Books With Feet
Authors & Stories

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, named after the author of the United States’ National Anthem, was a famously fast-living guy whose works of fiction document the lives of young, hip people like him. Fitzgerald's stories chronicled a new generation of American youth whose excesses astounded their elders. The collection featuring "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" is called “Flappers and Philosophers” (1920), which title immediately announces its subject matter. Fitzgerald depicted the changing face of youth through his entertaining stories of women envisioned as forward-thinking, revolutionary "flappers", while the men, who either narrowly missed or survived the horrors of World War I, are labeled "philosophers".
In 1918 while stationed in the U.S. Army near Montgomery, Alabama, Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre and immediately fell in love. They were engaged in 1919 after the war ended but she soon grew tired of waiting for him to make his fortune writing in advertising.  Eventually she called off the engagement, insisting that he become more successful before she would agree to marry him.
Fitzgerald’s first novel, “This Side of Paradise”, previously rejected was published in March of 1921, making him rich and famous. Zelda finally married him in April of that year. She became a great influence on his writing, becoming the voice for many of his female characters. His works reflected their lifestyle, describing the privilege of being wealthy.
Three years after the birth of their daughter, Fitzgerald wrote “The Great Gatsby”, his best known work. Their exorbitant way of living took its toll on the couple and soon, they both began drinking heavily.  Zelda experienced several mental breakdowns and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. In 1926, she was admitted to Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina where she resided for the remainder of her life.
Desperately in debt and unable to write a novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald found work in Hollywood as a scriptwriter where he fell in love with Sheilah Graham, a movie columnist. Their relationship lasted until his death in 1940.

Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1920) by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" by F. Scott Fitzgerald teaches a very important lesson about superficial popularity, and the cruel pressures which demand that individuals conform to the standards of a social set. The story is about eighteen-year old Bernic e who is visiting her snobbish cousin, Marjorie, whose motto is something akin to "live fast, die young. " Marjorie proudly claims to be a "gardenia girl", a blossom that's incredibly beautiful, but whose beauty fades fast. The young characters we encounter in “Bernice” are on a differe nt schedule than their parents; instead of planning for the future, they're all about living in the moment. Bernice, on the other hand, represents the traditional mode of womanhoo d – she's totally predictable, and totally boring. The conflict between the two cousins demonstrates the tumultuous social conditions of Fitzgerald's time, with a freshness and accessibility that still impresses readers ninety years down the road.

 

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)
Dorothy Parker (born Dorothy Rothschild) (August 22, 1893 - June 7, 1967) was an American writer and poet best known for her caustic wit, wisecracks, and sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles.
Born in West End, New Jersey, Parker first sold some poems to Vogue magazine in 1916 and worked there for a short while captioning fashion photographs, before beginning her career writing theatre criticism for Vanity Fair. She was initially employed as a stand-in for the vacationing Robert Benchley), and during this time she met and married Edwin Pond Parker II, whom she later divorced. She also had a torrid affair with the publisher Seward Collins. When Harold Ross founded The New Yorker she and Benchley joined its staff. Parker contributed many of her greatest short stories to the magazine, before pursuing a career as an independent writer of poems and short stories and making a name for herself as an acerbic wit. She married a young writer named Alan Campbell with whom she had a rocky relationship, untroubled by fidelity, but they lived together on-and-off until his death in 1963.
Parker was the founding member of the noted Algonquin Round Table in New York. She published three volumes of poetry (Enough Rope, Sunset Gun, and Death and Taxes), and numerous short stories (her most noted was entitled "Big Blonde"). After she left the staff of the New Yorker she continued to work as a reviewer, as well as a playwright and screenwriter, often involved in "polishing" other people's scripts. Politically liberal, she was investigated by the FBI for her suspected involvement in Communism during the McCarthy era and bequeathed the copyright to her work to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Parker became famous for her short, viciously humorous poems, many about the perceived ludicrousness of her many (largely unsuccessful) romantic affairs and many others wistfully considering the appeal of suicide. She never considered these poems as her most important works.  She is also famous for her eminently quotable wisecracks, which were repeated by her literary friends and also appeared liberally throughout her works.  She attempted suicide several times in her life but in the end died of a heart attack. In her will, she bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. foundation. Following King's death, her estate was passed on to the NAACP.

The Waltz (1933) by Dorothy Parker
On the surface, Parker's “The Waltz” revolves around a woman who must decide to decline or accept dances with various suitors. The dance hall is the setting. We know this from the opening lines, as we hear both the external and internal dialogue of the woman. For example, she thinks, “Must this obscene travesty of a dance go on until hell burns out?” This can be viewed both literally and symbolically. Literally, she is at a dance hall. The symbolism is in the "dance" that men and women do, often without satisfaction. As she accepts a dance invitation, the world weary protagonist laments, "When you kick me in the shin, smile”. Again, there are both literal and symbolic overtones. Literally, her dance partner is a klutz. Symbolically, the dance men and women do sexually and emotionally is often devoid of grace. The conflict is that the protagonist longs for truth that she will not find. She wishes that at least the phonies would acknowledge that they are being phony! It would be a start…
This is the central conflict. How do women or men find satisfaction in the dance of life that is often shallow? Are we doomed to an eternity of mediocrity, dancing, as the protagonist does, with characters like “Double-Time Charlie,” not caring about fulfillment anymore “after the first hundred years”?
Under Genevieve Morrill's direction, “The Waltz” is performed as 5 women in a dance hall.  All speaking the inner dialogue of the one woman Ms. Parker wrote about, showing the perspective of women from various ages, races and cultures.

