Sunday, June 29, 2008

Charles Dickens, the Crafty Entreprenaur

Most of us know that Charles Dickens was a genius and one of the most quoted writers to ever put pen to paper. But, how many of us know that he was the consummate businessman? He actually sold three copies of the same novel “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club” to most of his same customers and here’s how he managed that:

In 1836 Dickens was approached by a publisher, Chapman & Hall, with the proposal that he write captions for a series of pictures by the popular artist Robert Seymour. These were cartoon-type characters. The wily Dickens, who was unknown at the time, argued that the stories should be the main focus and that he would write a novel to complement the pictures and had a scheme that would guarantee it’s success. The publishers were naturally dubious but they listened to his idea.

He proposed that they publish his novel in monthly installments, a brand new concept. Each chapter would end on a note guaranteed to make the reader anxious to buy the next copy. This worked very well. The reader didn’t mind paying a small monthly stipend and, since the novel spread out over two years, they didn’t realize that they were paying top dollar for the book.

Shortly into the project the artist Robert Seymour, who was a depressive and a heavy drinker, committed suicide. Hablot Knight Browne, nicknamed “Phiz”, was hired and he went on to illustrate Dickens’ works for the next 23 years.

The novel is a collection of the adventures of Samuel Pickwick and his friends and it proved to be a huge success. By the end of the serialization 40,000 copies were being printed. “The Pickwick Papers” had taken the world by storm and launched Dickens to celebrity status. Now all of Dickens’ readers yearned for a more substantial copy of the book. They only had the flimsy magazine pages and a leather-bound version was printed to satisfy this demand. Thus the same reader bought the same book twice.

Now is where Dickens became especially crafty. He organized a group of workers who scoured England buying up the old magazine copies for a mere pittance. Most people were happy to get rid of them and had no idea that the pages would be placed in a fancy tie-back folder and resold as, “The Original Collector’s Edition of The Pickwick Papers”.

This became a coveted item and most of the people who had bought the serialized version month after month now paid a premium price to put the “Collector’s Edition” on their bookshelf or in their safe. They felt, rightly so, that these original flimsy pages would be worth a good deal in the future.

So that’s how Charles Dickens managed to sell three copies of the same book to the same customers. Sounds like a great story line to me...something Dickensian about it !

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


My granddaughter was 11 when she made me the sweet little bread board that I picture here. It is still a prominent part of my kitchen. Every time she sees it she says, “Oh, Grandma, when are you going to get rid of that old thing?”

Now she is a gorgeous young lady, almost out of her teens, and I wonder when she will meet the man of her dreams. She’s very independent (much to my joy) and I’m sure it will be a bit yet. However the day will come when her children will gift her in the same way and she‘ll get that big “aha, now I get it“ moment.

There is something so special in each and every gift that our children present to us. I think it has to do with their ability to “operate outside of the box”. The imagination of a child is wondrous to behold.

I have another granddaughter who just turned six. She is a budding author. Her favorite thing is to create a story in both words and pictures. Her mind is so creative that it’s sometimes difficult to follow her logic, but that’s what makes it so enchanting. (Why can’t a hand fly into the sky, waving as it goes…and leaving a trail of little hearts ?)

I feel sorry for the people who are too fastidious to post a child’s “masterpiece” on their refrigerator. An acquaintance of mine actually told me that “it would upset my decorator”. !!

Can you believe that? My decorator (me) says, “bring it on”.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An outstanding first novel

Ever since I read “The Kite Runner” I have been intrigued with the differences between the “American” way of life and that of our fellow world citizens in the East. It is a daunting task and challenges me constantly to keep an open mind.

Alan Drew, in this first novel, tackles the problem courageously. In Chapter One he introduces us to the family of Sinan Basioglu, a devout Kurdish Muslim, living in a small town outside of Istanbul. A celebration takes place to honor his nine year old son who is coming of age and, very reluctantly and at the insistence of his wife, Sinan invites the American family living on the floor above to join them.

The next night the devastating 1999 Marmara earthquake destroys their apartment building and takes the life of the American wife. She is found among the debris shielding the young Kurdish son with her body, an action that has saved his life. Much to the dismay of Sinan he finds that he will now be forever indebted to the American family.

The rest of the book takes place in the months that follow the earthquake. The intense conflict between cultures and faiths is chronicled with depth and compassion by Alan Drew. The reader is drawn into their lives and comes away with a greater understanding of the differences between East and West.

This is not an easy, “feel good”, novel. However, it was one of the best that I’ve read in a long time. I congratulate Alan Drew on his first undertaking and hope that this will be the first of many.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


It is almost 18 years since my husband died. We were married for 32 years and many of those years were fraught with money woes, sickness and denial of my dependence on alcohol. But, for all that, it was still a marriage based on of our family unit and of each other.

