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eBook available: The Handy Manual

Once again, a book from our Digital Library has been posted to Project Gutenberg with help from the Distributed Proofreaders project. This latest release is another entry from the Multum in Parvo Library of tiny chapbooks: The Handy Manual: A Veritable Mine of Useful and Interesting Statistics, Information, Etc.

As the title suggests, this book is a collection of random facts, starting with the lifespans of various animals and ending with the dates that American states were admitted to the union (ending with Wyoming in 1890). Like other books in the series, this one was clearly designed with commercial intent; some of the listings transition awkwardly into advertisements, like this set of “Interesting Facts:”

The Atlantic Ocean includes an area of 30,000,000 square miles. Suppose an inch of rain to fall upon only one-fifth of this vast expanse, it would weigh 360,000,000 tons, and the salt which, as water, is held in solution in the sea, and which, when the water was taken up as a vapor, was left behind to disturb the equilibrium, weighed 16,000,000 more tons, or nearly twice as much as all the ships in the world could carry at a cargo each. It might fall in a day; but occupy what time it might in falling, this rain is calculated to exert so much force—which is inconceivably great—in disturbing the equilibrium of the ocean. If all the water discharged by the Mississippi River during the year were taken up in mighty measure, and cast in the ocean at an effort, it would not make a greater disturbance in the equilibrium of the sea than the fall of rain supposed. And yet so gentle are the operations of nature that movements so vast are unperceived. Another interesting fact is that you can get a beautiful garnet and opal ring absolutely free. This great offer is made by a reliable firm to introduce their goods. Send twelve cents in stamps to W. S. Everett & Co., 113 Munroe Street, Lynn, Mass., requesting them to mail you a sample of their celebrated Perfumery, and they will mail free with it a beautiful garnet and opal ring. Send them strip of paper showing size around your finger.

If you’re interested in the rest of the text, you can find the entire book on Project Gutenberg, where you can read it online or download it in popular eBook formats for free.


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eBook available: Dick and Dr. Dan

The latest story to make its way to Project Gutenberg from our Digital Library (with significant help from the Distributed Proofreaders project) is a work of early science fiction: Dick and Dr. Dan; or, The Boy Monster Hunters of the Bad Lands. This story was serialized from March 17 to May 3, 1900 in the Happy Days story paper and was never collected in book form (until now).

The story tells of two boys sent by the National Museum to investigate reports of a Plesiosaurus sighting in the Bad Lands of Wyoming. In addition to featuring standard story paper subplots involving romance, the value of hard work, and stolen inheritances, the story has quite a bit of action involving prehistoric monsters, which is unusual for a paper whose stories were more frequently dominated by more down-to-earth themes like baseball and fire fighting. The fact that the story was quickly forgotten and had no immediate follow-ups or imitators suggests that it came out a bit ahead of its time; a few decades later, this type of story would generate a lot more excitement with young audiences. The similarity between the Plesiosaur’s first appearance here, as portrayed in the cover image, and that of Godzilla in his first film is striking, if almost certainly entirely coincidental.

If you want to check this one out for yourself, the full text can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: Love’s Labor Won

The latest title added to Project Gutenberg by the Distributed Proofreaders project is another dime novel from our Digital Library: Love’s Labor Won, by Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth.

First serialized in the early 1860’s, this novel is set in the early days of America’s independence, spanning from the end of George Washington’s presidency through the War of 1812, though its historical backdrop is of limited significance to the actual plot. The focus of the story is on its characters and their relationships, and in particular on the corrosive effects of a single secret across two generations of a family.

If you’re interested in learning more, the entire book can be read online or downloaded in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: Little Hickory

The latest eBook released to Project Gutenberg by the Distributed Proofreaders project using images from our Digital Library is another dime novel from the Bound-to-Win Library: Little Hickory; or, Ragged Rob’s Young Republic, a “success story” in the mold of Horatio Alger, Jr.

Written by George Waldo Browne using his “Victor St. Clair” pseudonym, the book tells the story of “Ragged Rob,” a young New York bootblack who helps to save Elihu Cornhill, a naive visitor to the city, from scammers and thieves. In gratitude (and because he is horrified by urban living conditions), Cornhill decides to take Rob (plus his family and friends) back to the country to start a new life, but their reception is not quite what he had expected.

This book describes social problems like economic inequity and prejudice in a more detailed and realistic way than many of its contemporaries, but being a dime novel, it ultimately doesn’t try to address them in any serious way, resolving itself through expected genre conventions rather than any attempt at realism. Still, like other popular fiction of its time, it provides a time capsule of social attitudes (not to mention slang).

If you would like to try this one for yourself, you can read it online or download it in popular eBook formats for free through Project Gutenberg.


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eBooks available: Neva’s Three Lovers / Neva’s Choice

Two more Project Gutenberg texts have recently been created by the Distributed Proofreaders project using images from our Digital Library. This time, the books in question are Neva’s Three Lovers and Neva’s Choice, a pair of novels compiled from an earlier story paper serial written by Harriet Lewis, the wife and frequent collaborator of fellow dime novelist Leon Lewis.

The two books are really one continuous story, split up purely because of the story’s length — the first book ends abruptly without so much as a cliffhanger, and the second picks up directly from that stopping point. This story tells of the trials of Neva Wynde, a British woman whose widowed father remarries while she is away at school, and whose new stepmother turns out to be far less noble than her father believes. In the fashion of most story paper serials of its type, there are quite a few romantic entanglements, wild coincidences, and dangerous situations before the inevitable happy ending. Veterans of this genre will probably see most of the plot twists coming, but if you’re not already familiar with the conventions of 19th century melodrama, there might be some surprises in store….

