Category Archives: Authors and Books
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Percy Bysshe Shelley, perhaps one of the greatest poets of the English language, universally admired by students of literature, a revolutionary mind in literature and philosophy and college drop out. Okay, that is not entirely correct. He was actually expelled. Yes, expelled. That guy that you were required to study by your senior year English teacher and whom your Literature 201 professor went on about for days was actually expelled from Oxford. Now the Romantic poets were not exactly known for being good little boys and girls, and most of Byron’s poor behavior came in the form of romantic conquests and there was also the all too common descent into penury and debt that plagued them all at one time or another. But no, not Shelley. He had done something entirely unacceptable, something so scandalous it would cause his father to stop speaking to him (although in honesty, it was one of several occasions where his father refused to speak to him so take that as you will).
What was this heinous crime? What terrible transgression did he commit? He wrote a paper. Yes, just a paper. Well, technically it was a pamphlet. It was 13 pages on a topic that would be none too popular today either. The pamphlet was titled “The Necessity of Atheism” and its author was listed only as “Thro’ deficiency of proof, an atheist.” Shelley never did actually cop to writing it, but it is believed that he and a friend named Thomas Jefferson Hogg wrote and published it in small numbers in the late winter of 1811. They both had talked it up amongst their fellows at Oxford and made sure copies were disseminated far and wide, going as far as to mail them to the bishops, professors and heads of the college. This was probably a bit too much cheek for the Oxford Dons.
The pamphlet itself was actually very blasé. It can be summed up quickly as saying due to a lack of empirical evidence of G_d’s existence; it is safer to be an atheist. It is not the very strong argument of a died in the wool zealot, nor was it actually written very well. It was, however, enough to bring him before a disciplinary committee. Some believe that it was helped by another of Shelley’s publications from that year, a poem called “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things” that Shelley had published alone as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, that made a great outcry against the Napoleonic Wars that were nearing an end at that time. Whatever the reason turned out to be, when Shelley refused to confirm or deny his authorship of either works he was expelled. Hogg met the same fate.
Shelley wrote to his father 3 days after the expulsion had taken place. He was convinced that his father would at least sympathize with him. He Wrote:
“I know too well that your feeling mind will sympathise too deeply in my misfortunes. I hope it will alleviate your sorrow to know that for myself I am perfectly indifferent to the late tyrannical violent proceedings of Oxford.”
Sir Timothy Shelley felt no sorrow for his son. His own copy of “The Necessity of Atheism” has the word “impious” scrawled across it. In fact, the Baronet went to see his son and in the presence of the aforementioned Hogg raved, cursed and cried at his son, finally insisting that Percy return home to be educate by teachers Sir Timothy would choose. This began a rift that would eventually keep the two from speaking to each other for years and damaged their relationship in ways that were never to be mended.
To many modern Americans, “The Necessity of Atheism” and “A Poetical Essay” are just a bit of youthful rebellion, common to people in their late teens. They would have been articles in your school’s underground newspaper twenty or forty years ago. Today they would be blog posts from online aliases or facebooks status updates. Your parents might not approve, but nothing that would warrant expulsion and being disowned. Shelley held to his beliefs and rarely compromised them. He never abandoned them wholly, but only modified them as his life brought him greater scope of experience.
In an ironic twist, these two pamphlets as well as Shelley’s letter to his father are all part of the collection of the Bodleian Library and are part of a travelling collection called Shelley’s Ghost. In fact a copy of “A Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things”, once thought lost to the world was added at some expense to the library’s collection as the 12 millionth items in 2006. The Bodleian is the much celebrated research library of Oxford University and the second largest repository in Britain. If you go to see it you can also take in the rather grand memorial to Shelley placed on Oxford’s campus, a place too noble to accept him in life and only too willing to lionize him, deservedly so, in death.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Amy Tan was born on February 19, 1952 in Oakland, California. Happy 64th, Amy! We’re all very glad that you are recovering from your harrowing bout of illness from Lyme Disease. Yes, Amy Tan, the famous author, contracted Lyme Disease. Unfortunately, it was misdiagnosed for years and she had thought her writing career was over. And what a career she has had!
She is most famous for her novels about Chinese families, especially The Joy Luck Club.
- In The Joy Luck Club, four Chinese-American daughters learn the history and back story of their mothers in this novel. The mothers, who meet up regularly to play Mah Jong, called themselves the Joy Luck Club. It was a major best seller and book club favorite.
- In The Kitchen God’s Wife, two best friends have kept each other’s secrets. Now that one of them is deathly ill, the other believes it is her duty to tell her secrets to her friend’s daughter. But the friend gets better – now what?
- In The Hundred Secret Senses, Olivia meets her much older half-sister for the first time. It is like meeting someone from another world. And really it was another world. Kwan grew up in China, Olivia in America.
- In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Ruth Young’s mother LuLing is slowing succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Before she loses herself completely, she gives Ruth some of her writings, which reveal a very different side of her mother.
- In Saving Fish from Drowning, Bibi Chen has planned a picaresque journey of the senses on the Burma Road. After she dies unexpectedly, she watches her tour group veer off the path into the unknown.
- In The Opposite of Fate, which is a series of essays Tan writes about her works. Some have likened it to a long conversation with Ms. Tan.
- The Valley of Amazement, Tan’s last novel, is the story of three women, connected at times with love and then by hate and by the painting The Valley of Amazement.
- She also wrote the children’s book Sagwa, the Chinese Cat (illustrated by Gretchen Schields), which was published in 1994. A mother cat tells her kittens the story of their ancestry. The family descended from Sagwa, who was famous for changing the way Siamese cats look forever. After she fell into the ink pot, and changed the wording of a harsh rule with her footprints, it was decreed by the wise magistrate (foolish until Sagwa’s assistance) that henceforth all Chinese cats should have dark faces, ears and paws. Sagwa was also made into an animated children’s television series in 2001. It was very popular on PBS Kids and often reruns. It aired for one season only, and cancelled in 2003.
