Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Men Read in 1901



One of my favorite parts of researching Annie's Stories involved figuring out what Stephen Adams would have read, besides The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which he read because he knew Annie Gallagher was interested in it. (You can see this on the cover.)


Jules Verne and H.G. Wells came to mind, but I had to pick novels for my character that would have been available in 1901. Wells had only three novels published by that point, but they were popular: The Time Machine, War of the WorldsThe Island of Doctor MoreauThe First Men in the Moon came out in 1901, and my characters are eagerly awaiting it.

For Verne there were plenty to choose from because he had been publishing for decades at that point. I chose Facing the Flag because I imagine most people today would not be familiar with that one. I wasn't. So because my character, Stephen Adams, was reading it and enjoying it, I had to read it along with him.

Verne's visionary outlook is startling when you think about it. In this novel he wrote about a weapon of mass destruction a hundred years or so before that term was even being used. A brilliant, but somewhat demented, scientist invents a weapon that the countries of the world all want, something that actually happened in the WWII era. You can read about the novel here. The novel is in the public domain so you can get it free on Google Books.

Of course there were classics like The Last of the Mohicans that I assume folks re-read. Libraries existed, but access was not widespread, especially for my characters in Lower Manhattan, so I supposed books got passed around, therefore Stephen and his friend Dexter trade books. There were dime store novels certainly, but my character is looking for bigger books. I wouldn’t call him a literary snob, but he is a discerning reader. That’s why his landlord chose him for some moonlighting work for his publishing company. (You’ll understand if you read Annie’s Stories.)

I left some hints in my novel. One is about a book that would soon be published. I'd love if readers would find that and let me know! Another is about something that Stephen, thinking like the novelists he most admired, imagined would be a keen invention, a device you could use to hear someone read a book to you while you worked.

There are other bookish themes in Annie's Stories, not the least of which is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you haven't read the book by L. Frank Baum, it's also in the public domain. Try it out. It's a bit different than the movie.