Thursday, October 3, 2013

Flashy, ten cent, yellow-covered literature

David’s post on becoming a better writer by reading the products of other writers’ hard work reminded me of a website that I discovered some time ago; albeit for the wrong reason. I had to really search what I was looking for, because bookmarking sites was a novelty back in the 19th Century when I first found it… Give me a second… Eureka! Here it is, this gem that I discovered while researching an Old West story idea. Yep...there it is in all of its glory.
Let me shake the dust off and smooth out the page before I present to you an argument countering David’s “reading makes us better writers” philosophy:
Novel reading leads to assassinations!
BOOTH AND BAD LITERATURE (Sampled from “The Youth's Companion”, May 11, 1865, p. 74 are my own)
In the foul stroke that laid low the honored head of our late president we witness the force and emphasis of a stage-actor's education superadded to the morals of slavery.
…The education of John Wilkes Booth had fitted him to act the part of murderer of our President. It had familiarized him with every species of tragedy till a murder meant nothing more to him than a move on a checker-board.
It had accustomed him, through considerable success in ranting his tragic learning on the stage, to expect applause for adroitly acting the parts of cutthroat and traitor. It had qualified him for all the preliminary and actual details of a capital crime--how to plan it, how to do it, and how to escape its consequences--and finally, it had fired him with a silly and wicked ambition to make himself a hero by killing a great and good man; add the fact that he was brought up with Southern principles, and you have all the conditions of the murder.
The horrible details are already familiar to the readers. The unparalleled hardihood, and coolness, and success of that high crime strike us with astonishment. But the assassin's education explains the whole.
Does any young man feel as if he would like to be educated to do as daringly and dexterously as did Booth? Let him keep on, then, reading the bloody tales of the weekly story papers, or the flashy, ten cent, yellow-covered literature sold in almost every book store. He will soon learn how to be a hero of the approved romantic type. But, young friend, if you have any regard for your character, your future standing in society, the credit of your families, your own peace and the welfare of your souls, let such reading alone! Why should you suffer yourself to trace hour after hour the foul workings of human revenge, jealousy, malice and corruption, because some writer has woven them into intoxicating fiction? God has better pastime for you; better literature than that for your leisure hours. There is no aliment for the mind in that reading. Rather never read a printed line. Such material stimulates only the bad in your nature.
We know the difference between offal-fed meat and meat fed on solid corn. The first ill-grained, washy and deleterious, the second substantial and healthy. Mind fed on offal follows the same law as meat. Victims of this intellectual and moral debasement are seen dawdling through society in every city and town, communicating poison to all who touch them. They are found in every low resort where the slang of vice is spoken; gaping about play-houses, and taking the lead in street riots. The penitentiary and the insane hospital harvest every year some of the avails of this literary garbage.
Avoid it, young men and women, as you would the plague; as you would murder and treason!
An argument, my fellow writers, that is thoroughly thought out and convincingly conveyed, no? So, I must ask you, fellow Forgers: what are you reading? And who are you stalking?


  1. Well, after that post, I'm stalking YOU, Randy! LOL, what a classic. And I suspect several sunny states have already adopted The Youth's Companion as part of their own public school curriculum! Er, wait, that would mean reading a book, wouldn't it? What a conundrum for those poor folks!!

    And BTW among several other things I'm enjoying right now, I just started Sena Naslund's new novel Fountain of St. James Court; or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman. Marvelous voice, echoes of Mrs. Dalloway and Woolf and of course the Joycean billboard, in alternating chapters (so far, anyway) shifting between the present (Fountain) where the protagonist writer lives by the St. James Fountain in Louisville and has just completed a solid draft of her ninth novel; and past (Portrait) showing the text of the writer's novel set in revolutionary France about an artist recalling her youth and the revolution. Come on in: "No matter it was almost midnight, she would deliver the manuscript herself." Okay, I'm hooked!

  2. Damn Randy, come out of the stacks and into the light! Nice job, but you need to get out more. We really need to take you to more than just Applebee's before the group meeting. The stacks are getting to you. I know this is sort of off subject but you reminded me of all our love of reading as well of writing. For me it was a man like Tom Clancy who just died that gave a spark that maybe I could do something like that. And then when we join a group like ours and we find a collection of such writers like we have with a wide range of genres that I have never read Nowak, McCord, Bartlett, Carson, Kephart, Evans, Fifer, Gamble, Jensen, and all the people on this blog, almost all of representing a different genre. We are blessed Randy to belong to this bunch and to be exposed to so many different forms of writing. What am I reading? Look at it all.

  3. Wait, where are my royalties, Keith?

    LOL, It is indeed a reward in itself when others read your words, even--or perhaps especially--when they do so with an express goal of digging deep and helping you improve them.

  4. Keith -- Yes, I definitely need to get out more! Anything that wakes me from the haze of research and research-as-an-excuse-to-not-submit will do, whether it's another hangout, smelling salts, or a good slap in the face. Note: I want Mike's silky soft hand to do the slapping.

    Serious suggestion: Why don't we take a journey into Naslund's new book? All of us, Forgers and Forger Fans alike. We can then discuss it in Group and on the blog. Does blogging support such a wide discussion? I like this idea, and I am unanimous on that! (Logistics aside)

  5. Hey, I'd love to read something together and share our thoughts. Maybe instead of a fairly long literary novel, how about a collection of short stories? Olive Kitteridge comes to mind as a fabulous series of linked stories about an unforgettable character, one of the meanest old women you'd ever want to meet. And yet....

  6. I'm in! And yes, I'd love to have the whole group read those stories and discuss, maybe one every other month or so? I just reread the first story, "Pharmacy" and was once again blown away!

  7. Oh YEAH, Pharmacy...perfect for me. Jerks!