And to think, her writing career was almost halted in its tracks because of her undiagnosed Lyme Disease. Her story is like so many of those suffering with this mysterious, debilitating and hard to diagnose disease. In 1999 she first began showing the symptoms. Symptoms which nearly debilitated her: anxiety, numbness, vision problems, brain lesions, hallucinations. She found she was having trouble reading, couldn’t remember what was on the page after she read it. She was having trouble writing and speaking – both of which are incredibly important for authors. She went from doctor to doctor, took test after test. She took steroids, then Prozac (which gave her nightmares), until, finally, one doctor ordered an ELISA test (which was used to screen for Lyme Disease). She read up on this disease and every symptom fit, however, some physicians still expressed doubt she had it, since she lives in San Francisco. What they didn’t consider is that she does have a house in New York state, and she does take walks in the woods there. She found a Lyme Disease specialist in San Francisco who finally diagnosed her. Once she began taking anti-biotics, her symptoms began to ease, but she will have to take these pills for life. Tan co-founded LymeAid 4 Kids, which helps uninsured children pay for treatment.
Here are some extra fun facts about Amy Tan you may not know:
- She found out later on that her mother had been married before in China, and had left behind three daughters, and the memory of her mother’s suicide. Amy got to meet her step-sisters finally.
- Her older brother and her father both died of brain tumors within six months of each other.
- In college, she had a double major of English and Linguistics. She continued in schooling and got her Master’s in Linguistics then started on her doctorate.
- She worked in the field of helping children with developmental disabilities.
- She was one of the founding members of the band the Rock Bottom Remainders, along with Dave Barry, Stephen King, Matt Groenig, Barbara Kingslover and Roy Blount, Jr. The Remainders’ first performance was in 1992 at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California. They also played at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1995. They gave their last concert on June 23, 2012, at the annual conference of the American Library Association also in Anaheim, where they played their first concert. Even though the band is no longer playing gigs, they are fondly remembered by authors, teachers and librarians everywhere. Plus there’s always Youtube…
- She wrote the libretto for the opera composed by Stewart Wallace based on her book The Bonesetter’s Daughter.
- She was a free-lance business writer for several years before she started writing fiction at the age of 33.
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Happy 78th birthday! I really wish you lived closer to me so that I could take you out to lunch and buy you a present, although nothing I could give you would remotely compare to the marvelous gifts that you have bestowed upon readers of all ages over your prolific and inspiring career. I mean, seriously—find me a woman in North America whose life as a young adult wasn’t made just a little bit better as a result of reading Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Although, I guess there are some unfortunate people out there who were deprived of the opportunity to read Margaret and Deenie and Forever, which in turn possibly inspired you to become an active proponent of the National Coalition Against Censorship.) I hope your day is as fantastic as your books. Blessings on you—
Stacy Parish, Williamson County Public Library, Franklin TN
(Author’s note: So, yeah. I have serious doubts that Judy Blume will ever read my birthday wishes to her, but I’m still going to put it out there. Doesn’t cost me anything.)
If you’ve read this far (bless your heart) and are wondering to yourself: Who is this Judy Blume that you speak of? Then please, Dear Reader, continue. Judy Blume, nee Judith Sussman, was born on February 12, 1938 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a suburban town just west of New York City to Esther and Rudolph Sussman, a homemaker and a dentist. Judy, as she preferred to be called, had a brother David, who was four years her senior and preferred to spend his free time working on mysterious and often volatile science experiments in the garage. Hence, she found herself being the one who entertained her parents and other family members with her games and performances, much like funny, charismatic Sally Freedman in Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself. In fact, Judy would again draw upon her own childhood experiences, seven years and seven books after publishing her award-winning Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret., as the basis for Sally, and her brother David as the model for Sally’s sardonic loner brother Douglas.
Judy Blume was a voracious reader as a child, and loved stories and books of all kinds. She says that she spent most of her childhood making up stories inside her own head, but no matter how much she read, she never found any characters in those books whose lives and experiences were relatable to her own. Books of that era were often “sanitized for your protection,” to borrow a phrase one of my coworkers uses frequently. That is, nobody had an agonizingly annoying little brother who went into their room and messed with their stuff and swallowed their turtle (a la Fudge, from Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), nobody was bullied (Blubber), nobody started their period (Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), and you can be absolutely certain that nobody ever wrote about their father being shot and killed in a convenience-store holdup (Tiger Eyes.)
After graduating from high school, Judy was accepted by and enrolled in Boston University, where she spent all of two weeks before contracting mononucleosis. She returned home to New Jersey and transferred later that year to New York University. Life for Judy, as it does for most of us, proceeded apace—during her junior year of college, she began dating John Blume and was soon engaged to be married; she lost her beloved father, whom she affectionately called “Doey-bird,” in July before her senior year; she married John later that summer; and by the time she graduated from college in 1961, she was pregnant with her first child. Her daughter Randy was born later that year, and two years after that, the family moved from their apartment in Plainfield, New Jersey, to a house a few miles away in Scotch Plains. While living there, Judy gave birth to their second child, a son they named Lawrence. (How fun is this–Judy has stated in interviews that Lawrence was the inspiration for the character named Fudge, and Lawrence directed the critically-acclaimed film adaptation of Tiger Eyes in 2012.)
