Monthly Archives: February 2017

Evelyn Eman Delmar

The Many Lives of Dr. Seuss

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss

March 2nd is the 113th birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, known worldwide as Dr. Seuss, author of countless beloved children’s books. It’s widely known that Dr. Seuss was not a doctor of anything (although an honorary doctorate was conferred on him by his alma mater, Dartmouth, in 1956). He added the “Dr.” to his penname in 1927 because his father had always wanted him to practice medicine. It’s also common knowledge that the celebrated author of more than 60 children’s books never had children. His standard response was “You make ’em. I’ll amuse ’em.”

What you might not know about the man behind Horton Hears a Who, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax and other children’s classics that have sold more than 600 million copies, translated into more than 20 languages, is how multifaceted he was. For starters, there were the more than a dozen books Geisel wrote as Theo LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards) and one as Rosetta Stone.

So, how did Theodore Geisel become Dr. Seuss? He adopted his “Dr. Seuss” pen name during his university studies at Dartmouth College, where he was editor-in-chief of their humor magazine, the Jack-O-Lantern. A drinking infraction while at Dartmouth during the prohibition years nearly derailed his position on the magazine until Geisel surreptitiously wrote under his middle name, Seuss.

Seuss’s professional life began as an illustrator for such publications as Vanity Fair and Life, and for advertising campaigns. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post — for which he was paid $25. His first ad campaign for Flit, a bug spray, ran sporadically from 1928 to 1941, with its catchphrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” becoming so popular it inspired a song and was used as a punch line for comedians such as Jack Benny and Fred Allen.

At the start of World War II, Geisel became the editorial cartoonist at the New York City newspaper, PM, drawing over 400 political cartoons in two years. Later published in Dr. Seuss Goes to War, Geisel’s political cartoons denounced Hitler and Mussolini, criticized Charles Lindbergh and other “isolationists” who opposed US entry into the war, and strongly supported President Roosevelt’s war efforts while attacking the Republican Party. His cartoons also attacked racism.

In 1942, Geisel’s artistic talents turned to drawing posters for the U.S. Treasury Department and the War Production Board. As a Captain in the U.S. military, he commanded the Animation Department in a Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Forces, writing training and propaganda films. One of his films became the basis for a commercially released film that won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1947. Another film based on an original Seuss story won the 1950 Oscar for Animated Short Film.

After the war, Geisel focused on children’s books. They inspired numerous adaptations, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.

Dr. Seuss books may seem very simply written but they evolved to serve a specific purpose. Following a 1954 Life magazine report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to reduce the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words. Geisel’s challenge was to “bring back a book children can’t put down”. Nine months later, Geisel’s The Cat in the Hat used 236 of the words given to him. It kept Geisel’s drawing style, verse rhythms, and imagination from earlier works but could be read by beginning readers. The success of The Cat in the Hat inspired similar beginner reader books that remain bestsellers to this day.

Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. In 2004, U.S. children’s librarians established the annual Theodore Seuss Geisel Award to recognize “the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year”. It should “demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading” during years pre-K to grade two.

One more thing you may not have known about Seuss: how to properly pronounce his name. It rhymes with “voice”, not “juice”. One of his collaborators on the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern set that bit of information to verse:

You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice.

Geisel switched to the anglicized pronunciation because it “evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children’s books to be associated with – Mother Goose”.

Evelyn Eman Delmar

Happily Ever After, or … ?

I’m on my way to West Virginia for my son’s wedding to a wonderful young woman. This will be my entry into mother-of-the-groom and mother-in-law territory. My happiness for my son is tinged with melancholy at the realization that I am officially relinquishing the top spot in my son’s heart. While a wedding is the culmination of a courtship it is also the beginning of a marriage. A wedding affects not only the betrothed but ripples out to others (sometimes with a hidden undertow), in the moment and over time. That makes weddings the perfect catalyst in literature.

Joyful or sad, funny or frightening, even if they are cancelled, weddings offer potent plot devices in literature. How many of these novels with nuptials have you read?

Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen
Our Mutual Friend (1864) – Charles Dickens
Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy
The Age of Innocence (1920) – Edith Wharton
The Member of the Wedding (1946) – Carson McCullers
The Princess Bride (1973) – William Goldman
I’ve Got Your Number (2012) – Sophie Kinsella
Seating Arrangements (2012) – Maggie Shipstead

Quotable

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” — The Illuminated Rumi by Jalal Al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

“You and I, it’s as though we have been taught to kiss in heaven and sent down to earth together, to see if we know what we were taught.” — Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” — The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Evelyn Eman Delmar

How We Read. And Why It Matters.

I don’t think audiobooks would work for me. Other than music, I don’t think I’m a great listener for an extended period of time, unless words are set to music. I’m a visual person. A voracious reader. Because I spend so much time working on my computer, e-books hold little appeal to me. I’m just an old-fashioned girl who loves the look, feel and (sometimes) smell of print on paper, the choice of book cover design and even the typeface. How do you read?

Start with statistics:
• 72% of American adults have read a book in the past year – in whole or in part, in any format. That’s a 20% decline from 1978.
• Young adults (ages 18 to 29) were the most likely (80%) to have read a book within the past year while adults ages 50-64 were the least likely (68%).
• Women averaged 14 books a year compared to nine books for men.
• In the decade since Kindle, Nook and iPad introduced e-book formats, readership took off like a rocket, reaching 22.5% of book sales in 2012 before settling to a steady near-20% in 2015.
• Audiobooks, which have been around since the 1930s, took off with the ability to download through websites and subscription services. By 2015, audiobooks represented an impressive 38.9% of adult books sales.
• One-third of audiobook listeners fell into the 25-to-34 age bracket, with mysteries/thrillers/suspense being the most popular genre, followed closely by history/biography/memoirs and popular fiction.
• The narrator of an audiobook has a significant impact on sales; some narrators have developed followings that drive sales.
• Print books still dominate, with 77% of all sales.

Why do reading habits matter? If you’re a booklover, learning what others like could coax you to try new formats to increase or improve your reading experiences. For authors – especially self-publishing ones — it’s crucial to understand what formats your target audience gravitates toward to maximize your investment.