Getting Ahead

I don't want to be ignorant. I didn't use to care, but I do now. I want to grow up 'spectable.
--from Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks, by Horatio Alger Jr., who was born on this day in 1832

Alger's hundred "rags to respectability" novels made him one of the most prolific and influential nineteenth-century writers. But his formulaic stories belonged to a long and popular genre, one that was especially embraced in the New World. In The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By, Dan P. McAdams provides this explanation of why the success story has "a privileged status in the anthology of American myths":

In the national mythology of the day, we became the chosen people whose manifest destiny was to grow and improve, to move ever upward and westward, to raise ourselves up by our bootstraps, to go from rags to riches, from adversity to enhancement, from oppression and ignorance to enlightened freedom. Most White Americans, moreover, were probably blind to the arrogance and the sense of privilege upon which these ideas rested. They lost little sleep worrying about the destruction of Native American cultures, for example, or the crass materialism of the emerging American Dream.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at


Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).