As a young suburban homemaker, Judy didn’t enjoy the activities that the other wives and mothers did. Golf, tennis, and shopping held no charm for her, and as a result, Judy often found herself being bored. Determined to make her life more interesting and to flex her creative muscles that had atrophied since childhood, she tried for a time to write songs. When that didn’t work out, she started making crafts out of felt, but she found that quite unsatisfying and also developed an unfortunate rash from the craft glue. Then one fine day when she was twenty-seven, Judy received a brochure in the mail from her alma mater (NYU) that advertised a class on writing for children. She was already trying to write and illustrate children’s books, so this was a positive omen. Judy signed up for the class, and even took it again the following semester. Her patience and persistence paid off, and before her second semester ended, she had a few of her stories accepted for publication in a magazine and was paid the roaring sum of $20 per story. And the rest, as they say, is history. Her first full-length children’s book, The One In The Middle Is The Green Kangaroo, was published in 1969, and in the decades since, her novels for children and young adults have exceeded sales of 85 million copies and have been translated into 32 languages.
By the end of the 20th century, Judy’s original demographic of readers had grown up and had children of their own. Her books had extended from the first generation and were still popular with—and relevant to—the next one. Her original readers were also rewarded with several adult novels from Judy’s beautiful mind—Wifey (1978), Smart Women (1983), Summer Sisters (1999) and In The Unlikely Event (2015.) Just as with her children’s and young adult novels, these books all showcased Judy’s transcendent talent for chronicling family life and its convoluted, often messy, occasionally hysterical, events. She also published a nonfiction book, titled Letters To Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You in 1986. Inspired by a 10-year-old girl named Amy, the purpose of the book was to illustrate what kids were thinking and feeling about different issues such as divorce, sex, drugs, suicide, et cetera, issues that kids might be hesitant to approach their parents about and parents in turn might be completely in the weeds for talking to their children about.
Lucky readers are we, as the delightful Judy Blume shows no signs of slowing down, even as she approaches her eighth decade on the planet, and that her books of such timeless quality have endured along with her. What a marvelous way to spend a winter afternoon, curled up with a cup of tea and some of the charming characters she brought us—Margaret, Deenie, Davey, Fudge, to name just a few. Happy birthday, Judy Blume! Mazel tov, and thank you.
Suggested reading and sources:
- Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Bradbury Press, 1970. (J F BLU)
- Everything I Needed To Know About Being A Girl I Learned From Judy Blume, edited by Jennifer O’Connell, Simon & Schuster, 2007. (813 EVE)
- Summer Sisters by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press, 1988. (F BLU)
- Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume, Delacorte Press 1981. (J F BLU)
- Who Wrote That? Judy Blume by Elisa Ludwig, Chelsea House Publishers, 2004. (J 92 BLUME)
- Women Who Broke The Rules: Judy Blume by Kathleen Krull, Bloomsbury USA, 2015. (J 92 BLUME)
*The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not intended in any way, shape, or form to influence anyone to trespass into their sibling’s room and swallow their pet. The author and her employer hereby absolve themselves of any such untoward behavior being emulated by WCPL patrons, their families, neighbors, classmates, yada yada yada.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
On January 15, 1831, Victor Hugo finished one of his famous novels— Notre Dame de Paris. It had taken him only four months, after missing many deadlines set by his publishers. This was his first novel; it was a hit in Paris and France from the very beginning. Hugo had already gained fame because of his poems (he was granted many gifts and a 3000 franc annual pension from King Louis XVIII.) He lived during turbulent times. When he was two, Napoleon became Emperor of France. During his eighteenth year, the Bourbon dynasty was restored and Napoleon overthrown. It is no wonder that The Hunchback of Notre Dame was set in turbulent times. And it also explains the French reaction to the work. The French had all lived through Napoleon and the struggles, not to mention the French Revolution that had occurred within living memory.
Notre Dame de Paris was a huge hit for him—even a sensation. The English translator for Hugo retitled the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame because at the time of its publication in English, Gothic novels were popular. Thus all the confusion! Hugo titled it as he did because the main character really is the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, not Quasimodo or Esmerelda. Hugo wanted to bring attention to the condition of the famous cathedral—it was badly in need of repairs. It was attracting thousands of tourists who had read the popular novel. The book also inspired a renewed appreciation for pre-Renaissance buildings, which thereafter began to be actively preserved.
All his adult life, he passionately advocated for an end to the death penalty. He is credited with convincing the British government to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities, and is also considered in the removal of the death penalty from the constitutions of Geneva, Portugal and Colombia. His archives show that he wrote a letter asking the USA, for the sake of their own reputation in the future, to spare John Brown’s life, but the letter arrived after Brown was executed. What would have happened if the letter had arrived before??
When Napoleon III came to power, Hugo declared him an enemy of the state and moved abroad. He spent fifteen years in exile in Brussels, then Channel Islands. Jersey expelled him soon after arrival, but Guernsey was welcoming. His home in exile is a museum now.
When he returned to Paris in 1870, he was touted as a national hero. He suffered a small stroke, his two sons died and his daughter was committed to an insane asylum, all in a short time period. His wife had died several years earlier; his devoted mistress died two years before him. The whole nation of France celebrated his eightieth birthday. Paris had one of the largest parades ever to celebrate it. For nearly six hours people marched past his window! He was recovering from a small stoke and was not able to leave his bed, but he was propped up so he could watch. He was also given a traditional gift that was only given to kings. Paris even renamed a street after him. Most of the large towns and cities have streets named after victor Hugo. When Hugo died at age 83 from pneumonia, his coffin was laid under the Arc de Triomphe for an all-night vigil. Nearly 2 million people marched in his funeral. He was buried with all honors in a crypt with Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola.
