Some books I am anticipating (or hoping for) in 2016

Posted: November 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »
  1. Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle, volume 4 paperback and volume 5 hardcover
    I know the UK has Volume 4 in paperback but we don’t get the beautiful FSG edition until April 2016. Volume 5 comes out in hardcover around the same time. Keep working hard, Don Bartlett!


  2. The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner (June, 2016) - In this inventive and lucid essay, Lerner takes the hatred of poetry as the starting point of his defense of the art.
  3. Anything by Eliza Minot
    She hasn’t published a book in eight years. Hopefully she is working on something wonderful.
  4. David Hering’s book on Infinite Jest, forthcoming from Bloomsbury.
  5. Anything by Beth Nugent
    She hasn’t published a book in almost 20 years, but a boy can dream.
  6. Understanding Roberto Bolaño by Ricardo Gutiérrez-Mouat due out next summer.
  7. A comprehensive, critical biography of either Roberto Bolaño or David Markson.
  8. My brother’s book! Master of The Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing In The New World of Media by John Bucher and Jeremy Casper, due out in 2016.

Two Recent Pieces

Posted: October 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: DFW, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I recently posted this article about Wes Anderson and Bye Bye Braverman over on



One thing I didn’t mention there is that Braverman includes a scene filmed at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. For a while, I lived a block north of there on Bedford. That intersection has changed a lot over the years so it was very cool to see it back in 1968.


You can see the old Town Hill Restaurant in the background.




That Texaco station is long gone.



I also wrote about David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King and the character of Toni Ware over on Medium. The Pale King’s Trailer Park Queen.

The Scofield & David Markson

Posted: August 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

A new literary magazine launches today and I’m happy to have contributed a small piece to it. The magazine is called The Scofield and my essay is on David Markson and Twitter. It’s a truly stellar magazine that has assembled a who’s who of writers working on and around David Markson. Keep an eye on The Scofield.

In other news, to support the film The End of the Tour, I wrote this article on “Why David Foster Wallace Matters” for a collection on Medium called “Just Words.”

Also, last month I published this essay on Roberto Bolaño and A Little Lumpen Novelita in the Dublin Review of Books.

Best Books: Paul Collins

Posted: July 21st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I first discovered Paul Collins via McSweeney’s and his imprint there: the Collins library, which is an odd assortment of out-of-print Victorian novels and other oddities. However, Collins’ own books are phenomenal, filled with some of the best nonfiction writing I have read, period. Collins has the ability to bring history to life and infuse it with his own personal perspective. I’m making it sound blander than it really is.  He appears on NPR Weekend Edition as its “literary detective” on odd old books. I don’t think Collins gets enough credit as one of the best essayists in the US. The feeling you get from reading his books is that he is genuinely curious about old things and deeply loves books. Here are three of his best books.

1. Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World

This collection of 13 mini-histories focuses on people who could have been great – but failed. Banvard’s story alone is incredible. He painted a mural that was to-scale panorama of the entire Mississippi River shoreline. Banvard produced shows on the scale of P.T. Barnum, but made one tragic folly.


2. Sixpence House: Lost in A Town Of Books

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own used book store or of going to the Hay-on-Wye Book Festival, this is your chance to live vicariously through Collins who up and moves to Hay.



3. The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World

The First Folio is without a doubt the most valuable book in the world and yet most book lovers likely don’t know much about its genesis and history. It is one of the few books printed in the 1620s that still has a definitive history. This narrative is one of the best books about book collecting and Shakespeare’s world.



SPEAK Magazine 1996 interview with David Foster Wallace

Posted: July 17th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: DFW | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I had a relatively hard time tracking down this review. SPEAK Magazine ceased publication in 2001 and doesn’t maintain much content on their website. I think it’s too valuable to leave lost in obscurity. The title of the interview is “1458 words on a book that has more than 1000 pages.”



There is also a PDF (scan of the original print magazine) you can download here: SPEAK Mag David Foster Wallace Interview 1458 words



The Fogle Novella

Posted: June 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: DFW | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Below is a version of the paper I presented at the Second Annual David Foster Wallace Conference in Normal, Illinois, on May 29, 2015. I’ve removed the page citations, bibliography, and images in this version.

