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Let's Have Cake

I was trundling through the list of famous happenings on May 8 in dear old Wikipedia, that ready reference source which has made it so difficult to sell people encyclopedias at the Book Fair. There used to be an entry on your uncle Blogsy there, but I see that’s missing now. I try not to hold these things against reference books. The Handbook of Chemistry and Physics doesn’t mention me either, and I can’t see that I’m any the worse off for it.

I see that about sixteen hundred years ago, the Emperor Honorius ordered relief for several provinces devastated by invasion. I believe the last of those stimulus checks was indeed delivered around last Thursday.

In 1980, the World health organization officially announced that smallpox had been wiped out ON THE VERY DAY that, nearly a hundred years earlier, Coca-Cola was first sold, as a health remedy. Coincidence? Well, yeah, actually.

This is also the birthday of a number of authors who have caused us an assortment of troubles over the years. More toward the beginnings of this book binge, in the 1980s, people would demand to know whether the books of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (125 years old today) should be placed in Religion or in Show Biz. The generation that watched Bishop Sheen’s television broadcasts is moving to the great golden ultimately, but I knew several who liked his voice and ADORED his wardrobe, especially his red cape. (I used to ask how they knew it was red since almost all sets were black and white, but I was as often ignored then as now.)

Andrew E. Svenson, whose name I never saw before yesterday, is 110 years old today. Mr. Svenson, under a variety of names, wrote books for a publishing concern he was partner in, and turned out books about Tom Swift, and Frank and Joe hardy (The Hardy Boys, to you.) In the beginning, there were actually sorting volunteers who would throw these away, as they had always been taught they were trash. (Not many: even in the mid-80s, we knew the phrase “People collect those.”)

J. Meade Falkner, who is a whopping 162 today, was not a VERY troublesome author, because his bestsellers sold so well so long ago. But we were always finding that someone had put his classic novel, The Lost Stradivarius, into Music again. It goes, as the people who have struggled with it will tell you, into our Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror section, because it is in fact a novel about a haunted, or cursed, violin.

Peter Benchley, who would have turned eighty today, is, as anyone of the right generation can tell you, the author of Jaws, the book that was turned into the movie that made people stay home from the beaches without any virus to blame. Jaws still gets bounced from category to category: is it a thriller, which puts it in Mystery, or is it a story about a monster, which puts it into Sci Fi/Fantasy/Horror with the Lost Stradivarius? Yeah, we do have people who plop it into Nature.

And today is the hundred and thirty-fifth birthday of Thomas B. Costain, my grandfather’s favorite writer to come from Canada except for Stephen Leacock. He wrote lotsa stuff, making his first fiction sale in high school, and eventually becoming fiction editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His books are still read for pleasure today, and he edited a two-volume collection of short stories which must be in every attic in America, to judge by how many come into the Book Fair. He is most famous for The Tontine (a novel about a large amount of money invested to be given to the last surviving founder of the pool) which one of our volunteers would ALWAYS put in Mystery unless prevented by main force. (Murder is NOT a major part of the story; of course, it’s a two-volume story.) He also wrote Below the Salt, which I myself insist on putting into Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror, because although it is a standard historical novel, it is related as the past life reminiscences of a modern man. He in fact wrote so many historical novels that his multi-volume history of the Plantagenet kings of England always turns up in fiction, along with his one-volume history of Canada.

I decline to believe that Fate ordained May 8 as a Let’s Give Uncle Blogsy Puzzles to Solve Day. When I find a day that is the birthday of nobody who ever gave us trouble, I’ll let you know.

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