On to the novel: On January 6, 1482, during the Feast of Fools, a huge crowd is milling around the Cathedral of Notre Dame, taking part in the celebrations. There is a maypole, a mystery play and a bonfire. Esmerelda, a Gypsy, singing and swaying, catches the eyes of several men: Captain (of the guards) Phoebus, Grigoire, Archdeacon Claude Frollo and Quasimodo. Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmerelda, but he is caught by the guards, flogged and put in stocks. Esmerelda gives him water, gaining his undying love. Later, after Esmerelda is charged with Phoebus’ attempted murder, Quasimodo saves her from death by taking her to the sanctuary of the cathedral. But the sanctuary doesn’t last long. She is retaken, and hanged. Frollo laughs during the hanging so Quasimodo throws him off the cathedral. Quasimodo finds Esmerelda’s body in the graveyard and stays there until he dies of starvation.
Hugo introduced the concept of the novel as Epic Theatre in Notre Dame de Paris. This was a giant epic about the history of a whole people, with the figure of the great cathedral as witness and silent protagonist. It was the first novel to have beggars as protagonists. It was also the first work of fiction to encompass the whole of life, from the King of France to Paris sewer rats, in a manner later co-opted by many others authors, including Charles Dickens. The popularity of the book in France also kick started the historical preservation movement in Paris and the rest of the nation and strongly encouraged Gothic revival architecture. Ultimately it led to major renovations at Notre-Dame in the 19th century; much of the cathedral’s present appearance is a result of this renovation. Read the rest of this entry →
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
“Pseudonym” comes from the Greek pseudonymos, meaning “having a false name, under a false name,” and writers have used pseudonyms or pen names for centuries. Everybody knows that “Mark Twain” was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, and by now most readers have figured out that “Robert Galbraith” (The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm) is a pseudonym for Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. But did you know that “J.K. Rowling” is also a pseudonym? Rowling’s real name is Joanne (no middle initial) Rowling! Why would an author choose to write under a different name? And just who are some of these writers who’ve pulled the literary wool over readers’ eyes with alternate identities?
To Conceal Gender
One of the most common reasons for writing under an assumed name is to conceal the author’s gender. Women writers simply weren’t always taken as seriously as their male counterparts, and some of the most celebrated authors of all times had to use masculine pen names to insure their works were given the same consideration as male writers, or even be published at all. Among the most famous are the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Charlotte published her works, including the classic Jane Eyre, under the male pen name “Currer Bell.” Emily used “Ellis Bell” for her masterpiece Wuthering Heights, while Anne wrote Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as “Acton Bell.”
To Conceal Identity
Louisa May Alcott published her most famous work, Little Women, under her real name, but she began her career writing as “A.M. Barnard.” Mary Ann Evans began writing as “George Eliot” to distance herself from the female romance novelists of the Victorian era. She revealed her true identity after her novel Adam Bede was well-received, but continued using her pen name for her other works, including Middlemarch. Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, is better known as “Isak Dinesen.” Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin is famous as “George Sand.” Women writers still use male or androgynous pen names. Science fiction novelist Alice Mary Norton wrote as “Andre Norton” to increase her marketability with her primarily male audience. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter publishers urged her to use initials instead of her real name Joanne for fear the target audience of young boys wouldn’t read something written by a woman. Jane Austen hid her identity but not her gender when she published Sense and Sensibility as “A Lady.”
To Switch Genres
Sometimes writers known for specific genres just want to try something different, which can be confusing and off-setting to their faithful readers. So they choose to use pen names. Mystery writer Agatha Christie also wrote romance novels as “Mary Westmacott.” Nora Roberts, mainly known for her romance novels, branched out into science fiction as “J.D. Robb.” Anne Rice, famous for her Vampire Chronicles, writes erotic fiction as “A.N. Roquelaure” and “Anne Rampling.” (For the record, her real name is Howard Allen O’Brien, so “Anne Rice” is also a pen name.)
J.K. Rowling wrote her adult mysteries The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm as “Robert Galbraith” to “publish without hype or expectation” and received unbiased reviews from critics without the preconceived notions her name carries. Novelist Evan Hunter (born Salvatore Albert Lombino) saw his most success writing crime fiction as “Ed McBain” (the 87th Precinct series). Hunter’s 2005 New York Times obituary explained that McBain and Hunter bylines were kept very separate “to avoid any confusion or shock that readers of Evan Hunter’s ‘serious’ books might feel when exposed to the ‘mayhem, bloodshed, and violence’ that were Ed McBain’s meat and drink.” Isaac Asimov, best known for his popular science and science fiction works, wrote a series of juvenile sci-fi novels as “Paul French.” Poet Cecil Day-Lewis published detective novels as “Nicholas Blake.”
To Avoid Saturating The Market
Early in Stephen King’s career, his publishers felt writers should be limited to putting out only one book a year. To get around this restriction, he created “Richard Bachman.” He came up with the name while on the phone with his publisher – he had a Richard Stark novel on his desk and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. King wrote four novels as Bachman but once his cover was blown, he declared Bachman dead of “cancer of the pseudonym.”
A more extreme example is provided by horror master Dean Koontz. Throughout the 1970s, Koontz published as many as eight books a year, and since his editors told him that writing in different genres under the same name was a bad idea, and risked serious overexposure, he chose some aliases: “Aaron Wolfe,” “Brian Coffey,” “David Axton,” “Deanna Dwyer,” “John Hill,” “K.R. Dwyer,” “Leigh Nichols,” “Anthony North,” “Owen West,” and “Richard Paige.” Koontz is suspected of using other names as well, but only admits to writing under these ten pen names.
