Wednesday, February 23, 2022

1962 Pratt Great Books Club was Serious!

 My encouragement to set a reading goal for yourself for 2022 was pretty simple compared to this serious Pratt group from 1962!  The group began four years earlier, yet as they gathered in the Pratt Library in the Fall of 1962 they were still enthusiastic about their self-education course sponsored by the Great Books Foundation.  The course was free, and the approach was not to discuss the books themselves at their meetings but rather to let a different reader lead the discussions focused on problems raised by the participating members.

The group met twice a month, pursuing a program intended to last 10 years.  Although the Great Books Foundation did train leaders and would supply informational materials, the group itself selected the books they wanted to read.  

As this Pratt group began their fourth year, these are the books they had selected:  "Ancient Medicine," Hippocrates;  "Republic," Plato; "Confessions," St. Augustine; "Novum Organum," Bacon; "Metaphysies," Aristotle; "Philosophical Dictionary," Voltaire; and "The Brothers Karamazo," Dostoyevsky.

Their 10-Year Study of Great Books was obviously serious business!  Interestingly, Isaac Werner, my Prairie Bachelor, had some of those books in his library. 

The newspaper article closes with the explanation that the fifth year class had already completed the above listed books and would be reading their own selections, with the following authors:  Plato; Aristotle; St. Francis; Dante; Tocqueville; and Melville.

Perhaps some of the people in the photograph can be identified, but I am certainly impressed by the aspirations of those Pratt readers of 1962!


Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Nellie Bly's Famous Story


Perhaps the most famous female journalist of the late 1800s was Nellie Bly, not because of her successful Trip About the World, described in last week's blog, but rather because of her courage in exposing the disgraceful treatment of women in a "Lunatic Asylum."  After some initial success as a journalist, Nellie wanted to work in the city where a journalist could become famous.  She headed to New York, but she struggled, trying to find a newspaper that would give her a chance. She had an idea, and she took it to perhaps the most powerful newspaper editor in America, Joseph Pulitzer of the "New York World."  Nellie proposed going undercover to be admitted to the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island.  Recognizing what a story that would be, Pulitzer agreed.

First Nellie had to feign insanity in order to be admitted to the Asylum as a patient.  Using a mirror, she practiced deranged expressions.  Once she felt able to play the role, she checked into a working class boarding house, waiting until bedtime to start her act.  Having convinced the other boarders that she was crazy, Nellie faced her next test when they called the police, and her act was again successful.  Her next challenge was convincing a judge, who then ordered her to be examined by several doctors.  Once the doctors had pronounced Nellie insane, she was committed to the Asylum.

Charles Dickens had visited in the 1840s, and he described the conditions.  "...everyone had a lounging, listless, madhouse air, which was very painful.  The moping idiot, cowering down with long disheveled hair; the gibbering maniac, with his hideous laugh and pointed finger; the vacant eye, the fierce wild face, the gloomy picking of the hands and lips, and munching of the nails:  there they were all, without disguise, in naked ugliness and horror."

Yet, when Nellie Bly was admitted, she said, "From the moment I entered the insane ward on the Island, I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity.  I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life.  Yet, strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted, the crazier I was thought to be by all..."  She described rotted food, cruel attendants, and cramped and diseased conditions, and she believed there were patients with whom she talked that were as sane as she was.  Sadly, it was a time when an inconvenient wife or a dependent elderly person that had become a nuisance to the caregiver might be delivered to the Asylum.

Nellie Bly wrote:  "What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment?"  She described, "...take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading material and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane."

With the help of Pulitzer, Nellie was released after 10 days, and her newspaper expose, later published as the book, "Ten Days in a Mad-House," led to a grand jury investigation and increased financial budgeting.  While her expose did gain fame for Nellie Bly, it also brought attention and changes to the abuses at the Asylum on Blackwell's Island. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Around the World Many Times

1873 1st Vernes book

 In 1872, French author Jules Verne published "Around the World in Eighty Days," creating the memorable character Fhileas Fogg, an Englishman who makes a wager that he can go around the world in 80 days, with his French valet Passepartout.  The book has inspired many adaptations, among them the 1965 movie starring David Niven as Fogg, the Disney movie with Steve Coogan as Fogg, and the current Masterpiece serial, with David Tennant, among many other versions.

