David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Prejudice, Problem-Solving, Public Speaking, Research


• As one of the few African-American students at Harvard in the 1890s, W.E.B. Du Bois faced prejudice. At a social function, a young woman insisted that because of his race, he must be a waiter — he couldn’t be a guest.


• As a young man during World War II, journalist Meyer Berger wanted to enlist in the Army but he was unable to because of his poor eyesight. Fortunately, when Mr. Berger attempted a second time to enlist, an understanding officer told him to wait for five minutes in the room where the eye chart was located. During those five minutes, Mr. Berger memorized the eye chart. Years later, he could still recite the chart horizontally, vertically, forwards, and backwards. In the Army, he had to keep his poor eyesight a secret until he was shipped overseas, so he was put in a regimental band with orders to hold a French horn to his lips — and not attempt to play it. While stationed overseas, his fellow soldiers put what eyesight Mr. Berger had to good use — Mr. Berger wrote love letters for them.

• When Jerry Spinelli, author of the Newbery Medal-winning Maniac Magee, attended his ninth-grade prom, the girls were angry because they were not allowed to wear strapless gowns. Not content with merely being angry, the girls also took action. Many of the straps worn to the prom that evening were flimsy — one “strap” consisted of a single piece of thread. Another girl’s “straps” were actually lines painted with eyeliner. Of course, some girls wore real straps — but they carried scissors in their purses. By the last dance, every girl had bare shoulders.

• M.E. Kerr, one of the pseudonyms of Marijane Meaker, is the author of such young people’s books as Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack. She enjoys frequent visits by teenagers in her neighborhood, but she has devised a means to get privacy when she needs it. Whenever she wants to be alone, she hangs a stuffed rabbit on her door. If the neighborhood teenagers see the stuffed rabbit, they don’t visit.

• Nicholasa Mohr worked as a professional artist before she began to write such children’s books as Nilda. As a child, she lived in a rough neighborhood, and to keep the tough kids from beating her up, she offered to draw their portraits. Ms. Mohr says, “I would make sure they looked really good, almost like movie stars!”

• The door to Jane Austen’s sitting room creaks. Why didn’t Ms. Austen have it oiled? It gave her warning that visitors were coming, so she was able to hide her writing before her visitors came into the room.

Public Speaking

• On March 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous March on Washington Address — the one in which he said, “I have a dream.” Among the people present that day was novelist Alice Walker, who later wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple. On the day of Dr. King’s speech, Ms. Walker climbed a tree in the national capitol — from her perch, she saw very little, but she heard everything.

• Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction with her 1976 book, The Woman Warrior. When she gave a speech at the awards ceremony, she was unable to see over the podium because she is only four feet, nine inches tall. Therefore, she bent sideways around the podium and gave her acceptance speech.


• While doing research for her children’s book A Snake’s Body, Joanna Cole met in her home with a snake expert from the New York City Museum of Natural History. He had brought a snakeskin for her to look at, but when he showed it to Ms. Cole, her pet dog, Taffy, jumped in the air and grabbed it. Taffy then disappeared under a bed, where she apparently ate the snakeskin. The snake expert told Ms. Cole, “Don’t worry. We have plenty of them back at the lab.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Roberta Bang — “Killing Floor”


Music: “Killing Floor”


Artist: Roberta Bang

Artist Location: Rosario, Argentina

Info: This is an album of covers. Howlin’ Wolf did “Killing Floor.”

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $5 (USD) for 13-track album

Genre: Blues. Rock. Pop.


Roberta Bang on Bandcamp