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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Welcome goonlings to the Awful Book of the Month!
In this thread, we choose one work of literature absolute crap and read/discuss it over a month. If you have any suggestions of books, choose something that will be appreciated by many people, and has many avenues of discussion. We'd also appreciate if it were a work of literature complete drivel that is easily located from a local library or book shop, as opposed to ordering something second hand off the internet and missing out on a week's worth of reading. Better yet, books available on e-readers.

Resources:

Project Gutenberg - http://www.gutenberg.org

- A database of over 17000 books available online. If you can suggest books from here, that'd be the best.

SparkNotes - http://www.sparknotes.com/

- A very helpful Cliffnotes-esque site, but much better, in my opinion. If you happen to come in late and need to catch-up, you can get great character/chapter/plot summaries here.

For recommendations on future material, suggestions on how to improve the club, or just a general rant, feel free to PM the moderation team.

Past Books of the Month

[for BOTM before 2019, refer to archives]


2019:
January: Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
February: BEAR by Marian Engel
March: V. by Thomas Pynchon
April: The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout
May: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
June: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
July: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
August: Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay
September: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
October: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
November: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
December: Moby Dick by Herman Melville

2020:
January: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
February: WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin
March: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini
April: The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
May: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Dame Rebecca West
June: The African Queen by C. S. Forester
July: The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale
August: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire, by Howard Pyle
September: Strange Hotel, by Eimear McBride
October:Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (怪談)("Ghost Stories"), by Lafcadio Hearn
November: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) , by Matthew Hongoltz Hetling
December: Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John Drury Clark

2021:

January: The Mark of Zorro by Johnston McCulley
February: How to Read Donald Duck by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart
March: Carrier Wave by Robert Brockway
April: The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brian


Current: You Can't Win by Jack Black



Book available here:

https://archive.org/details/youcantwin00blac/page/n7/mode/2up

https://www.amazon.com/You-Cant-Win-Jack-Black/dp/1902593022

https://archive.org/details/youcantwin00blac

Technically this book is out of copyright but the 1926 original edition is rather difficult to find in a free download, so you may have to pay a dollar or two for a modern ebook edition; it's worth it especially if you get an edition with Burrough's introduction.

About the book

quote:

“I first read You Can’t Win in 1926, in an edition bound in red cardboard,” William S. Burroughs writes in the introduction to a paperback reissue of Jack Black’s classic story. Burroughs never made a secret of the profound influence upon his youthful mind, back in suburban mid-1920s St. Louis, of one book above all others, the true confessions of a wandering West Coast safecracker, petty thief and hobo from the pre-WWI era named John “Jack” Black.



quote:

You Can't Win is an autobiography by burglar and hobo Jack Black, written in the early to mid-1920s and first published in 1926. It describes Black's life on the road, in prison and his various criminal capers in the American and Canadian west from the late 1880s to early 20th century. The book was a major influence upon William S. Burroughs and other Beat writers.


quote:

The main criminal activity of Black's life and of the book is thievery, which leads to discussions of various technical aspects of the thief's "trade", including casing of prospects (surveillance of targets), safe-cracking, fencing of stolen goods, the disposal of evidence, maintaining aliases and avoiding attention or traceability, the social networks of criminals, the experiences of being arrested, questioned, and tried, and the experience of doing time in jails and prisons.

The vices and addictions Black discusses include alcoholism, abuse of opium (hop), gambling, prostitution, and stealing. In his own telling, Black does not seem to have an especial weakness for addictions (for example, he did not become alcoholic himself), but he does describe the addictive allure that gambling and opium held for him in various stages of his life. He expresses an opinion that drug addiction is more psychological than physical; nevertheless, he also admits that breaking himself of a daily opium habit was the toughest battle of his life.

quote:

William S. Burroughs first read the book as an adolescent and cited You Can't Win as influential in his life and writing, mentioning the autobiography in his 1953 book Junkie.[2] He wrote a Foreword to the 1988 edition of You Can't Win which was reprinted in the 2000 edition.

quote:

And if you are a fan of Burroughs or The Beats, you probably need to read You Can’t Win, just for form. I met Burroughs once, when he was doing a signing in City Lights, in company with John Law and Lance Alexander of The Suicide Club, and among other things we asked him about various pulp magazines such as Weird Tales. I was a bit surprised to find that Burroughs knew about Donald Wandrei and his story “The Red Brain” — but I shouldn’t have been surprised. Burroughs was obviously sharper than hell, and what kind of illiterate doesn’t know about stuff like You Can’t Win and “The Red Brain”?

About the Author



quote:

You Can’t Win opens with its author describing his own alienating, off-putting, asymmetrical face, which never opened any doors for him: “I do not scowl, I do not sneer, yet there is something in my face that causes a man or woman to hesitate before asking to be directed to…church. I can’t remember a time that any woman, young or old, ever stopped me on the street and asked… Once in a great while a drunk will roll over to where I am standing and ask how he can get to ‘Tw’ninth n’ Mission.”

“Before my 20th birthday,” he wrote, “I was in the dock of a criminal court, on trial for burglary…I had become a snapper-up of small things, a tapper of tills, a sneak thief, a prowler of cheap lodging houses, and at last a promising burglar in a small way. At 30 I was a respected member of the ‘yegg’ (safecracker) brotherhood…silent, secretive, wary…forever traveling, always a night worker…”

As Black concludes here: “A bleak background!”



Pacing



Read as thou wilt is the whole of the law.

Please post after you read!

Please bookmark the thread to encourage discussion.


