Friday, March 15, 2013

Three Free Books

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927)
I came across the name of this comic novel in Connie Willis' fantastic time-travel novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. The hero of that novel undergoes a Victorian trip up a river (with said dog), and is constantly reminded of Jerome K. Jerome's three men. I love British humor--and funny novels in general--so I've added it to my list for one of those days when I just need a boost.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)
John Carter is a Civil War veteran who finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars, where he is held captive by Green Men, meets a gorgeous alien princess, and fights a battle to save Barsoom. (Barsoom is the native name for Mars.) You may or may not remember the giant flop that was Disney's John Carter. Well, that was based on this series of eleven enormously popular science fantasy novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the man who brought us Tarzan of the Apes, also coincidentally a Disney film).

The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce (1842-?)
Journalist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce's acerbic wit is legendary, and you've probably heard many of the cynical definitions in his Dictionary without realizing where they came from--he's often quoted without proper attribution. The definitions were initially published a feature in a newspaper in 1881 and were later collected in a book. Here's a sampling:

LOVE, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder. [...] It is sometimes fatal, but more frequently to the physician than to the patient.

PATIENCE, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

SELFISH, adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

I could continue, but you should really just get the book for free at Gutenberg. Just be warned: he wasn't called Bitter Bierce for nothing!

Books aside, Bierce himself is an interesting historical figure. For one thing, he looked like this around 1866:

(I'm digging the mustache.Short bio and bibliography here.)

For another, you might have noticed the question mark for his date of death. Some people put it around 1913 or 1914, when at the age of 71 he was in Mexico to observe the Mexican Revolution (led by Pancho Villa) and vanished without a trace.

So you have a cynical, acid-tongued journalist who at the age of 71, controversial in his day, who vanished under mysterious circumstances. Intriguing. His disappearance is one of the great unsolved historical mysteries, and we may never know what really happened to Bitter Bierce.

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