In the 1930s, Virginia Kirkus, a teacher, author and children's books specialist in New York, devised a systematic means to help booksellers to size up the literary goods coming their way.
Ninety years later, Kirkus Reviews stands as a popular and enduring method for bookstores, libraries and readers to assess many of the hundreds of new books published every week.
New Bay Books is among those happy that Kirkus Reviews is still around.
"An absorbing and fitting tribute to a career journalist," is how a Kirkus review out this week summed up Fire at the Stymie Club: Stories from the Mississippi River to Chesapeake Bay, by Sandra Olivetti Martin, publisher of New Bay Books.
Stymie Club, a book of nonfiction, is a 441-page memoir and selection of stories, many written by Martin when she was founding editor of Bay Weekly and before that a staff writer for Illinois Times, in Springfield, Ill.
In what Kirkus refers to as a "gripping" first chapter, Martin writes about growing up in St. Louis above the legendary Stymie Club, the daughter of a bookmaker father and and elegant mother whose parents arrived from Italy only months before her birth.
"The club offered the titillation of 'secret love', as frequent romantic affairs between patrons and waitresses were known even to the adolescent author, and it was raided on multiple occasions by local law enforcement as an alleged center of illicit gambling," the review reads.
Kirkus observes that Martin has a knack for storytelling in the book, which includes reflections on her mother's Italian roots, explorations of the lives of Abe Lincoln re-enactors and her coverage of the 2018 Capital massacre in Annapolis, in which five people died.
The review notes the book's "poignant series of pieces" reflecting on the lives and deaths of people — and animals — that Martin has known.
"Given the inherent brevity of newspaper writing, the book may leave many readers wanting to learn more, particularly about the menagerie of characters who frequented the Stymie Club," the reviewer writes.