Blog Archives

National Humor Month: Weird Library and Literary Facts

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Once again the time has come for us to make you smile through the medium of the blogosphere. Last year we regaled you of the rather painstakingly concocted tale of St. Hilarius, to some fanfare. This year however, a different tack is needed. This year I am going to give you some of the most outrageous books and library facts imaginable. All will be true and factual. That’s what I deal in, you know facts. So hold on to your mouse for some of the great absurdities of literature and libraries.

Portrait of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) by Anton Raphael Mengs

  1. Libraries have more cardholders than Visa.
  2. Libraries have more locations than McDonalds.
  3. Casanova, one of the greatest lovers in history, was a librarian.
  4. Ranganathan, an Indian Librarian and Mathematician, created five laws of library science (not to be confused with the three laws of robotics created by Isaac Asimov): 1) Books are for use. 2) Every reader his book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the user. 5) The library is a growing organism.
  5. King Æthelred, often known as the Unready, was also known as the librarian king, or Writðengel, because of his large collection of hand copied manuscripts.
  6. Before becoming a leader in the Chinese communist movement, Mao Tse Tung was a librarian at Beijing University.
  7. 331.892829225209712743090511 is the longest Dewey decimal number on record. It deals with labor relations in tractor manufacturing in Canada in 2001.
  8. The book How the World Began, written in 1962, is the work of the youngest published author ever, Dorothy Straight, who penned the book for her grandmother at age four.
  9. The first prose novel, The Tale of the Genji, was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu 1000 years ago (approximately 1008 CE).
  10. William Shakespeare is credited with inventing more words than any other single person. Among his creations are: hurry, boredom, disgraceful, hostile, money’s worth, obscene, puke, perplex, on purpose, shooting star, and sneak.
  11. While in Tangiers, William S. Burroughs was known to put his cat, Ginger, into a child’s suit and insist he be served in cafes.
  12. The longest sentence in the book Les Miserables is 823 words long, and it still falls short of the current record holder. Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age(1964) by Bohumil Hrabal is a novel made up of a single sentence that goes on for 128 pages.
  13. In early drafts of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara was named Pansy.
  14. Generations have grown up with the Arab street urchin Aladdin, but the original story from Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights begins, “Aladdin was a little Chinese boy.”
  15. The Land of Oz is named after a filing cabinet. L. Frank Baum had two; one was A-N the other O-Z.
  16. Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham using less than 50 different words on a dare from his editor. John Milton used more than 8,000 different words to write Paradise Lost.
  17. Orson Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, of October 30, 1938, was so realistic that people actually believed there was an alien invasion occurring just outside the New York metropolitan area. Police attempted to break in the broadcast studio to end the show because of the number of distraught calls they were receiving.
  18. Lisbeth Slander, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is based on Stieg Larsson’s idea of what Pippi Longstocking would be like as a grown up.
  19. A note from The Strand Magazine – September 1903

    Sherlock Holmes may have had the first real fandom. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off the famous detective he had begun to tire of in His Last Bow, over 20,000 people canceled their subscription to The Strand Magazine. In his autobiography, Doyle writes, “They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead, and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and numerous were his friends. ‘You Brute!’ was the beginning of a letter which one lady sent me….”

  20. The first book bought on Amazon was called Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
  21. Bibliosmia is the enjoyment of the smell of old books.
  22. Agatha Christie disliked her creation Hercule Poirot, calling him “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.”
  23. Evelyn Waugh’s first wife’s name was Evelyn. They were known as ‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn’.
  24. Edgar Allen Poe, famous for his horror stories, actually invented the mystery genre and was one of the first to propose a solution to the cosmological problem known as Olbers’ Paradox.
  25. Stephen King was once arrested for vandalism when he went into a bookstore in Virginia and began signing copies of his book.
  26. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge joined the army under the name Silas Tomkyn Cumberbatch.
  27. Noted diarist, Samuel Pepys, made the first recorded instance of an English person drinking tea on 25 September 1660.
  28. Mickey Spillane insisted that 50,000 copies of his book Kiss Me, Deadly be destroyed for a single typo. The comma was left off the title.
  29. Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five(1984) was Neil Gaiman’s first published book.
  30. Owing to failing eyesight, James Joyce wrote much of his novel, Finnegan’s Wake, in crayon on pieces of cardboard.
  31. Portrait of Roald Dahl taken 20 April 1954 by Photographer Carl Van Vechten

    Roald Dahl was a taste tester for Cadbury’s Chocolate in his youth.

  32. Ian Fleming based many of the traits of James Bond on his friend and amiable rival, Roald Dahl. The two met while working for British Intelligence.
  33. J. R. R. Tolkien was once known to have dressed up as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior and chased his neighbor as a jest.
  34. The Count of Monte Cristo has such a vivid and realistic description of Dantes’s incarceration due to the fact that Dumas drew upon his recollection of his own time in prison for breaking the appellation d’origine controlee laws (essentially selling counterfeit cheese).
  35. The Hogwarts houses names were originally written down on an air sickness bag because J. K. Rowling came up with them while on a plane.
  36. In 1871, Mark Twain held patents for a scrapbooking technique and for an elastic hook and eye strap for garments similar to those used on modern bras.
  37. Ernest Vincent Wright wrote his 50,000 word novel, Gadsby, without using the letter “e”. Georges Perec did the same thing in French with his novel, La Disparition, but it has the added quality of being translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Dutch, Romanian, Croatian and Japanese all without using the most common letter in their respective language.
  38. M6 Toll Junction T1 in the UK, those poor books

    In building the M6 Toll Road in the UK, some 2.5 million Mills & Boon (equivalent to the American Harlequin romances) novels were pulped and mixed into the tarmac to help the surface absorbency.

