Monday, March 28, 2011

Ring Lardner Tonight: Presenting the Master, with "Who's Who -- and Why" and the Preface to "How to Write Short Stories"


Ring Lardner (1885-1933)
One of the great "ear" -- and "eye" -- writers in the language

"[A] little group of our deeper drinkers has suggested that maybe boys and gals who wants to take up writing as their life work would be benefited if some person like I was to give them a few hints in regards to the technic of the short story, how to go about planning it and writing it, when and where to plant the love interest and climax, and finally how to market the finished product without leaving no bad taste in the mouth.

"Well, then, it seems to me like the best method to use in giving out these hints is to try and describe my own personal procedure from the time I get inspired till the time the manuscript is loaded on to the trucks."

-- Lardner, in the Preface to How to Write Short Stories

by Ken

I know that last night I said we would probably be launching "Ring Lardner Tonight" with a first installment of his riotous travelogue "The Young Immigrunts." Well, that's why I included the "probably."

I knew I wanted to provide some kind of preparation for this sudden encounter with this amazingly brilliant writer, but I despaired of doing so, and thus formed the original plan: just to plunge into the Lardnerian wild. I subsequently had second thoughts, and think we can actually ease our way in, most importantly drawing on the master's own words, and the writing here is relatively straightforward, or at any rate straightforwarder than, say, that of "The Young Immigrunts," which confronts us with the travel diary of a four-year-old, as edited by his father! (Talk about layers upon layers!)

The thing that always seems important to me to remember in connection with his fiction writing in particular is that he was one of the supreme "ear" as well as "eye" writers in the language, with an extraordinary sensitivity to the sounds and rhythms of the spoken language, and also how that language was translated to paper by the speakers created in his imagination, since these are always their efforts at written communication. When we get to "The Young Immigrunts," for example (Wednesday, I'm guessing), we're going to encounter an exchange recorded by our precocious young diarist, in Chapter 10, which includes one of the funniest and also one of the more-quoted four-word text bits in English. (Naturally, it's pretty much always quoted in ways that make no sense, or even nonsense, of the original sense.) It concerns "my and my fathers trip from the Bureau of Manhattan to our new home" (in "Grenitch Conn"):
In some way ether I or he got balled up on the grand concorpse and next thing you know we was thretning to swoop down on Pittsfield.

Are you lost daddy I arsked tenderly.

Shut up he explained.

Straight off we have this autobiographical précis Ring wrote for the Saturday Evening Post of April 28, 1917.

Who's Who -- and Why



The Public will doubtless be dumfounded to learn that I recently celebrated my thirty-second birthday anniversary. We had a cake and candles.



Began to eat at Niles, Mich.


Could tell by the sound of the whistle the number of the engine that was passing on the Cincinnati, Wabash & Michigan's main and only track, which lay across the street and down the hill from our house.


Determined to be a brakeman.


Determined not to be a brakeman. Smoked a cigarette.


Decided not to be a clergyman.


Was graduated from the Niles High School.

"And so young!" said they.

Accepted an office boy's portfolio with the Harvester Company in Chicago. Canned.

Served a prominent Chicago real-estate firm in the same capacity. Canned.

Was appointed third assistant freight hustler at the Michigan Central in Niles. Canned for putting a box of cheese in the through Jackson car, when common sense should have told me that it ought to go to Battle Creek.


"Studied" mechanical engineering at Armour Institute, Chicago. Passed in rhetoric. Decided not to become a mechanical engineer.


Rested. Recovered from the strain which had wrought havoc with my nervous system.

1904 and Part of 1905

Became bookkeeper for the Niles Gas Company.

Part of 1905, 1906 and Part of 1907

Society reporter, court-house man, dramatic critic and sporting editor for the South Bend, Indiana, Times.

Part of 1907

Sports reporter for the Chicago Inter Ocean.

1908 to 1912

Baseball writer on the Chicago Examiner, the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Sporting News, Boston American, and copy reader on the Chicago American.

1913 ----

Resting on the Chicago Tribune.

1914 ----

Started writing for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST. Its circulation was then only a little over a million.


Died intestate.


Favorite author -- Ring W. Lardner.
Favorite actor -- Bert A. Williams.
Favorite actress -- Ina Claire.
Favorite composer -- Jerome Kern.
Favorite flower -- Violet.
Favorite bird -- Buzzard.
Favorite recreation -- Bronco busting.


Jobs: 13
W.: 8
L.: 5
Pct.: .616

[Note: The above is supposed to be presented in two lines of tabbed columns, so it looks like box-score results, but I couldn't figure any way of doing this without learning how to do either tables or something called "CSS." That wasn't going to happen tonight, I'm afraid. Sorry, Ring.]


TOMORROW in RING LARDNER TONIGHT: More Lardner prefaces, in which we make the acquaintance of Lardner chronicler Sarah E. Spooldripper, who "lived with the Lardners for years and took care of their wolf"

Check out the series to date




At 11:34 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

wow, john sayles was a dead ringer for lardner.


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