The Fogle Novella: Catalysts in the Conversion Narrative

There is a moment in Section 22 of The Pale King when “Irrelevant” Chris Fogle feels he must change the course of his life. This moment comes, appropriately enough, when he is “doing nothing”—simply watching television. As a self-confessed nihilist, all of his life’s choices up to this point seem equally irrelevant to him. He takes pride in his ambivalence. But the great spinning ball of “As The World Turns” (“You’re watching As The World Turns”) is an epiphany for him: his carelessness has cast him as an observer of his life rather than its chief actor. He says:

I knew, sitting there, that I might be a real nihilist, that it wasn’t always just a hip pose. That I drifted and quit because nothing meant anything, no one choice was really better. That I was, in a way, too free, or that this kind of freedom wasn’t actually real—I was free to choose whatever because it didn’t really matter.

Throughout his lengthy narrative, Fogle explains how he ultimately turned away from his life as a wastoid nihilist and became a responsible citizen and IRS tax examiner. How does this happen? The process was gradual and then rapid, but he attributes this change partly to “unexpected coincidences,” “changes in priorities,” and “making a choice of what was more important.” If we think of The Pale King as an explicitly religious novel, Fogle’s choice and his overall narrative of change can be interpreted along the lines of a conversion, like a sinner who is redeemed.

This essay discusses the structure of Fogle’s conversion narrative, the catalysts that force a change in his story, and the similarities his story shares with early American Puritan conversion narratives. Fogle’s Section 22 is long enough and self-contained enough to stand on its own and so I refer to it in places as “the Fogle novella” or just “the novella.” Throughout Fogle’s narrative, there are three main catalysts that instigate change within his life: 1) his father’s “Ozymandias” statement, 2) hearing the As The World Turns tagline, and 3) the Jesuit substitute’s speech at DePaul. As a literary construct, Fogle’s narrative mirrors the structure of Puritan conversion narratives, which Patricia Caldwell’s work has shown to be a primarily literary form masked as a religious element. Fogle’s story arc follows a surprisingly similar pattern and still adheres to the greater project of The Pale King: boredom as religious experience.

Like Infinite Jest, The Pale King is concerned with how we should live. Fogle’s story is vast and contains many important points about religion, Christianity, 1970s American history, drugs, tax, etc. Fogle is an aimless, lost young man, committed to the ethos of the 1970s: whatever. He grows up with divorced parents: a serious and stern father who is killed in a horrific train accident, and a freewheeling lesbian mother who smokes pot with him and opens a bookstore. With a transcript that looked like “collage art,” he tries to go to several different colleges, but nothing interests him. One day he stumbles into the wrong classroom and hears a lecture that changes his life. Eventually he finds his life’s purpose in the form of service to the IRS.

After high school Fogle drifted in and out of three different colleges, just going through the motions, bored to death. The first of several wake up calls that catalyzes and motivates Fogle to try to find a purpose in life is his strait-laced father inadvertently discovering him and his friends high, smoking marijuana, and covered in beer cans. It is the cliché of the father coming home early and discovering the party scene. His father then quotes Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”—”Look on my works ye mighty and despair,” a poetic admission of failure in his own parenting and an embarrassment to the young Fogle since he doesn’t really understand the reference and feels small. But it provokes within him a moment of perfectly clear self-reflection and empathy with his father. In fact, Fogle says that his one occasion “sums up the whole period for me now, when I think of it.” The father’s flippant comment, combined with his lack of anger about the situation, gives Fogle a sense that true adults are capable of controlling their emotions and reacting to the world in a mature, meaningful way. Fogle realizes at this point that he has completely neglected his own emotional (and intellectual, and moral, etc.) development. The consequence of this neglect is that he is stunted, an emotionally underdeveloped child and still a burden to his parents.

The second catalyst that provokes Fogle into action is his inadvertently hearing the tagline of the soap opera “As the World Turns” repeated on television. This statement “You’re watching As the World Turns, You’re watching As the World Turns” has a profound effect on his sense of coasting through life as a passive observer, a witness to his own story. Hearing that phrase shakes his entire existential foundation. He says:

I knew, sitting there, that I might be a real nihilist, that it wasn’t always just a hip pose. That I drifted and quit because nothing meant anything, no one choice was really better. That I was, in a way, too free, or that this kind of freedom wasn’t actually real — I was free to choose ‘whatever’ because it didn’t really matter. But that this, too, was because of something I chose — I had somehow chosen to have nothing matter. It all felt much less abstract than it sounds to try to explain it. All this was happening while I was just sitting there, spinning the ball. The point was that, through making this choice, I didn’t matter, either. I didn’t stand for anything. If I wanted to matter — even just to myself — I would have to be less free, by deciding to choose in some kind of definite way. Even if it was nothing more than an act of will.

