Showing posts sorted by relevance for query nabu. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query nabu. Sort by date Show all posts

05 June 2013

Frank L. Packard's Wire Thriller (and others)

My review of Frank L. Packard's The Wire Devils, newly reissued by the University of Minnesota Press, is now up on the Montreal Review of Books website. You can read it here.

How good it is to see Packard return to print. Yes, some of the man's work has been available from POD publishers, but just how much confidence can one have in things like this "Frank L. 1877-1942 Packard" edition from Nabu Press.

Wait, isn't that Montreal's Spiš Castle? You know, the one built by 12-century Hungarians? sells Nabu's The Wire Devils for $31.54, and the new University of Minnesota Press edition at $12.96. I recommend the latter – and not because I'm cheap. The UMP's is not only free of the "missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc." that plague Nabu, but includes a very fine Introduction by Robert MacDougall of the University of Western Ontario.

Prof MacDougall describes the novel as a wire thriller, late 19th and early 20th-century works that use the railroad, telegraph and telephone "as a backdrop for adventure." Dime novelist Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey penned Fighting Electric Fiends (1898) and his Street & Smith stablemate Franklin Pitt served up Brothers of the Thin Wire (1915), but I think it was Canadians, in Packard and Arthur Stringer, who dominated the genre.

The Wire Devils first appeared as a serial that ran over six issues in The Popular Magazine (20 March - 7 June 1917), was published in Canada by Copp Clark, the US by George H. Doran and A.L. Burt, and in the United Kingdom enjoyed two Hodder & Stoughton editions.

Messrs Dey and Pitt would've envied Frank L. Packard's success, but I'd argue that the true King of the Wire Thrillers was the handsome, savvy Arthur Stringer.

As far as I can tell his first foray into the genre was a short story, "The Wire Tappers", published in the August 1903 issue of Smart Set. I've not seen it, but am willing to bet that it was the basis of Stringer's 1906 novel of the same name.

The next year brought Phantom Wires. By far the most commercially successful wire thriller, it saw editions from Little, Brown, Musson, McClelland & Stewart and Bobbs-Merrill, It's likely that the last, a cheapo from A.L. Burt, appeared in 1924.

Even in 1906 and 1907, when first editions of The Wire Tappers and Phantom Wires sat on bookstore shelves, the wire thriller must have seemed a touch old-fashioned. "Look!" exclaims the heroine of the latter "they're talking with their wireless!" Stringer anticipated the future by following the two with The Gun Runner, a novel in which a wireless operator from Nova Scotia plays hero.

Whither the fax thriller?

The Wire Tappers
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922

07 December 2013

V is for Vulture: The Bad Luck of Ginger Coffey

Longtime readers will recognize Slovakia's Spiš Castle, oft-used in covers spewed forth by Nabu Press. The disreputable print on demand publisher has slapped the very same image on everything from a Montreal tourist guide to the memoir of a lady pioneer in Canada's backwoods. Here it is again on the cover of James Alexander Teit's Traditions of the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia: 

I'd always thought of Nabu Press as scavengers, not pirates, so was surprised in October to come across their edition of The Luck of Ginger Coffey on Brian Moore having died in 1999, it's not due to enter public domain in Canada until 2050.

What gives?

The answer is simple: The text was scanned by the Universal Library; the Internet Archive converted the scans; Nabu feeds off the Internet Archive. Errors abound.

The fanboy in me was quick to write the agent handling Moore's literary estate.

No response.

Meanwhile, a second vulture has moved in.

Hey, I tried.

And, no, I will not provide the link.

An aside: At C$17.87, we Canadians are really getting a deal; Amazon is charging much more in other countries. Fine upstanding people are reminded that the novel is published here as part of McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library. The Afterword by Keath Fraser is an added treat.