To Separate A Writing Career From A “Day Job”
Nevil Shute Norway published his novels, including A Town Like Alice and On the Beach, as “Nevil Shute” to protect his aeronautical engineering and business careers. Renowned Egyptologist Dr. Barbara Mertz is better known as “Elizabeth Peters,” writer of the bestselling Amelia Peabody mystery series. Sir Walter Scott wrote Waverly and other novels anonymously to protect his reputation as a poet. “Ann Landers” was a pen name created by the popular advice column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who didn’t want it confused with another column she was writing about child care. Joe Klein, TIME magazine political columnist, wrote the novel Primary Colors, based on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as “Anonymous” and went to great lengths to protect his true identity.
As a Pen Name for a Group of Writers
It turns out that some well-known writers never existed at all! The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon was written instead by several ghostwriters. Likewise, the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls series were not the work of Carolyn Keene, who didn’t exist, but by different ghostwriters. Laura Lee Hope, credited with The Bobbsey Twins series, was also just a pseudonym for several ghostwriters.
No matter why a writer chooses to use a pseudonym, whether to mask gender, explore different genres, or maintain professional and personal privacy, key results are the unlocking of creativity, the freedom to write as one pleases, and the opportunity to have one’s work made available to readers. Without the use of pen names, some of literature’s greatest masterpieces (and works of popular fiction) might never have been written or published.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
The well-known author and poet Robert Louis Stevenson was born 165 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13. We are very lucky that he didn’t go into the family business of building lighthouses!! He left us with children’s poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses, many other lyric poems, and of course, his novels, Kidnapped, Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Louis (he was never really called Robert) was sickly as a child, and continued to struggle with ill health all his life. His mother and father had lung problems and he inherited his breathing problems from them both. His family often moved to warmer climates during the colder weather, which he and his family continued later on in his life. His parents were well-off and well-read and moderate Presbyterians. His nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) was fervent in her beliefs and scared young Louis out of sound sleep many nights with her scary stories of sinners going to hell, and supernatural beings coming to get him. It’s no wonder he had such a great imagination!
He was tutored at home often, attending school sporadically, because of his ill health, and only liking playing games at recess. He wrote stories throughout his childhood, but his father determined he needed to have a career, so he was sent to Edinburgh University to become a lawyer. He did pass the bar, but never practiced. His father came to understand that Louis would have to be a writer, and continued to support him from time to time until his death. Louis travelled and wrote about his travels. He traveled and met people, most of them ended up helping him with publishing or editing his works. When he was 26, he met an American woman, Fannie van der Grift Osbourne, while they were staying at a hostel in France. He fell in love but she was still married (with two surviving children) and unsure about her feelings. She returned to America to gain a divorce and Louis, desperate to see her again, sailed across the ocean in steerage, and then traveled across county to Monterey, California. He nearly died- his health was never very good after this trip. They married and began to try to find the best places for his health to live. It was while happily married with Fanny that he wrote his most famous books. Lloyd, Fanny’s son helped him with Treasure Island. He was a teen at the time and found the story involving. He helped make the map.
The Stevensons found the best place for Louis’ health were the South Sea Islands and ended up living in Samoa. Louis became involved in his adopted country and wrote a book about the history of the Islands that was well received. The natives called him Tusitala (Teller of Tales). He died in Samoa at the age of 44, after a massive brain hemorrhage in 1894. He wrote his own epitaph, his poem Requiem.
For bit a of levity, Nancy Horan, who recently wrote a fictionalized biography about Stevenson’s wife, Fanny, wrote an article for the Huffington Post about things you never knew about Robert Louis Stevenson.
- He invented the sleeping bag – too bad he never got to see one for sale in a store. Wonder who saw his and went on to invent a better version?
- He wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in eight days, while bedridden and recovering from a bout of illness.
- He used a pseudonym when he published Treasure Island in monthly chapters in a children’s magazine. He probably thought Captain George North would be more seaman-like.
- He gave away his birthday to a twelve-year old girl. They were talking and she said she’d never had a birthday since she was born on Christmas Day. He was appalled that she’d never had an actual birthday and wrote a legal letter giving her his birthday. (This makes me think he must have been a fun person to be with!)
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
It’s the evening before Halloween, October 30th, 1938, a Sunday. If you were alive on that particular Sunday in 1938 and were fortunate enough to have a radio set, you’d probably be gathered around listening to either one radio channel or the other; there were only two. You’d have taken your pick between a light comedy series or a dramatic play. Perhaps you tuned in to the play a little late at 8:12pm, switching channels after the comedy musings of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen ended, and missed the broadcaster’s announcement that the program you were about to hear was a fictional play put on by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre.
Orson Welles, age 23 at the time, was an unknown actor and writer who had been on the radio for several years as the voice of “The Shadow”, a popular mystery program. Later, some would speculate that the Halloween Eve broadcast is what launched Welles’ career out of obscurity and into a Hollywood studio where he would produce, co-write, direct, and star in what many call the greatest American film ever made, Citizen Kane. But for now, Welles is still an obscure voice actor, standing in front of a microphone with his other actors and sound effects men, on the verge of terrifying a nation.
That night, Welles and his Mercury Theater Company were presenting an updated radio version of H.G. Wells’ (no relation) War of the Worlds – a science fiction novel published in 1898. After the Mercury Players were announced, however, the listeners did not hear the opening lines of a play as they might have expected. Instead, several minutes of Spanish tango music played before a series of unsettling, although dramatized, news-flashes:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News.”
The news flashes weaved in and out of the musical program to keep listeners up-to-date on the recent gas explosions on Mars. Listeners were taken to the Princeton Observatory where the (fictitious) world-famous Professor Pierson relayed breaking news as he gazed through the lens of his giant microscope. Although the professor could not account for the sudden eruptions on the red planet, the announcer assured everyone that Mars was “a safe enough distance” at 40 million miles away. Professor Pierson was then handed a special news bulletin:
“…Seismograph registered shock of almost earthquake intensity occurring within a radius of twenty miles of Princeton. Please investigate.”
