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The Telegraph Boy

July 14, 2009

So, I have this New York Book Company edition of Horatio Alger’s The Telegraph Boy. I think I got it at The Book Barn more than a year ago. Anyway, it’s been sitting on a shelf on my family’s house upstate for kind of a while, because I compulsively buy Alger books and forget to read them. This past weekend, though, I forgot my Kindle at a 4th of July party and ended up being without it for, um…twenty hours? Which resulted in me reading a couple of actual physical books that I wouldn’t have read otherwise, one of which was The Telegraph Boy.

(I recognize that I am overly attached to my Kindle. I may actually be as attached to it as my brother once was to his Gameboy Color, which is saying a lot. I feel bad about this, because I really do love actual paper books, especially when they’re old and the pages are turning brown and they smell kind of weird.)

Anyway, the point of this post is that I rarely finish an Alger book and think to myself, that was really good. In fact, I’m not sure that’s ever happened before, and I love Alger more than the vast majority of people, I think. I don’t know what made The Telegraph Boy work so well for me, but here are some guesses:

-Alger isn’t as insistent about the hero being perfect as he often is. Frank Kavanaugh is surprisingly low-key as a character. Comparitively, I mean.

-Most of the family stuff gets pushed to the side. It’s allowed to be comic relief instead of a main plotline.

-No one enemy gets too much space. Also the two main enemies don’t team up. I hate it when that happens. It’s like that bit in Ashton-Kirk, Investigator where Ashton-Kirk concludes that two otherwise unconnected people must have known each other because they were both heavy drinkers.

-The telegraph boy thing is pretty cool. There are offices around the city, each with a bunch of boys assigned to them, and people call up with odd jobs for them to do. Frank gets to walk dogs, extract wealthy young men from gambling dens, pawn jewelry, and solve mysteries.

-There is a mystery involving embezzlement that has more detail about the detective work involved than many actual detective novels from this time period. And that’s even with Alger cutting out most of the legwork by saying something along the lines of, “it took Frank a while to figure out exactly what was going on.”

Or maybe I just read it at the right time, with the right mindset. It’s just–of the many things I love about Horatio Alger Jr., the feeling you get after finishing a really good book hasn’t been one of them before.

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