Although this is the moment when Fogle’s aversion to his previous way of living intrudes into his consciousness, his free will requires another, more forceful catalyst to affect real change in his life. And it happens the very day after he hears “You’re Watching As The World Turns.”

The Pale King, as structured by Michael Pietsch, introduces Fogle’s character in the middle of the novel, as part of the series of videotaped interviews with IRS examiners under the guise of producing an informational film about the agency called “Your IRS Today.” However, it is hinted that one of the higher-ups might be using these interviews not to actually produce a documentary video, but as revealing surveillance opportunities to spy on employees. In a note, Wallace questions the idea “Film interview a sham?”

Either way, it’ difficult to surmise Wallace’s original “tornadic” structure of the Pale King and how the IRS video device figures into the larger whole. One theory could be that Wallace wanted to show the path that leads the characters to become IRS examiners, since many of the characters are shown as children and then as adults. For Fogle, the interview as such functions as a narrative device for a confession, with the setup resembling a confession booth. Rather than the examiner speaking to a priest through a screen, he or she is speaking directly into a camera, alone.

“It’s an IRS examiner in a chair, in a room. There is little else to see. Facing the tripod’s camera, addressing the camera, one examiner after another.”

Responding to an open-ended interview question is therapeutic for some and requires the respondent to be self-conscious and reflective. Wallace uses the structure of the fictional IRS video to present a series of discussions on tax civics as well as the personal route toward redemption exemplified by Fogle’s story.

In fact, there are a number of actual IRS informational and recruitment videos, though none in the style of the fictional “Your IRS Today.” One of the most powerful recruiting tools the IRS used in the mid-1980s was a widely-distributed pamphlet called “IRS: The Whole Picture.” It provides “Seven Good Reasons To Join the IRS.” They are: 1) Your Choice of Jobs, 2) Extensive Field Work, 3) A High-Tech Employer, 4) Great Benefits, 5) Make a Difference Right Away, 6) A Nationwide Organization, and 7) A Chance to Serve the Public Good. The seven reasons are presented as popular myths that the IRS can rebut. The real-life recruitment of IRS examiners strongly relied on the concepts of choice, free will, making a difference, and public service. The myths that the recruitment brochure tries to rebut force the potential employee to confront the reality of the world such as it really is, as opposed to the way the IRS might be represented in the media or the nation’s collective consciousness. This is somewhat similar to the function of The Pale King itself, and these are the same values and factors that Fogle cites when he thinks about the influence of the third catalyst in his conversion – the Jesuit substitute’s speech. He says:

“I think part of what was so galvanizing was the substitute’s diagnosis of the world and reality as already essentially penetrated and formed, the real world’s constituent info generated, and that now a meaningful choice lay in herding, corralling, and organizing that torrential flow of info. This rang true to me, though on a level that I don’t think I was even fully aware existed within me.”

This also matches up with Fogle’s father’s claim that there are only two kinds of people in the world: “people who actually understood the technical realities of how the real world worked (via, his obvious point was, math and science), and people who didn’t.” After this galvanizing diagnosis of the world, it’s somewhat easier for Fogle to be swayed by the incentives offered at his local IRS recruitment center. An epic snowstorm is presented as an impediment to his road to Damascus, but Fogle persists, unwavering in his need for verifiability and his commitment to thoroughly reading the manuals presented to him.

Conversion narratives are as old as Christianity itself, starting with the apostle Paul. The original followers of Christ had to make an active choice to follow this new religion. Although Paul’s conversion in particular was divinely thrust upon him, the event is used as evidence of the supernatural power of God. However, the theological framework of Christian conversion has evolved dramatically from the origins of the religion, through the protestant reformation, the publication of the first English Bible, and the rise of globalization. If we look at conversion narratives in the tradition of American literature, the first surviving narratives are ‘a series of fifty-one “Confessions” given at the First Church of Cambridge, Massachusetts, between 1637 and 1645, and recorded in a small private notebook by the minister of the church, Thomas Shephard. Patricia Caldwell examined these confessions in her study “The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression” and found that early English and American conversion narratives “share some basic literary techniques – a heavy reliance on Scripture, a certain amount of objective self-examination and orderly arrangement.

