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 todayinliterature.com.

 

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.