Something to Do in the Meantime

March 5, 2014

While the Distributed Proofreaders website is down, you might like to check out some of the other books we’ve already posted to Project Gutenberg. One you may enjoy is a book I read recently, Poison Romance and Poison Mysteries by CJS Thompson.
Picture of book cover
This thoroughly enjoyable book, published in 1904, begins with an advertisement for the health-giving properties of Eno’s Fruit Salt and ends with an advert from a tea and coffee purveyor. I’m not sure they’d have been too happy at the association with poisons. It’s partly a history of poisons and poisoning and partly a titillating true-crime book, with a foray into criticism of the use of poison in fiction.

  • Enjoy the reviews (all recommended it, except for the Daily Mail, which was a bit sniffy about it)
  • Wonder at the story of poisons throughout human history
  • Thrill as you read the details of actual cases of poisoning
  • Gasp with astonishment at how easy it will be for you to poison someone after reading this book 1
  • Smile at the critique of the unrealistic use of poisons in fiction—even Shakespeare doesn’t escape censure
  • Ponder whether the advertisers knew their products were being advertised in a book about poison
1  Although I don’t think he realised he was writing a poisoner’s manual, and I don’t recommend experimenting. 😉

Interestingly, tobacco is included in the list of poisons, it seems that even in 1904, tobacco was considered harmful by some.

The habitual inhalation of tobacco smoke is undoubtedly harmful, but unless the smoke be intentionally inhaled, very little makes its way into the lungs.

Employed to excess, it enfeebles digestion, produces emaciation and general debility, and is often the beginning of serious nervous disorders.

But on the other hand

Be this as it may, the moderate smoking of tobacco has, in most cases, even beneficial results, and there appears little doubt that it acts as a solace and comfort to the poor as well as the rich. It soothes the restless, calms mental and corporeal inquietude, and produces a condition of repose without a corresponding reaction or after-effect. In adults, especially those liable to mental worry, and all brain workers, its action is often a boon, the only danger being in overstepping the boundary of moderation to excess.

Indeed, at the beginning of the 1600s, King James I is reported as describing smoking as

a custom loathsome to the eye, hatefull to the nose, harmfull to the brain, dangerous to the lungs; and in the black, stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoake of the pit that is bottomlesse

When criticising the fictional depiction of poison, the author’s worst strictures are reserved for

the lady novelist is the greatest sinner in this respect, and stranger poisons are evolved from her fertile brain than were ever known to man.

Real life poisoning cases are described and analysed, including various ladies who were accused of murdering their husbands and lovers, a doctor who murdered his brother in law, another who killed his wife and mother in law, the infamous Neill Cream who killed a number of young women, and a celebrated recent American murder case.

In recommending this book, I really can’t put it better than the reviewers did at the time.

The Saturday Review:—”A great deal of curious information concerning the history of poisons and poisonings.”

Illustrated London News:—”The story portions will attract most attention, and the poisoned gloves and rings of old romance supply satisfaction to that sensational instinct which is absent in hardly one of us.”

The Queen:—”Will fascinate most people. Is very readably written. Its only fault is that it is too short.”

Liverpool Courier:—”It is a readable book as well as an able one. The author is an eminent toxicologist and writes pleasantly on the lore connected with the science.”

The Scotsman:—”It is successful and interesting. Full of odd and startling information.”

Aberdeen Free Press:—”Fascinates the majority of his readers. One could wish that Mr. Thompson had written much more.”

Glasgow Citizen:—”A book of the week.”

Glasgow Herald:—”Light and eminently readable.”

My own review? A fascinating, entertaining book that should be on everybody’s ‘must read’ list.

Spinning-Wheel Stories

February 13, 2014

Some time ago I smooth-read Spinning-Wheel Stories, by Louisa May Alcott. What a fun book to read! I enjoy Alcott’s story-telling style, and her ability to inject small morals into stories without being too preachy most of the time. She has occasional lapses, as most authors do, but in general she is able to capture and hold my interest. This particular book is a collection of short stories, recited to amuse children who are visiting their grandmother over the Christmas holidays. The children are kept indoors by severe winter weather, and are slowly going stir-crazy. In an effort to amuse the children, Grandmother and Aunt Elinore tell them stories each evening.

