Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup(1853)

I expected this book to be heart wrenchingly depressing and it was at points. But at other times Solomon Northup’s life reads like some 1850’s MacGuyver series. He spends his limited personal time attempting to outwit his dire circumstances. Multiple times his personal ingenuity saves the day. When his daily food allowance is eaten by worms, he rigs together an impromptu fish trap so he can eat fish when he arrives home after hours of cotton picking in the fields. When his master puts him in charge of whipping the other slaves, he gains a special accuracy with the whip so that he can fake it without actually hurting his friends. When his master attempts to take his life, Solomon engages in hand to axe combat and comes away unscathed. Each improbable escape builds up Solomon as some sort of slave era superhero. I’m left with the feeling that I want to be like Solomon Northup.

Solomon Northup has lives his whole life as a free man in the state of New York. Through a series of increasingly horrible circumstances he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana under another name. He spends the next twelve years trying to get notice to his family back in New York that he has been enslaved so they will rescue him from this cruelty and injustice. The laws are stacked against him. Slaves are not allowed free movement or allowed to send letters without a note from their master. Pick up this book and read about Solomon’s escape from slave country in Twelve Years a Slave.

 

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The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

This book was as refreshing as a trip to the beach after months cramped in a tiny office tapping repetitively on the keyboard. In Helen Keller I find the kindred spirit of an avid reader. She saw the world through raised type on the printed page and found books intoxicating. Through books you can go almost anywhere. Another point of interest is her negative experience with copyright and the fallacy of human memory. I have always believed, as she does, that every thought in my mind could be a regurgitation of someone else’s beliefs or opinions that I absorbed at some earlier date. The inability to fully trust ones own memories can be disconcerting. Someday in the distant future human beings might be capable of relinquishing ownership of ideas and instead focus on applying those ideas. Just a thought.

Helen Keller narrates her life as she grows from a child to a young woman. This fascinating journey bridges the difficulties of living without sight and hearing. Losing these two senses before the age of two she forgets all about how the world looked and sounded. For the next four years she communicates with her family using rudimentary signs and continues her happy childhood. At the age of seven, Helen meets her teacher for the first time. Anne Sullivan goes on to teach Helen how to read, write and communicate with others. This flash of insight ignites the great intellect of Helen Keller. See the world through her eyes by reading The Story of My Life.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2397

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Hoofbeats on the Turnpike by Mildred A. Wirt (1944)

We’ve all imagined ourselves acting courageously in dangerous circumstances. Everyone of us likes to believe that we could keep a level head in a time of panic and make decisions that would save lives. Stepping out of the daydream and back into reality I humbly admit that I don’t believe I am capable of that level of heroism. My mind is not quick and precise. Instead, my mind plods along slowly and comes to conclusions by the process of elimination. There is a high likelihood that the shock of those dangerous circumstances would freeze me in my tracks making it impossible to help myself let alone others. Taking ownership of those split second decisions would also be difficult. I prefer to live life “hands off” and taking responsibility over the situation would give me nightmares for years after. On second thought, those nightmares would likely haunt me regardless. Penny Parker does not have these same fears. She instead acts first and worries about the results afterwards. She steps towards the unusual noise, I step away from it. For this reason she has my respect.

 

When Penny Parker sniffs a hint of a mystery, she can’t help but pursue it to the ends of the earth. This time her curiosity takes her to a small town with rumors of a headless horseman. She soon realizes that the town has another more credible fear; the local dam is need of repairs. As rumors swirl around the dam and the horseman, Penny and Louis put on there Sherlock cloaks to find out the mystery of the Hoofbeats on the Turnpike.

 

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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton (1908)

Have you ever casually stepped in a puddle that ended up much deeper than first assumed? This book is a puddle. You may find depth but I only saw glimpses. Instead I thought that this novel had a consistent absurd style of humor that paced the whole story wonderfully. Each chapter left me thinking that this couldn’t go any further. The joke was over yet the author kept pulling at it incessantly like a kitten with a ball of yarn. At times I imagine jumping inside a book to see how realistic the book feels around me. This book hangs realism in the first chapter and spends the next fourteen chapters dragging the body around and taking pictures with it. To some this would be too far. Instead I found it refreshing.

Gabriel Syme is a policeman disguised as a poet. This is an easy disguise; he used to be a poet. His goal is to disrupt the plans of the a secret international anarchist organization. Through ruse, subterfuge and mostly blind luck Syme finds himself inside the local underground bunker taking part in an anarchist meeting. Syme seizes his chance and tricks the local chapter to elect him as their representative. Like a line of dominos, Syme crashes from one adventure to the next in pursuit of a world without anarchy. Ride an elephant through London while reading The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare.

 

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The Wishing Well by Mildred A. Wirt (1942)

Present in multiple Penny Parker mysteries is Penny’s charitable nature. Most people are unable and unwilling to drop everything without a second thought to help someone in need unless they are already acquainted. In this book, Penny helps out Rhoda, a new school transfer, and Mrs. Marborough who used to live in Riverview as a younger woman. If I witnessed this level of generosity in everyday life, I might become defensive but by reading it I want to emulate that kindness. This is the power of books. The characters are not viewed as competitors and so they can more easily act as role models to our future actions. Just a thought.

The untiring busybody, Penny Parker, is back at it with another mystery. A club field trip to a local wishing well turns into a multilevel conspiracy. Why are lights shining around the well at night? Why won’t Mrs. Marborough invite anyone into her fancy house? Why are two ancient rocks covered with Native American writing found within days of each other lying around town? As the coincidences keep piling up Penny and her friend Louise prowl around in search of answers. Only time can tell the mystery of The Wishing Well.

