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eBook available: Nimble Ike, the Trick Ventriloquist

Decades before the invention of the modern comic book and other contemporary forms of entertainment, dime novels were pioneering some of the conventions that would later become commonplace. For example, in the growing field of detective fiction, Old Sleuth (the pseudonym of Harlan Page Halsey) created an array of colorful and quirky detective characters, and even experimented with having their paths cross from time to time. One might dare call it the “Old Sleuth Bibliographic Universe.” A few years ago, we shared one of these “crossover events” as a Project Gutenberg eBook: The Twin Ventriloquists. Our latest release, produced with help from the Distributed Proofreaders project, is an earlier story from the same series: the origin story of Nimble Ike, the Trick Ventriloquist, a self-described “rousing tale of fun and frolic.”

The book tells of the early career of Nimble Ike, a young orphan boy raised by a globetrotting magician, who is left to fend for himself and decides to use his incredible powers of ventriloquism to fight crime (and play the occasional prank). Along the way, he befriends a more experienced detective and uncovers a plot against a young banker. It is written in Old Sleuth’s signature style, with the narrative frequently broken up by repetitive, staccato dialog (the better to fill pages with, when you’re churning out dime novels at a frantic pace). While not a literary masterpiece, the book delivers what its audience likely expected from it: a bit of mystery, a bit of action, and a bit of humor (though the prank sequences are unlikely to elicit much laughter from a modern reader).

Nimble Ike would go on to star or co-star in another six adventures written by Old Sleuth, so apparently there was a market for ventriloquism-based detective fiction.

If you want to experience this story for yourself, you can find the full text available for online reading (or download in popular eBook formats) at Project Gutenberg, or you can view the original scanned book in our Digital Library.


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eBook available: Let Us Kiss and Part

Another novel by prolific story paper author Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller has been added to Project Gutenberg thanks to content from our Digital Library and volunteer labor from the Distributed Proofreaders Project.

Let Us Kiss and Part; or, A Shattered Tie features many of the author’s favorite themes: accidental live burials, terrible family secrets, and jealousy-driven violence. In spite of a lot of familiar content, it also cracks the mold here and there. One character, a fortune teller who would rather be reading mystery novels, offers a bit of self-reflection about popular fiction. The book’s structure seems fairly conventional until the story is completely resolved at the end of chapter 41, and the next nineteen chapters tell an almost entirely unrelated second story.

If you want to take a look for yourself, you can find the full text of the book available for online reading and download in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: Cliquot

The latest Project Gutenberg release from our collections (courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project) is Kate Lee Ferguson‘s Cliquot, a novel focusing on the romantic life of a Southern man whose future depends on the success of a dangerous race horse in his possession.

The book was published by T. B. Peterson & Brothers, a Philadelphia publisher with a long history of producing paper-covered books. By 1889, when this particular title was published, thick and inexpensive paper-covered books were becoming more widespread, and Peterson’s offerings were expensive by comparison to those of many of their competitors.

Cliquot sold for 25 cents, making it one of the Peterson firm’s least expensive titles, yet it still cost more than twice as much as the dime novels coming from firms like Street & Smith. This particular book doesn’t compare favorably to the competition in terms of value for money, either — the novel is quite short and is made to appear longer through the use of wide margins and tall line heights, and a substantial portion of the page count is taken up with extensive advertising from the publisher.

As an arguably overpriced title in the catalog of a waning publisher, it is not surprising that this story has been largely forgotten since its publication more than a century ago. However, it would likely not have fared much better even under more favorable circumstances. In addition to being short enough to barely qualify as a novel, the tale’s disorganized narrative and underdeveloped characters suggest that they author may not have invested a great deal of time and effort into the work.

While the novel itself is unlikely to make a strong impression, its author seems to have lived an eventful and sometimes challenging life, as evidenced by the biography at the Mississippi Writers & Musicians, and this work may be more interesting when viewed as part of that larger story. If you wish to see for yourself, the full text is available for online reading or download in commonly used eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: How to Get Married, Although a Woman

Our latest Digital Library item to be made available in Project Gutenberg through the Distributed Proofreaders project is a late-19th-century relationship advice book: How to Get Married, Although a Woman, by “A Young Widow.”

As the title suggests, the book attempts to address the difficulties women faced during a time when they were often dependent on marriage for survival, but also were socially discouraged from explicitly expressing interest in the subject. While one might hope for a book critical of the restrictive social systems of its time, what this actually provides is a set of rules for conforming to those systems, largely founded upon stereotypical views of both men and women. It is also heavily padded with poetry and quotations, some of limited relevance to the topic at hand.

Like many non-fiction works from this period, its usefulness for its intended purpose has long-since expired; however, as a primary source document, it offers a window into a very different time, and could prove useful in various fields of historical research.

If you are interested in learning more, the whole book is available for free at Project Gutenberg to read online or download in popular eBook formats.


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eBook available: Boy Scouts at Sea

Another book from our Digital Library has been added to Project Gutenberg thanks to the efforts of the Distributed Proofreaders project: Boy Scouts at Sea, written by Arthur A. Carey and published in 1918.

The book, written by the founder of the real-life Sea Scouts, tells of the adventures of a crew of scouts who go to sea on a ship called the Bright Wing. They not only have some of the expected maritime adventures, like rescuing shipwreck survivors, but they also make some stops for land-based incidents, including fire-fighting and a baseball game.