Puritanism is unique here because Puritan churches allowed only the elect to join and new candidates were required to recite a conversion story in order to gain full membership in the congregation. This reliance on story carried over to the prominence of sermons. John Cotton, one of the first theologians of the Massachusetts Bay Colony believed the Bible could not save souls only by being read. To him the first step in conversion was the “pricking of the hardened heart” of the convert by hearing the word of God in a sermon. Unlike Catholicism, which emphasized the sacraments on the altar, American Puritanism, which favored predestination, focused on the words delivered from the pulpit. Compare this with the final catalyst in Fogle’s conversion – the lecture from the Jesuit substitute teacher. Fogle ambles into the wrong classroom only to hear a sermon on accountancy that changes his life forever. Fogle is not changed by reading a novel or an essay – it is only by hearing the Jesuit minister preach about the heroism of the everyday accountant that Fogle averts a life of wasted promise. “Gentlemen, you are called to account,” he exhorts.

All of the catalysts in Fogle’s conversion narrative the Ozymandias line from his father, the As The World Turns tagline, and the Jesuit’s speech—are things that he heard. Unlike his father, who “read constantly,” Fogle is most susceptible to change when the meaningful words are spoken rather than printed.

The structure of Puritan conversion narratives were so consistent that it was often joked that “many spiritual narratives of the period were not so much composed as recited. Edmund Morgan summarized the most common sequence of events as “knowledge, conviction, faith, combat, and true, imperfect assurance. I would argue that Fogle’s narrative follows a similar formula and it would be easy enough to apply Morgan’s summary to the catalysts of change in Fogle’s narrative. The common structure of these narratives often meant Puritans “had great difficulty both in defining religious experience and in believing they had had it.” This doubt about the narrative itself manifests itself in Fogle’s opening when he says “I’m not sure I even know what to say. To be honest, a good bit of it I don’t remember.” And when he blames much of his story on “unexpected coincidences” and says “Obviously these sorts of unexpected things can happen in all sorts of different ways, and it’s dangerous to make too much of them.”

The fact that Puritans also required a conversion narrative to obtain church membership parallels Fogle’s explanation of those who join the IRS. They are the elect. “It’s not a very common type—perhaps on in 10,000—but the thing is, that the sort of person who decides that he wants to enter the Service really, really wants to and becomes very determined, and will be hard to put off course once he’s focused in on his real vocation and begun to be actively drawn to it.”

Fogle delivers his testimony, his conversion narrative, back into a camera that he believes will carry his message into the world via a documentary film, but we learn in Section 24 that Fogle is widely despised for his lengthy “vocational soliloquy”, earning him the nickname “Irrelevant.” While the details of Fogle’s story might be irrelevant in the context of the IRS office, his narrative forms the core of The Pale King’s project. In one of the Notes & Asides at the end of the book, Wallace notes that “Irrelevant Chris is irrelevant only on the subject of himself? On all other topics/subjects, he’s focused & cogent and interesting?” Wallace chose to represent Fogle’s transformation from wastoid to auditor as an overtly religious conversion partly because it fits into the greater mission he was striving toward in what became The Pale King:

Bliss—a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom.

This bliss is a type of salvation, something that must be worked toward rather than graciously received. Just as Puritans demanded of their members an explanation of how they arrived at redemption, Wallace uses Fogle to illustrate how the most complex decisions of our lives, the ones that determine our fate and our careers, evolve over time. “Aversion” comes from the Latin avertere which means to turn away from. And Fogle turns away from his old life, his feckless, wastoid nihilism, not to join the church, but to simply live a more meaningful life.


Posted: March 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments »


Last night, I held our dog Riley while she died. I want to write about this experience a little bit, for myself, before I forget most of the specifics. If you’ve lost a pet recently or if this is too graphic for you, please skip this. I am just writing this down for myself so that later I have not forgotten what this day feels like.

