February 27, 2017

Book review: Poverty Books — 1902 — “The People of the Abyss” by Jack London

Turn to page 24 of Jack London’s The People of the Abyss, and you’ll find many of the book’s themes on display. The American spent seven weeks in the summer of 1902 investigating — and often living — the life of the poor of the East End of London, the grandest, most powerful and most populous city in the world. Some 450,000 of the city’s 6.2 million people lived in poverty, most of them segregated in the East End. Or, as the writer put it on page 24: At this very moment, 450,000 of these creatures are dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called “London.” Jack London, still trying to make his mark as a writer, had not yet produced the novel that made his reputation, The Call of the Wild. Indeed, he would start that book a few months later, in December, and both the novel and the 128-page non-fiction investigative work would be published in 1903.   “Old woman’s fault” As an example of those “dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit,” London lays out on page 24 of The People of the Abyss the details of the sad life and death of […]
February 16, 2017

Book review: “The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner,” edited by Ron Rapoport

Near the end of The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner, in a section called “Buried Treasure,” editor Ron Rapaport includes this tidbit from a Lardner column about diet and exercise: Like for inst. you wouldn’t go to Babe Ruth for beauty hints no more than you would ask Lillian Gish which cheek to park your tobacco in vs. a left-hander. Rapaport’s newly published book might just as well have been titled Buried Treasure because little of Lardner’s work as a journalist has previously been available despite the high praise he garnered during and after his short life from such literary luminaries as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edmund Wilson. He’s remembered today for his short stories, but, throughout his writing career from 1907 until shortly before his death in 1933 at the age of 48, Lardner was a practicing journalist whose work, often syndicated throughout the nation, attracted a huge audience. His output, too, was huge. For instance, during his career with the Chicago Tribune, he wrote more than 1,600 columns and other stories, most often about sports but also such other topics as politics, Prohibition and World War I.   “Bowed his knees” Although he left Chicago in […]
February 8, 2017

Book review: “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore

Early on, in Secondhand Souls, the report comes from one character to another that the hellhounds are gone. This is important to the plot of Christopher Moore’s 2015 comic novel because the hellhounds — often referred to as the “Irish hellhounds” since that seems to sound better — are the protectors of seven-year-old Sophie who is Death with a Capital D, or, as she shouts in a bit of a tantrum, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita: I am become Death, destroyer of worlds. Except, maybe, she isn’t Big-D Death any more. Which is particularly problematic because, again, as when Sophie was a toddler (and had to save the world), the forces of darkness are gathering and appear on the edge of bringing a thundering end to life as we know it. At least, in San Francisco. So, it’s bad that the Irish hellhounds — Alvin and Mohammed — have disappeared from the scene. Beyond all that, though, there was at least one reader who spent much of Secondhand Souls mourning the absence of the two 400-pound mastiffs who first made their appearance in Moore’s 2006 book A Dirty Job. Let me explain.   Wacky In A Dirty Job, Moore, a […]