Sunday, April 6, 2008

Fan Mail from some flounder?

As Bullwinkle would ask, of course. Yes indeed, we do get the occasional bit of fan mail, and a review here and there as well.

For example, Maria Lectrix, whose charming podcast (not on iTunes) covering public domain novels, epic poetry, and Catholic religious books, hit the one thousand mark long before we did, wrote this on her web site:

Mr. Ron’s Basement, for those unlucky enough not to know it and fortunate enough to have it all before them, is one of the earliest and best literary podcasts. Its mission is simple: to read forgotten short stories. The Basement is mostly full of funny tales, but there are also a good many serious ones. Occasionally Mr. Ron branches into novels. He adorns each podcast with good public domain or podcast-safe music, and discusses his unknown authors’ biographies. Mostly, though, he appears to have a lot of fun.

Maria Lectrix is not, to be honest, a podcast in what has come to be the full meaning of the word. I use podcasting as a method of distribution, not an artform; what I provide is something like a serialized audiobook service. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s all it is.

Mr. Ron has been creating something quite a bit more artistic, civilized, and difficult.

My thousandth segment was a mere matter of endurance. His thousandth episode will be a milepost of rare beauty and joy. Be sure to be there.

To Mr. Ron’s Basement, and to Mr. Ron! Ars longa!

Maria Lectrix's podcast can be found at

Pete Anderson, known as Pete Lit, from Chicago, writes fine fiction, and writes about fiction on his blog (, and has commented on Mister Ron's Basement a couple of times in the past. His comment on The Best of Mister Ron's Basement three CD set was music to my eyes anyway:

I was quite pleased to see that the collection includes Ade's "The Fable of the Author Who Was Sorry for What He Did to Willie", which is quite possibly the most laugh-out-loud-funny story I've ever heard, in terms of both Ade's brilliant writing and Evry's impeccable delivery.

Thanks Pete!

Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Most Famous Man in America (a gripping and remarkable book about Henry Ward Beecher -- a must read!) wrote to me:

These people, the forgotten popular writers of the mid-century, were a centerpiece of my Ph.D. dissertation so I am, perhaps, your ideal listener.  It's really neat!  I wish I'd known about this when I was writing the book....

and you can read a sample chapter of her book there and order one afterwards if you like.

I have received many other emails from both academics and listeners who download the podcasts just to enjoy them. Last month the Basement averaged around 3500 downloads a day, seven days a week. So far this month (it's still early), we're pulling in 4000-5000 downloads a day. Somebody is listening!

Mister Ron's Basement was recently reviewed by Greg and Clea in their podcast about podcasts (and other things) called Upon Further Review. It is episode number 57, and can be found at They had an interesting take on the Basement, and they do make some valid points. It is true that the Mister Ron web site is something of an unorganized mess, the result of popping one episode after another on the page for over three years. This does indeed make it hard to find things a listener may be looking for without resorting to using a browser's "find" command. Sorry. I would love to fix this up and index everything. One of these days, if I get enough time, I will get around to it.

Meanwhile, my suggestion is for new listeners to just randomly browse around, much as they might glance through a crammed old bookstore, and see what strikes their fancy. If you're looking for, say, stories by Stephen Leacock, you will need to press "Control-F" on a Windows machine or "Command-F" on a Mac and dig up the episodes that way. Chances are good, that most casual listeners will not have heard of most of these authors, so a bit of exploration may be in order.

One thing mentioned in the Upon Further Review podcast that I may take issue with is their claim that most of these authors are not remembered today because they weren't as good as, say Charles Dickens, to use their example. This is hardly the case. In fact, all too many of Dickens's works would be met with total confusion by the average American today, and only the most persistent of academics make the effort to read everything he has written. There is no doubt in my mind that film and television versions of his stories have made it likely that more Americans are familiar with and comprehend the Mr. Magoo cartoon of A Christmas Carol than such dialogue as:

He spoke before the hour bell sounded, which it now did with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy One. Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.