Dick was a romantic, at heart, and I wish that I had cherished that more than I did. I remember, in our first year of marriage, that he brought me flowers. We were trying very hard to keep ahead of the bills that were piling up and I lashed out at him… “how can we afford flowers when the rent isn’t paid?” Guess what? It was 25 years before I got another bouquet!

There were other times that I deflated his efforts and I’ve come to realize that I never accepted him for exactly who he was...which was a pretty darn nice guy. I was always trying to get him to live up to some inflated idea of mine for the “perfect husband”. What a waste and how I wish I could take it all back and start over.

After we moved South his health deteriorated rapidly but he never lost his sense of humor and his love of life. He had a hard time sleeping and would often be up very late at night. I had to get to bed early because I was due at the Emergency Room (where I worked) by 6:30 in the it was hard to communicate much.

It was during this time that he started leaving little notes for me, which I found in the morning. They were always accompanied by cartoon-like faces and I saved and framed a few of them in remembrance... along with my favorite picture of him on his horse Thunder.

It was Dick who insisted that I get help for my alcoholism. He lived to see only 15 months of my new sober self but it was enough for him to be able to write: “Bless this house for relaxation, recuperation and restoration”. I will be forever grateful that, at the very least, I was able to give him that.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The “other” Boston Tea Party ...

and I was there ! This wasn’t 1774 when the Sons of Liberty dumped tons of tea into Boston Harbor. This was 1952 and I was attending Boston University at the time.

John F. Kennedy was a Massachusetts State Representative and had decided to run for the US Senate. His mother, Rose, was one of his biggest backers and she decided to host a series of teas in and around the Boston area to introduce John, (or “Jack“, as she called him). She felt, and rightly so as it turned out, that she would not only get the women to vote for him but that they would motivate their husbands to do the same.

I was studying for a Journalism degree then and our class received a blanket invitation to attend one of the teas. It was considered quite a coup to be invited so I was thrilled. I was not disappointed. Not only were Rose and John there but most of the rest of the female side of the Kennedy clan as well... serving tea and sweets and extolling the virtues of their brother and son.

It was interesting to me because, although my folks had voted for John in the state elections, they had little use for his father, Joe Kennedy. He had been the Ambassador to Britain in 1938 and his actions before, during and after that time were often suspect, to say the least.

John, however, was more than charismatic and the women’s heartbeats were practically palpable as he “played” the room, teacup in hand. I remember thinking that politics might be an exciting career but I’m glad now that I never pursued it.

That was the first of two times that I would shake JFK’s hand. The other was in 1960 when he was stumping to get the nod to run for President. He conducted a rail campaign and took a train from Boston to the outlying towns, making whistle stops along the way.

I was completely enthralled by this time and waited for many hours at the Wellesley Hills train depot so that I’d be in the front row. It was an excited and very loud crowd that gathered there to meet and greet him and I got my wish. After a short but vibrant speech he leaned down to us and, once again, I clasped his hand and wished him luck. Our country’s “day in the sun” was about to begin and it was a time of optimism and hope.

In 1961 John Fitzgerald Kennedy became our 35th President and in November of ‘63 he was assassinated. For so many of my generation “Camelot” truly came to an abrupt end at that time and our lives were changed forever.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Plea to the “Do-gooders” of the world

I took one look at the picture above as it was displayed on my TV screen and I thought it was a hoax. Surely this was just another advertisement...perhaps for a Type B action film. Why else would there be natives painted red and black pointing their arrows toward the sky?

I was amazed to hear that I was wrong. These were members of an unknown Amazon basin tribe in Brazil, near the border of Peru. The image was taken by Brazil’s department for Indian affairs.

Evidently illegal logging is taking place in that region and they threaten any and everything in their way. Jose Carlos dos Reis Meirelles, an expert on un-contacted tribes has this to say; “What is happening in this region (of Peru) is a monumental crime against the natural world, the tribes, the fauna, and is further testimony to the complete irrationality with which we, the civilized ones, treat the world.”

Amen to that ! The Brazilian government has a policy of not contacting the few tribes which are untouched by the outside world, so it is not known to which tribe they belong but life has apparently changed little in thousands of years for these humans.

It just broke my heart when the pilot said the natives scattered into the forest as he flew over them. They must have been scared to death by this strange “bird creature” in the air. Even so, when the pilot returned a few hours later these few “warriors” ran out, prepared to protect their families. They were painted in what appeared to be "war paint" and it seems apparent that they must have faced a similar trauma in the past.

My plea to the “do gooders” is this…….PLEASE LEAVE THESE PEOPLE ALONE. I have visions of missionary groups, grabbing their bibles with glee and heading down to bring Christianity to these poor heathens. Or, the idle rich who, out of the goodness of their pocketbooks, send the trappings of our “civilized” life to them...thinking that they will accept them with open arms.

If these are indeed unknown, indigenous tribes I think we should allow them the dignity to remain exactly as they are. I have a feeling that they are happier and more content than an awful lot of the world’s people who have been conformed to “our” way of thinking.