Oct. 4, 2007

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Poem: "#22" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from Pictures of a Gone World. © City Lights Books, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


        to be alive in such a strange
with the band playing schmaltz
                in the classic bandshell
                    and the people
    on the benches under the clipped trees
                                and girls
        on the grass
            and the breeze blowing and the
        and a fat man with a graflex
        and a dark woman with a dark dog she called
        and a cat on a leash
        and a pekinese with a blond baby
        and a cuban in a fedora
        and a bunch of boys posing for a group
    and just then
        while the band went right on playing
    a midget ran past shouting and waving his hat
                at someone
    and a young man with a gay campaignbutton
came up and said
        Are you by any chance a registered

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of humorist Roy Blount Jr., (books by this author) born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1941). His most recent book Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from up South came out this year (2007).

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Rice, (books by this author) born in New Orleans (1941), whose first novel, Interview with the Vampire (1974), didn't sell many copies at first, but became a cult classic and is now just the first volume in Rice's popular Vampire Chronicles series.

It's the birthday of Edward L. Stratemeyer, (books by this author) born in Elizabeth, New Jersey (1862), one of the first American writers to capitalize on the new market in children's literature created by universal primary school. At the time, most children's books taught moral lessons, but Stratemeyer said, "A wide awake lad has no patience with that which is namby-pamby. ... He demands real flesh and blood heroes who do something." Stratemeyer also figured that his books would sell better if they had recurring characters, so he created one series after another, the Motor Boys, the Outdoor Girls, the Bobbsey Twins. His work was so popular that he couldn't keep up with the demand, so he created the Stratemeyer Syndicate, incorporated in 1910, a kind of fiction factory with dozens of writers banging out dozens of novels under numerous pseudonyms. Stratemeyer wrote the outline for each book and made sure that each had exactly 25 chapters and that every chapter ended with a good cliffhanger.

When detective fiction took off in the 1920s, Stratemeyer created a detective series for kids called the Hardy Boys, and it was his most popular series yet. He followed the Hardy Boys with a series about a girl detective named Nancy Drew. Publishers believed that books for boys always sold more than books for girls, but the Nancy Drew books were the most popular books that Stratemeyer ever published. Nancy Drew was also the last character Stratemeyer created himself. He died of a heart attack in 1930, the same year that the first Nancy Drew mystery came out. The title of the book was The Secret of the Old Clock. His syndicate ultimately published more than 700 titles, and it still sells about 6 million books a year.

It's the birthday of journalist Brendan Gill, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1914), who wrote for The New Yorker for more than 60 years, publishing fiction, essays, and criticism. He said, "Fiction is my chief interest, followed by architectural history, followed by literary and dramatic criticism. If these fields were to be closed to me, I would write copy for a bird-seed catalogue. In any event, I would write." Gill loved his job and he loved New York. He said, "You feel, in New York City, the energy coming up out of the sidewalks, you know that you are in the midst of something tremendous, and if something tremendous hasn't yet happened, it's just about to happen."

He also said, "Not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious."

It's the birthday of Damon Runyon, (books by this author) born Alfred Damon Runyon, in Manhattan, Kansas (1884). He started out as a newspaper man but made his breakthrough as a fiction writer during the prohibition era, when he began to write about gamblers, bookies, fight managers, theater agents, bootleggers, and gangsters in New York City. He wrote semi-fictional sketches of real people, and he gave them names like Dave the Dude, Harry the Horse, Nathan Detroit, Benny Southstreet, Dream Street Rose, Big Julie from Chicago, and Izzy Cheesecake. He helped popularize the slang of the era, in which a woman was called "a doll," a gun was called "a rod," money was called "scratch," and people didn't die, they "croaked." His short stories were collected in books such as Blue Plate Special (1934) and More than Somewhat (1937), but he's best remembered for the musical Guys and Dolls, based upon several of his stories and characters he created.

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