At The Margin
Vol. 3, Issue 5 (Whole Issue #31)
June 30, 2002

Matters, many bizarre and obscure, from the world of books.

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This Issue:
1. 127 1/2 Years of Typewriters
2. Want a Bookstore? Write an Essay
3. An Update on the FBI and What You've Been Reading
4. Blue Underlined Words
5. E-Mail to the Editor
6. Do You Know Me?
7. Suggested Summer Reading

1. 127 1/2 Years of Typewriters
The era of the typewriter began December 9, 1874 when Mark Twain wrote this letter to William Dean Howells (original spelling preserved):

You needn't answer this; I am only practicing to get three; anothe slip-up there; only practici?ng ti get the hang of the thing. I notice I miss fire & get in a good many unnecessary letters & punctuation marks. I am simply using you for a target to bang at. Blame my cats, but this thing requires genius in order to work it just right.

It was actually his second letter that day. He'd earlier written a friendlier one to his brother Orion, but by the time he got to Howells, he was apparently growing a little cranky.

His crankiness only got worse. He may have later claimed to be the first person ever to apply the typewriter to literature. But when the Remington Company got in touch with him three months later to ask for an endorsement of the machine he had bought, he confessed he had stopped using it. He claimed it was ruining his morals because it made him want to swear. He traded it for a $12 saddle, although he had originally paid $125 for it. (This information, including the letter to Howells, comes from Mark Twain, A Biography, 1835-1910 by Albert Bigelow Paine, first published in 1912.)

Parenthetically, Mark Twain said Tom Sawyer was the first book to be typewritten, but he was mistaken. It was Life on the Mississippi -- published in 1883 -- and he didn't type it. He had someone else retype it from his handwritten manuscript. See http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/firsttw.html.

Although I found a reference to a typewriter that was patented in 1714 (http://www.desktopdesign.net/moorparkcollege/twain.htm), the first machine capable of exceeding the speed of a pen did not appear until 1868. Remington Company, the gunsmiths, produced it on behalf of Sholes & Glidden in 1874, which was the year Mark Twain bought his. It had the QWERTY keyboard, designed to prevent certain key combinations that were given to jamming up. The keyboard in most wide use today, then, was originally designed to keep users from typing too fast.

I had not realized anyone was still making typewriters, but some brief web research revealed five manufacturers: Adler-Royal, Olivetti, Smith Corona, Nakajima, and Olympia. The retail prices I ran across ranged from $89.95 to $559.95. I only saw two or three that sell for under $100, and those are portables, and they are manual machines. At the upper end, typewriters feature things like three selections of type sizes, 700-character correction memory, and spell checker. There may be more manufacturers; I only checked one retail source.

If you remember a time when you could feel the writing on the backs of most of the documents you handled, then you are probably at least as old as the geezer who edits At The Margin. A computer is a way better writing machine than a typewriter, but the world was so much more tactile in those days.

For information about old typewriters, check out The Classic Typewriter Page (http://xavier.xu.edu/~polt/typewriters.html). It's a page for typewriter collectors, and it has photos, history, links to other typewriter sites, and just about any information you care to learn about typewriters. If you're in the market for a typewriter with a 700-character correction memory and a spell checker, just enter the names of some of brands listed above in a search engine. If you're in the market for a classic typewriter, myTypewriter.com (http://www.mytypewriter.com/) seems to be the destination. I haven't bought anything from them and don't know much about them, but the site features a surprisingly large inventory of antique typewriters and supplies, as well as a number of pages of typewriteriana.

 

2. Want a Bookstore? Write an Essay
Karen Tolley, founder and owner of While Away Books in Roseburg, Oregon, is preparing to go into semi-retirement. Both she and the community of Roseburg want the store to pass into the hands of someone who will keep it operating as a community resource, so they are running an essay contest to find her successor. There is a $250 entrance fee, but they claim the store is profitable. It has an inventory of 55,000 used books and an espresso bar. The store has seven employees. In addition to its main trade in used books, it also orders new books for customers and has a few hundred new books on hand for sale.

The winner will write the best (250 words or less) response to the following proposition: "While Away Books is a wonderful store in a wonderful town in a wonderful area full of wonderful people. What qualities, characteristics, experiences and ideas would you bring to While Away Books if you were the next wonderful owner?" Essays will be judged by a panel of nine people. The deadine is November 1, 2002.

