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6 Beach Reads From 100 Years Ago

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Most of the old books that you encounter today are official “classics,” meaning that though they were written centuries ago, they carry some lasting beauty, some deep human truth that transpires age. And many of them are painfully dry—you only read them because you want to be able to say, “I felt Hugo expressed more pathos for the French underclasses in Les Miserables than in The Hunchback of Notre Dame” at parties. (And you will remember to pronounce “Dame” as “Dahm.”)

But don’t forget, people of 100 years ago didn’t like to be bored any more than you do! They might have had longer attention spans, but they still liked to devote those attention spans to something fun. Mysteries, thrillers, romances, and fantasy abounded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We’ve just forgotten about them because not enough English professors write dissertations about crime-fighting ladies of the Edwardian Age.

So here we present some forgotten, fun reads of the past. Not only are they free on Google Books (except the naughty ones at the bottom!), they’re also mostly free of the bloated language and conventions that put so many readers off old fiction.

1. The Lamplighter, 1854

Genre: Chick-Lit Romance

If you’re in the mood for pure heart rending/warming sentiment, meet little Gertie Flint. She’s a poor orphan, mistreated by the world, until she is rescued by a kindly lamplighter. His fatherly love changes the course of her life. The rest of Maria Susanna Cummins’ bestselling novel is a chance for Gertie to show us how bright, hard-working, and good a young woman can be; and the sweet romantic rewards that await a girl of such virtue.

2. The Hannay Series, 1915

Genre: Espionage Thrillers

You’ve probably heard of the movie(s) The Thirty-nine Steps, as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock were two of many talented people who’ve brought versions of it to radio and screen. What you may not have known is that it is the first book in a five book series of thrillers staring the intrepid Richard Hannay, solider and spy of The Great War. The books were written by Scottish novelist (and Baron, Elected Member of Parliament, and Governor General of Canada) John Buchan. They chronicle Hannay’s life of adventure and espionage throughout WWI, as well as much mystery-solving after it.

3. The Marriage of William Ashe, 1905

Genre: Scandal and Romance

William Ashe, the dashing Earl and successful politician, is enchanted with the beauty and charm of 18-year-old Lady Kitty. He proposes after only knowing her three weeks, and is too infatuated with her to take note of all the gossip regarding her character. What could possibly go wrong? Enter a lover or two, some unladylike behavior, a desperate episode of grief, some very wrong choices, and you have yourself a spellbinding beach read by Mrs. Humphrey Ward.

4. Miss Madelyn Mack, Detective, 1914

Genre: Ladies Solving Crimes

Long before spunky modern heroines began solving mysteries with their cats and knitting societies, even before Miss Marple tottered onto the scene, there was Miss Madelyn Mack. She and her trusty companion, reporter Nora Noraker, take on five mysteries in the book, which reads surprisingly non-sexist for the day (and they were written by a man, Hugh Cosgro Weir). Miss Mack believes that a woman’s observant character makes her a better mystery solver than a man. It’s a bit of a Sherlock Holmes rip-off, to be sure, but then again what mystery solving duo isn’t?

5. Carmilla: a Vampyre Tale, 1872

Genre: Vampires

Predating Dracula by about 25 years, Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, is the story of a lonely girl named Laura who lives in her father’s lonely European castle. One day a carriage rolls out of the mist, and an anxious lady begs to leave her ill daughter with Laura while she tends to a far-away emergency. This girl is Carmilla, and soon she and Laura have formed an intense friendship. Carmilla has peculiar ways, and an undefinable sickness. Not surprising, since people all over town seem to be dying of some strange illness. I bet you can guess what it is. But in 1872, it would have been quite a shock.

6. You Know Me, Al, 1914

Genre: Humor

Firstly, finding any unique humor from the 19th and early 20th centuries is difficult. You can basically choose from the rambling knee slappers of Mark Twain, or the jaunty verbal gymnastics that come from Jerome K. Jerome and the future members of the Algonquin Round Table. But You Know Me, Al, written by sportswriter Ring Lardner, reads altogether different. It’s a series of letters written to “Al” (in a vernacular that is nearly recognizable English) by Jack Keefe, a remarkably dumb and narcissistic baseball player who continually sabotages or lets others sabotage his journey to and from fame. Throw in some disastrous dames and a coupla no good scoundrels all filtered through Jack’s amazing doltishness, and you’ve found yourself an easy fun time there, pal.

Bonus: 50 Shades of Goodness Gracious!

Erotica has been publicized for as long as man could transfer thought to page or stone. The erotic novel, as we know it today, (slightly more lady-friendly and plot heavy than average pornography) began in the 18th century with the publication of The Memoirs of Fanny Hill. The art form progressed, and by the end of the 19th century readers were enjoying such discreetly wrapped and erotic titles as Lady Bumtickler's Revels, The Autobiography of a Flea, and Venus in India. All books are available on Kindle for remarkably reasonable prices, and will be sure to add a little ribaldry to your summer.   

Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Qatar National Library's Panorama-Style Bookshelves Offer Guests Stunning Views
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The newly opened Qatar National Library in the capital city of Doha contains more than 1 million books, some of which date back to the 15th century. Co.Design reports that the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) designed the building so that the texts under its roof are the star attraction.

When guests walk into the library, they're given an eyeful of its collections. The shelves are arranged stadium-style, making it easy to appreciate the sheer number of volumes in the institution's inventory from any spot in the room. Not only is the design photogenic, it's also practical: The shelves, which were built from the same white marble as the floors, are integrated into the building's infrastructure, providing artificial lighting, ventilation, and a book-return system to visitors. The multi-leveled arrangement also gives guests more space to read, browse, and socialize.

"With Qatar National Library, we wanted to express the vitality of the book by creating a design that brings study, research, collaboration, and interaction within the collection itself," OMA writes on its website. "The library is conceived as a single room which houses both people and books."

While most books are on full display, OMA chose a different route for the institution's Heritage Library, which contains many rare, centuries-old texts on Arab-Islamic history. This collection is housed in a sunken space 20 feet below ground level, with beige stone features that stand out from the white marble used elsewhere. Guests need to use a separate entrance to access it, but they can look down at the collection from the ground floor above.

If Qatar is too far of a trip, there are plenty of libraries in the U.S. that are worth a visit. Check out these panoramas of the most stunning examples.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

Qatar library.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images: Arend Kuester, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention

Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]


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