Much of the text is devoted not just to the external struggles of the boys, but also to their inner lives; early in the story, the protagonists are impressed by the story of Tunis Craven‘s self-sacrifice, and significant space is devoted to describing how their personal perspectives change based on this tale and their subsequent experiences. This book is clearly intended to demonstrate the benefits of scouting, and the development of the characters is designed almost exclusively to underscore that point.

There are many novels about Boy Scouts of various types from this period of juvenile literature, and this one follows many of the subgenre’s conventions; however, due to its historically significant author and somewhat atypical maritime setting, this one holds a unique place in the literature.

If you would like to read the whole book, you can find it online (and available for download) at Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: On Time; or, Bound to Get There

Once again, a book from our Digital Library has been released as a Project Gutenberg eBook with the help of the Distributed Proofreaders project. The latest release is On Time; or, Bound to Get There, by Oliver Optic.

Oliver Optic was a popular and prolific author of juvenile fiction during the second half of the 20th century, who was often published alongside his slightly better-remembered contemporary, Horatio Alger, Jr. Both Alger and Optic wrote stories about ethical behavior and the rewards of hard work, and their output influenced generations of young readers and helped to define the idealized view of “American values.”

On Time is the third volume of Optic’s “Lake Shore Series,” which focuses on the fictitious Lake Ucayga and surrounding towns like the also-fictitious Ruoara. In this particular adventure, a competition has heated up between a rail service (run by a Captain Toppleton) and a ferry service (belonging to a Colonel Wimpleton), both of which are trying to deliver passengers to their destinations as efficiently (and profitably) as possible. The book’s young protagonist, Wolf Penniman, joins the fray on the side of the ferry, determined to win out through fair play and honesty.

The book is certainly not subtle about its moral lessons, but its very deliberate preaching is accompanied by some colorful (or at very least colorfully-named) characters and places, and a plot that portrays a reasonably engaging (if not particularly dramatic) battle of wits between rival 19th-century capitalists.

You can read the whole book (or download it in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: Guide to Fortune-Telling by Dreams

The latest eBook added to Project Gutenberg using scans from our Digital Library (processed by the Distributed Proofreaders project) is Guide to Fortune-Telling by Dreams, another issue of the “Multum in Parvo Library,” a series of chapbooks billed as the “smallest magazine in the world.”

This particular issue provides interpretations of a variety of dream themes and images, organized alphabetically. Since this is a fortune-telling book, the interpretations are not focused on psychological implications, but rather on how these serve as good or bad omens. Some suggested implications are surprising — apparently dreaming of beans is more likely to signal doom than dreaming of beheading — but most of the predictions are fairly similar and fall into a small number of general categories.

Needless to say, the modern reader is not going to find this very useful; for that matter, it’s questionable whether the 19th-century reader would have found it useful either. However, like the other books in this series, it serves as a potentially interesting cultural artifact.

If you want to take a look for yourself, the full text can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats from Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: How to Get Rich

The latest eBook to arrive at Project Gutenberg from our Digital Library (with help from the Distributed Proofreaders project) is How to Get Rich, another title from the “Multum in Parvo Library” series of chapbooks marketed as “the smallest magazine in the world.”

While the title might imply a book full of financial advice, this text really offers just one strategy for getting rich: produce consumable household goods and sell them at a profit. Thus, it turns out to be a collection of recipes.

Books from the late nineteenth century obviously show their age in the twenty-first, but recipe books suffer more than most. The names of ingredients and units of measurement are unfamiliar to the modern reader, and some of the recipes even include materials like lead and mercury which have fallen out of favor due to their harmful effects on human health. It is quite unlikely that anyone will get rich from reading this book. However, they might learn a little bit about advertising, manufacturing and publishing practices of the past, and for this, the book may reward a quick glance.

If you want to take a look for yourself, the full text can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats from Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: How to Become a Lightning Calculator

Our latest project to pass through Distributed Proofreaders into Project Gutenberg is How to Become a Lightning Calculator, part of a series of tiny chapbooks — around the size of playing cards — which were marketed as the “Smallest Magazine in the World:” the Multum in Parvo Library.

This particular issue, as the title suggests, is a collection of tips and tricks for performing mathematical operations more quickly, with the first half mostly concerned with basic arithmetic and the second half focused on financial matters, particularly interest calculations. Because of the text’s brevity and age, these tips may not be especially helpful to modern readers, but they serve as an interesting document of how math was presented to the general readership in the late 19th century.

If you want to dive deeper, you can read the entire book online, or download it in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: The Safety First Club and the Flood

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, produced through the Distributed Proofreaders project, is The Safety First Club and the Flood by W. T. Nichols, the second book of a three-volume series about a group of teenagers whose club motto is “safety first.” While this was fairly transparently written with the intent of encouraging young readers to behave more responsibly, it also serves as a document of the slang, school life and pastimes of early 20th-century youth.

This particular volume focuses on the friendship between the titular club and an older boy from out of town. The boys experience fun, adventure and mishaps during snowy winter weather, and the title rather gives away what happens when all that snow starts to thaw….

If you’re interested in reading the book for yourself, it can be accessed online (or downloaded in popular eBook formats) through Project Gutenberg.


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Last Modified: February 16, 2021