Monday, September 2, 2013

A Quaint Look at Country-Style Racism Circa 1887

Shams, or Uncle Ben’s Experience with Hypocrites is one of those curious books from way back in the day.  That day is 1887, to be exact.  Benjamin Morgan, author of the work, wrote a tome well over 100 years ago detailing Uncle Ben’s train trip across the country with his wife.  As the title indicates, he encounters shams and hypocrites along the way, but he also encounters things far stranger to his simple, God-fearing country mind.

Black people.

Chinese people.

 And Jews.

Oh my!

For Uncle Ben (though not so much for his wife, who is portrayed as far more intelligent than he) these people are so alien that it is like he is encountering creatures from Mars.  Of course, I understand that this novel is a product of its time, but reading it I couldn’t help but think it was the kind of thing David Duke would take a liking to in the worst way.  Uncomfortable?  Yes, a bit, but only because I’m not really used to such casually racist descriptions and observations.  (Jews have big, hooked noses and are greedy, for example.)  Morgan didn’t have to promote those stereotypes in his writing, but that he chose to do so and that it was probably well-received at the time is absolutely telling of the era.

Reading Morgan’s book was an exercise in tolerance in many different ways.  The plot was nothing more than warnings about people and how city life differed from good ol’ country livin’.  The racism comes across as being so normal that it was even more offensive than it would have been had it been written to actually stir the pot of xenophobia.  And then there was Uncle Ben.  Yes, we he was trusting rube with absolutely zero street smarts, but he, like so many other people I encounter on a daily basis, came off as if he knew everything about everything there was to know.  Spending several hundred pages with the man was far from fun, and I kept hoping he’d get stabbed or contract some “city disease” most likely given to him by a Chinese man, but he didn’t.  (For the record, if anything were to kill Uncle Ben, it would’ve been a strange Chinese man.  Here’s the book’s description of them: “Their pigeyes and pigtails, greasy, yellow faces and heathenish countenances; their funny shoes, and pantalets breeches, with their shirts hanging outside, was so different from any other kind of folks that I couldn’t keep from looking at them as I would a menagerie, and the way they lived, ate, slept and done business was so peculiar that I come to the conclusion that they must have been dropped down onto the earth from some of the planets.  I presumed they fell from Jupiter, as they look as though they might be a cross between a Jew and the original Peter, for the way they live, move and have their being, is strongly suggestive that they came from some celestial climate, and are bound for the place to which it is said Peter carries the keys, and have stopped temporarily on the surface of old earth to pick up what they can, like flies in the summer, and carry it along with them.  Like the bothersome flies, they are content with a little at a time, but they are all the time after that little, and when I found out there was about 25,000 of them in this city, I could readily see how they managed to get pretty much all the subsistence away from the respectable white laborers.”  Again, this kind of stuff went on for several hundred pages.)

I bought this on eBay, and that’s where it will end up at again sometime soon.  I’m glad I read it, though, as it’s not often you get to read an original copy of something that old, but one read-through is good enough for me.  Maybe I can get Duke to bid on my copy.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Review of my Book and an Interview With ... Me

If you are interested in finding out more about me, you can read Cinema Crazed's interview with me here.  If you want to read a review of Nothing Men that the same site did, you can read that here. (The book can be purchased to the right of this post.)

I want to thank Cinema Crazed, a must-see site for culture junkies.  Danke!

If anyone is interested in doing an interview with me or doing a review of the book, feel free to e-mail me.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

To Evil Comes a Daughter

There are a couple of things you can say about To Evil Comes a Daughter.  First and foremost is that its beginning and end almost feel like two different stories.  Second, its conclusion is not something you see coming … not even close.  You can decide whether that is good or bad.

A writer of one sort or another trying to solve a mystery he has suddenly found himself in the middle of is a conventional plot for books.  (The Screaming Mimi comes to mind.)  Author Allen Caraway undoubtedly knows this, but forges ahead anyway, leaving thankful readers waiting to see what happens next, though fairly unsure of what they will encounter.  What starts out like a ghost story ends up being a murder mystery that is as touching as it is surprising.  There are a few bumps along the way (chiefly being the supernatural element that dominated the beginning of the story and was soon forgotten), but that is fairly forgivable given the strong characters and unseen twists that are thrown at readers.

If anything, I would have liked to have spent more time with Caraway’s characters.  That said, it’s a weak complaint because the story wastes little to no time in getting to its destination, and that’s not something you can easily say these days.  Improbable?  Yes.  Entertaining?  Yes.  Intellectually stimulating?  No.  Not everything has to be, though.  There is, however, another problem that needs mentioning: the book’s title.

I originally read this book under the title Drowning in Shadow.  Its current moniker evokes a Hammer film and acts as a spoiler.  Readers expecting Gothic horror are going to be in for a bit of a surprise, though the beginning of the story will solidify those expectations for a while before crushing them callously.  The original title was better, and I cannot emphasize that enough.

Minor distractions aside, if murder mysteries are your thing -- especially those with a hint of the otherworldly -- then you may want to give this novel a chance.  It won’t change your world, but it is a welcome, simplistic read while waiting for tires to be put on your car, or for when you are enjoying a glass of wine and Ayn Rand seems a bit too heavy.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer:  I did receive this book to review, and clicking on a link could earn me a commission.