Archive for April, 2013


The Strange Woman

April 30, 2013

Usually a novelization of a play retains a fair amount of the original structure. The author of the novel may add in new locations and stuff, but you can still tell that, say, one particular group of chapters used to be the second act and originally took place entirely on someone’s front porch, or that one lengthy bit of narration used to be a monologue, or something. The Strange Woman, adapted by Mary McNeil Fenollosa (writing as Sidney McCall) from a play by William Hurlbut, puzzled me because I couldn’t see the underlying structure of the play, and none of it seemed like it had come from a play — until more than halfway through the book, when John Hemingway returns from Paris with his fiancée. Or his sort of fiancée. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Mystery

April 23, 2013

Halfway through The Mystery, by Samuel Hopkins Adams and Stewart Edward White, I decided that I definitely was not going to review it. But now that I’m done, I kind of feel like I have to. It’s just so weird. At least, it seemed weird do me, but I’m not really in the habit of reading slightly sci-fi pirate-y horror stories, so. Read the rest of this entry ?


Parnassus on Wheels

April 22, 2013

Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley, is probably everything it should be, but I’m still a little bit more delighted by the premise than by the book itself. The premise is this: Helen and Andrew McGill are siblings who combined their resources to buy a farm. Andrew learned to farm, Helen learned to cook and housekeep, and they did pretty well for themselves until Andrew wrote a bestselling book and began to take his own hype too seriously. He started going off on walking tours and things, leaving Helen to run the farm on her own, and she, not unreasonably, got increasingly frustrated with him. That’s where things stand when Roger Mifflin, itinerant bookseller, shows up in his gypsy caravan/bookstore, wanting to sell it to Andrew. Read the rest of this entry ?


Average Jones

April 20, 2013

Predictably, The Flagrant Years left me wanting to read more Samuel Hopkins Adams. Less predictably, it mostly made me want to reread books of his I’d already read. So I thought I’d take advantage of the impulse and finally review Average Jones, which I’ve now read three times.

Average Jones comes by his nickname fairly — his full name is Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones — and he’s the star of a series of linked short stories in which he solves mysteries having to do with advertisements. His career as an advertising expert (or Ad-Visor, as his cards say) begins as a hobby and at the suggestion of his friend Mr. Waldemar, editor of an important newspaper. Waldemar and another friend, Bertram, act as occasional sidekicks, but Jones is the only character who appears in every story.
The mysteries are clever and unusual, although Adams does have a disconcerting fondness for putting dead dogs in his stories. The mysteries mostly take place within the five boroughs, but one takes place in Baltimore and another in Baja California. I’m not sure which story is my favorite, but I know which advertisement is:
     WANTED—Ten thousand loathly black beetles, by
     A leaseholder who contracted to leave a house in the
     same condition as he found it. Ackroyd,
     100 W. Sixteenth St. New York
I don’t know what else to say about it — it’s just thoroughly delightful, in an unassuming, cheerful kind of way. It’s a good example of Samuel Hopkins Adams and of humorous mystery stories. If you’ve been wondering where to start with Adams, this might be the place.

The Flagrant Years

April 18, 2013

The Flagrant Years is Samuel Hopkins Adams’ novel of the cosmetics industry. I say “of” rather than “about” because while most of it takes place in a Fifth Avenue beauty parlor, mostly it’s about people. You get the impression that if Consuelo Barrett’s job search had led her to a different industry, the novel would have followed her there. It would be a wrong impression, because Adams clearly knew what he meant to write about, but this is exactly the kind of sleight of hand he’s best at — his ridiculously engaging characters are there to mask the lump of information he’s forcing down your throat and it actually works. Read the rest of this entry ?


Fun with the New York Public Library

April 17, 2013

Yesterday I took a day off from work and spent the afternoon at the library. It’s been a while since I did that, but last time I was unemployed I used to go once a week. I don’t remember whether I’ve described this before, but it’s great. I go to the main branch of the New York Public Library — the building with the lions out front and rotating exhibitions inside — and go up to the third floor, where the Rose Main Reading Room is. The Rose Main Reading Room is really two big, long rooms with rows of wooden tables and bookshelves all along the walls. The way they have it set up right now, you go into one of these rooms, consult one of the catalog computers, and fill out little paper slips indicating which books you want. You can hand in three of these slips every fifteen minutes.

When you hand in your slips, you get a number. Then you go to the other room and wait while people go find your book and send it up to the reading room in what’s basically a big dumbwaiter. There’s an big screen there showing all of the numbers that have books waiting. When your number comes up, you go up to the desk, show them your library card and get to take your books to a table, where you can read and gaze raptly at the ceiling every once in a while. The ceiling looks like this.

This is how you get access to all of the popular fiction that’s no longer in circulation. You used to be able to get pretty much anything on no notice, but now they store a lot of the books off-site. Look things up in the online catalog before you show up. What you’re looking for is things that say “In-library use only” and specify the item’s location as “Schwarzman Building – Main Reading Room 315”. The ones stored off-site are labeled “Available by request”. They only started moving stuff off-site recently, so I haven’t tried requesting yet.

I meant to start this post with something more along the lines of, “Yesterday I want to the library and read kind of a delightful book by Samuel Hopkins Adams,” but I guess I got a little carried away. Perhaps Adams’ venture into the world of 1920s beauty parlors is a subject for another post.