The curtains of his bed were drawn aside, I tell you, by a hand. Not the curtains at his feet, nor the curtains at his back, but those to which his face was addressed. The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.

It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Even this, though, when Scrooge looked at it with increasing steadiness, was not its strangest quality. For as its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be itself again; distinct and clear as ever.

Still, there is no doubt that some of the language in many of the stories read in the Basement is old-fashioned, but they are, by and large, English. And it should be just as likely to find something funny in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1846 tale of women cramming below deck on a slow riverboat, or George Ade's turn of the century Fables in Slang, or Stanley Huntley's eminently satirical Salad pieces, as it would be to laugh at Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, in its original form.

Many of these authors have become forgotten for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they fall out of fashion and nobody is left alive with a financial interest to bother keeping the works in print. As an example,  even though Stanley Huntley died in 1885, his Spoopendyke stories remained in print and were quite popular until about the time his wife Florence died in 1912. She died childless, and there was nobody to handle the legacy. George Horatio Derby died in 1861, and he never received a dime for the books of his newspaper writings during his lifetime, yet they remained in print continuously to this day! The average reader may not have heard of the guy, but his writing is still funny. 

In 1906, Ellis Parker Butler (whose Perkins of Portland stories could have been written last week, as far as topicality goes), wrote this about Brick Pomeroy, an author we featured in the Basement last week:

"In the field of pure nonsense I know nothing funnier than "Brick" Pomeroy's introduction to his book, 'Nonsense.' It is too long to quote, but the desired effect is gained by keeping up the nonsense at great length." 

So here is the introduction he mentions, from 1868. I think it's a scream:

My father determined to bind me out as an apprentice to a fine old gentleman whose daughter was in love with a young man who lived with his father down the river which in the spring time was so swollen by the rains that it was important not to cross it except in a skiff tied to a buttonwood tree by a chain which cost five dollars at the hardware store on the corner of the street in the village where each Sabbath morning the minister told his many congregation which would have been larger had it not been for the habit so many people had of staying away from all places of good instruction without which not a single person in the village would have been safe for a moment from the members of a band of desperadoes whose retreat was in the bowels of a huge mountain, on whose healthy sides the birds sang all the day long as if to remind the weary passer-by that in all well-regulated families there exists a cause for the effect be it great like the late war which was a fearful struggle on both sides for the original position held by the covered wagon of my father. 

Who can wonder at the infatuation of the youth when he saw his own true love in the power of the Indian whose scalping-knife hung suspended from a tree over the grave where a small picket fence had been erected by a boy who saw the fire burst forth devouring in an hour the fruit of a lifetime of toil which unrewarded leaves no recompense to strengthen the soul of man as he wars with evils that beset the path which led to the trysting-tree which had by this time been cut down to make room for a large hotel where the sound of revelry by night was heard booming over the still waters of the lake as the moon shone down upon the sailor-boy stood on a burning deck! 

At this moment the breeching gave way and the horse plunged over the precipice, which at this point ran nearly a thousand cubic feet into the cave where the serpent had taken refuge from the coming storm which threatened to burst forth and destroy the entire plan of the temple on which if the workmen had been employed to save the child ere it struck, the bottom of the well down which the bucket descended bringing up the purest ice-water rivalling the alabaster neck of the wounded sufferer whose death happened to plunge the entire city in mourning.

So, yep, they don't write 'em like that anymore. To which I say (and maybe a few thousand other listeners), too bad they don't.

Anyway, thanks for the review, Greg and Clea. I wish you success with your podcast. I found it fun to listen too, and I do appreciate the positive and negative comments you made, and I do urge all my listeners to check out their show. Greg did mention that he might want to get back to commenting about The Basement when he's heard 150 or so episodes. I hope he does get that far.

Of course, comments are always welcome here in the blog, or via email at

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