Archive for the Rediscovered Category

Teaser Tuesdays — “The Historian As Detective — Essays on Evidence”

Posted in Rediscovered, Teaser Tuesday with tags , , on August 7, 2012 by JE Cornett

“Of course, pornography, scatalogical political pamphlets, and heretical religious tracts are not the only kinds of material that have a tendency to disappear from the public eye. ”

Now you know why I carefully archive all the little religious tracts I find.

That’s a tiny dose of one of my favorite books of all time, The Historian As DetectiveEssays on Evidence, edited by one Robin Winks.

It’s Teaser Tuesday, but it could just as easily be Treasure Tuesday. The Historian As Detective is so little known as to be the quintessential buried literary treasure. So little known, in fact, that neither Amazon or Goodreads has a synopsis for the book, although Google, in the trash-collecting way it has, does. Here’s what the almighty Google Books has to say about The Historian As Detective:

Essays by noted historians of the past and present, on the problems of investigation, offer a series of intriguing case studies in the relationship between historical research and detective fiction.

Yes, and no. The problems of investigation are indeed covered, as are intriguing case studies, but the detective fiction link is murky. What Winks does is illuminate the sometimes-shadowy way the history we’re given is constructed, how historians, much like detectives, sift through mountains of evidence — complete with red herrings, unreliable witnesses, liars and blackguards, just like in a police procedural — to arrive at an acceptable narrative that explains the past.

If it sounds dry and dusty, it’s not, although any copy of The Historian As Detective that you purchase is likely to be. The book has been out of print for decades, despite the fact that Winks, an historian himself (naturally), is a prolific author. It’s a book that’s ripe for rediscovery.

I came by my copy at a Goodwill, enticed by this glorious late 1960s/early 1970s cover:

I’ll readily admit that I did not expect to enjoy The Historian As Detective half as much as I did, but I found that I could not put it down. From essays about the Kennedy assassination to the problem of forged documents, it’s a fascinating read, and worth looking up.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just open your current read to a random page and share a few sentences. Be careful not to include spoilers!


Rediscovered: Theodora Keogh

Posted in E-books, Literature, Paperbacks, Rediscovered, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 3, 2012 by JE Cornett

The mid-century novelist Theodora Keogh’s disappearance  from the popular consciousness demonstrates the difference between books and literature, best-sellers and perennial favorites. Popular fiction – and nonfiction, for that matter – is rarely classic fiction. For every John Updike or Cormac McCarthy, there are dozens of Taylor Caldwells and Cynthia Freemans whose books, for better or for worse, sell well during their era, but are largely forgotten within just a few years. The fact that these books slowly fade from our literary memory is not necessarily an indictment of their quality (although in many cases, it is). Rather, it’s the confluence of several factors: a style that falls from popularity, an author whose momentum is lost, or a subject that seems dated within several years of publication.

Any combination of these factors have acted on Theodora Keogh’s books over the years. Her writing is elegant and modern, even if the pulpy subjects of her books — adolescent girl’s adventures on the mean streets of New York, bored housewife takes brutal lover…

Never mind — let’s read the publisher’s blurb on the back  of Keogh’s The Other Girl:

“She came to Hollywood looking for the answer to the strange hunger in her blood. But not until she met Betty, the tantalizing, voluptuous slut, could she put a name to the passion that was consuming her. The tragic drama of their encounter unwound against the sordid backdrop of Hollywood’s prostitutes and procurers, misfits and rejects–and then exploded in a shocking, and inevitable, climax. “

Contrast that breathless litany with an excerpt from the book:

Almost everyone wore pompadours that year, especially around Hollywood.  Even the men seemed to have a stiff upward swirl on their front locks in timid but stubborn imitation. It was 1946 and World War II was pronounced over.  The West Coast, the sprawl of suburbs around Los Angeles seemed especially suited to this uneasy peace. The crack of atomic doom was like a ringmaster’s whip, forcing to a prance both young and old alike. But Marge did not feel a part of these frantic posturings. No pompadour for her… looking down now on the scurrying women she felt a wave of contempt for those female bodies…

Ah, you know Marge’s contempt does not bode well. After all, you’ve read Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann, so you know that a hard nut like Marge is never going to coming to any good.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the lurid nature of many of Keogh’s books, the author is going through a renaissance of sorts right now. For some inexplicable reason, all of her books are available on Amazon in ebook format for $1.00 each.

There’s a schizophrenic quality to Keogh’s printed output that makes it easy to see why her best fiction was neglected, while the freak-show pulp books fell by the wayside. Keogh writes with a strange, sometimes uncomfortable intensity; an everyday exchange between two young girls in Meg takes on huge proportions, while in the excerpt above from The Other Girl, Marge establishes herself as a less-than sympathetic narrator within the first chapter through her contempt and coldness toward other women. In the best of Keogh’s books, such as Meg and Street Music, this quality in her writing makes for indelible portraits of ordinary people in bizarre circumstances. But this quality lends itself all too well to the type of pulpy sensationalism that Keogh often wrote, like The Other Girl, The Mistress and The Double Door. Because Keogh was an artist of her type, the line is sometimes so blurred, the veering between ugliness that’s real and ugliness for ugliness’ sake so whiplash-inducing, that she produced a couple books that are either genius or pure trash — The Fascinator is one of these.

Ostensibly the story of a rich New York housewife who falls in love with the Fascinator of the title, a famous sculptor (named Zanic, no less), The Fascinator could almost be a companion piece to The Feminine Mystique, so striking is the similarity between Ellen, the protagonist, and Betty Friedan’s middle class housewives consumed by their ennui. Yet it wouldn’t be a Keogh book if there weren’t disturbing, predatory elements to Zanic that sometimes push the book into pulp territory. In this way, it’s almost an inspiration to The Feminine Mystique, predating that book by ten years (The Fascinator was published in 1954), and unwittingly giving Friedan a cautionary tale for all the bored women whose good educations and bright imaginations have led them into adultery and dissolution rather than careers or creativity.

Keogh authored only a handful of books between the publication of Meg in 1950 and her final book, The Other Girl in 1962. While it’s doubtful that her rediscovery and republication in e-book format will vaunt her books into the American literary canon, Keogh is nonetheless worth reading.