David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Authors, Autographs and Inscriptions


• In 1837, two law professors at the University of Paris waged a duel over punctuation. The disagreement was over the ending of a passage; one professor thought it should end with a semicolon, while the other professor thought it should end with a colon. According to the Times of London, “The one who contended that the passage in question ought to be concluded by a semicolon was wounded in the arm. His adversary maintained that it should be a colon.”• Sholom Aleichem (1859-1916) was a Yiddish humorist. Among the characters he created in his stories were those that became the basis of Fiddler on the Roof. In 1906, he came to the United States, where he met Mark Twain, to whom he was introduced as the “Jewish Mark Twain.” Mr. Twain then said that he would like to be introduced in Yiddish to Mr. Aleichem as the “American Sholom Aleichem.”

• A friend of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick once read out loud a one-paragraph synopsis of Mr. Dick’s novel that was the basis of the movie Blade Runner, then asked, “That the end of it?” Mr. Dick confirmed that it was, then joked, “Book is longer.”

• People identify themselves with varying degrees of honesty. One very honest person is writer Carol Schwalberg, who says that her hobbies include traveling, “visiting art galleries, and spreading malicious gossip.”

Autographs and Inscriptions

• J.K. Rowling sent some sample chapters of her children’s book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the Christopher Little Agency, which did not handle children’s books. Her manuscript was rejected immediately and almost did not get read. Fortunately, a 25-year-old manuscript screener named Bryony Evens looked over the sample chapters instead of mailing them back to Ms. Rowling. She was enthusiastic about what she read, and she impressed Mr. Little with her enthusiasm, and so he asked to read the entire manuscript. The rest, as they say, is history. Ms. Evens met Ms. Rowling later, in 1998, when she waited in line for Ms. Rowling to sign a Harry Potter book. Ms. Rowling was very happy to meet her, and she signed the book in this way: “To Bryony — who is the most important person I’ve ever met in a signing queue & the first person ever to see merit in Harry Potter. With huge thanks. J.K. Rowling.”

• Sid Fleischman started out writing books for adults, but he changed the audience he wrote for because of something his older daughter, Jane, said after she had gotten an autograph by children’s book author Leo Politi at the Santa Monica Public Library. Jane’s mother said, “Daddy writes books, too,” and Jane replied, “Yes, but no one reads his books.” Very quickly, he became very successful as a writer of books for children. In his first children’s book, Mr. Mysterious and Company, he named the child characters after his own children: Jane, Paul, and Anne. Like Mr. Politi, Mr. Fleischman signed autographs at the Santa Monica Public Library. Standing in line to get his autograph was his seven-year-old daughter, Anne. Mr. Fleischman says, “I knew I had arrived.”

• Ernest Hemingway once visited Robert Benchley and discovered that Mr. Benchley had a first edition of every book that Hemingway had published, including his first book, In Our Time. He said, “So you were going to save this, and then sell it when it got to be worth a lot of money — all right, I’ll fix you.” He then wrote a filthy inscription in the book. Next he took Mr. Benchley’s copy of A Farewell to Arms and filled in the original dirty dialogue that the publisher had not seen fit to print and had represented by blanks. On its flyleaf, he wrote, “Corrected edition with filled-in blanks. Very valuable — sell quick.”

• William Faulkner once stayed for a few days at the New York apartment of writers Frank Sullivan and Corey Ford. When he left, he took a copy of The Sound and the Fury from Mr. Ford’s bookshelf, then inscribed it, “Corey Ford’s book is hereby presented to Frank Sullivan with the regards of Wm. Faulkner.” Mr. Sullivan declined to return the book to Mr. Ford.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


The Coolest People in Books

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