 

J.D. Salinger (1919)
Born Jerome David Salinger on January 1, 1919, this American author is best known for the classic novel The Catcher in the Rye published in 1951. Born in Manhattan, New York to a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother, Salinger attended public schools on the West Side, later McBruney, a private school and then entered Valley Forge Military Academy. He dropped out of NYU his freshman year to work on a cruise ship and ended up in Vienna. In 1942 Salinger was drafted into the army during World War II where he saw combat with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in some of the fiercest fighting of the war, including landing on Utah Beach on D-Day and in the Battle of the Bulge. After the defeat of Germany, he became heavily involved in "de-Nazification". Among those Nazis he arrested was a low-level official, Sylvia, whom he married and brought back to the States. The marriage fell apart after a few months and Sylvia returned to Germany. By 1948, with the publication of a critically acclaimed short story entitled "A Perfect Day Bananafish", Salinger began to publish for The New Yorker. All but one of the Glass family stories were first published in The New Yorker. In "Down at the Dinghy", 1949, we meet Boo Boo (Beatrice), probably the most normal of the siblings.

Down at the Dinghy (1949) by J.D. Salinger
This poignant story about anti-Semitism, features the first daughter of Salinger’s fictional Glass Family, Beatrice "Boo Boo" Glass.  Her intuitive four-year old boy, Lionel, has run away from an adult world that he cannot forever flee.  The two house servants, Mrs. Snell and Sandra, discuss the peculiarities of Boo Boo's young son who appears to display some of the talents and neuroses of his relatives. Boo Boo chats with the servants before going down to the pier to find Lionel in a dinghy preparing to cast off.  Only a mother’s wisdom could teach her son tolerance, living in prejudicial 1950’s America.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish (1953) by J.D. Salinger
“A Perfect Day for Bananafish”first appeared in the January 31, 1948 issue of The New Yorker and was collected as the first piece in “Nine Stories” published in 1953.  It is Salinger’s first story to center around the fictional Glass family, whose members figure in much of his work such as “Down at the Dinghy” (1949), “Franny and Zooey” (1961), and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters” and “Seymour: An Introduction” (1963).  Seymour, the oldest of the Glass children, is the main character in one of Salinger’s most elusive writings. The reader of "Bananafish" learns that Seymour, much like Salinger himself, is a veteran of World War II and has had trouble adjusting to postwar civilian life—an understandable problem that thousands of soldiers have to face.  The story's final paragraph shocks most readers and then leaves them scratching their heads.  Some readers find Seymour's wife, Muriel, partially to blame for her husband’s demise.  Others view Seymour as something of a guru, a man wise enough to escape from a corrupt world.  Also plausible is the idea that Seymour is so like his gluttonous bananafish that he can no longer cope. Multiple interpretations continue to be debated and disputed by professional critics and casual fans alike. Regardless of what specific motives are given to Seymour's actions, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”is rife with Salinger’s elaborate games of symbols, colors, and other indirect means of storytelling.

 

Truman Capote (1924 – 1984)
Truman Capote, born Truman Streckfus Persons on Sept. 30, 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana, was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. When his mother, Lillie Mae, married Joseph Garcia Capote in 1933, Truman adopted his stepfather’s surname.  He attended school in New York City and later in Greenwich, Connecticut.  After graduating at 17, he went to New Orleans, then to New York City to write and work.
In 1945 his stories began to appear in magazines and won two prizes. His first books were “Other Voices, Other Rooms” (1948), a novel about an adolescent boy in a run-down Southern mansion, and “A Tree of Night” (1949), a collection of short stories.  Capote wrote “House of Flowers” in the early 1950’s, which he expanded into a musical comedy in 1954. “Breakfast at Tiffany's”, a short novel written in 1958, was well received, and made into a movie in 1961. In 1966 a television presentation of his short story “A Christmas Memory” won a Peabody award.
Capote is best known for his obsession with the brutal murder of a Kansas farm family.  He dedicated several years to digging up the facts, talking to everyone connected with the killing.  In 1966 he published “In Cold Blood”, which was based on fact but read like suspense fiction.  It was immensely popular and in 1967 was made into a motion picture.  In 1996 the film was adapted into a mini-series.  His experiences writing this “nonfiction novel” were also adapted into two films, “Capote” (2005) and “Infamous”(2006).  Truman Capote died in Los Angeles, California, on Aug. 25, 1984.

