Carson McCullers, Remembered

Carson McCullers, author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, would be 101 today.

In honor of her unparalleled work and life, here’s McCuller’s theory on immortality:

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Word.

Found in the LOC: Typewriters in Unique Situations

I’m going a slightly different route with this week’s “Found in the LOC.” Rather than feature an artist or particular aesthetic or theme, as I did with old bike adverts and Gordon Parks and animals acting human, this week’s entry is organized an object, which, as the headline suggests, is a typewriter.

The Library of Congress’ online archive has just over 400 images of the computer’s forbearer. Some are udoandard fair: secretaries typing away, an author musing over the keys, but below are some of the more unique images in the collection: doctors examining typewriters being sent off to war, the machine being delivered on camelback and, the most bizarre by far, a woman using a typewriter in the shower, being watched by other women, one of whom appears almost to be coaching here. It’s very strange. Don’t worry, though, there are a few famous faces in the mix… Well, famous to some, at least. Not, you know, like Taylor Swift-famous.

Anyway, check them all out, after the break.

[And click here for more Found in the LOC.]

 

 

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Archive Diving: Gender in ‘Main Street’

On the occasion of the 133rd birthday of Sinclair Lewis, Nobel-winning novelist of works like Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, It Can’t Happen Here and Arrowsmith, all of which deal with the tension between rote-loving mainstream society and unique thinking, here is an excerpt from Main Street, which I originally cited in 2011 at the LGBTQ news site Towleroad.

This blurb deals with a small town reaction to a man who doesn’t fit gender norms:

“Mrs. Dyer was bubbling, ‘Oh, have you folks heard about this young fellow that’s just come to town that the boys call ‘Elizabeth’? He’s working in Nat Hicks’s tailor shop. I bet he doesn’t make eighteen a week, but my! isn’t he the perfect lady though! He talks so refined, and oh, the lugs he puts on–belted coat, and pique collar with a gold pin, and socks to match his necktie, and honest–you won’t believe this, but I got it straight–this fellow, you know he’s staying at Mrs. Gurrey’s punk old boarding-house, and they say he asked Mrs. Gurrey if he ought to put on a dress-suit for supper! Imagine! Can you beat that?

‘And him nothing but a Swede tailor–Erik Valborg his name is. But he used to be in a tailor shop in Minneapolis (they do say he’s a smart needle-pusher, at that) and he tries to let on that he’s a regular city fellow. They say he tries to make people think he’s a poet–carries books around and pretends to read ’em. Myrtle Cass says she met him at a dance, and he was mooning around all over the place, and he asked her did she like flowers and poetry and music and everything; he spieled like he was a regular United States Senator; and Myrtle–she’s a devil, that girl, ha! ha!–she kidded him along, and got him going, and honest, what d’you think he said?

‘He said he didn’t find any intellectual companionship in this town. Can you BEAT it? Imagine! And him a Swede tailor! My! And they say he’s the most awful mollycoddle–looks just like a girl. The boys call him ‘Elizabeth,’ and they stop him and ask about the books he lets on to have read, and he goes and tells them, and they take it all in and jolly him terribly, and he never gets onto the fact they’re kidding him. Oh, I think it’s just TOO funny!'”

If you haven’t read this work, or anything by Lewis, I really suggest that you do.

‘Cabin Fever’ Was Coined By A Woman in 1918

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil may say, there are still six weeks of this seemingly eternal winter, and many of us are starting to feel the claustrophobic anxiety colloquially called “cabin fever,” a term that happens to have just turned 100.

Originally association with typhoid fever, the more familiar definition arose with the January 1918 publication of a western-set novel Cabin Fever, about a man named Bud who, feeling suffocated by being a husband and father, leaves his wife and becomes friends with a prospector named Cash. The author? BM Bower, pen name for a woman named Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, who wrote 57 western-themed novels, many of which were best-sellers and 18 of which were made into short and/or feature-length films. But none had the lingual or cultural  impact of “cabin fever.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer defined “cabin fever” as “that irritation and temper, that quarrel-breeding state of mind that comes to those whose lives are too confined and monotonous without action of variety;” and The New York Times noted, “It is the common disease of overwhelming domesticity.” And though Virginia’s Times Dispatch pegged the condition to western life — “There is a certain malady of mind induced by too much monotony: fashionable folk call it ennui, but Westerners call it ‘cabin fever.’” — the term was equally applicable to eastern elite who, shell-shocked by WWI, ensconced themselves in log cabins in places like the Adirondacks and the Poconos. [I write about this briefly in my book: The Log Cabin: An Illustrated History.]

In any event, try to keep your head about you as winter thaws. It’s a ways off, but it will happen… I hope….

[For more Fun with Words, click HERE.]

 

Crisis, at Midlife

From Joshua Rothman’s New Yorker writeup on Kieran Setiya’s new book, Midlife: A Philosophical Guide:

“Setiya finds that the history of the midlife crisis is both very long and very short. On the one hand, he identifies a text from Twelfth Dynasty Egypt, circa 2000 B.C., as the earliest description of a midlife crisis and suggests that Dante might have had one at the age of thirty-five. (“Midway on life’s journey, I found myself / In dark woods, the right road lost.”) On the other, he learns that the term itself wasn’t coined until 1965, when a psychologist named Elliott Jaques wrote an essay called “Death and the Mid-life Crisis.” (Jaques quotes a patient’s eloquent lament: “Up till now, life has seemed an endless upward slope, with nothing but the distant horizon in view. Now suddenly I seem to have reached the crest of the hill, and there stretching ahead is the downward slope with the end of the road in sight.”)”

I’m feeling this.

Happy 70th Birthday, ‘Bananafish’

Today marks the 70th anniversary of The New Yorker publishing JD Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the first of the author’s many stories to a) appear in The New Yorker and b) to feature a member of the Glass Family, the intelligent, quirky and wealthy New York brood from which Salinger drew so much inspiration. They were the original Tenenbaums.

Iconic today, the story wasn’t originally called “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” It was, simply, “The Bananafish.” Unhappy with the initial narrative arc they received in January of 1947, as well as the title, William Maxwell and Gus Lobrano sent it back to Salinger for revisions, which took a year of back-and-forth consultations — until finally, in January of 1948, receiving a final draft entitled “A Fine Day for Bananafish,” Lobrano decided “Perfect” was better than “Fine,” and published the story under the title we all know today. It was a sensation.

If you’re unfamiliar with “Bananafish,” it’s about Seymour Glass, the second oldest child of the family, but while Seymour’s alive and well – for now – he’s suffering. Much like Salinger himself after the war, Seymour’s having trouble returning to civilian life, what with the horrors of global conflict seared into his memory. On a Florida vacation with his wife, Seymour’s stuck in a quagmire of depression, acting as the nexus for broader social alienation, bellicose brutality, mental deterioration and society’s willful ignorance of all. A crushing story, it’s publication cemented Salinger’s reputation as a beguiling and beautiful writer. And it only took him a year of edits! That’s refreshing for anyone struggling with their own words these days.

Anyway, if you’d like to take a look at the story and don’t have a New Yorker subscription, it’s included in Nine Stories, a PDF of which can be found here.