When I first met Jordan, her parents were living in London and she was keeping their Shetland Sheepdog named Maggie in her studio apartment in the West Village, against all bylaws of the building. Eventually she got caught and she had to ship Maggie off to her uncle in Kansas. After we were married and decided to move to Austin, Jordan made it clear that one thing she was looking forward to was getting a dog – specifically a Sheltie. “Of course, honey! Whatever you want! Shelties sound great,” said newlywed Matt.

We picked up Riley from a breeder in Oklahoma in 2005 and she became our surrogate child, our furry offspring. All the love and energy we had for the world was transferred onto this animal. We fretted over her nap schedule, bought her the best organic food, took her to obedience school for weeks on end, bought her a designer collar and leash, etc. There was one night where we bought tickets to a theater performance in East Austin and hired a dog-sitter to take care of the puppy (who does this??), but I forgot to put the front-door key to the apartment under the doormat. So I left Jordan at the theater, gave up my ticket, and went back to the apartment to let Riley out and dismiss the dogsitter. One night a few weeks later I thought she had a bowel obstruction so I drove her to an emergency specialist an hour away in San Antonio, where, after thousands of dollars of tests, it was determined that she just had a virus.


When Henry was born, we worked with Riley to step around a blanket on the floor–trying to show her that it was the baby’s space and she would have to be careful. But we needn’t worry because she was so sweet and loving with the new baby that she thought it was her own child. I spent several years thereafter walking her on the trails behind our house every day, listening to podcasts, meeting the other dogs in our neighborhood, that she became my constant companion. After Arlo was born, her needs definitely fell behind and she took on the role of an elder statesman who didn’t need as much attention as she’d once demanded. But she was a constant presence in our daily lives, never demanding too much, always willing to receive our love.

Last fall, we took her in for a bladder infection that wouldn’t seem to clear up, no matter the course of antibiotics we tried. The vet advised us that she had a tumor that at first looked benign. Two months ago, she had several tumors in her urinary tract that could not be removed without irreparably damaging her urinary system. We began preparing the boys for her demise, but I don’t think we fully comprehended how much we were ignoring our own emotions in service to the children’s potential feelings.

A week ago Riley took a turn for the worse and her cancer began to spread. She was no longer able to walk up and down the stairs in our back yard. She stopped eating dog food, though she would nibble on table scraps. She had accidents in the house regularly and by Friday, she had trouble standing up. Thursday was a “snow” day here in Austin and no mobile vets would come out to visit us. I tried getting a home appointment asap but the earliest anyone would promise was Monday. She spent most of Saturday in the middle of the floor of the living room, awake and just listening to us talk. On Sunday morning I had to move her into her bed; she couldn’t stand up at all. I tried again to find a mobile vet who worked on Sundays, but held out hope that she would make it through the night until her appointment on Monday morning.

I laid down in the floor with her and held her head as her breathing began to slow. She never once cried or made a painful noise. She remained very dignified and peaceful through everything. At about 12:30 this morning, her whole body pulsed several times, like she was having an aneurysm or a stroke. After that, she slept very soundly for a half hour or so, lightly snoring. Then her breathing became very shallow and she looked up at me one last time before she took her last breath.

Even though I knew she was sick for months, even though I had worked to prepare the boys for this day, I was not prepared for the full force of grief that would hit me after she died. I called a mobile pet cremation service to come and pick her up, which they did very gracefully and professionally, but of course I could not sleep after that. I was still in shock that she was really gone.

It’s been a rough day since that moment. Jordan and I have alternated between numbness and sheer pain at her absence. She had integrated herself so thoroughly into our daily lives that it had become a reflex to check on her and take care of her and just have her around us all the time. I have never mourned an animal so thoroughly and completely as I have for Riley, and my deepest sympathies are with anyone who has lost a pet, a companion, a friend. She was truly a member of our family and we will miss her forever. The house is too quiet without her.


Maude Arthur

Posted: February 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »


There is a deep human need to be remembered. Most of humanity is forgotten, of course. Many, many people who were successful or beloved or wildly popular are forgotten a generation later. I’ve always been fascinated by books or projects that go back and resurrect a forgotten life and remind us that we have giant gaps in our knowledge of the past. One example is Alain Corbin’s The Life of an Unknown where he picks a name at random from a 19th Century civil registry and researches the history of that particular person as deep and wide as he can. Corbin isn’t writing an academic microhistory there, but actually trying to repair holes in our collective memory.

