Friday, March 01, 2013

Forgotten Books: Beggars of Life - Jim Tully

This post first appeared in slightly different form on June 3, 2007. I'm a bit swamped and will be rerunning a few more posts, but I hope they're all old enough that they'll be new to most of you.

I first became aware of Jim Tully and his work a few years ago from reading Rusty Burke’s article“Robert E. Howard’s Bookshelf”,available on the REHupa website. Tully was one of Howard’s favorite authors. Along with Dashiell Hammett and Ernest Hemingway, he’s generally credited with being one of the founders of the hardboiled school of American literature. The difference is that Tully most often wrote non-fiction rather than fiction.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading one of his books. BEGGARS OF LIFE: A HOBO AUTOBIOGRAPHY is the story of Tully’s experiences as a “road kid” in the early Twentieth Century. The Hammett and Hemingway comparisons are apt. Tully writes in a terse, spare style that’s punctuated by occasional bursts of lyricism. He’s especially good at capturing characters in a few short sentences, and the moments of violence are handled very effectively. Since the hobo life is largely an outdoor one, Tully’s descriptions of nature also stand out, especially a sequence about riding on top of a train car during a spectacular storm. There are also plenty of wry observations about sex and politics and culture along the way.

My only complaint about BEGGARS OF LIFE is that it’s a little too long and occasionally repetitive. There are only so many times you want to read about Tully and his hobo friends getting onto or off of a train. But other than that, I think this is a truly fine, maybe even great, book. I highly recommend it to anybody who enjoys hardboiled writing. I believe it was reprinted fairly recently, although I read the original 1924 Albert & Charles Boni edition, obtained through Interlibrary Loan by the local library. Tully also wrote books about the circus and boxing, and I intend to read those, too.


Sean McLachlan said...

Sounds a bit like Jack Black. I'll have to track this one down, thanks.

Ed Lynskey said...

Sounds like an author I'd enjoy reading.