The Newsboys’ Lodging-House or The Confessions of William James by Jon Boorstin: A Book Review


“ As you’ll not tell me your story, let me tell you a story of  my own…”

 William James, The Newsboys’ Lodging -House

I thought I would not be able to  finish this because  I had not been motivated to read it despite the fact that this has something to do with psychology. May be psychologically speaking, its font size is not as  inducing  as the common  font   I am used to and publishers usually use. So, I ended up  putting it aside for a few months; I would just read it  from time to time whenever  I felt guilty seeing  my currently-reading shelf on Goodreads stacked with unfinished books. Then at last,  I had decided that it  was about time I had to  summon more interest  and dispense enough time to read it. And now, I am over with it and somehow I was as good as REALLY LIKED it because Jon Boorstin’s writing style bears the hallmark of his being a film maker by trade. In addition, since it is a sort of a historical thriller, I find it somehow spellbinding. Furthermore, I took a fancy to William James’ philosophical concept of Free Will, Evil, and pragmatism.

William James is a philosopher, physician, and known as one of the most influential American thinkers as well as the Father of American Psychology.  Notably, he is the oldest brother of the famous novelist, Henry James and diarist Alice  James.

There is one idea that reminds  me of this  novel- a story about a prodigal son ventured out in a city where he will make a  big difference not only to himself but also to others. The only twist  of this is that the protagonist, young William James,  had a mental collapse, ran away from a mental institution in remission. In addition, the adventurer in New York City in 1870’s   was philosophical as though he was such  an old , gruesome hobo  goofing  around the city. So , the novel is steeped in philosophical views. Thus, without this element in the story as well as Jon Boorstin’s journalistic writing stye , I  would not have finished it.

Aside from William James’ prodigal story, the novel also depicts the  life in New York City in 1870’s, how its abject poverty and acrid atmosphere afftected the life of the people, notably of newsboy Jemmie and his sister  Emma- a scene widened James epistemological views.

The narration is divided into two parts: one is about William James including his encounter with American writer , Horatio Alger Jr. and second; Dannie and Jemmie, the newsboys at the lodging house. Each part contains different feelings. When I turn the next chapters about James, I get  excited. Perhaps I like the themes about philosophy and religion, for I find them intellectually and mentally callisthenic. But when I turn to the next parts about Jemmie and Dannie, at first, I feel sick of  them, but reaching its climax when Dannie turns out to be a bad boy, this part somehow gets spellbinding. In other words, the novel is a mixture of a little boredom and excitement.

William James is known for his concept of pragmatism. If you look it up in your dictionary, literally, it   can mean as:

 A way of dealing with problems in a sensible practical  way instead of following a set of ideas. ( Longman Advanced American Dictionary, 2007 )

Ridiculously, there is a scene at the end of the story that William James applied this principle- a scene you would turn over in your mind. ^^

Jon Boorstin is an accomplished writer since he has been in the field of media , and  this novel  won  the New York City Book Award for historical fiction

Rating: 3 / 5 stars


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