One of my favorite little stories in this book is the incident where the children are romping in the attic, and they discover the old spinning wheel. Almost everything else in the attic is dusty and obviously has not been touched for a long time. But the spinning wheel is clean and there is still flax on the distaff. The children lug the spinning wheel down to where Grandmother is sitting next to the fire, and the girls ask her to teach them how to spin.

Grandma's Story

Grandma’s Story

A thrilling tale ensues, as the wheel goes round and round while Grandmother begins her story. There are wolves, a race, and much excitement in this story! And best of all, it’s a true tale of Grandmother’s life.

If I still had young children, I would love to read this book with them. The stories told here recount events from days long gone by: spinning wheels, big-wheel bicycles, young girls learning to cook, heroic Native Americans, and many others. I think youngsters today would probably enjoy the stories, given an opportunity to read them.

Funny Books

October 31, 2013

Recently I smooth-read two books for Distributed Proofreaders. Both were funny, and I thought others might enjoy them too.

The first book is titled Bizarre, and was written by Lawton Mackall. It’s a collection of humorous essays and observations on life in general. Among other things, there is a description of pockets that made me laugh out loud! Mr. Mackall wrote about advertisers, and embarrassing advertisements that would pop out at him when he was scanning magazines or papers at public newsstands. I think you’ll agree that not much has changed:

“In short, the race of endorsers, produced by the eugenics of advertising, is not subject to the ills that ordinary flesh is heir to. They are the heroes of the present age, deified, like Greek Orion, in the realms of “space”–long-legged, serene, divinely handsome. We, poor mortals, humbly try to imitate them, and lay our wealth at their shrines, as did the Ancients at the altars of their gods. Our Ceres is Aunt Jemima; our Mercury is Phoebe Snow; our Adonis is the Arrow Collar youth; our Venus is the Physical Culture lady; and our Romulus and Remus are the Gold Dust Twins.”

And another essay that made me laugh was the one about how a new wife should learn to take care of her husband. Makall wrote:

“_Feeding._–This is the most important problem a wife has to face. The husband must be made to feel that he is well fed. Otherwise he will not be contented and docile.

During the first week after marriage, when he is still quite infantile and tender to the point of mushiness, he may be fed from the hand or spoon. This method will be found especially satisfactory in cases where the husband shows symptoms of sickly sentimentality.

Throughout the entire first month he will be so demanding of care, so bewildered by the strange new world in which he finds himself, as to be barely able to maintain sanity; in short, he will be so soso that she will have to prepare all the food herself, or at least make him think she does.

But later a change of diet will be found necessary. He will demand scientifically prepared foods. If the change is managed in the right way, it can be accomplished with only slight upset to his disposition. Simply alter the feeding formula so that the total quantity is lessened and the proportion of sugar and burnt materials is increased. It will soon take effect. In a day or two he will say, with a worried look, “Darling, I’m afraid the cooking is too much for you.” And you know what he really means. After that the transition to avowedly professional cooking will be quite painless.”

If you enjoy chuckling at Life’s little oddities, I think you’ll enjoy Mr. Mackall’s book.

The second amusing book is one titled Funny Epitaphs, Collected by Arthur Wentworth Eaton. I have always enjoyed reading about epitaphs. I don’t know why; there’s just something about them that I find interesting and sometimes enjoyable. And I thoroughly enjoyed the epitaphs recorded there. Here’s one:

John Knott, of Sheffield, England:

Here lies a man that was Knott born,
His father was Knott before him,
He lived Knott, and did Knott die,
Yet underneath this stone doth lie.

I also saw a variation of one of my favorites, which reads:

Here lies the body
Of Jonathan Crowder.
He burst while drinking
A Seidlitz powder.
Called from this world
To his heavenly rest,
He should have waited
Till it effervesced!

There are many other amusing epitaphs recorded in this little book, as well as some that are more poignant than funny. I think it’s worth taking a peek at the book.

I hope you enjoy reading these books as much as I did. Laughter is, after all, the best medicine. Or so the proverbial “they” say!

The Salem witchcraft, The planchette mystery, and Modern spiritualism

March 13, 2013

Some time ago I worked on a few pages of  The Salem witchcraft, The planchette mystery, and Modern spiritualism, a collection of articles reprinted by the Phrenological Journal.

It got me intrigued, so when I was notified the other week that it was available for smooth reading, I downloaded it.

