FactoryWe’ve previously written a little about prolific dime novel author William Wallace Cook in posts related to his Motor Stories series. Our latest Distributed Proofreaders project is Cook’s quirky, pseudonymously-written memoir, The Fiction Factory. There aren’t many insider books about the dime novel industry, so this is an important title for the study of the form.

If you are interested in helping create a modern electronic edition of this vintage book, first read our earlier post about the proofreading system, then proceed to the project page.


eBook available: The Spruce Street Tragedy

Spruce Street TragedyOur latest completed Project Gutenberg eBook is The Spruce Street Tragedy; or, Old Spicer Handles a Double Mystery, part of the Old Cap. Collier Library of detective-themed dime novels, and one of several titles featuring tall, thin, aging Mark Spicer as the hero.

Dime novel detective stories tended to focus less on mystery than on action. This was likely a practical matter, given the speed at which dime novels were usually written; it is far easier to write a series of chase scenes and fights than to devise a puzzle for the reader to unravel.

The Spruce Street Tragedy doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the crowd; while the story begins with a detailed description of a crime scene, it soon turns into a simple pursuit narrative punctuated by violent confrontations. The actual story doesn’t hold up very well to close scrutiny, and some of the writing is astonishingly lazy, as in this sequence, where Old Spicer obtains the key to a hotel room in order to spy on a criminal:

“What’s the number of the room over twenty-four?”

The landlord considered the question for a moment and then said:


“Good! give me the key to thirty-six.”

“What do you want of it, sir?”

Old Spicer gave him a hurried but plausible explanation.

The key was at once handed to him.

The reader is never filled in on the details of this “plausible explanation,” likely because the author didn’t have time to come up with them.

If the book has any redeeming feature, it may be the publisher’s catalog at the back, which advertises an astonishing range of bizarre-sounding detective adventures. While it is very likely that none of them are much better than this tale, it’s still hard to resist learning more about such heroes as Old Humpey, the Dwarf Detective or Zeb Taylor, the Puritan Detective!

The entire book (including the catalog) can now be found at Project Gutenberg, where it can be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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Last Modified: August 7, 2014