Jules Verne

However, the inspiration for Verne's book may not have come from simply his imagination.  An Italian traveler named Ciovanni Francesco Gemell Careri wrote a book in 1699 titled "Voyage Around the World."   In 1871 the Union Pacific Railroad Company published a description of routes, times, and distances describing a trip around the globe in 77 days and 21 hours.  In 1869 the periodical 'Le Tour du monde' published a short piece titled "Around the World in Eighty Days," but even that referenced the Nouvelles Annales written by Conrad Malte-Brun, who died in 1826, and his son, who died in 1889.

Verne's book has challenged many people to pick up the gauntlet.  In 1928, a 15-year-old boy, sponsored
by a Danish newspaper, made his own race, which was published in a book titled "A Boy Scout Around the World.  A sailing competition now awards the Jules Verne Trophy to the boat that sails around the world without stopping and with no outside assistance in the shortest time.  In 2009, 12 celebrities formed a relay to raise money for the charity, Children in Need.  These are only a few examples of challenges inspired by Verne's book.

However, I am going to share the race of a specific woman named Nellie Bly.  Actually, her given name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran, but the first newspaper editor to hire her named her Nellie Bly.  Aspiring to succeed in the big city of New York, Nellie proposed to Joseph Pulitzer in 1887 to replicate Verne's 80-day race around the world.  Her trip of 24,899 miles used steamships, railroads, and the White Star liner, "Oceanic," dressing for her adventure in a single dress, an overcoat, several changes of underwear, carrying a travel bag for toiletries, and with a hidden bag tied around her neck containing bank notes and gold.  She completed the race in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds!

Next week's blog will share an even more dramatic challenge accomplished by the courageous Nellie Bly.        

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Most Readers Have Favorite Authors, #4


It isn't easy to select a favorite author or a favorite book, but I do have a favorite.  I have written about Harper Lee before.  "To Kill a Mockingbird" is often spoken of as a book for young readers.  Yes, teachers often include it for their junior high students, but more accurately it is a book for all readers, in my opinion.  

The New York Times chose to celebrate its 125th Year of the Times Book Review's existence by asking readers to nominate their favorite book.  "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee was chosen as the Best Book of the Past 125 Years.  I am thrilled.  I have recommended that book to so many people, and I particularly urge anyone considering law school to read it before they begin and read it after they are licensed to practice.  If they still think it is a youth book, they probably should read it a third time.

In an essay, NYT editor Molly Young began with these words, "When you revisit in adulthood a book that you last read in childhood, you will likely experience two broad categories of observation:  'Oh yeah, I remember this part,' and 'Whoa, I never noticed that part.'"  Her wonderful essay continued with sharing the things she missed and why it was worth revisiting.  She describes what impressed her most:  "...which is how keenly Lee recreates the comforts, miseries and banalities of people gathered intimately in one little space."

In the announcement of the selection, the New York Times explained the process for the selection.  More than 1,300 books were nominated.  Of that number, 65% were nominated by only one person.  Of those nominating a book, only 31% of them saw their book included in the list of 25 finalists.

Another interesting discovery is that certain authors were particularly popular.  Three authors had seven of their books nominated.  Those authors are John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner.  Another group of three had five of their books nominated.  Those three authors are James Baldwin, Margaret Atwood, and Virginia Wolf.  They also mentioned Joan Didion, who recently passed away, who had four of her books nominated.  Of course, I would like to have seen Willa Cather among those authors named for having several books nominated.

If some of you are still making your New Year's Resolution reading list, you might consider these authors and the idea of reading several of a single author's books.

Or, you might consider the top five books nominated in the NYT Anniversary vote,  listed from 1-5 are:  Harper Lee, "To Kill a Mockingbird," J.R.R. Tolkien, "Fellowship of the Ring," George Orwell, "1984," Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and Toni Morrison, "Beloved."

Some of my favorites included among the other finalists are:  "All the Light We Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr, "Lonesome Dove," by Larry McMurtry, "The Grapes of Rath," by Steinbeck, "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White, and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by Rowllng.  There are a few more that I liked at the time I read them but can no longer remember why, and one I tried my best to read and finally gave up.

The link to the NYT article, including the essay by Molly Young referenced in this blog, is