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eBook available: On an Irish Jaunting-car

On an Irish Jaunting-carOur latest completed Distributed Proofreaders project is Samuel G. Bayne’s On an Irish Jaunting-car through Donegal and Connemara, the author’s commentary on a trip to explore a variety of scenic and historic sites in Ireland.

The book is rather peculiar, mixing stretches historical summary and topographical description with personal observations and anecdotes. Neither the terrain nor the author’s journey is given enough detail to make this feel like either a travel narrative or a travel guide; instead, it reads more like a lightly edited personal notebook.

While it doesn’t exactly provide a satisfying whole, the book does contain a variety of unusual little episodes, such as this description (accompanied by a photo) of transporting livestock by curragh:

We had a drove of pigs on board, and their feet were tied together with ropes, the four in a bunch, and the animals piled up in the curraghs till the boats would hold no more; then they were taken near the shore, liberated, and allowed to swim to land themselves. Their squealing and grunting was like an untrained Wagnerian band. There was a cow on board, and she was pushed from the gangway by main strength, plunging headlong into the waves; there was a short pause, when she reappeared, swam ashore, shook herself, and unconcernedly began eating grass, none the worse for her bath.

Swimming Cow

The rest of the book, which includes many further photographs, can be viewed online or downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats at Project Gutenberg.

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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.

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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:

“Thirty-six.”

“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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Now in proofreading: Step Lively!

Step Lively!It’s been almost a year since the release of our third book from the Street & Smith Humor Series, but we still have one remaining title that was part of the original collection of dime novels rediscovered in our basement. Like most of the books in the series, Step Lively! was written by vaudevillian George Niblo and contains jokes from his stage routines. Very little of this is likely to amuse the modern reader, and some will offend, but it is an interesting document of a past era.

To join in the proofreading effort to turn this vintage book into a new electronic edition, first read our earlier post about how the process works, then visit the project page.

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eBook available: The Cruise of the “Lively Bee”

The Cruise of the "Lively Bee"In our work with Distributed Proofreaders, we have released electronic editions of quite a few melodramas from the story papers of the late 19th century, as produced by authors like Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller and Mrs. E. Burke Collins. These belonged to just one of several popular genres of the period — another was the historical adventure for boys, as typified by today’s new release, The Cruise of the “Lively Bee.”

First published in the Golden Hours story paper from November 19, 1892 to January 28, 1893 and later reprinted in book form as part of a series called The Boys of Liberty Library, this tale details the adventures of a privateer called the “Lively Bee” as she fights for the American side during the War of 1812. The use of a privateer allows the story to use many of the trappings of a pirate adventure while simultaneously expressing patriotic sentiments and offering history lessons to its readers. While the “Lively Bee” and its crew are fictional creations, they encounter several historical ships (such as the USS Congress and HMS Belvidera) and meet a variety of well-known figures, including David Farragut and Dolly Madison.

This being a story paper serial, it’s definitely not all about dry historical facts. It also includes romance, at least one astounding coincidence, a bit of comic relief, and high levels of violence. Given its target audience, it also goes out of its way to point out the role of very young boys in much of the fighting. This will likely raise the eyebrows of contemporary readers, as will the book’s extremely sexist portrayal of women, but neither is particularly surprising for the period. In any case, it’s not hard to see how the story held the attention of its readers and kept them coming back for more installments.

You can read the entire adventure online at Project Gutenberg, where it is also available for download in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Her Dark Inheritance

Dark InheritanceThe latest eBook project we have completed with the help of Distributed Proofreaders is the 19th century melodrama Her Dark Inheritance by Mrs. E. Burke Collins. The story revolves around Beatrix Dane, a young girl whose past contains a secret so horrifying that its revelation eventually kills her adoptive father. While not as well-constructed as the generally similar works by Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller, and containing several of the expected offensive stereotypes of the period, this is still a fun read, both for the shocking secret (which is nearly impossible to guess, and doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense) and for some of the over-the-top dialog. Our heroine’s tortured (and constantly soliloquizing) Uncle Bernard offers some particular gems, such as this one:

Thought! Never think, Simons. Don’t let me ever hear again that you indulge in the pernicious habit of thinking! Great Heaven! what would I not give to drown thought—to bury it out of sight—deep, deep—so deep that nothing on earth would ever have the power to resurrect it! Thought—memory! Bah!”

