David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Gifts, Good Deeds

Gifts

• The family that Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, grew up in was poor but was also concerned about families who were poorer than they were. The Alcott family often ate two meals a day, giving away the third meal to an even poorer family. Louisa’s father, Bronson, was thoroughly impractical. A kind neighbor once gave the Alcott family a load of wood, but Bronson gave it away to a family with an ill baby, even though his own family needed it. Fortunately, another neighbor arrived with another gift of wood for the Alcotts. Branson then told his family, “I told you we would not suffer.”

• The 18th-century French philosopher and writer Denis Diderot once received an elegant gift: a Chinese silk robe. He put it on and was delighted with it. But then he noticed that his slippers looked shabby, so he bought elegant new slippers. And when he wore the Chinese silk robe and sat down to write, he noticed that his desk looked shabby, so he bought an elegant new desk. And so it went until he had ended up completely renovating his entire writing room.

• George Bernard Shaw once gave English entertainer Joyce Grenfell a present — seven postcard-sized photographs of himself that he had signed. When he gave her the present, he told her, “One for every day in the week and all out on Sunday. And don’t sell them until I’m dead.”

Good Deeds

• When young-adult novelist Robert Cormier was in the 8th grade, his family’s house burned down, and the suit that he was going to wear to his 8th-grade graduation ceremony burned up with it. Fortunately, the Cormiers’ neighbors contributed money to buy clothing for them, and young Robert was able to wear a suit to his graduation ceremony. As an adult, Mr. Cormier did good deeds for other people. His novel I Am the Cheese contained a telephone number, which was his. He once received a call from a girl in a psychiatric institution who felt that she could identify only with the protagonist in the novel. Mr. Cormier says that he and she “had a long talk about how this Adam [the protagonist] in the book was really a reflection of her own life, even though the circumstances were much different.” In the novel, Adam calls his friend Amy Hertz three times. That is the telephone number that the girl in the psychiatric institution called, and many other young people also called it. Sometimes they would ask for Amy. If Mr. Cormier answered the phone, he would pretend to be Amy’s father. If his youngest daughter, Renee, answered the phone and was asked if Amy was there, she would say, “Speaking.”

• On New Year’s Eve, Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard Woolf, also a famous author, attended a party for 12-year-old Angelica, their niece. All the attendees, including the Woolfs, were dressed as characters from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. After the party was over, the Woolfs left, and in the street they saw a couple of men harassing an intoxicated woman. Police arrived, the two harassing men ran away, and the police began to question the intoxicated woman in an accusatory manner. Mr. Woolf stood up for the woman. Dressed in a paper hat and a green apron so he could portray the Carpenter of Alice in Wonderland, he told the police that they should leave the woman alone and instead find and question the men who had been harassing her. Mrs. Woolf, who was wearing the ears and paws of the March Hare, also joined in her husband’s criticism of the police.

• In 1933, seven-year-old Nelle Lee saw some older boys assaulting young Truman Streckfus Persons in what was supposed to be a game known as “Hot Grease in the Kitchen, Go Around!” In the game, the older boys stood in a line, crossed their arms, and dared someone to try to get past them and into a sandpit. Truman loved to be the center of attention, so he accepted the dare. Unfortunately, he was small, and the boys were able to keep him out of the sandpit and knock him to the ground and hit him. Nelle yelled, “Get offa him!” She also knocked the older boys off small Truman and then escorted him away from the older boys. The two became friends, and they became famous. Nelle Harper is better known as Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Truman Streckfus Persons is better known as Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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