22 October 2012

Through the Unchanging East with Robert Barr

The Unchanging East; or, Travels and Troubles in the Orient
Robert Barr
Boston: Page, 1900

Robert Barr died one hundred years ago yesterday. I spent much of the morning, afternoon and evening with the man. Yes, I did. The Measure of the Rule (1907) may be Barr's most autobiographical novel, but it's with The Unchanging East that you really get a sense of his character:
When the steamship company sent me their printed rules and regulations, one item therein immediately attracted my attention. It was to the effect that no passenger was allowed to bring liquor on board with him, so this reminded me that certain decoctions were grateful and comforting, as the advertisements say, besides there always being a pleasure in breaking the rules; so I at once brought four bottles from Caledonia in case I should meet some personal friend...
Only a fool or a teetotaler – same thing, really – would pass on the opportunity of joining a man such as this on his travels.

Barr begins in a hansom cab bound for the Manchester docks:
A thick autumn fog, saturated soot in suspension, enveloped the town. The drive from the station proved most unattractive – I should not care to liken it to a trip in Hades for fear of exaggeration, because Hades at least is warm, and I believe the atmosphere must be more clear than that of Manchester.
Mancunians are not alone. The overly sensitive will wish to gird themselves; nearly every place and every people come in for a ribbing on this voyage. Not even the people of Scotland, the land of Barr's birth, are spared. Witness, if you will his comments on that petite Maltanese land mass we 21st-century English speakers know as Gozo:
The island should by right be inhabited by Scotchmen, for it possesses a coin valued at one-sixth of a cent, and if, as the saying has it, the farthing was invented to enable the Scotchmen to contribute to the cause of religion, then the islands of Goza [sic] and Malta should be three times more attractive to us Scotchmen than any other spot on earth.
The only people to draw complete and unqualified praise are "the Druses", whom Barr describes as "a most admirable people, extremely hospitable, ready to share their last crust with any stranger who happens along, invariably refusing money for the services they may render a traveller, and they are always fond of a joke."

Where other fin de siècle travelogues glaze the eyes, Barr's dry humour and observations make this a book that I would not put down. This isn't to say that there is not unpleasantness, but for much of the journey, our author's "troubles" are trivial: street vendors try to take advantage and trips by rail prove uncomfortable. He witnesses no violence, and relays old news of massacre and slaughter with the cold hand of a statistician.

The unchanging east? No longer. Much as I enjoyed the journey, throughout it all I couldn't help but wonder about the grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren of the Syrian women who looked out from the frontispiece.

Object: Two compact, bulky volumes bound in white cloth. Each is 256 pages in length and features 41 plates, one of which captures Black John, "a character the like of which is probably to be found nowhere else than in the Levant."

Access: The problem, of course, is that sets are so often broken up. Only two complete sets are listed online, but both are crummy ex-library copies. Ignore the dealer who describes his offering as "Very Good" – for library discards this is an impossible condition. Putting a set together is a tricky thing in that the work was issued in two separate bindings – one green and one white. Just one copy of volume one is listed online (US$20.00). Volume two (US$18.95 - US$25.85) is three times as plentiful, which is to say that it's not plentiful at all.

Headaches might be avoided by simply buying the single-volume English edition, published in 1900 by Chatto & Windus, except that it seems an even more uncommon beast. The only copy listed online is another library discard. The bookseller is honest – perhaps because it came from a church – describing its condition as "Fair". There was no Canadian edition.

As with so much of our literary heritage that is now in the public domain, print on demand monstrosities abound, Most are offered by folks who don't do the courtesy of indicating exactly which of the two volumes they're crapping out. Pictured right, with a cover photograph of the great northern pines of the Mediterranean, is the excrement offered by infamous Nabu Press.

Twenty-one of our academic libraries, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and the ever reliable Toronto Public Library have copies.

Related post:

14 October 2011

POD Cover of the Month: Montreal for Tourists..

Montreal for Tourists..[sic] by the man known affectionately as "From Old Catalogue" Phelps – a proud publication of Charleston, South Carolina's Nabu Press.

First edition:

Buffalo: Delaware & Hudson, 1904

Runner up:

Update: A friend confirms my suspicion that the mammoth structure depicted is not found in Montreal – or our 'backwoods'. It is, apparently, Spiš Castle, built in the 12th century in what is today eastern Slovakia. The tourist visiting Montreal will find it 6669 kilometres to the east. The longest daytrip.

