Two Books; One Odd, One Unusual

Pick up 'An Odd Book,' a recently released biography of journalist Oscar Odd McIntyre; and 'Trampoline,' an illustrated novel revolving around first-person narrator Dawn, a young woman telling about being 15 years old in Appalachia.

Jun 21, 2017 at 3:16 pm

click to enlarge Oscar Odd McIntyre - Photo: Courtesy of the University of Rio Grande
Photo: Courtesy of the University of Rio Grande
Oscar Odd McIntyre
Journalism is an unsure route to either fame or fortune, but early in the last century, Oscar Odd McIntyre, once of the Cincinnati Post, went to New York City and achieved both in spades. A recently released biography of McIntyre, An Odd Book by R. Scott Williams (Newseum), recounts “how the first modern pop culture reporter conquered New York.” It’s a story that catches the reader’s interest because, like McIntyre, we are likely to find vicarious fascination in his fame and fortune. Also, McIntyre is an appealing protagonist.

Named Oscar Odd for a maternal uncle, he was called Odd — pronounced “Udd” — and raised by his grandmother in Gallipolis, Ohio after his father turned him, his sister and brother over to her following the early death of their mother. The book’s Part I takes him from boyhood into journalism and includes his romance with Maybelle, who would become his wife and an unwavering supporter of his career. Odd began early to read as many periodicals as he could, including Puck, a humor magazine that would help to shape his own thinking. He didn’t finish high school but landed at one of Gallipolis’ five local dailies before his father sent him off to business college in Cincinnati. Here, he lived with a sister on West Seventh Street. At school he failed everything except touch typing, but touch typing would make it possible for him to become the world’s highest paid and most-read columnist of his era. 

McIntyre’s career included a stint at the Post early in the 20th century, when it was staffed by young reporters and encouraged lively writing. Grammar and punctuation were not his strong points, but catching the reader’s attention clearly didn’t depend on that. His style now reads as dated, although some word choices are good, but at the time it was clearly a grabber. 

The early New York years were hard and troubled by mental illness, but Maybelle provided staunch support, and his dual careers as publicist and columnist took off. He would become known for his syndicated column, “New York Day by Day.” 

This book gives us an interesting picture of a journalist and of his times.

• Trampoline, which was first published in 2015 by Ohio University Press, has been developing a growing regional following — author Robert Gipe has appeared at events at Thomas More College and the Cincinnati Art Museum in recent months. Trampoline’s cover identifies it as “an illustrated novel” with the heroine/narrator shown right there, hair and glasses slightly askew, lined out in a black-and-white drawing like those found throughout the book. Both the illustrations and the story are by Gipe, who lives, writes (and draws) in Harlan, Ky. 

Gipe knows the life and people of that story-telling culture intimately. Here he sinks without visible effort into the identity of his first-person narrator, Dawn, a young woman telling about being 15 years old in Appalachia. 

As all of us who have been 15 and a girl can tell you, this is a fraught and exciting time, full of new rules and new expectations. In Appalachia, where mining companies raise passionate feelings pro and con, there’s an additional, almost daily drama. 

Dawn’s story is also a family story, inevitable in this strongly family-oriented society, and we come to know her mother and her grandmother well. Both Momma and Maw Maw are significant figures in Dawn’s life, perhaps partly because her father’s death has left her mother a grieving alcoholic and drug addict. The society itself is steeped in both those means of escape. 

Illustrations are integral to the story. Dialogue is often presented through them, the words becoming part of the composition. Dawn’s friend Evie, explaining that she always gets kicked out of school on Thursdays, is shown looking regretful with the words, “Thursday is my bad day, she said.” running left edge to right edge. Note the period within the quote; Gipe is grammatically sound.

The trampoline of the title is found in a family backyard — it’s something of a symbol of the lives we meet here. These people catch our interest and our emotions. “The sound of people telling one another stories is the most precious sound in the world. Trying to catch that sound on the page is my favorite part of writing,” Gipe has said. 

It should be; he’s very good at it. ©