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34689

The Secret Pact by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

There is a weird hypocrisy with detective novels. They are frequently dangerous and sometimes morbid yet that danger doesn’t seem to ever directly affect the detective. You can read about any detective from Sherlock to Miss Marple and arrive at the same conclusion. Any danger the detective finds themself in is only temporary and merely a distraction from the overall case at hand. All readers of detective fiction know this to be true. At the same time, we read quickly through the dangerous areas as a small part of us still hopes that the main character will once again solve the case and escape unscathed. To summarize: fiction is weird.

Teenage sleuth and adventurous busybody Penny Parker gets wrapped up in another local mystery. A chance meeting at a bridge brings an unusual case to Penny’s attention. Her attempts to publish an account of the mystery are foiled by the school paper so she decides to start a citywide paper with only a few friends for help. Skeptical readers find the story fantastic and assume that it has been exaggerated to sell more newspapers until she receives a threatening note. How will she run a newspaper, go to school and solve the mystery of The Secret Pact?

 

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free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34682

History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1849)

I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this book. Instead, I expected it to be dry and overly academic. After a few chapters, this book really becomes exciting. Julius led a very active and dangerous life filled with many adventures so excitement should have been no surprise. Previously ignorant of Julius Caesar’s life, I enjoyed learning the meaning to common phrases like “the Ides of March” and “crossing the Rubicon”. Its funny how language retains meaning while losing its origin. Also, the political institutions in Rome during his reign look so absurd by today’s standards. Deadly squabbling all those years ago in Rome make our current political atmosphere seem boring and mundane by comparison.

Julius Caesar slowly rose to power. He first had to prove intellectual importance by training to be a great orator. Then, he showed his military prowess by quelling Roman foes and invading unknown lands. Finally, he was forced to show his political might by winning election to higher and higher offices in Rome. His flaws along the way become striking even with an author who is clearly on his soft side. The man was single minded and vicious. Learn the ways of a powerful man by reading the History of Julius Caesar.

 

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11688

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Clue of the Silken Ladder by Mildred A. Wirt (1941)

Every time I read another book in this series I envy Penny’s courage and quick thinking more and more. If only I had those qualities as a teenager… oh well! I was surprised to find that I had some previous experience with this mystery. The discussion of fake mediums and spiritualists is a topic I’ve explored in my own plodding way. Usually the discussion of spiritualism glosses over the methods and focuses on those being duped. People who believe in the frauds are frequently described as stupid in a very demeaning way. That’s not quite fair. This novel accurately describes both the mechanics that manifest “spirit phenomena” and the psychology that makes an individual susceptible to these scams. To me the psychology is most fascinating. Belief usually manifests not from stupidity but from desperation. Those most likely to visit mediums are people who have recently experienced death in the family. Factoring in their emotionally difficult state, the closure temptingly offered by mediums can be hard to turn down. Curious readers will find many old and dusty volumes happily expose the methods used by fake mediums at the time this book was published.

Mrs. Weems, the Parker’s housekeeper, receives happy news in the mail. A distant cousin has died leaving her a fortune of $6,000. Dreams of a vacation to the Grand Canyon seem finally realized. On the other hand, a medium performing a seance at friends house informs Mrs. Weems that her cousin would rather she invest in safe securities than go traveling out west. Mrs. Weems finds herself caught between the Parkers and the medium. Should she believe the medium who knew so many things about her cousin or instead believe the skeptical Parker family? Penny is suspicious of the medium and decides to investigate. The whole case might rest on the Clue of the Silken Ladder.

 

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Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

I don’t know why I’m surprised when I love a classic. I should probably expect it. This small book was big time resulting in the phrase-“jekell and hyde” meaning a person with varying moral character. The moral separation of self is a concept I don’t believe in personally. The good, the bad and the ugly must be accepted as parts of yourself. Maybe that is an excuse I use after some new inexplicable evil committed at my hands. All in all I find it puzzling people can define themselves according to their best qualities instead of a smattering of good and evil. That would seem the difference between painting entirely with one color and using the entire color palette.

In this book, you meet the friends and acquaintances of one Dr. Henry Jekell who has been acting strangely of late. He has been keeping dangerous friends and staying out at odd hours. What could compel him to change his habits in this way? Two of Dr. Jekell’s oldest friends find themselves wrapped up in this dark mystery. Ponder the ways of good and evil by reading the Strange Case of Dr. Jekell and Mr. Hyde.

 

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A Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith (1892)

My unabashed love for this little book will be hard to explain. The book itself is a lowkey slice-of-life novel based in the 1890’s written as a diary. Each chapter collects almost a weeks worth of entries in the dull life of Charles Pooter. We hear about his many awkward moments and wait patiently for his rare, polite anger. Attempting to read this monotonous comedy in one sitting will just create an excess of snores. A chapter or two a day will make you crack a smile. In other words, consume this diary like an IV instead of shot.

Charles Pooter and his wife Caroline live a quiet homely life in the suburb of Holloway. They don’t worry about the world’s big problems. Instead, they might play dominoes in the evening after a simple dinner. Or he may complain about his job as a city clerk. Or they may worry of the future of their son, Lupin. In between these everyday occurrences, little coincidences will make you smile. Start your own journal after reading A Diary of a Nobody.

 

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