Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book of Ages, the Last 50 Years

I have arrived at the end of Eric Hanson's A Book of Ages, which has earned its place in the Bathroom Books Hall of Fame. I've been reading it so long that it came out in paperback before I was finished with the hardcover.

Here are a few favorites from the entries about people (mostly) older than me:

JRR Tolkien with pipeAge 47: On Halloween 1954 W. H. Auden reviews a new book about a hobbit who inherits a magic ring and goes on an adventure. Auden likes the book very much and suggests it would make an excellent Christmas gift.

Best accompanied by:

Age 57: Sitting on a bed in his attic and typing with two fingers, Oxford professor J.R.R. Tolkien finishes The Lord of the Rings, 1949. The manuscript is more than half a million words and took seventeen years to write.

Louis Armstrong with cigarette in long holder, looking pensiveAge 56: In September 1957 Louis Armstrong breaks his long silence on the race issue in an interview to a young reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. It comes as a shock to most Americans who are used to the trumpeter's ingratiating smile, but he is angry and has been angry for a long time. Two weeks ago black schoolchildren were barred from schools in Little Rock by National Guardsmen. And almost a century after Emancipation, Armstrong is the first black man to stay in Grand Forks' finest hotel.

Age 64: Karl Marx dies in poverty in London, March 14, 1883. Eleven people attend the funeral.

Marianne Moore in cape and hat with cockatooAge 67: Poet Marianne Moore has been hired by the Ford Motor company to help name their newest car-model, 1955. Among her suggestions are: Utopian Turtletop, Andante Con Tropo, the Anticipator, the Thunder Crester, the Silver Sword, the Regna Pacer, the Magigravue, the Turcotingo, the Pastelogram, the Varsity Stroke, the Mongoose Civique, the Intelligent Whale, and the Resilient Bullet. Ford decides to name the new car the Edsel, after Henry Ford's son and heir.

[I wonder what they paid her. Those are some terrible names.]

Age 71: In May 1962 retired president Dwight D. Eisenhower holds a press conference to criticize things that have happened since he left office. Current president John F. Kennedy says: "The thing I liked best was the picture of Eisenhower attacking medical care for the old under Social Security as 'socialized medicine'--and then getting into his government limousine and heading out to Walter Reed."

Age 74: H. G. Wells's name is put near the top of the list of persons to be immediately liquidated by the SS when the Nazis take over the government of Great Britain, 1940.

Ida May Fuller getting her check in the mailAge 100: Ida May Fuller, a classmate of Calvin Coolidge and the first person to receive Social Security in 1940, is still living in Ludlow, Vermont, 1974. She will die in 1975. In thirty-eight years of retirement, her Social Security benefits will total $22,888.92. A nice return. Miss Fuller paid in $24.75 during the last three years of her working life. She was a life-long Republican and never thought much of the New Deal.

Previous posts on Hanson's book:

Ages 13 - 44
J.D. Salinger, age 22
Ages 3 - 7


elena said...

!! Would have loved to hear the Ford guys trying out those crazy-bad names, and then deciding to go with Edsel. They tried (God love 'em) but so far as I know, poets have not since been hired by the auto industry...What names would Gary Snyder have offered? Allen Ginsberg?

For a poet sensitive to the auto industry, try Allen Grossman, son of Grossman Chevrolet:

charlie said...

They are terrible names, but a poet is a terrible choice for the assignment, since marketing is antithetical to the way poets relate to the world.

Of all the things I did in my marketing/writing career, naming was the worst, and I'd be mortified to have my lists see the light of day (as would any agency). It's field that is not kind to the complex, allusive thinker.

Daughter Number Three said...

Yes, any naming process I've been involved in includes its share of utter turkeys, so Marianne's list probably wouldn't stand out in the naming crowd.

And I remind myself that it's likely any break-through name sounds incredibly stupid to most of the population at first.

I actually kind of liked the "Varsity Stroke."