Happy Bookmobile Day!

The first bookmobiles appeared in England in the 1850s, but made their way over to America by the 1890s. Today, National Bookmobile Day, part of National Library Week, is all about celebrating this four-wheeled reading machines and their ability to spread the written word to far-flung places.

Above, U.S. soldiers picking up some hardbacks from a bookmobile in Texas, 1917 or so.

Is This The Best Book Cover Ever? (Yes.)

Artist and writer Anita Willets-Burnham took two trips circumventing the globe, first in 1921 and again in 1928, and both times she brought her four children. She wanted to show them the world outside the classroom.

In 1930, she wrote about these travels – and how to afford them – in a memoir-meets-budget travelogue  called Round the World on a Penny. Above is an image of the 1940 reedition of the best-seller, which boasts probably the best book cover in history, esp. the little monkey in the bottom right.

That is all.

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.

John Steinbeck Sums Up Being a Writer

In lieu of Tuesday’s traditional Word Play post, here are a few John Steinbeck quotes on the agony and ecstasy of being a writer. Mostly agony.

These quotes come from his 1953 essay “My Short Novels,” which originally appeared in the Literary Guild Review’s periodical, Wings, and which was reprinted in America and Americans, a collection put out by Penguin Classics.

The first note regards the writers’ complicated relationship with their work, how passion fades once the piece is done and gone:

“It is true that while a work is in progress, the writer and his book are one. When a book is finished, it is a kind of death, a matter of pain and sorrow to the writer. Then he [or she] starts a new book and a new life… The writer, like a fickle lover, forgets his old love. It is no longer his own: the intimacy and surprise are gone.”

And of these stories, “thrust out into an unfriendly world to make their way”? “They have experiences, too — they grow and change or wane and die, just as everyone does. They make friends or enemies, and sometimes they waste away from neglect.” 😦

Finally, after recounting how his first three novels failed to sell out, and how the $90 he earned from The Red Pony seemed like “more money than I thought the world contained” and encouraged him to continue, Steinbeck notes, astutely:

“It takes only the tiniest pinch of encouragement to keep a writer going, and if he gets none, he sometimes learns to feed even on the acid of failure.” It’s true. We writers are kind of like those sea creatures that feed off of noxious gases spewing from oceanic anuses, only less cute.

 

Happy B-Day, Captain America

It was 77 years ago, on December 20, 1940, that Captain America made his debut, punching Adolf Hitler on the cover of Captain America Comics #1.

His arrival came at the zenith of the golden age of superheroes: Superman debuted in 1938, Batman in 1939 and Wonder Woman earlier in 1940. Arriving in the ominous shadow of fascism, Cap and these other early superheroes didn’t fight super-powered villains. Not yet, at least. At that point in history, they existed solely to defend Western democracy against Axis enemies and similarly villainous, anti-freedom monsters.

Captain American and his contemporaries thus created a contemporary template for what it means to be an American, what American values represent and how we must always be vigilant against their erosion. In short, they taught lessons that remain imperative today.

That said, perhaps Captain America should be on required reading lists?