The Peterkin family, Bradbury finds his title, Vietnam Voices, and bandsaw boxes; newsletter, September 10, 2021

September 12, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, September 10, 2021.

The bandsaw box is something known to most woodworkers. You take a block of wood usually about the size of your hand with the fingers spread out (give or take) and a few inches deep. Then, through a series of clever cuts usually with a bandsaw, you produce a little jewelry-box item that can hold some of the small but important things in your life.

If you follow the basic steps, you can do it in a thousand different ways, and you can be just as creative as your imagination will allow. That’s what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks since slightly cooler temperatures and the end of the gardening season has allowed for some time in the workshop. I had never made a bandsaw box before, but once I started, I kept thinking of new things to try and haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.

So far, my bandsaw boxes are not very good, but every time I do one, I learn something, and that drives me to make another one to put what I’ve learned into practice. You can see one of them in this photo, and more on this page

My gratitude this week is for the unnamed woodworker who, eons ago, came up with the idea of a bandsaw box. I hope that your weekend is creative and productive. 

 

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Lucretia Peabody Hale and her bumbling Peterkin family

Children of the 20th and 21st centuries have had Dr. Seuss, his Cat in the Hat, and a thousand other books of silliness to keep them laughing.

Children of the 19th century were not so fortunate. During much of the century, there was little or nothing that could be classified as children’s literature. It was only during the last 40 years or so that anything resembling writing for children began to emerge. And much of that writing was heavily didactic, advising children that they must behave and the penalties for misbehavior could be dire.

Even with the emergence of magazines for children, such as Our Young Folks, which later became St. Nicholas, there was still relatively little that could provoke outright laughter among young readers.

The one exception was the Peterkin family.

The Peterkins could take any small domestic problem and turn it into a crisis by trying to solve it with impractical or fantastical solutions. They tied themselves into verbal knots because everyone had an opinion and was likely to express it, and most of their opinions were given equal weight. Mrs. Peterkin, the mother, is baffled by small problems and fearful of the consequences of any solution. Mr. Peterkin wants the best for his children and is impressed by every new theory of education that comes along. When one such theory suggests that children should not be taught to read until they are 10 years old, he is regretful that his younger children have already violated that theory and wonders if they might forget how to read if he simply prevented them from having books for a while.

The children—there were six of them—are divided into two groups. The older three, Agamemnon, who had been to college and wanted to be intellectual; Solomon John, who wanted to be a writer but couldn’t think of anything to write; and Eliza Elizabeth, who mirrored her mother’s bewilderment at life’s little problems. All exhibit characteristics that contribute to the family’s general bumbling confusion. The younger three are boys and are never named, but their abiding characteristic is that they always wear rubber boots.

The Peterkins are always rescued when, in their befuddlements, they remember to call their friend “the lady in Philadelphia,” who invariably proposes a simple and obvious solution to their dilemmas.

The Peterkin family was the creation of Lucretia Peabody Hale, a member of one of Boston’s most intellectual and well-connected families. Her brother was Edward Everett Hale, a well-known Unitarian minister and author of “The Man Without a Country.” Their great uncle was Nathan Hale, famously executed by the British during the Revolutionary War. Their sister Susan was an artist and author. Their uncle had been governor of Massachusetts. Their brother Charles was a noted diplomat.

Lucretia was born into this lively and intellectually active family in 1820. She was as well-educated as a girl of her era could be and like many in her family took to writing as her major occupation. She never married, but for most of her adult life wrote books and magazine articles. She produced numerous religious and Sunday school publications. She was well-connected to the editors of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, and when they settled on publishing a children’s magazine, Our Young Folks, in 1865, they asked her to contribute. She did so with a set of fanciful short stories titled “The Four Seasons.”

Then came the Peterkins, introduced to the public in a story titled, “The Lady Who Put Salt in Her Coffee.” That was followed by five more Peterkin stories, and the public was hooked. Eventually, there was a collection in a book titled The Peterkin Papers.

As one commentator has noted:

Up to the appearance of the Peterkin family in Our Young Folks in 1868 “dreamy and unpractical children” had subsisted on a pitifully small ration of humor. There were some funny rhymes in Mother Goose; in 1848 Edward Lear published his nonsense verses and limericks; and Alice had gone down the rabbit hole into Wonderland in 1865. The Peterkins were the first American nonsense stories, the forerunners of Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Homer Price, and they are significant, worthy of more than a passing nod in any history of American children’s literature and should certainly be listed in any index to the subject. (From an essay by Madelyn Wankmiller reprinted in Encyclopedia.com)

Surrounded by friends and a large extended family, Hale continued to write for the next thirty years until she became infirm a few years before her death. She died in 1900.

The curious and silly can read all of the Peterkin stories at this link.

Illustration above: Brother Solomon John Peterkin, surrounded by his family, attempts to write a book.

Vietnam Voices volume 3 is now available

Vietnam Voices, the project of the Blount County Public Library with which I am associated, now has its third volume of interviews in both print and ebook form.

Vietnam Voices: Stories of Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 3) is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats and on Barnes & Noble in hardback and ebook formats.  These books are a part of the Vietnam Voices project that has sought to interview local residents who served in the armed forces in the Vietnam region. The project has conducted more than 50 interviews, and these unedited interviews can be heard on the library’s website at this link.

Volume 3 contains edited transcripts of 15 of these interviews. The Amazon page has this description:

This third volume of Vietnam Voices continues the quest of the Blount County Public Library to record and archive the memories of those who served in the military in Vietnam during that conflict a half-century ago.

Much has been written about the war in Vietnam. At home, it was politically and socially divisive, creating fissures in American society, some of which have never been healed. Many volumes about the history, strategy, tactics, and effects of the war have been published in the years since the conflict ended.

Relatively little, however, has been written about the war from the point of view of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who served there. The reasons for that are many and varied. Chief among them is the fact that when servicemen returned to the United States, they rarely wanted to talk about their experience there. Most simply wanted to get on with their lives, which they felt had been interrupted by the conflict.

A related factor in this silence is the fact that the servicemen were not invited to talk about what had happened. The society to which they returned was too divided to discuss the war rationally. A strong current feeling that blamed the soldiers for the war ‑ rather than the politicians ‑ had gripped the thinking of many Americans.

Consequently, a silence enveloped any discussion of the war with veterans. That silence has prevailed for much of the last 50 years.

The Vietnam Voices project, then, is an effort to break that wall of silence and to give the veterans who served in Vietnam a chance to tell their stories.

A fourth and final volume of Vietnam Voices is now being edited.

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The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.  https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

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Ray Bradbury finds his title (part 2)

When Ray Bradbury heard the typewriter clicking sounds coming from the basement of the library in Los Angeles, he already had a number of ideas circling around in his brain. He needed a place to write, and on discovering the typing room in the library, where typewriters could be rented for a dime for 30 minutes, he had found his place to work.

Now that he had the place, it was time to focus, and that was something he could do.

He set to work on a story that would eventually be titled “The Fireman.” Nine days and $9.80 later—it took him forty-nine hours—he had a 25,000-word novella. The story was about Montag, a fireman in the distant future whose job was not to put out fires but to start them. He was a book burner.

Like all of Bradbury’s fiction, the idea for “The Fireman” came from many sources. One was the experience he had had the year before, in 1949, when he was out for a late-night walk along a Los Angeles street and was stopped by an LAPD officer because that behavior— walking at night—was so unusual. The experience resulted in a story titled “The Pedestrian,” a story that did not sell because it was so politically charged.

Rejection was also the fate of “The Fireman” until it was finally bought for $300 and published in Galaxy, a science fiction pulp magazine in February 1951. It was the same month that Bradbury’s book The Illustrated Man appeared, and as was always the case, Bradbury had lots of ideas and projects he needed to work on. The story was published, and any further development of it would have to wait for a couple of years.

During that time, Ballantine Books came into existence, and its publisher promised to break new ground with the books that it handled. One of the authors that the publisher targeted was Bradbury, and this happened just as Bradbury was becoming frustrated with Doubleday, the publisher of his previous books. “The Fireman” entered their discussions, and Bradbury offered to expand on that story. Everyone agreed with that offer, and Bradbury got a $5,000 advance.

Bradbury might have written the book at his house, but he needed to concentrate. His daughters were three and two at the time, and they weren’t about to allow that. So, Bradbury gathered up all the dimes he could find and headed back to the library. After only a few days, he had another 25,000 words, enough to consider it a complete first draft.

In January 1953, Bradbury was in his garage office working on revising the draft and bouncing around different titles for the book in his head. When he looked up and saw the light streaming through the garage windows, he had a revelation. At what temperature did paper catch on fire, he asked himself. He didn’t know. He asked several chemistry and physics professors, and they didn’t know either.

Then he had an idea that should have been obvious. He called the fire department.

The firemen knew. It was 451 degrees Fahrenheit. Bradbury had his title.

Fahrenheit 451 was published in October 1953 and drew immediate and widespread, though not universal, critical praise. Neither the publisher nor the author believed the book to be as political as many of the reviewers and readers interpreted it. But, political it was. It recalled vividly the burning of books in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, but there was plenty in the book that spoke to the rising tide of McCarthyism in America in the 1950s.

The book, which became the best-selling and most widely read of all of Bradbury’s many works, has been speaking to readers ever since. Bookstores and libraries have continued to stock it, and eventually it made the reading lists of high schools and colleges. It has been banned numerous times, turning the book into its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Bradbury continued his active writing career for more than 60 years, authoring short stories, movie scripts, plays, novels, and non-fiction works. He is credited with elevating science fiction and fantasy fiction into the main currents of American literature. He died after a long illness at the age of 91 in 2012.

Reactions

Check out last week’s newsletter

Elizabeth F.: A fine eclectic blend, Jim.  I enjoyed the typewriter story.  I have loved Bradbury in all his writings, and it was an interest shared with my dad who had, I think, almost every Bradbury published story, novel, set and many published reviews and articles about Bradbury as well.  Thanks again for all the maps to poignant trips! 

Jennifer S.: I think you’re onto something with this mascot idea—and I bet you could sell the universities and franchises on it. Think of the merchandising opportunities! I for one would root like heck for the Dollies in any sport. A musical icon is especially appropriate for a UTK mascot nickname, because the university’s fight song is, of course, a classic bluegrass anthem. And there are so many great musical icons to add to the list! I’m thinking of who else area teams might adopt from other walks of life: The Crocketts? Not sure how we might best turn her name into a team mascot, but Lizzie Crozier French was quite a fighter; I nominate Febb Burn too. Go Febbs! 

Thanks for a fun idea.

 Note: The story of Febb Burn and her son Harry is one worth telling, and I will do that soon.

Vic C.:  I laughed at your commentary on nicknames and won’t share with you the one I originally came up with for Texas following their recent legislative abominations.  You’ll have to settle for the less pejorative “Bad Cess Texas,” instead.  Regarding Scottish authors, the most famous of them are: Robert Burns for poetry and Robert Louis Stevenson for novels.  I’ve read and enjoyed each of them.  To be honest, I was never much for poetry when I was young and it’s only now (heading towards my eighth decade) that I can gain some quiet comfort from the genre.  As for Stevenson, what can I say?  Anyone who hasn’t read “Treasure Island” has missed a wonderful adventure.  The images that he was able to create in my mind linger with me today.  The way he described “the black spot” was instantly identifiable.  Disney’s production of the movie still ranks, for me, as one of the most wonderful films I’ve ever seen.  More, there was no CGI to get in the way of Robert Newton’s memorable portrayal of Long John Silver establishing a standard for film pirate behavior and providing the sounds now associated with all such.  “Aaaarrrrh!”

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The Bassoon Player

Best quote of the week:

The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed. Ernest Hemingway, author and journalist, Nobel laureate (1899-1961)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Ray Bradbury and his typewriter, Ian Rankin and William McIlvanney, nicknames for sports teams, and more: newsletter, September 3, 2021

 

 

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