For the rest of this speech, and a great deal more, you can find the full text of the novel online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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Now in proofreading: On an Irish Jaunting-car

On an Irish Jaunting-carOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is a change of pace from the usual variety of popular fiction titles. On an Irish Jaunting-car through Donegal and Connemara is a travel narrative describing (and illustrating with photos) a variety of Irish scenes. This is one of several books written by Samuel G. Bayne, an author who appears to have made quite a lot of money in various business ventures when not traveling or writing about his adventures.

If you would like to help transform this vintage book into a new electronic edition, please read this earlier post to learn more about the process, then visit the project page.

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eBook available: Motor Matt’s Daring; or, True to His Friends

Motor Matt's DaringLess than a month after the release of Motor Matt; or, The King of the Wheel, the second volume of the Motor Stories dime novel series has also been made available as an eBook. Motor Matt’s Daring; or, True to His Friends offers more of the same fast-paced, technology-driven action as the previous volume, this time featuring a story about a disputed gold claim. As before, the main adventure is supplemented by a short, unrelated (and unpleasantly racist) adventure story, this time centering on a dangerous night-time journey through an alligator-infested swamp to intercept a murderer.

Stay tuned for more Motor Matt adventures in the months to come. For now, you can find the full text of this issue online at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Stories of Robin Hood

Robin HoodIn the early twentieth century, a series of small, inexpensive pamphlets known as the Instructor Literature Series provided readings aimed at students in grades one through eight.

Our latest completed Distributed Proofreaders project is one of these publications, a collection of Robin Hood stories aimed at fifth graders. The slim volume, whose title is either The Story of Robin Hood or Stories of Robin Hood depending on which page you believe, contains six tales and one long poem covering Robin Hood legends ranging from the very familiar to the slightly more obscure. This is rounded out with a catalog showing the considerable breadth of the Instructor Literature Series.

You can read the book online in its entirety at Project Gutenberg, where it can also be downloaded in a variety of popular electronic formats.

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eBook available: Malaeska

MalaeskaShortly before the Civil War broke out, the publisher Beadle and Company (later Beadle and Adams) tried a publishing experiment: sell short novels for ten cents, providing inexpensive entertainment for the masses. This experiment proved to be incredibly successful, and thus the “dime novel” was popularized.

The very first story released as a Beadle’s Dime Novel was Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter, written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, an author who would continue to contribute to the series in years to come. This debut title is now available in electronic format through Project Gutenberg thanks to our work with the Distributed Proofreaders project.

Malaeska is definitely not what one might expect from the first dime novel — it does not set the template for what would follow. While there are some action sequences here and there, the overall tone of the book is nostalgic and mournful, filled with long descriptions of natural scenes and authorial asides on the “good old days” before the tiresome modernity of 1860.

It is also surprising that the subject of this initial experiment in popular literature is not frontier adventure, lost treasure, high romance or another crowd-pleasing standard but rather interracial marriage, a subject that was definitely not considered to be a positive thing in the 19th century. Needless to say, many of the attitudes and some of the language presented by the book have not aged well, though it is perhaps to the book’s credit that it is written ambiguously enough that the reader can choose to interpret it either as a cautionary tale against violating societal norms (perhaps, though not necessarily, the original intent) or as a condemnation of the senselessness of prejudice (a more satisfying modern reading).

To experience the story for yourself and make up your own mind about its significance, you can read the full text online or download it for your e-reader at Project Gutenberg.

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Last Modified: July 2, 2014