Literary daybook, Sept. 25

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published September 25, 2002 8:00AM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On Sept. 25, 1943, the USS Caine runs aground.
-- "The Caine Mutiny" (1951)
by Herman Wouk

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1933, Ring Lardner died at the age of 48, from a heart attack, tuberculosis and the cumulative effects of alcoholism. Although he kept producing occasional pieces and columns, Lardner's last years were clouded by a general decline in health, popularity, income and output. "June Moon," his Broadway collaboration with George S. Kaufman, was a hit near the end, but one that apparently cost as much as it contributed: Lardner wrote friend and former neighbor F. Scott Fitzgerald that "when the New York opening was over, I went on a bat [bender] that lasted nearly three months and haven't been able to work since," a layoff-relapse "which was mostly spent in the lovely atmosphere of hospitals."

Lardner's first two books -- "You Know Me Al: A Busher's Letters" (1916) and "Gullible's Travels" (1917) -- were collections of his extremely popular Saturday Evening Post stories, and based on his years as a sports reporter in Chicago. His wide-eyed, bush-league and "wise boob" central characters reflect Lardner's general skepticism, and do their humorous best to combat the rise of sports stardom. "Hero-worship," he later wrote, "is the national disease that does most to keep the grandstands full and the playgrounds empty."

A 1925 review by Virginia Woolf gives this stylist-to-stylist praise of Lardner: "With extraordinary ease and aptitude, with the quickest strokes, the surest touch, the sharpest insight, he lets Jack Keefe the baseball player [the busher of "You Know Me Al"] cut out his own outline, fill in his own depths, until the figure of the foolish, boastful, innocent athlete lives before us." V.S. Pritchett has written that the "specifically American contribution to literature" is "talk," and that the literary talking began with Lardner. "Now," predicted Pritchett in 1959, "mainly under the double influence of Joyce and Lardner's American successors -- the stream of consciousness being married to the stream of garrulity -- we begin to have a talking prose and are likely to have more."

This is the busher, a pitcher, talking to Al about his record at the midpoint of his second season:

" ... This should ought to of gave me a record of 16 wins and 0 defeats because the only games I lost was throwed away behind me but instead of that my record is 10 games win and 6 defeats and that don't include the games I finished up and helped the other boys win which is about 6 more altogether but what do I care about my record Al? because I am not the kind of man that is always thinking about there record and playing for there record while I am satisfied if I give the club the best I got and if I win all O.K. And if I lose who's fault is it. Not mine Al."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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