SEPTEMBER 3 — SEPTEMBER 9
Goodnight Moon is published.
“Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown may be the most iconic bedtime story of 20th-century American literature,” writes Kate Bernheimer.
The story is as spare as it gets. “In the great green room,” Brown’s variation on “Once upon a time,” a young bunny is consoled into bedtime by a series of goodnights—to mittens, kittens, a clock, the moon, and so forth. Everything and everyone in the space matters. This book is an ontological gift. It affirms connection, solidarity, love. At the same time, the great green room is a space haunted by the potential of loss.
When I read Goodnight Moon to my daughter, when she was young, I always choked on the words, “Goodnight nobody, goodnight air.” They recall for me poet Emily Dickinson’s lines, “I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you Nobody—too?”
Brown, a poet in her own right—the art of writing for children is a fine and perhaps the noblest of arts—wrote some one hundred books, most of which are out of print today. All of her books, each and every one, is weird and sad and clear and wise. Childlike, you could say—and as the highest of compliments. The legendary book editor Ursula Nordstrom thought of her imprint’s audience members as “brand new people.” Nordstrom believed that the best writers for children were those who thought like children. Thinking like a child is very different from thinking for a child. Brand new people are naturally philosophical and long for attachment. Goodnight Moon is the perfect gift for a lonely soul at bedtime or anyone who never forgot the feeling of loss that can be embodied by bedtime in childhood. To go to sleep is to leave the world behind, but being told “goodnight” is also like being left. It’s complicated, isn’t it?
Goodnight Moon, written by Brown and memorably illustrated by Clement Hurd—the second in the trilogy the pair completed together, after The Runaway Bunny and before My World—was published on September 3, 1947. It did not sell well, in large part because Anne Carroll Moore, the influential children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, did not like it, calling it “unbearably sentimental.” Due to her influence (even though she was actually retired at the time!) the NYPL wouldn’t stock the book for 25 years, even as the book slowly grew in popularity; by the time they deigned to buy it, in 1971, it was selling some 20,000 copies annually, and well on its way to becoming the bedtime juggernaut you know and love today. Just goes to show!
An unabashedly charged love story set in the evocative and high-stakes world of New York art and auction, Roxane Gay Books second title is a sexy novel about bold, brilliant women unafraid to take risks and fight for what they love.
MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been–it may even be greater–for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.”
In other (old)
news this week
Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery disguised as a sailor (September 3, 1838) • Charles Dickens burns most of his private papers at Gads Hill Place, his home in Kent with the secret bookcase door (September 3, 1860) • Leo Tolstoy has a panic attack in a country inn, inspiring him to write Notes of a Madman (September 3, 1864) • Samuel Pepys, first chronicler of “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” buries some wine and a hunk of Parmesan cheese in his garden to protect it from the Great Fire of London (September 4, 1666) • The City of Los Angeles is founded, inspiring a novel or two (September 4, 1781) • Harriet E. Wilson, often considered the first African American novelist, publishes her novel Our Nig—also one of America’s first works of autofiction—anonymously. (September 5, 1859) • The Chamber of Commerce in Richmond, Virginia petitions to change the name of Main Street, after it was tainted by Sinclair Lewis’s novel (September 5, 1921) • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a book lots of people like, is published (September 5, 1957) • The word “hippie” appears in print for the first time, in the San Francisco Examiner (September 5, 1965) • All English theaters are closed by an act of Parliament (September 6, 1642) • Arthur Conan Doyle’s very first story (though not one of his favorites), “The Mystery of Sasassa Valley,” is published in Chamber’s Journal (September 6, 1879) • Emily Dickinson begins her studies at Amherst Academy (September 7, 1840) • Guillaume Apollinaire is imprisoned upon suspicion of masterminding a heist of the Mona Lisa. (September 7, 1911) • F. Scott Fitzgerald meets Zelda Sayre at a country club dance in Montgomery, Alabama (September 7, 1918) • Ernest Hemingway makes his comeback with The Old Man and the Sea (September 8, 1952) • P. G. Wodehouse leaves his job at the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Company in London to become a full-time writer (September 9, 1902) • Alice B. Toklas moves in with Gertrude Stein (September 9, 1910).
“Literature is a defense against the attacks of life. It says to life: ‘You can’t deceive me. I know your habits, foresee and enjoy watching all your reactions, and steal your secret by involving you in cunning obstructions that halt your normal flow.’”
“There are very few people, after all, who are either extremely perverse or extremely enlightened. Times as weighty as these do not allow for easy enlightenment.”