References and Further Materials

https://pleasekillme.com/burroughs-jack-black/

https://www.amazon.com/Junky-Definitive-William-S-Burroughs/dp/0802120423

https://donherron.com/rediscovered-you-cant-win/

https://bellemeadebooks.blogspot.com/2008/02/you-cant-win-jack-black-1926.html

Suggestions for Future Months

These threads aren't just for discussing the current BOTM; If you have a suggestion for next month's book, please feel free to post it in the thread below also. Generally what we're looking for in a BotM are works that have

1) accessibility -- either easy to read or easy to download a free copy of, ideally both

2) novelty -- something a significant fraction of the forum hasn't already read

3) discussability -- intellectual merit, controversiality, insight -- a book people will be able to talk about.

Final Note:

Thanks, and we hope everyone enjoys the book!

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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

quote:

Jack Black meanwhile, as revealed in You Can’t Win, was clearly an unusual personality himself. Aside from being a master survivalist (albeit a beaten-down one), he was bright and well-read (it’s said that he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica during one of his longer stretches in prison) as well as crafty, self-aware, magnanimous, and from beginning to end, incorrigibly dishonest…though candid about that in a joking kind of a way, which is something you often find in the memoirs of intelligent criminals.

Reading certain passages of You Can’t Win can give you an instant taste of the windswept, far northwest exoticness of Black’s early-century adventures in crime and close-call escapes: usually by train, either by railroad compartment (that is to say, civilian style) or by boxcar (that is to say, “riding the rods” hobo style). The book is filled with strange bits of information that a suburban boy in the Midwest like Billy Burroughs could never have learned anywhere else:

“Harvest workers were called blanket stiffs or gay cats, and the process of pistoling them away from their money was known as catting them up. Bands of yeggs worked with the brakemen, who let them who let them into the cars, where they stuck up the cats, took their money, and forced them to jump out the side doors between stations.

“When Spring came, my Chinese ‘tillicum,’ which is Chinook for friend, and I were the only felony prisoners in the ‘skookum house,’ or jail. At the provincial jail I found a drunken Scotchman in charge. He was assisted by two half-breed Indian boys serving six months each. Both of them watched me faithfully and fed me regularly when the jailer was drunk. There was not a fixture in the cell but a bucket. I had plenty of blankets and slept on the floor. Not a smoke, nor a paper, book nor magazine was allowed in the jail. When I asked the Scotchman for something to read, he got me a Bible which I read…with much interest but no profit.

“All day, every day, I read my Bible and prayed that the conductor might fall under his train before the day of my trial.”

https://pleasekillme.com/burroughs-jack-black/

Obviously this book is going to contain some offensive language. It's an autobiography written in vernacular though, and from the period, so to be expected.

One really big question is how reliable Mr. Black's narrative really is as written here.

Down With People
Oct 31, 2012

The child delights in violence.


Copped. Definitely reading this one.

Lord Zedd-Repulsa
Jul 21, 2007

Devour a good book.



This is cheap enough that I'll make it my very first BOTM.

Arson Daily
Aug 11, 2003


Hey I've actually read this one! Great book and his descriptions of robbing people while sleeping in their beds is nail biting!

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Lord Zedd-Repulsa posted:

This is cheap enough that I'll make it my very first BOTM.

It really should be free, but $2 is probably worth it just for the Burroughs introduction.

artism
Nov 22, 2011



Hieronymous Alloy posted:

One really big question is how reliable Mr. Black's narrative really is as written here.

why does this matter? as a reader of literature you already know that something can be true without being factual

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

artism posted:

why does this matter? as a reader of literature you already know that something can be true without being factual

Because there are multiple ways to read a book, especially a book like this that at least purports to be a true history of a time and place and culture. And even accidental falsehoods can have long-term consequences.

For example, this book is filled with a lot of descriptions of thieves' vernacular language, and I can't help but be reminded of the story of the word "gunsel" in The Maltese Falcon:

quote:

Sam Spade uses the word “gunsel” three times in reference to Wilmer, the hitman who works for Kasper Gutman, a.k.a. the Fat Man. Hammett used the same word in his novel, but only after his editor objected to the word he used first: "catamite," which is a young man kept by an older man for sexual purposes. While Hammett's novel identified Cairo (Peter Lorre’s character) as a homosexual and hinted at it for Wilmer and Gutman, this term was considered too explicit. Hammett replaced it with "gunsel," which his editor assumed meant “gunslinger” or some such. But it didn't. Gunsel—from the Yiddish word for "little goose," and passed along in American hobo culture—was merely a synonym for "catamite," but was too new to be familiar. Hammett got away with it in the book, and it slipped past the Production Code censors when it popped up in the screenplay. Because of Hammett's usage, the word came to take on "gunman" as a secondary meaning. But make no mistake, it wasn't Wilmer's possession of a firearm that Sam Spade was referring to.

So even something as simple as a word origin can turn on how that word is presented in a single book. For a lot of the stuff reported in this book, this book is the major / primary source; if he's wrong, or lying, that isn't easily checked. So this might be real history -- or it might be fiction. Maybe that doesn't matter ! But, on the other hand, maybe it does.

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Down With People
Oct 31, 2012

The child delights in violence.


I can see how he might have exaggerated some of his exploits, like the whole adventure with Julia comes off as very heroic and neat in a way that makes it seem unlikely to me. Also the robbery he conducts with Sanc feels like he might have condensed several exploits down into one so that he could explain as much poo poo about yegg operations as possible. I think he's telling the truth most of the time - poo poo like how he just walks out of his own trial because no one's watching him, I can definitely see that happening.

Anyway I'm nearly halfway through and I think it's very funny that he doesn't see himself as an 'unfortunate' even though he just got arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for like the third time.

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