If you want to give the story a try, you can read both books online or download them in popular eBook formats by using the links above.


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eBooks available: Dr. Courtney’s Guide to Happy Marriage / Book of Parlor Tricks

June continues to be an extremely productive month for the Distributed Proofreaders project, which has just released two new Project Gutenberg eBooks based on images from our Digital Library. Both are entries from the Multum in Parvo Library of miniature books.

The first title, Dr. Courtney’s Guide to Happy Marriage, an advice book for couples which contains a blend of practical advice and nineteenth-century sexism. The second title, Book of Parlor Tricks, contains instructions for tricks to amuse friends at parties, though some tricks require the reader to send money for further details, and others haven’t aged well — for example, now that the health risks of mercury are known, it is probably not a good idea to paint it onto your feet just to impress your friends with a fire-walking trick.

Both titles can be read in full (or downloaded in common eBook formats) by following the links above. While neither serves its original intended purpose very well, each is a bite-sized time capsule that sheds a little light on past attitudes and commercial practices.


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eBook available: Under Blanco’s Eye

The Distributed Proofreaders project has continued adding eBooks to Project Gutenberg using images from our Digital Library. The latest release is the first issue of Starry Flag Weekly, a weekly series about the adventures of a young American boy during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Under Blanco’s Eye; or, Hal Maynard among the Cuban Insurgents sets up the story to come, with Hal Maynard, the series’ young protagonist, being trapped in a hostile Cuba while trying to look after his employer’s interests. After being rescued from corrupt Spanish officials by a young Cuban, he decides to join the resistance and proves himself an effective strategist on the battlefield.

Dime novels had a long history of exploiting current events to sell novels, and this series is a striking example of that strategy. Claiming to be written by an author observing the conflict from the front lines, these stories were clearly designed to stoke American patriotism and advance the narrative of an unambiguous scenario in which the Spanish were uniformly evil, the Cubans long-suffering but noble and heroic, and the Americans ready to ride in and save the day. Needless to say, the real historical scenario was significantly more complex. In any case, new adventures incorporating the latest headlines about the war appeared on a weekly basis until the conflict ended and the market consequently dried up.

If you want to check this one out for yourself, you can read it online or download it in popular eBook formats through Project Gutenberg, and you can find most of the sequels in our Digital Library.


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eBook available: Book of Brief Narratives

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, formatted with the help of the Distributed Proofreaders project, is another issue from the Multum in Parvo Library, a collection of tiny chapbooks covering a variety of subjects and billing itself as the “smallest magazine in the world.” This volume, from December, 1894, is the Book of Brief Narratives, another collection of mini-mysteries similar to the previous Book of Detective Stories.

This time around, there are five mysteries and one brief anecdote packed into the book’s sixteen pages. The stories are a bit more diverse than those in the previous collection, and while they are unlikely to astound the modern reader, they at least provide a bit of variety.

If you want to take a look for yourself, you can read the entire book online, or download it in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: In the Volcano’s Mouth

The latest Project Gutenberg produced by the Distributed Proofreaders project from images in our Digital Library is In the Volcano’s Mouth; or, A Boy Against an Army, by Frank Sheridan.

The novel, first serialized as Madcap Max; or, The Man, the Mahdi and the Mamaluke during 1890 in the Golden Hours story paper, tells of the adventures of “Madcap Max,” a young American prankster whose trip to Egypt turns tragic when his father is murdered by bandits. He is rescued by a mysterious young woman, makes some new friends, then has a series of adventures, including deadly encounters with strange creatures in a subterranean river, and eventually becomes deeply involved in the Mahdist War.

Like many works of its time, the book requires a content warning. In addition to containing a startling amount of graphic violence and gore for a book marketed to children, it also includes racist and sexist language and ideas, and its “hero” frequently behaves in appalling ways — such as when one of his pranks ends in the gruesome death of an innocent bystander. However, in spite of these things, the book does contain more nuance than many of its contemporaries — some of its characters directly challenge various prejudices of its time, and its depictions of Muslim characters are more sympathetic than some found in much more recent entertainment media.

It seems unlikely that the author of this book set out to advance any particular social agenda; it is much more likely that his goal was simply to entertain with a series of “thrilling incidents” partially inspired by then-current events — the 19th century equivalent of an action movie. Whatever the motivation behind it, the book’s mixed messages and puzzling creative decisions make it an unexpectedly interesting read, perhaps raising more questions than are answered, but shedding some light on the complexity of the cultural landscape in which it was produced.

If you would like to see it for yourself (and can stomach some of the less tasteful aspects of the text), the entire book can be read online, or downloaded in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


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eBook available: Book of Detective Stories

Our latest Project Gutenberg release, courtesy of the Distributed Proofreaders project, is another entry in the Multum in Parvo Library, a set of tiny chapbooks covering a variety of subjects. This volume, from November, 1894, is the Book of Detective Stories, one of the series’ collections of extremely brief fiction. The book’s 16 small pages contain four (or five, depending on how you count them) miniature mystery tales. A contemporary mystery reader probably won’t find a lot of surprises here, but the stories are certainly compact.

If you want to sample these for yourself, you can read the entire book online, or download it in popular eBook formats, through Project Gutenberg.


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Last Modified: May 15, 2022