Ray Bradbury met his first girlfriend—and his future wife—in a bookstore. But they didn’t lock eyes over the same just-selected novel, or bump into each other in a narrow aisle, sending books and feelings flying.
It was a warm afternoon in April 1946, and 25-year-old Ray Bradbury—an up-and-coming pulp fiction writer—was wearing a trench coat and carrying a briefcase while he scanned the shelves at Fowler Brothers Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
Naturally, Marguerite McClure—Maggie—who worked at the bookstore, “was immediately suspicious.” Someone had been stealing books, but hadn’t yet been caught. So she struck up a conversation. “I expected him to slam his briefcase down on a pile of books and make off with a few,” she said. “Instead, he told me he was a writer and invited me to have a cup of coffee with him.”
Coffee became lunch became dinner became romance; Maggie was the first woman Ray had ever dated, but he managed all right, and they were married on September 27, 1947.
Shakespeare and Company’s green-and-yellow facade and weather-beaten sidewalk book bins telegraphed old-world charm. Inside, thousands of books both new and used lined the shelves that stretched from floor to ceiling. More books were heaped on tables crammed into corners. I’d never seen so many books packed into a space. Tara had told us on the way over that this English-language bookstore, founded in 1951, had long been the center of expat literary life and that many famous writers had visited and even slept there over the years. Looking around the store, an extraordinary tribute to reading and writing as surely as the Musée d’Orsay was to art, I could see why.
I ran my fingers absently over the spines of books, picking up one classic novel and then another. A tattered copy of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders caught my attention. It looked just like the one I’d been assigned in boarding school long ago. As I leafed through it, the words on the page brought me powerfully back not to the lessons in the classroom but to the countless letters I’d written to my friends in those years. What happens to you as a teenager matters. Sometimes, the intervening decades can feel all but gone.
It’s easy to get kicked out of most boarding schools. All you have to do is break just one of the cardinal rules: no leaving campus without permission, no alcohol, no drugs of any kind, no cheating, no sex, and, above all else, no breaking of the school’s beloved honor code.
In the late 1990s, reader Sara Prem was living in Lenexa, Kansas when she took a Kansas City history bus tour that passed a home in Mission Hills. Her tour guide pointed out a window in the home and said that American literary icon Ernest Hemingway wrote one of his novels from that bedroom.
“I no longer remember which novel,” Prem said in an email. “I was hoping you could find that out and a little more of the story of how (if it is true) Hemingway came to be writing in a bedroom in Mission Hills, Kansas.
”This week, KCQ dug into a bit of Hemingway’s connections to Kansas City. It is true that he wrote pages of his novel “A Farewell to Arms” while in Kansas City. We don’t know exactly how many of those pages were actually written in that Mission Hills home, according to Steve Paul, author of “Hemingway at Eighteen: The Pivotal Year That Launched an American Legend,” but we know he did spend time there during the summer he was working on the book.
Give thanks to the people who resolved to make pictures stand for sounds
By Johnson, columnist, Economist, June 30, 2022
If you are reading this column, a combination of 26 squiggles on a page or screen is putting the sounds and meaning of this sentence into your head almost without effort on your part, though you have almost certainly never met the writer.
If you are listening to this on The Economist’s audio edition, a reader who has also never met the author has turned a copy of those squiggles into intelligible sound waves for you.
Writing is such an everyday miracle that it is easy to take for granted. People who can read cannot stop themselves, as studies have shown in which subjects are told to ignore a word flashing on the screen while attending to another task, but are unable to do so. Reading is the prime goal of education everywhere. Writing seems so fundamental that it is hard to believe just how recent, and contingent, it really is.
Estimates differ widely on when language was developed, from 50,000 years ago to as many as 1.9m years. On even the most recent hypothesis, humans spent 45,000 years talking before it occurred to a few to make their words into durable visual signs. Writing was then independently invented just four (proven) times, in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mesoamerica. Most people lived without it for a few more millennia.
Only in the 1940s did humankind pass a literacy rate of 50%.
As a fiction writer who teaches, I often speak about what I love in fiction, what to me makes it powerful and engaging.
This is a version of a talk I have been giving for years to students and other interested parties; it is a talk I’ve become — what is the right word? — uncertain about in the last five years, not because I don’t believe what I’m saying or that I care about it less but because I’m not sure that people can find it meaningful anymore.
There are a number of reasons I feel this, most of which have to do with how we take in knowledge and information and how that has changed the nature of perception. I’m not saying anything new here: think iPhones and the constant staring there at, a skull-fracturing change which plainly has consequences beyond how people understand the reading and writing of fiction.