13 March 2011

Getting to the Fenian Raids

In the Midst of Alarms
Robert Barr
New York: Stokes, 1894

With St Patrick's Day on the horizon thoughts turn to the Fenians. And why not? Their ill-considered incursions helped induce the birth of this country. Tragicomic, the Fenian Raids seem suited for satire, so why is that after nearly fifteen decades this forgotten novel stands alone in using those troublous times as a backdrop?

Never having before read Barr, I had more than modest expectations for this book. After all, the writer was very much respected in his day. True, he was "popular", but so were his friends Joseph Conrad, Henry James and Arthur Conan Doyle. And consider this: as a volunteer soldier, Barr helped defend the Niagara frontier during the raids. Sadly, nothing of his experience seems much in evidence here.

The novel begins well with a strong chapter focused on the reunion of old school chums Stillson Renwick and Richard Yates in a Fenian infested Buffalo hotel. Fifteen years have passed since their last meeting, during which Renwick has become a proper, polite professor at the University of Toronto. Yates, in stark contrast, has quit Canada for a fast-paced life as a New York journalist. He is a drinker, a gambler, a womanizer and overall bon vivant, a man whose drive has very nearly put him behind asylum gates. A change of pace is required – so he's been told – and the journalist has decided a week or two of camping with his passive pal Renwick is just the thing to cure his ills.

The next day, the pair crosses the Niagara into Canada, leaving behind all intrigue and excitement for woodland pleasures. "The Odd Couple Go Camping" isn't much of an idea; Barr seems to recognize as much by introducing Kitty Bartlett and Margaret Howard, two attractive farmers' daughters for the men to pursue. Further pages – chapters, in some instances – are devoted to topics such as soap making, bread baking, and the dueling roles of the rural blacksmith and village grocer in the years preceding Confederation. All quite accurate observations, from what I can tell, but it does become a bit tiresome. The chapter devoted to the mid-19th-century public library policies of Canada West bores even a bookish fellow like myself.

But where are the Fenians in all this? They're rarely mentioned; no one takes the threat of invasion seriously. "They won't venture over", predicts journalist Yates, the man with his ear closest to the ground. "They fight with their mouths. It's the safest way."

When the Fenians do finally invade, well over half-way through the novel, encounters are fleeting. Renwick and Yates are captured, marched to the Fenian camp, have a brief exchange with "General" John O'Neill, and are released. The professor and the journalist are far away when the fighting begins. Barr's description of the absurd comedy of errors that was the Battle of Ridgeway is limited to a dispassionate, two-page factual account that reads like something ripped from an old high school textbook.

"The farce is known as the Battle of Ridgeway, and would have been comical had it not been that death hovered over it," Barr concludes.

Too soon?

Bloomer: "Touch a man on his business, and he generally responds by being interested."

Object: A small volume with microscopic type, this "SECOND EDITION" features five substandard illustrations by C. Moore Smith.

Small wonder that later editions featured scenes imagined by the talented Harrison Fisher.

Access: Our academic libraries succeed while our public libraries fail. Those of Fort Erie, Port Colborne and Welland, all key communities in the Battle of Ridgeway, lack copies. In Canada, only the taxpayers of Toronto and Vancouver are properly served. The novel is much more common south of the border.

In the Midst of Alarms was a bestseller in its day, and was reprinted for many years thereafter, but there isn't much evidence of this online. The armful of 19th-century copies currently listed range between ten and thirty dollars. As might be expected, print on demand farms dominate, displaying editions of ugliness and ineptitude. Nabu Press is the worst offender, offering the booklover a choice of covers depicting the snow covered mountains of southern Ontario and the ancient ruins of Fort Erie.

31 January 2013

The Hell That is Retail: 1912 Edition

The House of Windows
Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
London: Cassell, 1912

Writing on Ontario, opium and cocaine in Isabel Ecclestone Mackay's 1917 Up the Hill and Over, I reported that the novel featured "perhaps the most remarkable and improbable coincidence in all of Canadian literature." The House of Windows challenges in an entirely different way. Here the reader must believe that all characters remain blind to coincidence, conduction and consonance, and are each incapable of concomitance.

