From Harper Valley to the Mountaintop by Jeannie C. Riley (1981, Chosen Books)
An autobiography should be about honesty, and this one fails that test. It’s the story of Riley, who rose to national fame with the song Harper Valley, PTA. It tells of her poor choices which led simultaneously to stardom and misery, following with better choices which led her into accepting God’s grace and a life of happiness.
On the surface, then, this is a great tale. The writing isn’t exceptional but it’s certainly competent, indicating that the ghostwriter was experienced enough to focus on Riley and her experiences. Her choices are inspirational, and they can simultaneously provide a warning to others who are caught up in dreams of the spotlight… certainly a good thing in today’s fame-driven society.
The great flaw is that it must be read with a skeptical eye. While the broad arc of her story is true, many of the specific incidents, including the most tawdry ones, are manufactured. While it is likely that she received advice directing her to change her life, for example, it is extremely unlikely that highly personal and oddly specific advice came unsolicited from country music stars upon her first meeting with them.
Fans of redemption stories, particularly religious redemption stories, will enjoy this book. I believe its greatest benefit, though, is provided for those interested in seeing how people can deceive themselves about anything, including their own history. The book isn’t especially long, the reading is easy, and the story is pleasantly upbeat… and someone interested in the truth can then go to a place like the Cocaine and Rhinestones podcast / website and see what Paul Harvey used to call “The Rest of the Story”.
The Dr. Zeng Omnibus by E. Hoffman Price, W.T. Ballard & Robert Leslie Bellem (2011, Altus Press)
If you’re looking for some classic pulp-era crimefighting, this book is worth your time, with a little bit of something for everyone. What it lacks is originality, and that’s a minor concern when a reader isn’t looking for it.
The book provides all seven Dr. Zeng short novels which originally appeared in the pages of Thrilling Mystery and Popular Detective. In addition, pulp historian (and successful contemporary author) Will Murray provides an informative introduction explaining Dr. Zeng’s history.
The character was intended as the hero of a stand-alone short novel by E. Hoffman Price. Price, one of the standout writers in the pulps, provided a story which featured greater character depth than expected at the time, but was otherwise a bit of clone of The Shadow – which was exactly what the publisher wanted. After the United States entered WWII, the publisher, who in the contractual format of the time owned Price’s character rights, asked a team of very experienced pulp writers to produce six more Dr. Zeng stories as a way to promote our Chinese ally and attack our Japanese enemy.
With three consummate pros at the writing helm, the stories, though generic, are solidly produced. It’s a character with whom few outside of pulp experts are familiar, so there’s a bit of the charge of discovery for a reader of pulp adventure. Lastly, the book provides seven short novels, the entire Dr. Zeng experience, and is available for only about $20.