Professor Pierson dismissed this as a coincidental meteorite of an unusually large size that had nothing to do with the Mars explosions. After another round of musical entertainment, however, a breaking news bulletin confirms – the object was no meteorite. Our announcer, now at the scene, describes the strange object:
“Yes, I guess that’s the . . . thing, directly in front of me, half buried in a vast pit. Must have struck with terrific force. …Doesn’t look very much like a meteor… It looks more like a huge cylinder.”
According to the announcer, a crowd begins to form near the yellow-white object made of strange metal. The police attempt to push the mounting crowd back. And then, an unnamable noise is heard from inside of the object. Is it scraping? No one seems to know, until:
“She’s movin’! Look, the darn thing’s unscrewing! … Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it’s another one, and another. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing’s body. It’s large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . Ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.”
It is difficult to say at which point the radio audience, thousands of them across the country, started to panic. Weather they’d forgotten this was a dramatization or missed the opening announcements altogether, the bombardment of realistic “news flashes” were taken seriously and grew more terrifying by the minute:
“A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What’s that? There’s a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they’re turning into flame!”
(SCREAMS AND UNEARTHLY SHRIEKS)
“Now the whole field’s caught fire. (EXPLOSION) The woods . . . the barns . . . the gas tanks of automobiles . . . it’s spreading everywhere.”
Firefighters rush to the scene. Fortunately the monster has gone back into its cylinder. With forty dead, New Jersey under martial law, and our faithful announcer lying charred in a nearby hospital, a second announcer informs us that it’s “all quiet in the pit”. The media decides to dedicate all radio coverage to the event, and in a statement that will later ring with irony, exclaims:
“In view of the gravity of the situation, and believing that radio has a responsibility to serve in the public interest at all times, we are turning over our facilities to the state militia at Trenton.”
We are taken back to the landing site, where seven thousand men armed with rifles and machine guns have surrounded the cylinder. A solid metal monster rises from the ship, an impenetrable shield on legs taller than trees. The announcer concludes that the gas explosions were no coincidence. A Martian army has invaded planet Earth. He leaves little room for hope, exclaiming:
“The battle… has ended in one of the most startling defeats ever suffered by any army in modern times; seven thousand men armed with rifles and machine guns pitted against a single fighting machine of the invaders from Mars. One hundred and twenty known survivors. The rest strewn over the battle area…, crushed and trampled to death under the metal feet of the monster, or burned to cinders by its heat ray. The monster is now in control of the middle section of New Jersey and has effectively cut the state through its center… By morning the fugitives will have swelled Philadelphia, Camden, and Trenton, it is estimated, to twice their normal population… We take you now to Washington for a special broadcast on the National Emergency…”
Back in reality, the news of a Martian invasion was spreading through telephones and streets. Weeping, frantic women called police stations, cars packed full of children and luggage clogged the roads. An Indianapolis woman barged into a church service, screaming, “New York destroyed; it’s the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I just heard it on the radio.” And on the radio, the Martians kept coming. New ships were spotted in the air and discovered on land while the gas explosions on Mars continued.
“They seem to be making conscious effort to avoid destruction of cities and countryside. However, they stop to uproot power lines, bridges, and railroad tracks. Their apparent objective is to crush resistance, paralyze communication, and disorganize human society.”
By that time the fictional war was in full swing. An officer shouted coordinates. The audience heard gun shots, coughing, and voices muffled by gas masks. The Martian’s heat rays sprayed over the troops. Their poisonous black gas, undeterred by the masks, poured through the streets of New Jersey. They effectively destroyed the entire army. Frantic, the announcer relayed the final news:
“This is the end now. Smoke comes out . . . black smoke, drifting over the city. People in the streets see it now . . . thousands of them, dropping in like rats. Now the smoke’s spreading faster. It’s reached Times Square. People trying to run away from it, but it’s no use. They’re falling like flies. Now the smoke’s crossing Sixth Avenue . . . Fifth Avenue . . . one hundred yards away . . . it’s fifty feet . . .”
OPERATOR: “2X2L calling CQ . . . 2X2L calling CQ . . . 2X2L calling CQ . . . New York. Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone . . . 2X2L”
With the announcer dead, it was time for intermission.
If you weren’t already shouting warnings in the streets, moving your living room furniture in preparation for an alien ambush, running on foot to a nearby park, preparing to poison yourself, rushing to your nearest church for some last-minute saving, or flooding radio and police stations with questions about evacuation procedures (all of which really happened), and were still listening to your radio, this intermission may have assured you that the hysteria was all fiction.
But the reaction was so overwhelming that the Associated Press sent out a news bulletin at 8:48 PM informing everyone that this was “a studio dramatization”. As soon as news of the hysteria reached Orson Welles in the studio, he was said to have broken character and to also reassure listeners that this was a fictional event.
After the public had been informed that the play was intended for nothing more than Halloween entertainment, people were infuriated. Some speculated that Orson Welles was trying to create hysteria, but his reaction suggests otherwise. In his own words he was “just stunned” by the audience’s panic, stating, “Everything seems like a dream”.
Thomas Doherty, Professor of American studies, considers the event to be “… among the top five mass-communications events in history — along with the Kennedy assassination, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.” We may overlook this mass-communication event because in this case, there was no event. Panic was created by smoke, mirrors, and what this author assumes to be the most talented voice actors and sound effects men of all time.
