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eBook available: How to Solve Conundrums

  • Posted by: Demian Katz
  • Posted Date: November 4, 2013
  • Filed Under: Project Gutenberg

conundrumsThe proofreading project started in late September has just completed, so Frank Tousey’s handbook, How to Solve Conundrums, is now available for the world as a Project Gutenberg eBook.

As mentioned when the project went into proofreading, this book doesn’t actually tell you how to do anything at all; it just consists of a series of puns and riddles, which once were popularly known as conundrums.

Some representative examples:

What is the difference between homicide and pig-sticking? One is assault with intent to kill, the other a kill with intent to salt.

When is a wall like a fish? When it is scaled.

What is the height of folly? Spending your last dollar on a purse!

While these sorts of jokes are unlikely to change your life, the book does shed some interesting light on the practices of publisher Frank Tousey, who produced inexpensive handbooks on a wide range of topics. The frequent duplication of jokes (and the occasional omission of punchlines) suggests a less-than-careful editorial process. The presence of many jokes about British politics suggests that at least some of the text was pirated from the other side of the Atlantic. It might be quite interesting to try to determine the paths these jokes followed from publication to publication; as more content comes online, this may eventually become an achievable project.

For now, if you want to start by reading Tousey’s offering, you can find it at Project Gutenberg for online reading and download to a variety of popular devices.


eBook available: With the Ulster Division in France

  • Posted by: Demian Katz
  • Posted Date: October 17, 2013
  • Filed Under: Project Gutenberg

UlsterThe latest of our proofreading projects to be completed is With the Ulster Division in France, a narrative of the first World War from the perspective of an Irish soldier.

While many war narratives follow a certain arc — from training and routine, to struggle and loss of innocence, to eventual survival and a return home — this one is a bit different. Constructed from the diaries of a soldier who did not survive the war and whose division suffered substantial losses, it starts in the traditional mode, with some engaging prose about travel through France and the eventual experience of trench warfare, but then it is cut short, the story replaced by a long series of formal statements honoring the sacrifice of countless Ulster Division soldiers to German machine guns. The result is a narrative that, while inherently unsatisfying as a story, effectively conveys the tragedy of the conflict through its own incompleteness.

If you care to experience this sobering book for yourself, it can now be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


Now in proofreading: Wild Margaret

columbusOur previous eBook release, A Dreadful Temptation, was part of an omnibus edition containing two novels. The second story from the volume is now our latest proofreading project: Wild Margaret, by Geraldine Fleming, which is actually a misattributed reprint of Charles Garvice’s His Guardian Angel.

Charles Garvice is one of several authors who are almost completely forgotten today in spite of selling millions of books during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is listed as one of the “big three” (along with Mrs. Georgie Sheldon and Mrs. Mary J. Holmes) in an ad on the back cover of our copy of The Bride of the Tomb; and Queenie’s Terrible Secret. His Wikipedia page provides a little bit of background information (plus a photograph featuring a monocle); a few of his other novels can already be found at Project Gutenberg.

The book is now available at the Distributed Proofreaders site. To help us create a new electronic edition, and to see what sold millions of copies over a century ago, you can read more about our proofreading efforts and then visit the project page.


eBook available: A Dreadful Temptation

columbusOur work on producing electronic editions of the work of story paper writer Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller continues today with the release of A Dreadful Temptation; or, A Young Wife’s Ambition, a relatively early work from her days writing for the New York Family Story Paper and the sixth complete Mrs. Miller novel converted to an eBook from Villanova Digital Library images. Our edition is derived from the hardcover reprint in the Columbus Series.

Like all of Mrs. Miller’s novels, this one feels like the result of throwing a variety of melodramatic story paper tropes in the blender. The core plot involves a young girl marrying an old man for the sake of revenge, but we also have multiple maritime tragedies, a desperate plot to preserve a damaged reputation, and the usual set of highly-improbable coincidences to keep things interesting. While this certainly isn’t Mrs. Miller’s best work — it is hard to top a debut like The Bride of the Tomb — it is yet another entertaining example of late-19th-century popular reading.

The book may be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular formats at Project Gutenberg.


Now in proofreading: Kathleen’s Diamonds

Kathleen's DiamondsOur work on creating eBook editions of the works of Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller continues with our latest proofreading project: Kathleen’s Diamonds; or, She Loved a Handsome Actor. Unlike our previous projects, which all came from the pages of the New York Family Story Paper, this one comes from one of that publication’s biggest competitors, the Fireside Companion, where it ran from December 19, 1891 to April 16, 1892. The copy we are working with is a later reprint from Arthur Westbrook’s Hart Series.

The book is now available at the Distributed Proofreaders site. To help us create a new electronic edition, and to get a taste of the romance and mayhem that distinguish Mrs. Miller’s works, you can read more about our proofreading efforts and then visit the project page.


