Vintage Pulp Jan 4 2020
SHIP OF FOOLS
Low expectations can be a reader's best friend.


It must be offensively awful. A sleaze novel about slavery? With a focus on the harrowing middle passage that killed millions? But surprise—H.B. Drake's Slave Ship isn't sleaze. Though the uncredited front cover art suggests it, and the rear cover blurb says, “She used all the darkest arts of Africa to win the white sailor,” what you actually get here is an attempt at real literature in a Conradian vein, well written, even if the only true concern on display is for said white sailor. Slave Ship was originally written in 1936, which strikes us as a bit late for a tale with such a narrow emotional focus, but good prose counts for something.

Despite the book's inadequate helping of empathy for the enslaved, descriptions of the trade will send shivers through your body. Particularly vivid is the bit describing slaves kept below decks in heat and filth for days at a time, chained together on their left sides, with knees drawn up to accommodate the knees of the man behind, three hundred of them, lamenting their terrible fortune at white devils having targeted their coast. But of course Drake is more concerned with his hero, as bad luck befalls the endeavor and everything that can go wrong does, including incompetence, disease, British anti-slavers, and more.

What is Drake's point with this book? He seems to be saying that slavery is destructive for everyone involved. Hmm... well, eventually, maybe, but as of today, if you tally the fortunes made by southern slavers and northern banks, and consider the later generations that gained from this murder money, the universal suffering seems to be extremely late in coming—let alone the universal recognition of the slave trade as one of Amerca's two unforgivable foundational crimes. In any case, if your stomach is strong enough to endure violence and cruelty you might actually find Slave Ship worth a read.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 31
1964—Riot Stops Stones Concert
The Rolling Stones play in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but the show is stopped after twelve minutes because of violence in the audience. Some fans are carried away in straitjackets.
July 30
1935—Penguin Launched
Penguin Books is launched by Allen Lane and begins publishing cheap, no-frills paperbacks. Lane's idea of selling books not just in bookstores, but in train stations, pharmacies and corner stores, quickly revolutionizes the publishing market.
July 29
1957—Paar Takes Over Tonight Show
Today in 1957 Jack Paar begins hosting The Tonight Show. During Paar's five year stint, his unpredictable antics and strong comedic style help turn the program into a ratings juggernaut and a national institution.
1981—Charles and Diana Marry
Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer marry at St Paul's Cathedral before 3,500 invited guests and an estimated global television audience of 750 million, making it the most popular program ever broadcast.
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