In order to understand the reaction, Doherty reminds us to first understand the audience. The people of 1938 were anticipating a German invasion. They were becoming uncomfortably familiar with the sound of breaking news broadcasts, which the Mercury Theater duplicated in detail, including reporters fumbling over words, crackling static, and the buzzes of short-wave radio.
Now-a-days we have Google, which makes it unlikely for an event of this type and magnitude to happen again. But you have to admit, although unintended to cause such chaos, it must be one of the most successful Halloween “pranks” of all time. And in the spirit of Halloween, I leave you with Orson Welles’ final words in the play that horrified a nation:
“So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian. . .it’s Hallowe’en.”
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
See what I did there with the title? And if you don’t, then you may have been living under a rock similar to the ones that Charlie Brown used to get in his trick-or-treat bag on Halloween. For the uninitiated, Peanuts is a syndicated comic strip written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz that made its debut on October 2, 1950 in nine American newspapers: The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Minneapolis Tribune, The Allentown Morning Call, The Bethlehem Globe-Times, The Denver Post, The Seattle Times, The New York World-Telegram & Sun, and the Boston Globe. Original strips ran daily and Sundays until February 13, 2000, and at its peak, Peanuts appeared in more than 2,600 newspapers worldwide and was translated into 21 languages. The four-panel format set the standard for comic strips, and combined with other media and merchandise, Peanuts earned Schulz more than $1billion in his lifetime. Reprints are still syndicated and run in almost every U.S. newspaper.
Peanuts originated from a weekly panel comic called Li’l Folks that appeared in Schulz’s hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to1950. In addition to a round-headed kid that evolved into Charlie Brown, the early strip also featured a little dog that resembled the early 1950s version of Snoopy. Li’l Folks was dropped in early 1950, and later that year Schulz approached United Feature Syndicate with a collection of his best work. A deal was accepted, but a name change for the new strip was necessary in order to avoid confusion with two existing comic strips, Al Capp’s Li’l Abner and a comic titled Little Folks. The syndicate settled on Peanuts as the name for the new strip, and it was a name that Schulz always disliked. (Author’s random thought: I wonder if he got over that, when his earnings from Peanuts climbed into the millions.)
The final daily original Peanuts comic strip, in which Schulz announced his retirement, was published on Monday, January 3, 2000. It contained a farewell note to readers from Schulz, and had an illustration of Snoopy deep in thought atop his doghouse with his iconic typewriter. Schulz had drawn 5 extra Sunday strips which had yet to run, and the last-ever of these was published on February 13, 2000, the day after Schulz’s death at age 78 from complications from colon cancer. It incorporated a colorized version of Schulz’s farewell strip from January 3, several drawings from past strips, and the sweet note to Schulz’s faithful readers.
Despite the end of the strip, Peanuts remains popular throughout multiple platforms –syndicated strips in daily and Sunday newspapers, television specials, books, theatrical productions, apparel and other merchandise, board games, amusement park characters, and perhaps the largest single venue of them all: the MetLife Insurance Company blimps, christened “Snoopy One” and “Snoopy Two.”
I have to confess, that in addition to having that pervasive earworm of a song in my head while I wrote this—you know, the song that Schroeder played on his magical piano in A Charlie Brown Christmas, that all the gang did their righteous dance moves to—I also had Bob Seger’s “Beautiful Loser” in my head. According to a 1986 interview by Seger in Creem magazine, that song is about people who set their goals so low that they never achieve anything of substance. It occurs to me that Peanuts’ central character, Charlie Brown, does just the opposite of that. He can’t fly a kite, win a baseball game, talk to the little red-haired girl without freaking out, or kick the football that Lucy heartlessly pulls away Every. Single. Time. Yet, against the mountain of evidence that suggests that the results will be the same, he keeps trying. He doesn’t give up. He perseveres.
The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not a reflection of Williamson County Public Library or its employees. She can occasionally be found sitting behind a desk in the Children’s Department offering psychiatric help, but she is no longer allowed to charge 5 cents for her services.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
David Herbert Richards Lawrence was born 130 years ago this September, on September 11. Most people only know the name DH Lawrence because two of his novels, Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, were censored. A few people would probably admit to reading these two books under the covers with a flashlight! He was much more than just a novelist though– he was a noted poet, playwright, literary critic and painter.
Lawrence was born in Newcastle, England. His parents were from the working class—his father was a miner and his mother was a tutor. Early on, he contracted tuberculosis, which plagued him all his life. This disease made him sickly and he often bullied at the schools he attended. He did go a local school early on, won a scholarship to primary school, and then won another scholarship to Nottingham High School. He had to be a writer after this—he kept winning scholarships! He didn’t do so well at the high school though, and dropped out to go to work. His mother, realizing his intelligence and looking for someone to teach, began tutoring him at home. Her attention paid off; he was hired as a student-teacher at the University College, Nottingham. He also started writing in his spare time. He always wrote.
During his first job, teaching at a school in Croydon, which he surprisingly did well, his first works of literature, poems, were published in the prestigious English Review. He was asked about other works he had, and soon became known for his writing. His mother passed away, which devastated him and had a major impact upon his life and writing—directly influencing his novel Sons and Lovers. While reconnecting with a former professor of his, he fell in love and ran away with the professor’s wife. She left behind three small children! Since the former Mrs. Weekley (Frieda) was German, they had a hard time finding a place to live during World War I—they fell under suspicion constantly. After the war, he nearly died from influenza, got fed up with hateful reviews (and the suspicion) and moved out of England for good. He was living in Italy when Women in Love was published.