Mrs Mackay's story begins in the ribbon department of Angus and Sons, a fictitious department story in a fictitious city that appears to have been modelled upon Toronto. It's the day of the semi-annual sale,
with frenzied women causing chaos through collapsing displays. "SACRIFICE OF ALL RIBBONS WITHOUT RESERVE," the adverts announce, "EVERYTHING SLAUGHTERED!" At the end of it all, the shop-girls – known as "Stores" – wade through paper from the unwound bolts to find an abandoned go-cart with baby girl within. There's some talk of calling the police, but the newest Store, Celia Brown, comes forward to care for the child as she would a sister.

Not one of the shop-girls, good-hearted Celia included, gives so much as fleeting consideration of the news dominating the city's dailies. Baby Elice, daughter of wealthy Adam Torrence and wife, has been kidnapped. This tragedy will soon lead to the premature death of poor Mrs Torrence. Devastated widower Adam, bereft of wife and child, will take young Mark Wareham, a not so distant relative, to be his ward.

As Christine Brown, the abandoned baby is raised by Celia and her blind sister Ada. She grows to become a beautiful young woman, while spinster Celia loses looks and energy. Angus and Sons is to blame for the latter's decline. The work of a Store – ten hours a day, six days a week – is hard. Everyone knows that the stools behind the counters are just for show.

You musn't blame Celia's employer – who, as it turns out, is Adam Torrence. This man of wealth pays little attention to the store, and even less to the Stores, because the money they bring flows so steadily. Thoughts that stray in the direction of Angus and Sons invariably concern propriety. Adam is firm that all shop-girls hired have additional sources of income lest they turn to... become... find themselves... Oh, he cannot bring himself to express his fears.

Crisis comes to the cramped Brown flat when Celia suffers a nervous breakdown. It's unfortunate, of course, but her timing is good in that Christine has secretly been job hunting. During her search she meets Adam's unofficially adopted son Mark. The moment, which takes place when he pushes a man to the ground for daring to talk to her, is captured in illustrator Dudley Tennant's frontispiece.

Mark falls for Christine in such a way that the throb escapes no one. Disapproving his dalliance with someone named "Brown", someone who is plainly of the lowest class, the Torrence family – Adam and elder sister Miriam – dispatch Mark to Vancouver.

Adam is next to happen upon Christine. For a moment he gives consideration that this Miss Brown might be the same  young woman in whom Mark is interested – but then Brown is such a very common name of very common people. That said, Adam is distracted, bothered and fairly won over by Christine. She is very much a lady, despite her lowly family. The mere description of her hair – "honey blonde" – brings to mind that of his dear late wife. And, oh, doesn't Christine have the same eyes, laugh and smile of his dear departed sister.

Sixteen years into the story, everyone meets everyone else, which I suppose can be put down to coincidence. It's at this point that another plot, a nefarious plot, is revealed. We learn that Christine (née Elice) had been kidnapped all those years ago by an old crone who believed her daughter was ruined in working at Angus and Son. The poor Store turned to... became... found herself... Oh, I cannot say.

Weirdly, improbably, the crone thought that by leaving Elice in the ribbon department the girl would grow up to work in the store. Weirdly, improbably, she was right.

Christine – Elice, if you prefer – is kidnapped a second time. More coincidences ensue. I recognized them all.

Query: How is it that the Stores made no connection between kidnapped Baby Elice and the infant that had left in the ribbon department? Celia explains it all:
"We read it in the papers. But we did not feel especially interested. We did not know who Mr. Torrence was. He was just a name. We did not know he had any connect with the Stores. And this baby – so evidently a neglected and unwanted child! – it would have been a miracle if the coincidence had struck us."

Object and Access: My copy, inscribed by the author, was purchased just last month for US$25 from an Illinois bookseller; I'm thinking it's a first edition. While there are four copies currently listed online, each from sellers who claim the same, at least two lack the elegant monogram pictured above. I suggest that these are at best second state. Either way, expect to pay between US$50 and US$100.