House of Flowers (1950) by Truman Capote
In the early 1950’s, Truman Capote wrote this short story about the ladies of a bordello in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The story centers around Ottilie, an orphaned native girl taken in at the bordello at a young age.  Ottilie becomes restless and seeks love but does not know how to recognize it, as she has never experienced it. She is provided many riches from an American engineer, Mr. Jamison, and from her other gentlemen callers but still she is restless.  Ottilie goes to the village Houngan, a spiritual leader in the religion of Vodou, to seek advice.   He tells her that she must catch a wild bee and if it does not sting her then she will know she is in love.  During Carnival, Ottilie and her friends gather with other villa gers at the local cockfight.  There, she meets and falls in love with a poor mountain boy, Royal Bonaparte.  Royal lives with his grandmother, Old Bonaparte who is much respected as a maker of spells, and who tries to put a spell on her grandson’s new bride. What follows is a love story that symbolizes the choices we make in life.

 

Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946)
An American writer, poet, feminist, playwright and catalyst in the development of modern art and literature, Gertrude Stein spent most of her life in France.  Born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, her Jewish-German family moved to Vienna and then Paris when she was three.  She was educated in California, graduating from Radcliffe in 1897 and then spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts studying embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory and later studied at John Hopkins Medical School.  In 1902 she moved to Paris at the height of artistic creativity, where she lived with her brother Leo who was became an admired art critic.  Stein met her life-long partner, Alice B. Toklas in 1907 who moved in with Gertrude and her brother in 1909.  After moving to Paris she started to write in earnest:  novels, plays, stories, libretti and poems.  Increasingly she developed her own highly idiosyncratic, playful, sometimes repetitive and sometimes humorous style. 

Miss Furr and Miss Skeene (1922) by Gertrude Stein
This comedic romp written in 1911 but not published until 1922, takes the author’s merriness quite tongue-in-cheek in this clever expose of life in the 1920’s.  With characteristic playfulness, Stein spoofs young ladies who come to Paris to "cultivate something."  Miss Furr and Miss Skeene are two modern gay women, cultivating their modern aesthetic voices in a modern lesbian lifestyle.  The intimate nature of the relationship between the two "misses," is filled with sly references and double entendres of the kind that one would expect in a still-Victorian society.  In 1922 when this story about two lesbians was published in the popular magazine Vanity Fair, the word “gay” began to be used as a euphemism for “homosexual;” the word became underground argot among homosexuals. Of special note is the fact that "Miss Furr and Miss Skeene" is actually Stein's whimsical word portrait of her friends Squire and Mars (Squire's nickname was Skeene).
gay
Pronunciation: 'gA; Function: adjective
1 a : happily excited : MERRY <in a gay mood> 2 a : BRIGHT, LIVELY <gay sunny meadows> b : brilliant in color  3 : given to social pleasures; also : LICENTIOUS 4 a : HOMOSEXUAL <gay men> b : of, relating to, or used by homosexuals <the gay rights movement> <a gay bar> synonym see LIVELY
- gay adverb - gay·ness noun
The word “homosexual” was coined by Victorian-era scientists to describe same-sex attraction, and they regarded it as a mental disorder or ailment.  Due to the stigma, the homosexual community began to use the word ‘gay’ instead.  The transition of gay from meaning happy to referring to a homosexual happened probably from 1920 to 1940.  In the 17th Century ‘gay’ began to have sexual connotations, and by the 1920’s a few books and poems used the word to denote same-sex attraction such as Gertrude Stein’s, Miss Furr and Miss Skeene written in 1911, but not published until 1922.

 

Irwin Shaw (1913 – 1984)
Playwright, screenwriter and author, Irwin Shamforoff was born in the South Bronx, New York City to Russian Jewish immigrants.  His family name was changed to Shaw shortly after they moved to Brooklyn shortly after his birth.  Shaw began screenwriting in 1935 at the age of 21.  He also wrote for several radio shows, including Dick Tracy, The Gumps and Studio One.  In 1936 Shaw produced his first play, Bury the Dead, about a group of soldiers killed in a battle.  Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a warrant officer during World War II.  Shaw published his first novel, The Young Lions in 1948.  In 1951 he left the United States after being falsely accused of being a communist and placed on the Hollywood blacklist by studio heads.  While living abroad, Shaw wrote several bestselling novels, the most notable being Lucy Crown, Two Weeks in Another Town, Rich Man, Poor Man and Evening in Byzantium.  During his lifetime, Irwin Shaw won a number of prestigious awards including two O. Henry Awards.  He died in Davos, Switzerland in 1984. 

Weep in Years to Come (1941) by Irwin Shaw
From mannequins at Saks to gabardine slacks, a couple drifts into provocative conversation revealing a lover’s impending call to duty as they stroll in Manhattan.  Young lovers, in the infancy of their relationship, unveil their hopes and dreams to each other on the cusp of the United States entering World War II.  Although the piece is over 50 years old, it is profoundly relevant to our Nation’s history of conflicts.