David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Editors, Education


• As editor of the Emporia Gazette, William Allen White read and rejected many stories. A woman wrote him after one of her stories was rejected, “You sent back last week a story of mine. I know that you did not read the story, for as a test I pasted together pages 18, 19, and 20. The story came back with these pages still pasted. So I know that you are a fraud and turn down stories without reading them.” Mr. White wrote her in reply, “At breakfast when I open an egg I don’t have to eat it all to determine if it is bad.”


• In 2006 novelist Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, weeded his fiction library in his London town house. Then he and his younger son, Greg, gave away 30 novels in a nearby park. Mr. McEwan says that “every young woman we approached … was eager and grateful to take a book.” However, the men responded with “Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks, mate, but no.” Mr. McEwan concludes, “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.” By the way, Mr. McEwan’s younger son, Greg, had to study Mr. McEwan’s novel Enduring Love that featured two characters named Clarissa and Joe and answer this question: What is the moral center of the book? Greg asked his father about the novel, and Mr. McEwan said, “Well, I think Clarissa’s got everything wrong.” Greg wrote an essay in which he stated that, and his teacher gave him a D. Mr. McEwan says, “The teacher didn’t care what I thought. She thought that Joe was too ‘male’ in his thinking. Well. I mean, I only wrote the damn thing .” In addition, Mr. McEwan’s older son, Ian, Jr., remembers, “I once had to answer a question on Dad’s book Enduring Love for my A-level English. I based the answer on what he told me while writing it. I got a low B.”

• When he was a child, Walter Dean Myers loved comic books, even smuggling the forbidden reading into his house in the legs of his pants. When he was in the 5th grade, his teacher caught him reading a comic book in class. Disgusted, she handed him a book of Scandinavian fairy tales and said, “If you’re going to sit here and read, you might as well read something worthwhile.” Mr. Myers remembers, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He read that book and other books she handed to him, and he became a reader. He worried that reading might not be well regarded by many of his friends, and often he carried library books inside a brown paper bag so that other children could not see them. His teacher, Mrs. Conway, helped him in other ways. Young Walter had a speech impediment, and she required students to recite a poem out loud in front of the class; however, the poem could be something that the student had written. Walter wrote a poem that used only words that he could pronounce well, and he impressed the other students with his recitation.

• Hunter S. Thompson worked very hard to become a writer. He wrote lots of stuff on his own, of course, but he also would type pages of material by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway simply to “feel the rhythm” of the way they wrote. This hard work paid off when he wrote his breakthrough book, Hell’s Angels, at age 29. The first part was more scholarly than the second, which was much more “gonzo” — the kind of writing associated with Mr. Thompson, who discovered that he had only four days to write the second part. He simply holed himself up in a room with what he considered the necessities of life — Wild Turkey and Dexedrine — and created the second half of the book. By the way, Mr. Thompson says that he was able to do this not because of the alcohol and the drug, but because of the 15 years that he had spent learning to write.

• Young-people’s author Richard Peck taught for a while, but he quit because he thought that educational standards and the quality of students dropped dramatically during the 1960s. Even the brightest students were not so bright — or if they were bright, their brightness was dimmed by excessive pride. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once lectured some gifted girls at Hunter College High School, where he taught. She suggested that the girls learn real-world skills such as secretarial skills or nursing skills since such skills are useful in life — in addition to the academic work that the girls were doing. One of the students replied, “Lady, I don’t think you know who we are. We aren’t going to be secretaries. We’re gifted!” Mr. Peck does have strong opinions. For example, he says, “Watching television is what you do with your life when you don’t want to live it.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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