Being in the public domain, print on demand vultures are all over this one. Nabu, General, Pranava and Repressed bring their usual ugliness, but the worst comes from the confusingly-named Book on Demand of Miami, Florida:
This book, "The house of windows" [sic], by Isabel Ecclestone 1875-1928 Mackay [sic], is a replication. It has been restored by human beings, page by page, so that you may enjoy it in a form as close to the original as possible. This item is printed on demand. Thank you for supporting classic literature.
You're welcome. Now, if you could just put some human beings to work on that cover.

Nearly all our universities have copies, as do the public libraries of Toronto and Vancouver. Library and Archives fails yet again – given current policy, one wonders whether it will ever procure a copy.

03 January 2014

No Nurture, Just Nature

A Splendid Sin
Grant Allen
London: F.V. White, 1898

Scandalous in its day, time and changing mores have rendered the shocking tame, laying bare a very weak plot. The soft centre is occupied by wealthy Englishman Hubert Egremont and his betrothed, Fede, Marchesa Tomabouni. What fiancée sees in fiancé is a bit of a mystery, though it may have something to do with physique and athletic ability. Handsome Hubert can climb mountains using only his bare hands, but you wouldn't want him at your dinner party. Upright, uptight and boorish, he fancies himself a physiologist and, at age twenty, a leading authority in all matters pertaining to heredity.

Hubert's is a privileged life built upon pedigree. Sadness lies only in that he never knew his father, Colonel Egremont; sustenance is found in stories that his sire was "one of the finest built-soldiers in the British army… a man to be proud of." And yet, Hubert wants more:
"I only wish I could ever have seen my own father. One would like to know what noble characteristics, what intellectual traits one has a chance of inheriting; for to a physiologist, of course, heredity's everything."
As if in answer to Hubert's wish, Papa reappears, seemingly from the grave, intruding on a pre-nuptial meeting of the Egremonts and Tomabounis in a fancy Swiss hotel. A "creature" – Allen uses the word thirty-one times – the elder Egremont is revealed as a bloated, vulgar, drunken villain with an uncanny ability to show up at the very worst time for all involved save himself. Physiologist Hubert is horrified. "I am what I hate", he tells himself. "I am, potentially, all that in my father revolts and disgusts me." He then runs to Mother, who relates an awful story of abuse she'd suffered as a child, culminating in forced marriage. Still, Hubert is unmoved:
"It was a dishonour to yourself and a wrong to me. Epilepsy, insanity, drunkenness, paralysis – how could you burden your son with such legacies as those, mother?… And even if you once married him, how could you continue to live with him? And how could you bring children of your own into the world for him – half his, half yours – hereditary drunkards, hereditary madmen?"
It's next off to newfound Father, so that he may "burst out bitterly": "How dare you reproduce your own vile image?"

Then it's back to Mother, to deliver another lecture: "Every woman is the guardian of her own purity. To live with a man she loathes is a dishonour and degradation to her own body."

I was enjoying that self-important prick Hubert's suffering, so was greatly disappointed when his mother rescues him from torment by revealing that Colonel is not his father, rather he is the result of an affair with an American poet now dead.

I shouldn't have been surprised; there was much talk of the poet, an intimate of Marchese Tomabouni, earlier in the book. Where Colonel Egremont is a creature, the poet is invariably described as a "Man" – who stands with Giuseppes Mazzini and Garibaldi in having "so deeply stirred the soul of Italy".

Of course, he also stirred something within Hubert's mother:
"He was beautiful and noble-hearted," Mrs Egremont went on – "a leader among men; a teacher and thinker; and there, in those glorious streets, among those glorious churches, he taught me new lessons – oh, Hubert, dare I say them? He taught me it was wrong for me to remain one day longer under the same roof with the husband whom I loathed – told me in almost the self-same words as those you used to-day, that in yielding myself up to a man I despised, I profaned and dishonoured my own body."
The poet, it seems, restored honour to Mrs Egromont's body:
"One evening at Venice," the mother continued, "he pressed me close to his heart – his great beautiful heart – oh, close, so close; and he cried aloud to me, in a sense I had never before realized, those beautiful words, 'Whom God hath joined, let not man put asunder.'"
A simple "Oh, God!" is a more common cry at such moments, but then he was a poet.

