David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 3 — Titles, Travel, Work

Titles

• When author Judy Blume handed in the manuscript for Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, it didn’t have a title. A typist in the publisher’s office filled in the title space with the opening line of the young people’s novel, and that became the title. Judy’s young daughter, Randy, came up with the title of another book: Freckle Juice. Randy used to play in the bathtub, making a mess with powder, shampoo, and soap — a mixture that she called, yes, freckle juice. The title for Just as Long as We’re Together came from creative problem-solving. Ms. Blume and her agent, Claire Smith, couldn’t think of a title, so they started singing old campfire songs. The title for the book comes from a line in the song “Side by Side.”

• James M. Cain gave two explanations for the title of his novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. According to one explanation, he had an arrangement that his postman would ring twice if he were bringing bills. According to the other explanation, the arrangement was that the postman would ring twice if he were bringing a rejection letter from a publisher. Mr. Cain was rejected so often that he got used to hearing the postman ring twice every day. One day, the postman rang only once, and handed Mr. Cain a letter that said his novel had been accepted for publication. Mr. Cain was so happy that he named his novel after the postman.

• When children’s author Jane Yolen and her family moved to a farm in western Massachusetts, she wanted to name it Fe-Fi-Fo-Farm, but her husband vetoed the idea, and they called it Phoenix Farm instead. However, their children had a wonderful idea: They wanted her to write about a giants’ farm. She did, and Tomie de Paola illustrated the book — which was titled, of course, The Giants’ Farm.

Travel

• Children’s book author Jean Fritz works hard to write at least one book per year, but she also takes three weeks off each winter to go to a Caribbean island called Virgin Gorda. Of course, this often necessitates leaving an unfinished manuscript at her home. Because she worries about such tragedies as her house burning down while she is on vacation, she places her unfinished manuscript in the very safest place that she can think of — her refrigerator.

• When Yoshiko Uchida, author of Journey to Topaz, was a little girl, she and her family sailed to Japan to visit relatives. Unfortunately, almost everyone in her family, including herself, got seasick, and so it was several days before they ventured out of their cabin to eat with the other passengers. The waiters who served their tables were so happy to have a full table of people to wait on that they applauded.

Work

• Studs Terkel knows his history, and he uses it in arguments. Because he lives in Chicago, he never learned how to drive; after all, buses go everywhere he needs to go in Chicago. At the bus stop one day, he saw a middle-class couple: a man and a woman. She was beautiful, wore Neiman-Marcus clothing, and carried Vanity Fair. He wore Gucci shoes and had a copy of The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Terkel talks to all kinds of people, and he spoke to this couple. He said to them, “Tomorrow is Labor Day: the holiday to ‘honor the unions.’” This couple’s attitude toward what he says showed that they don’t like unions. Mr. Terkel asked, “How many hours do you work a day?” The man replied that he works eight hours per day. Mr. Terkel asked, “How come you don’t work 18 hours a day, like your great-grandparents?” The man didn’t know his history, so he couldn’t answer the question. Mr. Terkel does know his history, and he answered his own question: “Because four men got hanged for you.” Mr. Terkel told the man that he is referring to the 1886 Haymarket Affair, in which four men ended up being hung. Mr. Terkel then asked, “’How many days a week do you work?” The man’s answer is five days a week. Mr. Terkel said, “Five — oh, really? How come you don’t work six and a half?” The man didn’t know his history, so he couldn’t answer the question. Mr. Terkel does know his history, and he answered his own question: “’Because of the Memorial Day Massacre. These battles were fought, all for you.” He then informed the man about the 1937 massacre of workers in Chicago. The bus came then, and the history lesson ended — much to the couple’s relief.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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