There will be 21 awards in all. Twenty entrants get $5,000 each, one entrant gets the store, which includes a three-month transitional orientation by the owner. The lease on the space runs through June, 2005 and is renewable for five years. The store has been operating since 1994, and it's located in a complex that has, among other things, a Subway Sandwich shop, so you should be able to find lunch every day.

Go to the website, http://www.whileawaybooks.com/, for the complete contest rules. Be sure to read them carefully. There's $250 involved.

3. An Update on the FBI and What You've Been Reading
If you win the bookstore, please bear in mind that if the FBI asks what a customer has been reading, you have to cough up the purchase records. And it's a criminal offense for you to tell anybody (even the customer) that the FBI has made the inquiry. The warrant under which the FBI demands such records is issued by a court that meets in secret, before which the FBI does not have to show probable cause -- only that it has reason to suspect your customer consorts with terrorists or is somehow involved in a terrorist plot.

Note that the FBI doesn't seem too astute in making these calls: Among the more than 1,100 people rounded up under suspicion of terrorist activities in the past nine months, about 950 have been let go, and 147 are still being held on immigration-related charges or criminal charges unrelated to terrorism. Nobody who was rounded up in the national dragnet has been indicted for terrorist activity. This is according to an article in Salon.com (subscription required): http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2002/06/19/detain/index.html.

The bookstore monitoring law, passed last October under the name that is something of a triumph of the acronym maker's art (the USA PATRIOT Act), applies to libraries as well as bookstores. Although I haven't been able to find reports of how many bookstores the FBI has questioned, a recent wire story reported that an early 2002 survey showed at least 85 libraries have been asked about library patrons. (See http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/3539040.htm.) So it's not something that might happen. It is something that is happening.

On June 13, the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking how many court orders have been issued to bookstores, libraries, and newspapers under the USA PATRIOT Act (the committee wants information about newspapers, because the law also makes it possible to review reporters' notes). The 12-page letter asked for other details about the Justice Department's implementation of the law and there may be hearings about it. (See http://www.abffe.org/update6-21-02.html.)

 

4. Blue Underlined Words
Interesting items I've found on the web this month, not always related to books.

Bank Mugs Publishers
You have to wonder how depositors at Bank One feel about this story. On April 1 the bank mugged 85 publishers, including many small presses. According to the story at this site, the bank seized $1 million dollars of the publishers' money by sucking it out of their distributor's account. The bank, of course, claims the action was justified, but the bank apparently knew this money belonged to those publishers and took it anyway -- not the kind of behavior calculated to inspire confidence among its depositors in any case. http://www.seesharppress.com/bankone.html

The Ig Nobel(R) Prizes
Tickets for the October 3 award ceremony go on sale August 1 at the Harvard Box Office. According to the sponsor, "The Prizes are awarded at a gala ceremony in Harvard's Sanders Theatre. 1200 splendidly eccentric spectators watch the winners step forward to accept their Prizes. The Prizes are physically handed to the winners by genuinely bemused genuine Nobel Laureates." There is an Ig Nobel(R) Prize for Literature, which is always a real hoot. http://www.improbable.com/ig/ig-top.html

You Are Where You Live
Direct marketers (catalogs, solicitation letters, etc.) approach you mostly on the basis of your Zip Code. The assumption, which holds true well enough to make direct mail solicitations profitable, is that people in the same Zip Code share similar lifestyles. If you want to know what lifestyle the direct marketers believe you belong to, go to this page and enter your Zip Code. It's fascinating. http://cluster2.claritas.com/YAWYL/Default.wjsp?System=WL

The Study of Spam
It's safe to assume that this site, Clueless Mailers, has more information about unsolicited commercial e-mail (spam) than you can imagine. It names names and tracks activity. And it has begun to notice an explosion of spam (due probably to continued economic stagnation, which always increases criminal activity). If you're at all curious, this is the place to learn about the methods of the clowns who send you messages about working from home, human growth hormone, penis enlargement, strange categories of pornography, mortgage refinancing, or various sorts of stupid products "as seen on television." Believe it or not, many of them think this behavior is ethical and have convinced themselves that you have actually asked for their stupid messages. http://www.cluelessmailers.org/index.html

I Don't Know What to Call This
This page doesn't appear to have a name, and any description would ruin the experience for folks who might enjoy it. If you aren't one of those and you go there because you think my recommendations are in any way useful, please accept my apologies. It's hilarious, but it's a waste of time. (Requires Flash.) http://www.koor.org/stuff/fun/movies/swf/go.swf

 

5. E-mail to the Editor
Editor's Note: The messages we receive here at ATM often take on the character of a dialogue or conversation with the previous issue. You can find that issue on the web: http://www.thirdlion.com/ATM30.html.

The "Harmful To Minors" Discussion Continues
Thanks again for a delightful newsletter. I have one bit of information and commentary in response to one of your other readers [see the message from William Metcalfe about pedophilia in ATM #30].

The Boy Scouts have done a great job of trying to eliminate this problem. When a boy joins the Scouts, he's given a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook, which has a booklet on child abuse inserted in the inside front cover. The boy, a parent, and the scoutmaster must all sign off that the boy and the parent have read the booklet together and have discussed the issues. The booklet is very well done, and emphasizes the "three R's of youth protection": Recognize and avoid situations in which abuse might occur, Resist attempted abuse, and Report any attempts at abuse to a parent, trusted adult or police. They also have a short video on the topic, showing real situations in enough detail that adults squirm because it's "creepy," emphasizing that abusers can be anyone, that abuse usually stops the moment a child resists, and that reporting it is a healthy response. The scouts have further rules: that no adult may ever be alone with a boy other than his own son, that two adults must be present for every meeting and outing, etc. Last but not least, adult leaders are required to attend a course on youth protection once a year.

I'm willing to bet that this program is the result of the shit having hit the fan sometime in the past. The Church would do well to follow the example of the Scouts in preventing the problem by bringing the issues up, forthrightly and directly, to those most concerned: children and their parents. And of course, it reinforces the point Judith Levine [Harmful to Minors] was making: more information is better, both for children and for society generally.

Like many people, I object to the Scout stances on religion, women, and homosexuality ("God, girls and gays" in the internal catchphrase), but the rest of the program is excellent and my son and I are willing to accept the good parts while working for change on the bad parts.

Ed Schwalenberg

[Floyd's Response: Thanks for the update on the Boy Scouts, Ed. I, for one, didn't know they were taking such active steps to prevent or handle this problem.]

On Unfinished Books
The latest edition of At The Margin arrived shortly after I learned of the death of Mildred Wirth, one of the last surviving authors in Edward Stratemeyer's "stable." As Mr. Owen states, many works are completed by others, or even by a series of authors, often under a single nom de plume. Stratemeyer himself wrote eleven works of Horatio Alger Jr. "posthumously."

Does the debate on the authorship of Shakespeare's works continue?

Thanks for your educational and entertaining newsletter!

Bart Bresnik

[Floyd's Response: I don't know the status of the Shakespeare debate. Would any readers like to chime in? Nice to hear from you, Bart.]

More on Unfinished Books
There's no more erudite, interesting, and informative bookishly writerly periodical than On The Margarine. Thanks for the last. Catching my eye this time was the note on unfinished business; for me the great undone project is Stevenson's Weir of Hermiston, which ends eerily with this line: "It seemed unprovoked, a wilful convulsion of brute nature..." RLS stopped dictating there (to his stepdaughter), went off to a French lesson, had lunch with Rider Haggard's brother Bazett, puttered around in his garden and woods as was his afternoon habit, popped down cellar to get a bottle of wine, and was helping his wife make dinner when he was felled by the stroke that killed him night.

Brian Doyle

[Floyd's Response: Always great to hear from you, Brian. Let me take the opportunity to point out to the readers that no animal fat is used in the preparation of At The Margarine.]

Something Besides Credit Card Offers
Thank you. It was pleasant to read something interesting on the 'net v. credit card offers, mortgages & get rich quick schemes. I hope the cat is doing well. Mine passed away last June & I miss her so. (Hard to believe it's been a year!)

James Horne

p.s. isn't the 1001 Nights by Signet (original texts) fascinating? I am about to start volume 2, hoping there will be a third of these brilliant pieces of literature. Also check out Naguib Mahfouz

[Floyd's Response: I didn't know about this edition of 1001 Nights, but having recently reread Chimera, I'm interested. I'll look for it. Sorry about your cat. The AVH cat is fine and can be found at the Avenue Victor Hugo website: http://www.avenuevictorhugobooks.com.]

Re: The Curse of Sophie Kerr
I think you are being too harsh. It would be interesting to see how many writers Washington College produces -- maybe the Sophie Kerr prize does identify the future literary lights, however few. It may also be that the expectations associated with the prize hinder its recipients -- these students are now expected (a) to succeed and write (and publish) prolifically, based on the official point of view and, to the contrary, (b) to fall into obscurity and fail as writers, based on past experience. With this sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, it may be no small wonder that the muse looks elsewhere, or is urged to move on. I don't think the money per se is the issue -- I really don't see that a year or two fresh out of college and toiling in bad jobs is somehow essential to future writing success, especially since when the money runs out, the prize recipients will be in that position anyway.

Janet McCartney

[Floyd's Response: Yes, you are right. I was too harsh, and I appreciate your message and the chance to admit it. For whatever it's worth, I tend to get a little wrought up over awards and contests for young writers. This may be because I am not a young writer, but I have other reasons, too. I believe it is possible to find someone under 30 capable of writing something of lasting value, but it is also possible to find egg-laying mammals. We don't try to protect egg-laying mammals by offering cash for laying eggs, and I think your speculations about how the prize could hinder success show why. I should have been less harsh with the unfortunate graduates who have won the cash and more harsh with the school that is awarding it. Most human beings need at least a decade of adulthood to acquire the sensibility that will allow them to write anything interesting. College kids have no way of knowing that, but Washington College ought to. Thanks for writing.]

At The Margin has 1,210 subscribers, most of whom are interested in what you have to say about books or items you have read in ATM. Send a message to the editor and get those thoughts out to 1,209 others. Please limit your comment to 200 words and send it to ATM's editor, Floyd Kemske (fkemske@thirdlion.com).

 

6. Do You Know Me?
For those who like puzzles as well as books, this department brings you the first sentence of a book by a famous writer that is at least 10 years old. The name of the author and title of the book will be in the next issue, so write your guess down. If you want to send me your guess, email it to fkemske@thirdlion.com. Please include your name (so I can congratulate you in this space if you're correct) and let me know if you recognized the writer's style or if you know the book, or both.

This Issue's Sentence

Brother Francis Gerard of Utah might never have discovered the blessed documents, had it not been for the pilgrim with girded loins who appeared during that young novice's Lenten fast in the desert.

I'm waiting for your guesses.

Last Issue's Sentence

One day in the June of 1844 Madame Sophie Duval, née Busson, eighty years of age and mother of the mayor of Vibraye, a small commune in the départment of Sarthe, rose from her chair in the salon of her property at le Gué de Launay, chose her favourite walking-stick from a stand in the hall, and calling to her dog made her way, as was her custom at this hour of the afternoon every Tuesday, down the short approach drive to the entrance gate.

Nobody tried to guess this one.

It is from The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier, which was first published by Victor Gollancz in 1963. A historical novel of eighteenth century France, it concerns a family of glass-blowers named Busson. It chronicles their lives under the monarchy, the Committee of Public Safety, the Directorate, the Consulate, and the Empire. Unlike most historical novels of this period, however, it is set, not in Paris, but in an area bounded roughly by the Loire and Sarthe Rivers. The environment of the novel is mostly that of Civil War -- violence, terror, privation, and disruption.

The Glass-Blowers enjoys an unusual reputation as a historical novel. Du Maurier, who was an obsessive researcher, gave it so much detail and so much period feeling that the book often confuses people. The bibliography at the Daphne Du Maurier web site (http://www.dumaurier.org/), for example, classifies it as nonfiction. I first read the book in 1970, when it was required for a graduate seminar on the French Revolution. My professor did not apologize for assigning a contemporary novel in a history course. He simply said it was the best thing he'd ever read about life in that tumultuous time.

One of the book's fascinating features is its dedication: "To my forebears, the master glass-blowers of la Brûlonnerie, Chérigny, la Pierre and le Chesne-Bidault." Du Maurier was, in fact, a descendant of the real Bussons.

Du Maurier was born in 1907, and her childhood was said to be happy. She lived, however, in the shadow of her father, the actor Gerald Du Maurier, and her grandfather, the acclaimed illustrator and writer (Trilby). She evaded both the debutante life and an acting career and was determined to succeed on her own terms as a writer. She wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, at the age of 24, and it became a best-seller.

She attracted a great deal of attention as a result of the novel, including that of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Arthur Montague Browning II. She and Browning were married the year after the book was published, and she had a second novel, I'll Never Be Young Again, published that same year. Browning was later knighted for distinguished service in the Second World War. Du Maurier's married name was Lady Daphne Browning.

She wrote at least 16 novels and at least 10 nonfiction books, as well as countless short stories, including "The Birds" and "Don't Look Now," which many people know from their filmed versions. But she is probably most famous for Rebecca (also made into a movie -- 1940), which has such a great first line ("Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again") that I can't use it in this department because it would be too easy to guess. Du Maurier began writing Rebecca in 1937, when she was in Egypt, where Browning had been posted with the Army. It was published the following year and was an extraordinary success. Some credit it with single-handedly reviving the Gothic novel. It is the story of a woman (never named in the novel) who vies for affection and respect with the memory of her husband's dead wife. Du Maurier herself claimed to be puzzled by the book's success, dismissing it as a simple study in jealousy.

She and Browning, whom she referred to as "Boy," had three children and remained happily married for 33 years. But Boy died in 1965, and it was a great blow to her. One of the ways she dealt with her grief was to wear his old shirts and use his pen to write thank-you notes for hundreds of condolences at his writing desk. In 1969 she was made a dame for her literary achievements. She continued to write for the rest of her life. Her last book, Enchanted Cornwall, which is nonfiction, was published in 1989, the year she died.

She has been accused by critics of using stereotyped characters and too many plot similarities, but she herself said she was "not so much interested in people as in types -- types who represent great forces of good or evil. I don't care very much whether John Smith likes Mary Robinson, goes to bed with Jane Brown and then refuses to pay the hotel bill. But I am passionately interested in human cruelty, human lust, and human avarice -- and, of course, their counterparts on the scale of virtue."

A new biography, Daphne Du Maurier: Haunted Heiress, (see http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13316.html) was published in 1999 by Penn Press (University of Pennsylvania). As a result of publishing the biography, Penn Press decided to bring out new editions of two of her out-of-print books, The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand, the following year.

There's quite a bit on the web about Daphne Du Maurier. The Daphne Du Maurier web site mentioned above is pretty impressive, and it even includes information on books that inspired Du Maurier as well as sequels of her books written by other writers. There is also a brief biography at http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dumaurie.htm.

 

7. Suggested Summer Reading
Deep ditches, double drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. Through the fire and through the smoke -- in the fire and in the smoke, for the sea cast him up against a cannon, and on the instant he became a cannonier -- Defarge of the wine-shop worked like a manful soldier, Two fierce hours.

Deep ditch, single drawbridge, massive stone walls, eight great towers, cannon, muskets, fire and smoke. One drawbridge down! "Work, comrades all, work! Work, Jacques One, Jacques Two, Jacques One Thousand, Jacques Two Thousand, Jacques Five-and-Twenty Thousand; in the name of all the Angels or the Devils -- which you prefer -- work!" Thus Defarge of the wine-shop, still at his gun, which had long grown hot.

"To me, women!" cried madame his wife. "What! We can kill as well as the men when the place is taken!" And to her, with a shrill thirsty cry, trooping women variously armed, but all armed in hunger and revenge.

Cannon, muskets, fire and smoke; but, still the deep ditch, the single drawbridge, the massive stone walls, and the eight great towers. Slight displacements of the raging sea, made by the falling wounded. Flashing weapons, blazing torches, smoking waggonloads of wet straw, hard work at neighbouring barricades in all directions, shrieks, volleys, execrations, bravery without stint, boom smash and rattle, and the furious sounding of the living sea; but, still the deep ditch, and the single drawbridge, and the massive stone walls, and the eight great towers, and still Defarge of the wine-shop at his gun, grown doubly hot by the service of Four fierce hours.

A white flag from within the fortress, and a parley -- this dimly perceptible through the raging storm, nothing audible in it -- suddenly the sea rose immeasurably wider and higher, and swept Defarge of the wine-shop over the lowered drawbridge, past the massive stone outer walls, in among the eight great towers surrendered!

So resistless was the force of the ocean bearing him on, that even to draw his breath or turn his head was as impracticable as if he had been struggling in the surf at the South Sea, until he was landed in the outer courtyard of the Bastille. There, against an angle of a wall, he made a struggle to look about him. Jacques Three was nearly at his side; Madame Defarge, still heading some of her women, was visible in the inner distance, and her knife was in her hand. Everywhere was tumult, exultation, deafening and maniacal bewilderment, astounding noise, yet furious dumb-show.

From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859). It is available in numerous editions and can be found in any used bookshop or free from Project Gutenberg (http://promo.net/pg/). Happy Bastille Day.

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(c) Copyright 2002 Floyd Kemske

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