The climax of the book, the sixty-one pages that follow aren't really worth the effort. The reader is given reason to believe that the creature Colonel is hatching some sort of clever scheme, but this turns out to be nothing more than a simple break and enter in search of incriminating letters. Caught in the act, he goes mad.

"This collapse is final," Hubert informs those witnessing the pathetic sight. "I knew it was coming."

Oh, that Hubert! Every bit his father's son.

An excerpt from Hubert's 'Philosophy of Love':
With the savage, almost any one squaw is as good as another; he discriminates little between woman and woman. The rustic begins to demand, at least, physical beauty; higher cultivated types are progressively fastidious; they ask for something more than mere ordinary prettiness – they must have soul, and heart, and intelligence, and fancy.
A query: If the tale of the abuse Mrs Egremont suffered at the hands of her cruel mother are true, why is Hubert not concerned that he has inherited similar traits?

Object: A bulky hardcover numbering 244 pages, sixteen of which take the form of a publisher's catalogue. While F.V. White has no more Allens to offer, there are many worthwhile titles, including: Naughty Mrs Gordon by "Rita", Mrs Edward Kennard's Guide Book for Lady Cyclists, and a wealth of novels by John Strange Winter (pseud. Henrietta Eliza Vaughan Stannard).

The endpapers and back cover feature advertisements of a less literary kind.

Access: First published in 1896, the F.V. White edition enjoyed three printings. That same year, George Bell & Sons issued an edition for we in the colonies. It was last published in 1899 by New York publisher F.M. Buckles. So, how is it that this novel is so scarce? My copy, purchased last year from a Mancunian bookseller, is the only I've ever seen for sale. The lone copy listed on WorldCat is found in the Kingston-Frontenac Public Library, a few kilometres from the author's childhood home. Not even the British Library has a copy.

To those tempted by the offerings of print on demand vultures, I offer Nabu's cover for this tale of romance and revelation amongst the Swiss Alps.

Caveat emptor!

22 December 2011

POD Cover of the Month: The Simple Adventures of a Memsahib

Wait, isn't that Montreal?

It seems almost cruel to again focus on Nabu Press, but what better way to begin this day, the 150th anniversary of Sara Jeannette Duncan's birth, than to take a swipe at those dishonouring her work. Using a stock photo of a Slovakian castle for a novel set in India is one thing, but what I find more interesting is the botching of fair Sara's name:
Sara Jeanette (Duncan) "Mrs. Everard Cotes" Cotes
What dog's breakfast lies beneath that cover?

First edition:

New York: Appleton, 1893

A Christmas bonus:

Further ineptitude from POD publisher Echo Library of Fairford, Gloucester. The surname is correct.

Related posts:
POD Cover of the Month: Montreal for Tourists..
POD Cover of the Month: Rila of Ingelside

POD Cover of the Month: Romany of the Snows

04 July 2013

Washington Crossing the Niagara and Other Fantasies for the Fourth of July

George Washington and his Continental Army return from the dead to fight alongside William Lyon Mackenzie in the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. "Remember the Caroline!"

Well, not really.

What we have here is just another inept print on demand package of John Charles Dent's 1885 history of the conflict. The guilty parties this time are Zhingoora Books and their enablers CreateSpace (read: Amazon). The talent behind the cover is the very same fellow who gave us this:

Address your complaints to Mandsaur's Court Collectorate.

When you do, please make mention of the font. I mean, really, just how much of this can anyone take?

Zhingoora Books aren't alone, of course. Old pros Nabu ask us to imagine a world in which the Rebellion brought to ruin buildings that pre-date the colonization of the Americas:

Meanwhile, BiblioBazaar again make use of Heathcliff's ever reliable girl's bicycle.

I'm losing focus. This day belongs not to us but our American cousins. In their Spirit of '76, here are a few of the fine publications offered by VDM and their bastard offspring Bookvita and Betascript:

How far our two great nations have come, bound in friendship, the longest undefended border and all that stuff... but it would be wrong not to acknowledge the many samurai who sacrificed their lives in the War of 1812. Lest we forget, Tutis Classics will remind.

Best Fourth of July wishes to all my American cousins.

A Bonus:

The Story of the Upper Canadian Rebellion
John Charles Dent
Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885