Nov. 4 in Literary History: Will Rogers Is Born, Freud Interprets Dreams, and Montag the Fireman Questions His Life

Reading between the lines.
Nov. 3 2013 11:47 PM

A Reader’s Book of Days: Nov. 4

Hundreds of years of literary history, day by day.

Yukio Mishima, Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, Sigmund Freud.
Yukio Mishima, Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451, Sigmund Freud.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty.

Excerpted from A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales From the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year by Tom Nissley, out now from Norton. Slate will be excerpting the book every day this week.

BORN:

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DIED:

1899 Published: Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams) by Sigmund Freud (Franz Deuticke, Leipzig). Only 600 copies were sold in the next eight years.

1911 The Athenaeum on Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson: “This is the wittiest and most amusing of extravaganzas.”

1968 Eight months after signing a blood oath to defend the fatherland with 11 young followers and a few weeks after the Nobel Prize for Literature, which many had expected would go to him, was given to his mentor Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima held a press conference in uniform to announce the formation of the Tatenokai (the “Shield Society”), a small private army organized to protect the emperor. The press mocked “Captain Mishima’s Toy Army,” but Mishima was deadly serious, and two years later, after a halfhearted coup attempt, he committed the ritual suicide of seppuku with the help of his closest followers, having been given the courage to “die a hero’s death” by the ferocity of the young warriors he had assembled around him.

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NO YEAR “Was—was it always like this?” It’s Thursday, just after midnight in the firehouse, and the playing cards are ticking on the tabletop and the Mechanical Hound is quiet in its kennel, sleeping but not sleeping. And Montag the fireman is starting to ask questions. “Didn’t firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?” But there’s hardly enough time for the other firemen to pull out their rulebooks and reply before the next alarm sounds, calling them out in their “mighty metal thunder” to douse a house full of forbidden books with kerosene in Fahrenheit 451, a novel Ray Bradbury wrote surrounded by books, feeding dimes to keep the typewriter humming in the basement of the UCLA library, and walking through the stacks touching the books when the dimes ran out.

NO YEAR “Is it cold yet?” his fiancée asks from the absolute cold of orbit. “Is Manhattan beautiful?” They have, in his words, “the greatest long-distance relationship in the history of the cosmos. Or at least the long-distantest”: Chase Insteadman, once a child TV star and now a dinner-party ornament, and Janice Trumbull, the lost astronaut, trapped on the International Space Station. Her letters to him make human-interest headlines, and they make Chase—well, the more public their sad romance becomes, the farther away it feels. Meanwhile Chase finds distractions closer to home as he and his new friend Perkus Tooth make their way through the bohemian edges and power-hungry center (which, oddly, often abut each other) of Manhattan in Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City.

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Reprinted from A Reader’s Book of Days: True Tales from the Lives and Works of Writers for Every Day of the Year by Tom Nissley. Copyright 2014 by Tom Nissley. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Tom Nissley is an eight-time champion on Jeopardy! and a former editor at Amazon, where he launched their books blog, Omnivoracious.