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.
1699 The only survivor of a shipwreck somewhere northwest of Tasmania, Lemuel Gulliver awakens bound to the ground, unable to move any part of his body and with 40 or so tiny men, armed with bows and arrows, advancing across his prone torso. The men scatter at his roar but, bravely, they soon return, and what follows is a small miracle of cross-cultural communication, in which Gulliver and his captors, though they share no language, agree that he will not murder scores of them with the sweep of his giant hand and they, in return, will not torment him with the piercings of a thousand tiny arrows. The Lilliputians feed the giant as best they can and comprehend his needs well enough to loosen his bonds so that he can, to the peril of those nearby, “ease myself with making water; which I very plentifully did, to the great astonishment of the people.”
1839 At noon on this fall Wednesday, 25 New England women assembled in the Boston apartment of Mary Peabody for the first “Conversation” in a new series hosted by Margaret Fuller, already gaining at age 29 a reputation as a remarkable intellect. Scheduled on Wednesdays so the attendees could stay in town for her friend Emerson’s “Present Age” lecture series in the evening, the Conversations began as more of a monologue by the charismatic Fuller on her subject of the Greek myths, but in the five years she led the discussions, she became the “nucleus of conversation,” “call[ing] out the thought of others” toward her aim that women should not just be superficially educated but, like men, should “reproduce” what they learn, in conversation with one another if not out in the public world where they were less free to operate.
1932 More than 3,000 people died in the Cuba hurricane of 1932, one of the century’s deadliest, but none of them were aboard the SS Phemius, a 7,400-ton merchant steamer whose massive central funnel was blown overboard by winds topping 200 mph. The ship and crew were dragged across the sea by the storm for five brutal days, and the captain’s report on their improbable survival so moved the chairman of his shipping line that he passed it along to novelist Richard Hughes, whose strange sea story, A High Wind in Jamaica, had just been a great success, in hopes he could record an event “that must never be forgotten.” Six years later, Hughes produced In Hazard, a short, taut novel that holds tight to the dramatic details of the Phemius ordeal.
1944 J.R.R. Tolkien buried a hen and grease-banded his apple trees.
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.