These reviews of classic literature by a Sing Sing convict are great.
One of the most unique documents ever written by a convict in Sing Sing has just come to light. It was intended for the yes of convicts only — for the readers of prison books — and is penned in a slang that every convict knows perhaps better than the more erudite language of the average author.
The document is a review of prison literature, a guide book which tells the convicts what to shun and what to seek in Sing Sing’s library; a criticism brief but to the point, and showing in a remarkable way the literary point of view of a criminal who has spent many years in the seclusion of his cell, absorbing the stories of fact and fancy which the prison library affords.
Here, for example, is his review of The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas:
Alec was no jollier; when he got to pushing the pen across the paper he got down to cases right away. This one breaks the bank. On your life, don’t scratch this entry. The d’Artagnan guy in this is there with the knockout.
And The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne gets this review:
This one is there with the gray matter. There’s a sky-pilot in this that was a welcher. He’ll make you feel like putting him on the bum. The main dame is game to the core and the whole outfit of phoney knockers can’t feaze her.
And Les Miserables by Victor Hugo:
Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. This is the richest thing that ever came down the pike. It’s a lalapaloosa. You want to read it three times. The first time you won’t catch on to all the fine points; you skip the descriptions to follow Jean Valjean. The second time you’ll fall for a little of the descriptive dope, and about the third time you’ll read the swellest line on the Battle of Waterloo that was ever handed out. That line on the sewers of Paris is some class, too. The main guy in this is a con that makes a smooth getaway, but he’s up against it for fair. The bull that is after him must be a little flighty in the bean. They don’t have bulls like that now-a-days.
CLASSICS OF LITERATURE CENSORED BY A SING SING CONVICT: Discovery of a Unique Document, in Modern Slang, Intended to “Steer” Patrons of Prison Library. (PDF)
From April 30, 1911