November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
Once Again I Fail to Read an Important Novel by George Bilgere from Haywire. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Instead, we sit together beside the fountain,
the important novel and I.
We are having coffee together
in that quiet first hour of the morning,
respecting each other’s silences
in the shadow of an important old building
in this small but significant European city.
All the characters can relax.
I’m giving them the day off.
For once they can forget about their problems—
desire, betrayal, the fatal denouement—
and just sit peacefully beside me.
In the afternoon,
at lunch near the cathedral,
and in the evening, after my lonely,
historical walk along the promenade,
the men and women, the children
and even the dogs
in the important, complicated novel
have nothing to fear from me.
We will sit quietly at the table
with a glass of cool red wine
and listen to the pigeons
questioning each other in the ancient corridors.
It’s the birthday of muckraking pioneer Upton Sinclair (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland (1878). A precocious child, Sinclair entered City College of New York at the age of 14, which he paid for himself, since his father’s alcoholism had left his family in dire straits. He funded his education by publishing stories in newspapers and magazines. And by the time he was 17, Sinclair was doing well enough to pay for his own apartment, as well as send his destitute parents a regular income. Before long, though, Sinclair married, had a son, and found that he could not support his family.
Sinclair’s extended family was as rich as his immediate one was poor, and a loan from his uncle bankrolled his first, self-published novel when he was 21. But the disparity between this great poverty and wealth within his own family troubled Sinclair. He became a member of the Socialist Party and committed himself to writing fiction about injustice. When the editor of a Socialist journal commissioned him to write about the plight of immigrants working in Chicago meatpacking houses — and the publishing house Macmillan gave him an advance for the book rights — Sinclair moved to the stockyards district for seven weeks. He took copious notes on the miserable working conditions there, and then returned to the East Coast to transform his investigative journalism into fiction.
The Jungle was serialized in the journal, as planned, but Macmillan wanted nothing to do with the book, urging Sinclair to lose the “blood and guts,” which he declined. Four other publishers followed suit, rejecting the book for its graphic imagery. Sinclair decided to self-publish once again, and he began taking advance orders. Encouraged by his brisk sales, Doubleday swooped in at the last minute and agreed to publish the book on the condition that its claims could be verified. The publisher’s lawyer traveled to the Chicago stockyards to witness for himself the miserable state of affairs, and The Jungle caused an almost instant sensation when it was published in 1906.
Although Sinclair had intended to highlight the mistreatment of the workers in the meatpacking industry, readers reacted instead to his descriptions of the mistreatment of the animals — that is to say, the readers’ food. The outcry over the unsanitary preparation of meat helped pass the Pure Food and Drugs Act. Although they denounced his Socialist preaching, both Winston Churchill and President Teddy Roosevelt praised the book.
Sinclair went on to publish more than 90 books in his lifetime. He also very nearly won the governorship of California after his publication of a booklet titled “I, Governor of California And How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future.” His radical plan to end poverty met with enough support to land him on the Democratic Party’s ticket, which caused an absolute uproar. His candidacy proved to do very well, but when he ultimately lost to the Republican candidate in 1934, he published a follow-up booklet: “I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked.”
It’s the birthday of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton, born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1885. He grew up in New Orleans, and by the age of 17, he was playing piano in bordellos there. His composition “Jelly Roll Blues” was the first jazz piece that was published.
It’s the birthday of one of the greatest editors of the 20th century, Maxwell Perkins, born in New York City (1884). His first big success at Scribner’s was his decision to publish a manuscript by a young man named F. Scott Fitzgerald, much to the objection of other editors. It was This Side of Paradise, and when the novel came out in 1920, it sold more than 50,000 copies. It was the beginning of Scribner’s becoming one of the most important publishers of new fiction.
It was on this day in 1848 that the American Association for the Advancement of Science was formed in Philadelphia, at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Its stated purpose was to “procure for the labors of scientific men, increased facilities and a wider usefulness.”
The term “scientist” had been coined just 15 years earlier, and all over the world scientists were making important new discoveries and formulating new ideas. Europe tended to be the center for the great theorists of science — in the year 1848, Léon Foucault set up his first rudimentary pendulum to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation, Darwin was at work on his theory of evolution, Michael Faraday was at the height of his work on electromagnetism. But America was cut off from Europe, and it was hard to compete with the scientific community there. Instead, there was an interest in invention and science that supported industry. Just four years earlier, the first telegraph line was installed, stretching from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. Trains were popping up all over the country, and in the year 1848 four times as many train tracks were laid as in 1847. In 1845, Elias Howe had invented the mechanical sewing machine. The inventor Cyrus McCormick had sold the patent for his McCormick Reaper in the 1830s.
Earlier in the century, Lewis and Clark’s journey was the first to make science an exciting and visible aspect of discovering new territory. They observed the weather, the topography, and the geography. They described 182 plant species and 120 animals in their travels; they sent back specimens to the East Coast, a few of them live, including a prairie dog that lived in the White House. By the 1840s, the botanists Asa Gray and George Engelmann were actively cataloguing the plants of the American West. At the same time, anthropology was starting to emerge as its own field, separate from natural history.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, established on this day in 1848, grew to a membership of more than 2,000 by 1860. It kept an emphasis on being inclusive, reaching out to anyone interested in science, and in the 1850s its members included the president of the United States, Millard Fillmore; the astronomer Maria Mitchell; as well as Henry David Thoreau. But Thoreau had mixed feelings about science — on the one hand, he kept meticulous notes and observations on plants, animals, and the weather; but he was wary of technology and new inventions. When he published Walden in 1854, Thoreau complained, “Men have become the tools of their tools.”
In 1883, the AAAS began publishing the magazine Science, which is still around and a respected part of the scientific community.