Now in proofreading: How to Solve Conundrums

  • Posted by: Demian Katz
  • Posted Date: September 30, 2013
  • Filed Under: Project Gutenberg

conundrumsOur latest proofreading project continues our coverage of the late-19th/early-20th century Frank Tousey Ten Cent Hand Book series, represented by previously-completed projects How to Fence and How to Stuff Birds and Animals as well as by several additional titles still working their way through the process.

How to Solve Conundrums sounds like it teaches an extremely useful skill, but in fact its scope is more limited than one might hope. A “conundrum” by this book’s definition is a riddle based on wordplay and punnery, and rather than providing a system for solving such puzzles, the book instead simply lists page after page of them. If you like a bad joke, there are plenty of groans to be found here; if nothing else, it must be said that the cover is memorable!

If you want to help preserve this vintage book in electronic format, you can join in at the project page. To learn more about the proofreading process, see this earlier post.


eBook available: The Twin Ventriloquists

The Twin VentriloquistsAnother project has finished the proofreading process this week, and the title is a mouthful: The Twin Ventriloquists; or, Nimble Ike and Jack the Juggler: A Tale of Strategy and Jugglery.  As the title suggests, this is the story of two ventriloquists who use their ability to project their voices as a means of fighting crime — a premise more recently used to humorous effect in The Voice segments of old-time radio parody Two-Minute Danger Theater, but here taken completely seriously.

It cannot be said that The Twin Ventriloquists tells a compelling story — more recent conceptions of the mystery novel may lead the reader to expect a well-defined mystery, a web of clues, and a logical conclusion. Those things are all missing here — instead, two ventriloquists randomly wander through New York, encountering crime through sheer luck and thwarting it in a series of loosely-connected episodes often padded with terse and repetitive dialogue.  This is, apparently, the Old Sleuth style, designed primarily to produce a large number of books in a short period of time and to encourage people to buy them. The commercial nature of the series could not be more apparent than when the narration pauses to recommend that the reader buy other specific volumes in order to learn more about certain characters and events! For example:

Our hero was a good-looking chap. He had increased in strength and stature since first introduced to our readers in a former story, Number 6 of “Old Sleuth’s Own.”

It should be clear from all of this that The Twin Ventriloquists is not a literary masterpiece for the ages. It is, at best, an interesting glimpse into the evolution of commercialized entertainment. Yet, for all that, when it concludes by promising that in a future volume, “our readers will learn the thrilling romance of the life of Nimble Ike, the most wonderful ventriloquist yet known in all the world, and also will be revealed the secret of the mysterious box,” there is a certain genuine temptation to read on and learn more. Who can resist a mysterious box?

If you want to take a look for yourself, the entire volume can be read online or downloaded in a variety of popular formats through Project Gutenberg.


Now in Proofreading: Leonie, the Typewriter

Leonie, the TypewriterOur latest proofreading project is Leonie, the Typewriter, a self-described “thrilling romance of actual life,” from the days when a typewriter was not just a machine, but also the person who operated it.

Like several of our previous projects, this tale originated in the pages of the New York Family Story Paper. The copy we have digitized is a later stand-alone reprint. Unfortunately, the condition of the book is rather poor, making this a more challenging project than usual; however, with some perseverance, Leonie will live again!

Please join in the work at the Distributed Proofreaders project.  If you are new to distributed proofreading, you can read more about our proofreading effort. Once you are ready to help, just visit the project page and start proofing!

eBook available: They Looked and Loved

Cover of They Looked and Loved.Another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller title has recently gone through our proofreading process. The title of this latest Mrs. Miller is They Looked and Loved; or, Won by Faith. It’s a fun read with a little bit of everything: a creepy old miser, a marriage of convenience, mysteries both past and present, romance, Spanish gold, and a dash of the supernatural. There’s a lot going on plot-wise here, involving many different threads that do, in fact, all manage to come together by the end through a rapid succession of plot twists.

You can find it all at Project Gutenberg, where you can read the story online or download it in several popular formats.


Now in proofreading: A Dreadful Temptation

columbusWe love Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller around here, so it’s always an exciting occasion when a new Mrs. Miller novel goes into proofreading. The latest project is A Dreadful Temptation; or, A Young Wife’s Ambition, a relatively short work that was published in the New York Family Story Paper immediately after Queenie’s Terrible Secret, running from December 26, 1881 to February 13, 1882. The edition we are working with comes from a hardcover reprint in the Columbus Series. This volume also contains the longer novel Wild Margaret by Geraldine Fleming; stay tuned for that one as a future project!

A Dreadful Temptation is now available at the Distributed Proofreaders project.  If you are interested in helping us create new eBook editions of these nearly-forgotten (yet surprisingly memorable) novels, you can read more about our proofreading effort and then visit the project page.

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Last Modified: September 7, 2013