  39. While visiting a Harry Potter chat room J. K. Rowling was told to be quiet because she didn’t know enough about Harry Potter.
  40. The Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland is not the same one who inspired Through the Looking Glass.

So that is the list of the craziest facts about books, authors and libraries I could find. (Okay, I also spend a fair amount of time writing fiction as well so I may have made up a few of these to add a little spice to the mix. Sorry, I can’t let the first of April go by without some fun). Were you able to figure out the crazy but true from the too good to be true? Here are the purposeful missteps:

  • King Æthelred was not known as the librarian king. His successor, Alfred the Great, was the first English king to author books.
  • Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl did have a friendly, gentleman’s rivalry during their time in the O.S.S. and Dahl was a war hero and lady’s man, but when asked about his inspiration, Fleming did not list his old chum Dahl.
  • Alexandre Dumas never served a day in jail for any crime, and chees was not added to the AoC laws until 1925.
  • Stephen King was once mistaken for a vandal in a bookstore in Alice Springs, Australia when he went in and began signing copies of his books, but the owner realized who he was long before the authorities were called.
  • Burroughs did have a cat named Ginger and got up to some amazing antics in Morocco, but putting Ginger in a suit was not one of them (that we know of).

The History of April Fools Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

With the coming of April the First we are all reminded of the jokes and pranks of years past, but very few people are reminded of the actual origin of this humorous day.

The tradition of April Fool’s Day can be traced back to the days of the early Christian church. Like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day is yet another church Holy Day that has become a secular holiday.

The tradition dates back to the late fourth century CE, and St. Hilary of Poitiers. Hilary was an extremely well educated man of a pagan family in the Poitiers region of what is now France. He converted to Christianity and was baptized in his early adulthood along with his wife and young daughter, the future St. Abra. Hilary was well liked and soon was elected Bishop of Poitiers. He was a serious man but had a well-documented jovial streak. There are documented incidents of his being reprimanded by the archbishops and cardinals of France at the time for once having replaced the water in the holy font with “the juice of the apple, the fruit that brought the fall of Eve.” And on another occasion adding a well-loved local sheep to the list of priests to be elevated to the level of monsignor, claiming “no purer lamb of god than he.”

Hilaryofpoitiers

Hilary of Poitiers

Unfortunately, Hilary, also known as the Hammer of the Arians, was a very prominent detractor of the heretical sect of Christianity known as Arianism. This led him into conflict with some Church Leaders as well as the Emperor Constantius II, and resulted in his exile. When the Emperor’s centurion delivered the notice of exile, Hilary tweaked the man’s nose and immediately decamped for Phrygia. He spent the four years of his exile defending the Roman Catholic ideal and was eventually allowed to return to Poitiers and to the Church’s good favor. After his death in 367, Hilary was Beatified and Canonized very quickly as a defender of the faith with the church of Sant Ilario at Casale Monferrato being named in his honor as early as 380. This dedicated church father and his japery are remembered to this day on the first of April, what we know as April Fool’s Day, but what was once remembered as the Feast of St. Hilary or as he was known in Latin Sanctus Hilarius.

 

Just Kidding!!!April_Fools'_Day_003

Here’s the (more or less) true history of April Fool’s Day:

Okay, so the real history of April Fool’s Day is quite a bit different from that. The actual origin is uncertain. The earliest written reference connecting foolishness and the First of April is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale Chanticleer the egotistical rooster is tricked by the fox. The tale is set “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” or the First of April. This however may be a mistake in transcription and refer to 32 days from the end of March, May Second, the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1381.

Chaucer_Hoccleve

Portrait of Chaucer from a manuscript by Thomas Hoccleve, who may have met Chaucer

Some believe that the practice of playing pranks on fools goes back to the advent of the Gregorian calendar. Before Pope Gregory’s modification to the calendar as we know it, the New Year was celebrated with a week-long festival that started on the Twenty-fifth of March and ended on April first. The new calendar changed that to the January first date we’re all familiar with. It is believed that it was common to send people who continued to hold to the April first date on fool’s errands, making them look the fools they were thought to be. The biggest problem with this likely apocryphal story is that the Gregorian calendar was not introduced until 1582, well after the Chaucer reference as well as several other historical allusions to the holiday.

The most likely origin is that it is a descent from earlier holidays like the roman festival of Hilaria, the Hindu religious festival of Holi, the Jewish Purim holiday and the medieval Feast of Fools. All of these holidays, except for the Feast of Fools, traditionally take place between March and April and are celebrations of joy and mirth. There is a distinct connection with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, a resurgence of joy from the dormancy and doldrums of winter.

bwTraditions vary across the world when it comes to the type of pranks played. In the United Kingdom, and many of its former possessions, it is common to give someone a letter to take to another person who will then read something akin to “send the fool further” and direct them to another person with the same letter. This is supposed to end by noon or else it is the sender rather than the messenger that will be the April fool. In Poland, the tradition of pranks and silliness is so rampant that in 1683 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II refused to sign a treaty involving Poland unless it was backdated to March 31st. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition where the newspapers will publish exactly one false front page news item, but it is never the main headline. Finally, in French speaking areas and Italy as well you find the April fish (poissons d’avril in French or pesce d’aprile in Italian). This is a practice of attempting to hang a paper fish on the back of someone’s shirt on the first of April.

So now while you are on the lookout for the next person trying to prank you or enjoying the schadenfreude of your own April fools jokes you can now know you are just continuing a centuries old tradition.

%d bloggers like this: