Happy Birthday Harper Lee

To-Kill-a-Mockingbird

NAME: Nelle Harper Lee
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: April 28, 1926
EDUCATION: Huntington College, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Oxford University
PLACE OF BIRTH: Monroeville, Alabama

Best Known For:  Harper Lee is best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—her one and only published novel.

Writer. Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama. Lee Harper is best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—her one and only novel. The youngest of four children, she grew up as a tomboy in a small town. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature, and also owned part of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness, rarely leaving the house. It is believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.

One of her closest childhood friends was another writer-to-be, Truman Capote (then known as Truman Persons). Tougher than many of the boys, Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interests with boys his age, was picked on for being a sissy and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both shared in having difficult home lives. Truman was living with his mother’s relatives in town after largely being abandoned by his own parents.

In high school, Lee developed an interest in English literature. After graduating in 1944, she went to the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Lee stood apart from the other students—she could have cared less about fashion, makeup, or dating. Instead, she focused on her studies and on her writing. Lee was a member of the literary honor society and the glee club.

Transferring to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Lee was known for being a loner and an individualist. She did make a greater attempt at a social life there, joining a sorority for a while. Pursuing her interest in writing, Lee contributed to the school’s newspaper and its humor magazine, the Rammer Jammer. She eventually became the editor of the Rammer Jammer.

In her junior year, Lee was accepted into the university’s law school, which allowed students to work on law degrees while still undergraduates. The demands of her law studies forced her to leave her post as editor of the Rammer Jammer. After her first year in the law program, Lee began expressing to her family that writing—not the law—was her true calling. She went to Oxford University in England that summer as an exchange student. Returning to her law studies that fall, Lee dropped out after the first semester. She soon moved to New York City to follow her dreams to become a writer.

In 1949, a 23-year-old Lee arrived in New York City. She struggled for several years, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and for the British Overseas Air Corp (BOAC). While in the city, Lee was reunited with old friend Truman Capote, one of the literary rising stars of the time.

She also befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy.

In 1956, the Browns gave Lee an impressive Christmas present—to support her for a year so that she could write full time. She quit her job and devoted herself to her craft. The Browns also helped her find an agent, Maurice Crain. He, in turn, was able to get the publishing firm interested in her first novel, which was first titled Go Set a Watchman, then Atticus, and later To Kill a Mockingbird. Working with editor Tay Hohoff, Lee finished the manuscript in 1959.

Later that year, Lee joined forces with old friend Truman Capote to assist him with an article he was writing for The New Yorker. Capote was writing about the impact of the murder of four members of the Clutter family on their small Kansas farming community. The two traveled to Kansas to interview townspeople, friends and family of the deceased, and the investigators working to solve the crime. Serving as his research assistant, Lee helped with the interviews, eventually winning over some of the locals with her easy-going, unpretentious manner. Truman, with his flamboyant personality and style, also had a hard time initially getting himself into his subjects’ good graces.

During their time in Kansas, the Clutters’s suspected killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were caught in Las Vegas and brought back for questioning. Lee and Capote got a chance to interview the suspects not long after their arraignment in January 1960. Soon after, Lee and Capote returned to New York. She worked on the galleys for her forthcoming first novel while he started working on his article, which would evolve into the nonfiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The pair returned to Kansas in March for the murder trial. Later that spring, Lee gave Capote all of her notes on the crime, the victims, the killers, the local communities, and much more.

Soon Lee was engrossed in her literary success story. In July 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published and picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. A condensed version of the story appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine. The work’s central character, a young girl nicknamed Scout, was not unlike Lee in her youth. In one of the book’s major plotlines, Scout and her brother Jem and their friend Dill explore their fascination with a mysterious and somewhat infamous neighborhood character named Boo Radley. But the work was more than a coming-of-age story, however. Another part of the novel reflected racial prejudices in the South. Their attorney father, Atticus Finch, tries to help a black man who has been charged with raping a white woman to get a fair trial and to prevent him from being lynched by angry whites in a small town.

The following year, To Kill a Mockingbird won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and several other literary awards. Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the book and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation.

Lee visited the set during filming and did a lot of interviews to support the film. Earning eight Academy Award nominations, the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird won four awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch. The character of Atticus is said to have been based on Lee’s father.

By the mid-1960s, Lee was reportedly working on a second novel, but it was never published. Continuing to help Capote, Lee worked with him on and off on In Cold Blood. She had been invited by Smith and Hickock to witness their execution in 1965, but she declined. When Capote’s book was finally published in 1966, a rift developed between the two friends and collaborators. Capote dedicated the book to Lee and to his longtime lover Jack Dunphy, but he failed to acknowledge her contributions to the work. While Lee was very angry and hurt by this betrayal, she remained friends with Truman for the rest of his life.

That same year, Lee had an operation on her hand to repair damage done by a bad burn. She also accepted a post on the National Council of the Arts at the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson. During the 1970s and 1980s, Lee largely retreated from public life.

She spent some of her time on a nonfiction book project about an Alabama serial killer, which had the working title The Reverend. But the work was never published.

Lee continues to live a quiet, private life in New York City and Monroeville. Active in her church and community, she usually avoids anything to do with her still popular novel.

 

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Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Today is the 110th birthday of a man considered to be the most popular children’s book writer in American history, the best-selling children’s book writer of all time, and a man who revolutionized the way children learned to read: Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.  I have been obsessed with “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” since watching it one christmas at my mother’s house.  It is insane.    I am not the only fan, there are legions of them, many honoring him with similarly-rhythmed writing.  What David Rakoff did in his book Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel is brilliant.   You can listen to some of it read (it is absolutely best when read by the author) in an episode  for This American Life called “Oh The Places You Won’t Go” (TAL Show #470:  Show Me The Way).   You can listen to it here and I truly wish you would.

drseusswartime1

NAME: Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Author
BIRTH DATE: March 02, 1904
DEATH DATE: September 24, 1991
EDUCATION: Dartmouth College, University of Oxford
PLACE OF BIRTH: Springfield, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: La Jolla, California

Best Known For:  Throughout his career, cartoonist and writer Dr. Seuss published 60 children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Today is the 110th birthday of a man considered to be the most popular children’s book writer in American history, the best-selling children’s book writer of all time, and a man who revolutionized the way children learned to read: Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on this day in 1904. He’s the author of more than 60 children’s books, including Horton Hears a Who! (1954), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Hop on Pop (1963), Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975), The Butter Battle Book (1984), and of course, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

He was the grandson of German immigrants, a lifelong Lutheran, a Dartmouth graduate, and an Oxford dropout. His mom was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, a competitive platform high diver who read him bedtime stories every night. His dad inherited a brewery from his own German immigrant father a month before Prohibition began in the U.S., and eventually became a zookeeper who took young Theodor with him to work. The future Dr. Seuss grew up around the zoo, running around in the cages with baby lions and baby tigers.
At Dartmouth, he majored in English and wrote for the campus humor magazine. But one night he was caught drinking gin with some friends; since this was during Prohibition, it was an illegal act. The Dartmouth administration did not expel him, but as a disciplinary punishment, they did make him resign from all of his extracurricular activities, including the humor magazine, of which he was the editor-in-chief. From then on, he wrote for the magazine subversively, signing his work with his mother’s maiden name, Seuss.
His mother’s family pronounced it “Soise,” the way it’s said in Germany, but people in the States kept mispronouncing it Seuss. He eventually embraced the Anglican mispronunciation: After all, it rhymed with Mother Goose, not a bad thing for an aspiring children’s book writer.

In 1937, he published his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which he said was inspired by the rhythms of a steamliner cruiser he was on. He wrote the book, and much of the rest of his life’s work, in rhyming anapestic meter, also called trisyllabic meter. The meter is very alluring and catchy, and Seuss’s masterful use of it is a big part of why his books are so enjoyable to read. The meter is made up of two weak beats followed by a stressed syllable — da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM, as in “And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he / Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.”

A big study came out in the 1950s called “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” It was by an Austrian immigrant to the U.S., an education specialist who argued that the Dick and Jane primers being used to teach reading in grade school classrooms across America were boring and, worse, not an effective method for teaching reading. He called them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers,” which went “through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ children’s activities that offer opportunities for reading ‘Look, look’ or ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘Come, come’ or ‘See the funny, funny animal.’”

William Spaulding, a publisher from Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, thought that maybe a guy named Dr. Seuss, who’d published a few not-well-known but very imaginative children’s books, might be able to write a book that would be really good for teaching kids how to read. He invited Dr. Seuss to dinner and said, “Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down!”

Dr. Seuss spent nine months composing The Cat in the Hat. It uses just 220 different words and is 1,702 words long. He was a meticulous reviser, and he once said: “Writing for children is murder. A chapter has to be boiled down to a paragraph. Every word has to count.”

Within a year of publication, The Cat in the Hat was selling 12,000 copies a month; within five years, it had sold a million copies.

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Happy Birthday Zelda Fitzgerald

Today is the birthday of writer and socialite Zelda Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama (1900). She was named after the fictional gypsy heroine in Zelda’s Fortune (1874), one of her mother’s favorite books. She was the youngest of five children, and she rebelled against the strict discipline of her father, an Alabama Supreme Court judge. She snuck out of her window at night, smoked cigarettes, bobbed her hair, and wore a flesh-colored swimsuit so that people would think she was swimming nude. She spent her evenings at dances and parties with the officers stationed at nearby Camp Sheridan, and they competed for her attention. One officer performed the full manual of arms drill outside her door, and others took turns trying to outdo each other with fancy airplane stunts in the sky above the Sayre household.

It was at Camp Sheridan that Zelda met a young officer named Scott Fitzgerald. He was beautiful, like Zelda — they were both petite, with blond hair and light eyes. Years later, in her autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz (1932), she wrote: “He smelled like new goods. Being close to him with her face in the space between his ear and his stiff army collar was like being initiated into the subterranean reserves of a fine fabric store exuding the delicacy of cambrics and linen and luxury bound in bales.” Scott and Zelda spent a lot of time together, but she didn’t want to commit to him; even though he was confident that he was going to be rich and famous, Zelda was hesitant, and her parents were unconvinced. She wrote to him: “Mamma knows that we are going to be married some day — But she keeps leaving stories of young authors, turned out on a dark and stormy night, on my pillow — I wonder if you hadn’t better write to my Daddy — just before I leave — I wish I were detached — sorter without relatives. I’m not exactlyscared of ‘em, but they could be so unpleasant about what I’m going to do.”

After the publication of Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise(1920), Zelda agreed to marry Scott. They became the most famous couple of the Jazz Age. They were the center of attention at parties, where their drunken exploits became the stuff of legend.

Zelda was a writer in her own right, and Scott borrowed from her ideas and sometimes copied writing from her verbatim. When they were dating in Montgomery, Zelda showed Scott her diary, and he used that and her letters in This Side of Paradise. He had modeled the main character, Rosalind, after a woman he had been in love with at Princeton, named Ginevra King; but after meeting Zelda, he reworked the character of Rosalind until she was a combination of both women.

When Zelda was hired to write a review of The Beautiful and the Damned for the New York Herald Tribune, she wrote: “It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” She also encouraged readers to buy the book so that Scott could buy her a new dress and a platinum ring.

She said, “I don’t want to live — I want to love first, and live incidentally.”

Happy Birthday Harper Lee

To-Kill-a-Mockingbird

NAME: Nelle Harper Lee
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: April 28, 1926 (Age: 85)
EDUCATION: Huntington College, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Oxford University
PLACE OF BIRTH: Monroeville, Alabama

Best Known For:  Harper Lee is best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—her one and only published novel.

Writer. Born Nelle Harper Lee on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama. Lee Harper is best known for writing the Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—her one and only novel. The youngest of four children, she grew up as a tomboy in a small town. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature, and also owned part of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness, rarely leaving the house. It is believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.

One of her closest childhood friends was another writer-to-be, Truman Capote (then known as Truman Persons). Tougher than many of the boys, Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interests with boys his age, was picked on for being a sissy and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both shared in having difficult home lives. Truman was living with his mother’s relatives in town after largely being abandoned by his own parents.

In high school, Lee developed an interest in English literature. After graduating in 1944, she went to the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery. Lee stood apart from the other students—she could have cared less about fashion, makeup, or dating. Instead, she focused on her studies and on her writing. Lee was a member of the literary honor society and the glee club.

Transferring to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Lee was known for being a loner and an individualist. She did make a greater attempt at a social life there, joining a sorority for a while. Pursuing her interest in writing, Lee contributed to the school’s newspaper and its humor magazine, the Rammer Jammer. She eventually became the editor of the Rammer Jammer.

In her junior year, Lee was accepted into the university’s law school, which allowed students to work on law degrees while still undergraduates. The demands of her law studies forced her to leave her post as editor of the Rammer Jammer. After her first year in the law program, Lee began expressing to her family that writing—not the law—was her true calling. She went to Oxford University in England that summer as an exchange student. Returning to her law studies that fall, Lee dropped out after the first semester. She soon moved to New York City to follow her dreams to become a writer.

In 1949, a 23-year-old Lee arrived in New York City. She struggled for several years, working as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines and for the British Overseas Air Corp (BOAC). While in the city, Lee was reunited with old friend Truman Capote, one of the literary rising stars of the time.

She also befriended Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy.

In 1956, the Browns gave Lee an impressive Christmas present—to support her for a year so that she could write full time. She quit her job and devoted herself to her craft. The Browns also helped her find an agent, Maurice Crain. He, in turn, was able to get the publishing firm interested in her first novel, which was first titled Go Set a Watchman, then Atticus, and later To Kill a Mockingbird. Working with editor Tay Hohoff, Lee finished the manuscript in 1959.

Later that year, Lee joined forces with old friend Truman Capote to assist him with an article he was writing for The New Yorker. Capote was writing about the impact of the murder of four members of the Clutter family on their small Kansas farming community. The two traveled to Kansas to interview townspeople, friends and family of the deceased, and the investigators working to solve the crime. Serving as his research assistant, Lee helped with the interviews, eventually winning over some of the locals with her easy-going, unpretentious manner. Truman, with his flamboyant personality and style, also had a hard time initially getting himself into his subjects’ good graces.

During their time in Kansas, the Clutters’s suspected killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were caught in Las Vegas and brought back for questioning. Lee and Capote got a chance to interview the suspects not long after their arraignment in January 1960. Soon after, Lee and Capote returned to New York. She worked on the galleys for her forthcoming first novel while he started working on his article, which would evolve into the nonfiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood. The pair returned to Kansas in March for the murder trial. Later that spring, Lee gave Capote all of her notes on the crime, the victims, the killers, the local communities, and much more.

Soon Lee was engrossed in her literary success story. In July 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published and picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. A condensed version of the story appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine. The work’s central character, a young girl nicknamed Scout, was not unlike Lee in her youth. In one of the book’s major plotlines, Scout and her brother Jem and their friend Dill explore their fascination with a mysterious and somewhat infamous neighborhood character named Boo Radley. But the work was more than a coming-of-age story, however. Another part of the novel reflected racial prejudices in the South. Their attorney father, Atticus Finch, tries to help a black man who has been charged with raping a white woman to get a fair trial and to prevent him from being lynched by angry whites in a small town.

The following year, To Kill a Mockingbird won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize and several other literary awards. Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the book and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation.

Lee visited the set during filming and did a lot of interviews to support the film. Earning eight Academy Award nominations, the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird won four awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch. The character of Atticus is said to have been based on Lee’s father.

By the mid-1960s, Lee was reportedly working on a second novel, but it was never published. Continuing to help Capote, Lee worked with him on and off on In Cold Blood. She had been invited by Smith and Hickock to witness their execution in 1965, but she declined. When Capote’s book was finally published in 1966, a rift developed between the two friends and collaborators. Capote dedicated the book to Lee and to his longtime lover Jack Dunphy, but he failed to acknowledge her contributions to the work. While Lee was very angry and hurt by this betrayal, she remained friends with Truman for the rest of his life.

That same year, Lee had an operation on her hand to repair damage done by a bad burn. She also accepted a post on the National Council of the Arts at the request of President Lyndon B. Johnson. During the 1970s and 1980s, Lee largely retreated from public life.

She spent some of her time on a nonfiction book project about an Alabama serial killer, which had the working title The Reverend. But the work was never published.

Lee continues to live a quiet, private life in New York City and Monroeville. Active in her church and community, she usually avoids anything to do with her still popular novel.

 

“The Perks of Being A Wallflower” – Not So Secret Obsession

Last night, I watched “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and balled my fucking eyes out.  Audible, nose-running, sobbing, ugly crying.  I spent the morning not being able to shake my melancholy movie hangover and not really wanting to.  Naturally, I am watching it again and have clogged my Kindle up with the book.  It is true, all you need to get through high school is a couple friends that understand you, and a lot of great music.

perksCharlie himself is a mystery.  He has mental problems, gets angry, sees things and then passes out.  Right before he started high school his best friend shot himself, but there is also another, worse reason for his problems…

The adolescent inside me loves “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”  The adolescent inside me remembers the heart-breaking, bone-crushing importance of everything, even if time and perspective have proven the contrary.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

The movie confirms one of my convictions: If you are too popular in high school, you may become so fond of the feeling that you never find out who you really are.  The film is based on Stephen Chbosky‘s best-selling young-adult novel, which was published in 1999 and is now on many shelves next to The Catcher in the Rye.

Charlie’s Mixtape

“Asleep” by the Smiths
“Vapour Trail” by Ride
“Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel
A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum
“Dear Prudence” by the Beatles
“Gypsy” by Suzanne Vega
Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues
“Daydream” by Smashing Pumpkins
“Dusk” by Genesis (before Phil Collins was even in the band!)
“MLK” by U2″Blackbird” by the Beatles
“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
“Asleep” by the Smiths (again!)

The story, set in the early 1990s, tells the story of Charlie, who begins it as a series of letters to a “friend.”  He enters high school tremulously and without confidence, and is faced on his first day by that great universal freshman crisis: Which table in the lunchroom will they let me sit at?  Discouraged at several tables, he’s welcomed by two smart and sympathetic seniors.
They are Sam and Patrick.  Charlie makes the mistake of assuming they are a couple, and Sam’s laughter corrects him; actually, they’re step-siblings. Charlie is on the edge of outgrowing his depression and dorkdom, and is eerily likable in his closed-off way. One of the key players in his life is the dead aunt he often has imaginary meetings with.


Their crowd is artsy, outsider, non-conformist.  We learn a lot about their high school crowd by finding out they’re instrumental in the local midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” When Charlie is unexpectedly pressed into service playing a key role one night during their performance, it provides him with a turning point that may be contrived but is certainly entertaining.

Film Soundtrack:
“Could It Be Another Change?” by The Samples
“Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners
“Tugboat” by Galaxie 500
“Temptation” by New Order
“Evensong” by The Innocence Mission
“Asleep” by The Smiths
“Low” by Cracker
“Teen Age Riot” by Sonic Youth
“Dear God” by XTC
“Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops” by Cocteau Twins
“Heroes” by David Bowie

He’s also guided by his English teacher, who steers him toward seminal books including The Catcher in the Rye. Why is it that English, drama and music teachers are most often recalled as our mentors and inspirations? Maybe because artists are rarely members of the popular crowd.

“Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.”

“I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like that. That you wanted to sleep for a thousand years. Or just not exist. Or just not be aware that you do exist. Or something like that. I think wanting that is very morbid, but I want it when I get like this. That’s why I’m trying not to think. I just want it all to stop spinning.”

perks wallflower

Dr. Seuss – Style Icon

I have been obsessed with “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” since watching it one christmas at my mother’s house.  It is insane.  I have included the full movie below.  I am a sneetch of the star-bellied variety, for the record.  I have also included the full version of that story below.  In the related articles section at the bottom of this post, I have included links to some rare Dr. Seuss books on Amazon.com, a link to everything Brain Pickings has ever done on Dr. Seuss (they are brilliant over there), and a couple links to letters that Dr. Seuss wrote posted at Letters of Note (a favorite internet spot of mine).  But closest to my heart is the episode that amazing David Rakoff did with Jonathan Goldstein for This American Life called “Oh The Places You Won’t Go” (TAL Show #470:  Show Me The Way).   You can listen to it here and I truly wish you would.  Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Seuss.  Style Icon.

drseusswartime1

NAME: Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Author
BIRTH DATE: March 02, 1904
DEATH DATE: September 24, 1991
EDUCATION: Dartmouth College, University of Oxford
PLACE OF BIRTH: Springfield, Massachusetts
PLACE OF DEATH: La Jolla, California

Best Known For:  Throughout his career, cartoonist and writer Dr. Seuss published 60 children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Today is the birthday of a man considered to be the most popular children’s book writer in American history, the best-selling children’s book writer of all time, and a man who revolutionized the way children learned to read: Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on this day in 1904. He’s the author of more than 60 children’s books, including Horton Hears a Who! (1954), One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), Hop on Pop (1963), Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975), The Butter Battle Book (1984), and of course, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

He was the grandson of German immigrants, a lifelong Lutheran, a Dartmouth graduate, and an Oxford dropout. His mom was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, a competitive platform high diver who read him bedtime stories every night. His dad inherited a brewery from his own German immigrant father a month before Prohibition began in the U.S., and eventually became a zookeeper who took young Theodor with him to work. The future Dr. Seuss grew up around the zoo, running around in the cages with baby lions and baby tigers.
At Dartmouth, he majored in English and wrote for the campus humor magazine. But one night he was caught drinking gin with some friends; since this was during Prohibition, it was an illegal act. The Dartmouth administration did not expel him, but as a disciplinary punishment, they did make him resign from all of his extracurricular activities, including the humor magazine, of which he was the editor-in-chief. From then on, he wrote for the magazine subversively, signing his work with his mother’s maiden name, Seuss.
His mother’s family pronounced it “Soise,” the way it’s said in Germany, but people in the States kept mispronouncing it Seuss. He eventually embraced the Anglican mispronunciation: After all, it rhymed with Mother Goose, not a bad thing for an aspiring children’s book writer.

In 1937, he published his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, which he said was inspired by the rhythms of a steamliner cruiser he was on. He wrote the book, and much of the rest of his life’s work, in rhyming anapestic meter, also called trisyllabic meter. The meter is very alluring and catchy, and Seuss’s masterful use of it is a big part of why his books are so enjoyable to read. The meter is made up of two weak beats followed by a stressed syllable — da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM, as in “And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he / Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.

A big study came out in the 1950s called “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” It was by an Austrian immigrant to the U.S., an education specialist who argued that the Dick and Jane primers being used to teach reading in grade school classrooms across America were boring and, worse, not an effective method for teaching reading. He called them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers,” which went “through dozens and dozens of totally unexciting middle-class, middle-income, middle-IQ children’s activities that offer opportunities for reading ‘Look, look’ or ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘Come, come’ or ‘See the funny, funny animal.’”

William Spaulding, a publisher from Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, thought that maybe a guy named Dr. Seuss, who’d published a few not-well-known but very imaginative children’s books, might be able to write a book that would be really good for teaching kids how to read. He invited Dr. Seuss to dinner and said, “Write me a story that first-graders can’t put down!”

Dr. Seuss spent nine months composing The Cat in the Hat. It uses just 220 different words and is 1,702 words long. He was a meticulous reviser, and he once said: “Writing for children is murder. A chapter has to be boiled down to a paragraph. Every word has to count.”

Within a year of publication, The Cat in the Hat was selling 12,000 copies a month; within five years, it had sold a million copies.

February – Style Icon Month

waldina mosaic

Maybe I have not ever explained what criteria I use when assigning people the “Style Icon” and “Not So Secret Obsession” status?

Style Icons are assigned to people I admire, if it is simply beauty or fashion, it is most likely unconventional and risky choices that provoke conversation.  They are artists, writers, musicians, politicians, humanitarians, architects, activists, actors, directors, fashion designers, scientists, basically anyone whose life work fascinates me and I admire. They are almost always dead because it is my moderate worry that dead people will be forgotten and keeping an ongoing list of them is my effort to remember them.  If, along the way, someone else likes them and discovers someone that fascinates them, even better.

Not So Secret Obsessions are usually things or events.  I am obsessed with Hardy Boys books and the 1968 Sears Holiday catalog for their retro goody-goody aesthetic.  I am obsessed with political street art:  you can be walking down the sidewalk and be visibly reminded that Republicans thing that some rape is OK.

For the month of February (and maybe a bit of a spill-over into March) I will be focusing only on Style Icons.  One a day, like a multivitamin, I will be dosing you with people that inspire me.  The format is straight-forward:  I will write a bit at the top of the post about what it is that inspires me about the person, followed by their details.  I will do my best to include links to additional reading at the bottom of the post.

Edith Wharton – Style Icon

edith wharton

NAME: Edith Wharton
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: January 24, 1862
DEATH DATE: August 11, 1937
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: St.-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
ORIGINALLY: Edith Newbold Jones

BEST KNOWN FOR:  Novelist Edith Wharton was born to an old New York family, but is better known for her books Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence.

Today is the birthday of the writer who said, “Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.” That’s Edith Wharton (books by this author), born in New York City (1862). She wrote about frustrated love in novels like The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.

She came from a rich and snobbish New York family who lived off the inheritance of their real estate and banking tycoon ancestors, and she spent several years of her early childhood traveling around Europe. When she was 10, her parents re-settled in New York, around 23rd and Park Avenue. She was a teenage bookworm, reading insatiably from her family’s expansive library and feeling alienated and adrift in the New York high-society circles her family moved in. At 23, she married a family friend, a classy, good-looking sportsman named Edward “Teddy” Robbins Wharton, who wasn’t particularly fond of books. He had a tendency for manic spells, extravagant spending sprees, and infidelity. It was a long and miserable marriage.

She met Henry James in Europe and became good friends with him. He encouraged her to write about the New York City she knew so well and disliked. He said, “Don’t pass it by — the immediate, the real, the only, the yours.” And it was Henry James who introduced her to his friend Morton Fullerton, a dashing, promiscuous, intellectual American expat journalist who reported for the London Times from Paris. Edith Wharton fell hard for the man, filled her diary with passages about how their romance and conversation made her feel complete, wrote him pleading letters, and about a year into their affair, when she was in her late 40s, moved full-time to Paris, where he resided. The affair ended in 1911, the year she published Ethan Frome. She once wrote to him:

“Do you know what I was thinking last night, when you asked me, & I couldn’t tell you? — Only that the way you’ve spent your emotional life while I’ve … hoarded mine, is what puts the great gulf between us, & sets us not only on opposite shores, but at hopelessly distant points of our respective shores. Do you see what I mean?”And I’m so afraid that the treasures I long to unpack for you, that have come to me in magic ships from enchanted islands, are only, to you, the old familiar red calico & beads of the clever trader, who has had dealing with every latitude, & knows just what to carry in the hold to please the simple native — I’m so afraid of this, that often & often I stuff my shining treasures back into their box, lest I should see you smiling at them!

“Well! And what if you do? It’s your loss, after all! And if you can’t come into the room without my feeling all over me a ripple of flame, & if, wherever you touch me, a heart beats under your touch, & if, when you hold me, & I don’t speak, it’s because all the words in me seem to have become throbbing pulses, & all my thoughts are a great golden blur — why should I be afraid of your smiling at me, when I can turn the beads & calico back into such beauty —?”

He left her in 1911, and she stayed married to Teddy for a couple more years, though the two lived apart from each other during the last part of their 28-year marriage. She loved living in Paris, and there she mingled with people like André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Theodore Roosevelt, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom she once told: “To your generation, I must represent the literary equivalent of tufted furniture and gas chandeliers.” But she wasn’t prim or overly proper, and she famously enjoyed one of Fitzgerald’s scandalous stories, about an American couple in a Paris brothel, which he drunkenly related the first time he met her.

Modernist writers were among her contemporaries, but she didn’t use modernist techniques like stream-of-consciousness in her own writing, and she wasn’t a fan of it in others’. She once said about James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), “Until the raw ingredients of a pudding make a pudding, I shall never believe that the raw material of sensation and thought can make a work of art without the cook’s intervening.”

She died in Paris at the age of 75. At the time of her death, she was working on a novel called The Buccaneers, about five rich American girls who set out to marry landed British men, so that they can have English feudal titles in their names, like “Duchess.” In her last days, she lay in bed and worked on the novel, and each page that she completed she dropped onto the floor so that it could be collected later, when she was through.
Many of her novels have been made into movies. The House of Mirth, The Glimpses of the Moon, and The Age of Innocence were all adapted into silent films around the 1920s. John Madden directed a version of Ethan Frome in 1993, the same year Martin Scorsese directed a film adaptation of The Age of Innocence. In 2000, Gillian Anderson starred in The House of Mirth, directed by Terence Davies.

Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that receives it.”

You look absolutely terrific, honestly.

Happy New Year!

edie close up

I just found this photo when I was creating the “New Years With The Beales” entry and seriously fell in LOVE with it.  Edith Bouvier Beale died over 10 years ago and is most known for a 40 year old documentary about her life with her mother and people are still inspired.  That is a S-T-A-U-N-C-H CHARACTER!  Do your best to become a S-T-A-U-N-C-H CHARACTER in 2013!

BLYTHE_DOLL_EDIE

Little Edie Blythe Doll
This is a special Blythe doll designed by Gina Garan and Christina/Oriettacat.  Gina is a successful photographer and operates a website devoted to the Blythe phenomenon and her husband, Asa, was a cast member of the GG Broadway musical.  Sounds like the best of both worlds!  For more information visit www.thisisblythe.com.

And If you feel like it, watch the whole movie:

Better Like This? Or Better Like This?

I am deciding on my next pair of readers from Warby Parker.  I have three pairs currently, but need a new pair (with a stronger power) and decided to use their Home Try-On Program.  You can pick up to five pairs of glasses to try on at home, it takes all the worry out of online buying.  They ship them to you, you ship them back after you decide which one is the best for you.

Also, for every pair of glasses they sell, they provide a pair to someone in need.  So you read easier and help someone see better all at the same time.  Here are the options I chose, feel free to vote below: