Thursday Sep. 21, 2017

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Don’t Hesitate

The text of today’s poem is not available online.

“Don’t Hesitate” by Mary Oliver from Devotions. © Penguin Press, 2017. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of famed horror writer Stephen King (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine (1947). King is most known for his supernatural novels like Carrie, The Shining, and Pet Sematary. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide. King often laments the fact that the genre of horror is maligned as a literary art form. He once scoffed: "Hemingway sucks. If I set out to write that way, it would have been been hollow and lifeless because it wasn't me."

King worked as a janitor, gas pump attendant, and high school teacher, while he wrote what would be his first published novel, Carrie (1973). He threw the first draft of the book into the trash, thinking no one would like the story of a lonely teenage girl with telekinetic powers, who ends up setting fire to her high school prom and destroying a town. But his wife saved the manuscript and he kept working. Eventually, Doubleday bought the book for $2,500. The paperback rights netted him nearly half a million dollars. The novel is one of the most frequently banned books in high schools. He wrote the book on a portable typewriter while he and his family lived in a trailer in Maine.

When asked why he writes, he said, "The answer to that is fairly simple — there was nothing else I was made to do."

About the character of Carrie White in Carrie, King said: "For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she's also a woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight […] Carrie uses her 'wild talent' to pull down the whole rotten society."

The Shining (1977) was partly written from King's struggle with alcoholism and a visit he made to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. In the book, the character of Jack Torrance, like King, is a writer and recovering alcoholic isolated during the winter at a grand hotel with his wife and odd son. When King and his wife stayed at the hotel, they were the only guests, and he was inspired to write a book about a haunted hotel after he and his wife shared a lonely dinner in the hotel's large restaurant. Danny, the little boy in the book, has what King termed "the shining," which is the ability to see the hotel's terrible past. The first draft of the book took King only four months to complete. He isn't afraid of the macabre, or doing terrible things to people in his books. He says, "When it comes to people, mercy killing is against the law. When it comes to fiction, it is the law."

When asked why he likes to write horror stories, Stephen King said: "It's built in. That's all. The first movie I ever saw was a horror movie. It was Bambi. When that little deer gets caught in a forest fire, I was terrified, but I was also exhilarated."

Today is the birthday of British publisher Allen Lane, born in London (1902), who founded Penguin Books with his brothers in 1936. At the time, the only books you could find in paperback were genre fiction. One day, he was in a train station looking for something to read, but all he could find in the stores were magazines and pulp fiction novels. Then it occurred to him that he could publish serious novels in paperback — his idea was to publish a book for the price of a pack of cigarettes.

The business model only worked if he could sell a lot of books; each book had to sell 17,000 copies just to break even. But since they published major writers that people wanted to read, like Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie, Penguin sold 3 million books within its first year of business. Penguin was also one of the first presses to publish books with a consistent graphic design. The cover drew attention not to that specific book, but to the Penguin brand. Lane sent a co-worker to the zoo to draw a penguin, which became the famous penguin logo.

Although Allen Lane's innovations changed the publishing industry, of his own admission, he rarely read books.

It's the birthday of H.G. Wells (books by this author), born Herbert George in London (1866). He is the sci-fi writer most known for The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds. Wells wasn't the first to write about time travel or alien invasions, but his brand of sci-fi was uniquely realistic. He wanted to make the made-up science as believable as possible. Wells called this his "system of ideas" — today we would call it suspension of disbelief. Wells said: "As soon as the magic trick has been done the whole business of the fantasy writer is to keep everything else human and real. Touches of prosaic detail are imperative and a rigorous adherence to the hypothesis. Any extra fantasy outside the cardinal assumption immediately gives a touch of irresponsible silliness to the invention"

H.G. Wells died in 1946.

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