He and Frieda, the former Mrs. Weekley, tried living in Sardinia, then Ceylon. He was working his way toward the United States, where they wanted to live. He figured they would be easier on him—or at least not as cruelly critical. They stayed in Australia for a time then finally made it to North America. They found a place in Taos, New Mexico, which is known as The D H Lawrence Ranch. It belongs to the University of New Mexico, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
They visited Mexico, where he contracted three horrible diseases, one after another—typhoid, pneumonia and a recurrence of tuberculosis. He nearly died again. A recurring theme… He returned to Italy, where he wrote and edited Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Failing health kept him from traveling back to the United States. He spent the rest of his life vehemently defending his censured works, especially Lady Chatterley’s Lover. He died on March 2, 1930.
Frieda, the former Mrs. Weekley, and now Mrs. Lawrence, continued living at the ranch until her death in 1956.
***Interesting fact: D H Lawrence has a Facebook page! Truly! It is maintained by http://www.dh-lawrence.org.uk/
By Howard Shirley. Teen Department
The Battle of Britain. Pearl Harbor. Stalingrad. The Holocaust. Seventy years later, the events and places of the Second World War echo in our minds, in stories we’ve told over and over, in novels, memoirs, television and film. One might think there is nothing new to discover, no secrets left unexamined. But the truth is that much of that history still remains hidden and forgotten, not because of conspiracy or government secrets, but merely because few have bothered to look— except for novelist Ruta Sepetys.
The daughter of a war refugee from Lithuania, young Ruta grew up hearing stories of her family’s escape from war-torn Europe. A Lithuanian military officer, Ruta’s grandfather found himself in the crosshairs of Stalin’s secret police, when the Soviet Union overran Lithuania and her sister Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, in the opening months of World War II. Knowing without any doubt what he and his family’s fate would be, the officer fled into Germany with his family, including Ruta’s father, a young boy. They lived out the war in a refugee camp, little more wanted by the German government than the Soviets. Eventually, the family immigrated to America; the boy grew up, married, and Ruta was born.
But as Ruta herself says, that was only ever half of the story. Because though the war had ended, Lithuania would remain in the Soviet grip for fifty years. And among those in that grip, were the other half of the Sepetys family—the aunts, uncles and cousins she never knew, who had not slipped from Stalin’s noose.
And a noose it was. From 1941 through 1944, Stalin arrested, tortured, deported and murdered Lithuania’s political and intellectual classes en masse, in a ruthless effort to crush the Lithuanian nation and erase its culture from Europe, replaced by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Communist Party.
Ruta’s family was part of that purge. Herded into crude train cars built for cattle, with the outside labelled “Thieves and Prostitutes,” Lithuanian doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, and their families, including the elderly, children and even infants, were shipped across the breadth of Russia to Siberia, some even forced to settle in the tundra above the Arctic Circle. Denied food, medicine, winter clothing and even the most rudimentary shelter, countless numbers died from neglect and exposure. Others were killed outright by the brutal NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB of the Cold War era. And, of course, any of Lithuania’s political or military classes, not to mention college professors and journalists, were never sent to Siberia; they were carted into Soviet prisons on trumped up charges, tried, convicted and executed by Stalin for the Glory of Mother Russia.
Most in the West had no idea, or for that matter, even cared.
Until Ruta Sepetys asked what happened to her cousins.
In her curiosity, Sepetys found the forgotten story of her family and the Lithuanian people—a story she had never fully known. As she says, there was only one thing she knew to do: pick up a pen, and write.
And she did. She wrote her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, the tale of a girl very much like the Sepetys cousins, a teenager with dreams of being an artist, who is instead swept up into the nightmare of Stalin’s greed. Between Shades of Gray is her story, but it is also the story of the Lithuanian people—the forgotten history that to this day Russian strong men wish to keep hidden. It is a tale of survival, of fortitude, of hope, and of love. Now translated into over 30 languages and sold in 45 countries around the world, Between Shades of Gray has broken open the lock of history, and the story of Lithuania and her Baltic neighbors is now known around the world, and will never be forgotten.
But this blog is about novels, not just one book.
Because Ruta has found another forgotten piece of history to bring before the world. And it’s the answer to this question:
What is the greatest maritime disaster in history?
The sinking of the Titanic?
Not even close.
It is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustoff, a civilian liner acting as a refugee ship, and filled by Baltic and German civilians trying to escape the rape of eastern Europe by the Soviet Red Army. The Gustoff went down in the freezing Baltic Sea, in the winter of 1945, sunk not by an accidental encounter with an iceberg, but a torpedo strike from a Soviet submarine. On board were an estimated ten thousand people; almost all were civilian refugees. Barely a thousand survived.
Nine thousand souls lost. Nine thousand stories forgotten.
But not by Ruta.
With her latest novel, Salt to the Sea (February 2016) Ruta Sepetys once again takes a moment in history the world has overlooked, and restores it fresh before us. Four teens flee the Soviet onslaught, each with their secrets, their fears, and their dreams. Four stories converge on a German port, the Baltic Sea, and the Wilhelm Gustoff. Through the eyes of these teens, Sepetys explores questions of guilt, forgiveness and redemption, what is truly meant by bravery and cowardice, and what happens when the soul abandons compassion for self-deluding pride. Ruta’s writing is always captivating; the simplest sentence carries weight beyond its words. The smallest detail sparks a vivid image, sometimes stark, sometimes brilliant, but each time beautiful. With her words, Sepetys captures moments in time, like memories renewed to life. With this story, Sepetys explores the human heart. There is adventure, there is mystery, there is villainy, there is tragedy, and there is hope. In Salt to the Sea, the forgotten are forgotten no longer, and in Ruta’s pen, the sea gives up its dead.
You’ll have to wait until February to read Salt to the Sea, but Between Shades of Gray is available now on our Teen Room shelves. Pick it up, and transport yourself into a history you never knew, and a story you will never forget.