The book contains three articles, as indicated in the title. The first article: The Salem Witchcraft, was what got me so intrigued back then. I had heard of the Salem witches, but never actually knew what happened there, so this was my chance to find out.

The article is a review of the work of Charles W. Upham. I think it is adequate to say that it is a summary of his work, although I am not (yet) familiar with his books.

The article neatly describes what happened in Salem in the 17th Century, tries to explain how and why things took the dreadful course they took. If you are curious to get the whole picture, you are in luck, because you can find Upham’s work on Project Gutenberg, too:

Salem witchcraft; with an account of Salem village and a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects. Volume 1 and 2


Salem Witchcraft and Cotton Mather

But back to the article: it certainly gives you a very good idea of the people, the circumstances and the goings on in Salem and surrounding areas. You can use it as an introduction to the Upham books, or as a good overview if you don’t have the time or inclination to go into too much detail. It certainly left me counting my lucky stars that I didn’t live there and then.

The Planchette

The planchette mystery had me in stitches. It was a welcome distraction after the Salem horrors.

The author tries to lift the mystery of the Planchette. If, like me, you don’t know what a Planchette is, you’ll be a lot wiser by the end of the article. I got to know where it got its name, what it does, even how to use it.

The author of the articles goes to great lengths to show the flaws in theories which don’t fit his conviction, demanding proof of them, while at the same time failing to give a single proof himself.

However, he lists lots of examples of the wondrous results when using a planchette. It must indeed be a tiny miracle. You can have a nearly philosophical discussion with it, and it will answer you (well, it answered the author) in intelligible sentences up to 300 words of length. Go figure. I want a planchette now.

The article about Modern Spiritualism, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe of  Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame, rounds the book off. Mrs Beecher Stowe is a devout Christian and as such has a word or two to say about spiritualism. She laments that the churches don’t go back to their roots and have no comfort to offer, thus involuntarily helping bereft people to search solace in spiritualism. She compares the beliefs and traditions of the primitive Christians of the beginning of Christianity with the Christians of the (her) present day and shows how spiritualism wouldn’t stand a chance if only people still knew that there were angels, Satan and miracles, as Jesus and the Apostles knew. Nobody would ever have to lament a beloved one who died because … but read for yourself.

At first, I thought it was an odd compilation of articles, but on second thoughts I realised the ingenuity of it.

You have one example for the horrors caused by overzealous Christians; one example glorifying phrenology and mesmerism, and one condemning spiritualism and promoting Christianity. All of the phenomena discussed in the book above have one common denominator:

They have no proof.

Join the Smooothathon!

October 1, 2012

It is 12 years today since Distributed Proofreaders started producing quality e-books. During this time more than 23,500 e-books were sent off to Project Gutenberg for the world to read. This calls for some celebration—and what would be a better way to celebrate than to read the books we produce? This is what the Smooothathon is all about. Smooothathon is short for Smooth Reading Marathon—the extra “o” is for the extra smoothness. Like a marathon, it is a challenge—not an individual challenge, but a community challenge: to collectively read as many books as possible. So, like the famous runner in ancient Greece who ran 42 kilometers from Marathon to Athens, the Smooothathon will run for 42 days, from the first of October till November the eleventh, inclusive. This means we are going to read for 42 days!

“How can I take part in the Smooothathon?” you ask? Well, that is easy: Just grab a book from the Smooth Reading Pool and read away. You can read any way you like—on your computer screen, on your e-reader or tablet, or printed on paper. You can read while relaxing with some tea or a cup of hot chocolate, while sitting in the sun on the last warm days of fall or the first warm days of spring—any way you like, any way you enjoy, since enjoyment is what it should be.

Books galore

Lots of books to choose from  by heipei (contact)

There surely are some interesting or fun books to read for you too. Usually there are about 60 to 70 books in the Smooth Reading Pool, covering a wide range of genres, from fiction to poetry to non-fiction, as well as a variety of languages. And new books are being added every day!

This sounds like fun but you are not a member of Distributed Proofreaders? You can join the Smooothathon as well—anyone can read the books in the Smooth Reading Pool. However, if you register with Distributed Proofreaders, you can tell us more easily which books you have read and take part in the Smooothathon discussion on the forum. And you can inform us of any possible errors you find in the books to get them fixed before they are posted to Project Gutenberg. (The Smooth Reading FAQ explains how this is done.)

So grab a book to join the fun, and enjoy the Smooothathon!

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