Oct. 29, 1998

Reasons for Numbers

by Lisel Mueller


Today's Reading: "Reasons for Numbers" by Liesel Mueller from ALIVE TOGETHER, published by Louisiana University Press.

The Gimbel's Department Store in New York began offering BALL-POINT PENS for sale on this day in 1945. The new invention was seen as a big improvement over ink wells and fragile fountain pen nibs. The first ball-points went for $12.50.

It's the anniversary of BLACK TUESDAY, 1929: the Stock Market Crash. During the late 1920s the market had boomed: 1929 share prices were double that of those in 1925. The boom peaked in August, 1929, then started to slide. Prices declined in September and early October, then began a free fall on October 18. On the 29th, 16 million shares were traded, prices collapsed, and over a dozen financiers took their own lives. Over the next few months investment capital dried up, companies cut back or went under, millions were put out of work, and the Great Depression was on.

It's cartoonist BILL MAULDIN's birthday, born in Mountain Park, New Mexico, 1921. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, the first in 1945 for his cartoons depicting the lives of ordinary WW II G.I.'s.

It's the birthday of the British novelist HENRY VINCENT YORKE, born in 1905, who wrote under the pseudonym of Henry Green. The author of nine novels including Living (1929), about working class life in England, Party Going (1939), Caught (1943), and Loving (1945).

It's the birthday of FANNY BRICE, the singer and comedian, born on the lower East Side of Manhattan, 1891. She made her name with the variety show, the Ziegfeld Follies, breaking in with them when she was just 19 years old after Florenz Ziegfeld heard her sing in a burlesque house. He immediately made her his headliner. She was best known as a comedian, particularly through her 1930s and '40s radio show called Baby Snooks, but she could also put over a serious torch song, like "My Man."

It's the anniversary of the RED CROSS, founded in 1864 by the Swiss philanthropist Henri Dunant. He'd witnessed a terrible battle in Europe in 1859 where 40,000 French and Austrian soldiers were killed. Three years later he wrote a book, A Memory of Solferino, which proposed voluntary relief societies be set up in every country. The 1864 Geneva Convention mandated that all nations signing the Convention charter care for the wounded of war regardless if the soldier was enemy or friend.

It's the birthday of songwriter DANIEL DECATUR EMMETT, born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, 1815, who composed dozens of songs and was a famous performer in his day on violin, flute, and as a singer, but is remembered today for one song: "Dixie."

It's the birthday of JAMES BOSWELL, the Scottish writer, born in 1740, Edinburgh. Boswell practiced law in Edinburgh on and off for most of his life, but outside of that made frequent trips to London where he met the Samuel Johnson. Johnson was 53 and Boswell 22. They took long travels together through the Highlands and western islands of Scotland and each wrote books about it that were popular with British readers. Around that same time Boswell began a diary that he kept up for the rest of his life, a book that is still read today. When Johnson died in 1784, Boswell wrote a biography of him that made Boswell famous.

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  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
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  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
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