In previous posts on Robert T. Arthur, I was curious about how his daughter, Maude (above), died so young. She was only 23 when she died in 1916. After reading more about her life, I feel like I have discovered a remarkable person.

By all accounts, Maude had the trademark personality of a first born child: a leader, smart, willing to please. But tragedy struck her young family when she was 4 years old. Her baby sister, Lenora Fay, only 22 months old, died while the family was in Fort Scott, Kansas. (I’m not sure if Maude was also born in Fort Scott or if this was just a brief stay in Kansas. Like Denison, Fort Scott was a Katy Railroad stop and it’s likely he was on assignment there.) No doubt Maude carried some of her parents’ burden over that unforgettable tragedy throughout her life. Her parents did have another child, another girl, Marie, in 1902 when Maude was already 10. The difference in ages meant they were not likely as close as they would have liked to be. When Marie was ten years old, Maude had already graduated high school.

In high school, Maude was at the center of the social world. The Denison High School class of 1911 was small, but Maude stood out. In her junior year she was the Society Editor of the Denison High School Yellow Jacket (the yearbook which also published newsletters at the time). She was also an aspiring writer. Here is a story she contributed to the Christmas 1910 Yellow Jacket. (I transcribed it below.) I think the story displays incredible maturity for an 18 year-old girl and a real ability at crafting stories.

The Bernhardts’ Christmas Gift

By Maude Arthur

The cottage homes of the Bernhardts stood side by side in exact duplicate with the hanging baskets on the porch and the well laid off vegetable garden in the rear. So was the relation of the families. But of late the Mesdames Bernhardts, who had always begun and ended their house-cleaning seasons on the same day, whose preserves and jellies tallied to a jar and who made their patchwork quilts from the same pattern, had gotten in the habit of shaking their heads and lamenting that Herman and August were not happy any more spending their days in making their compounds or sitting on the green bench in the evenings smoking their long-stemmed pipes. Nowadays the men spent all their time in their laboratory, which stretched along the end of the two yards, and worked in bad smelling messes and evil looking mixtures. “And no good would come of this,” said Mena to Lena.

When the cousins took in a partner, a shock-headed young man with a queer uncatchable eye that never looked straight at anyone, Mena said it was nothing than the doings of the unsound minds of the cousins; for outside of this, August, her husband, had talked recently in his sleep about a “solution” that would bring him wealth beyond measure. When questioned about it, he became angry, but finally told her that he had come upon a combination of certain liquids that lacked but one ingredient to make a substance from which the most beautiful jewels could be made. This one ingredient he would find then—hey for fame. He said that Herman had helped a little, but only a very little, the idea was his, August’s and the fame would be given him when the time came.

Lena also questioned her husband about the wonderful discovery, Herman seemingly informed her that the fame belonged to him and that August was only helping him. However, she would see when the missing link was found who would get the glory. The new partner who was experienced in chemical matters had been taken on to assist in the detail work and to help along the research for the last ingredient.

Then the lives of the two fraus became miserable, for they loved their husbands dearly and they loved each other dearly. They now foresaw the troublesome times ahead. The breach between the two families soon widened; both Herman and August became cross and sullen toward each other and each bade his wife not to visit or have anything to say to the wife of the other. Sorrow and dismay descended on the good wives, whose stolen interviews could not bring much comfort since Herman and August were at the point of blows.

One morning a fearful shock came to August and Mena; during the night Herman had stolen away taking with him his wife, the rascally new partner, and all of the precious discovery.

Up and down the white-colored kitchen raged the cheated cousin, wrenching his gray hair into wild disorder and bidding Mena hold her tongue when she tried to comfort him. Then his mood changed and he vowed to find his tricky kinsman, though it cost him years of life and hundreds of dollars, and wrest from him the magic compound which he had stolen. This was a vast undertaking. Herman’s house had been shut up, and no one could be found who was able to throw any light on the subject.

Soon August prepared to leave on his strange quest. The cottage was locked up, the cat given to a neighbor, and Mena beheld but a quivering mist as, with tear-blurred eyes, she bade farewell to her beloved cabbage garden.

Then followed the long, dreary pilgrimage of the aged couple. Now and then vague tidings of Herman’s movements came to them, but finally giving up all hope of finding his cousin, he settled in a little cottage far distant from his old home and fitted up a miniature laboratory where he worked day and night to duplicate the priceless mixture which had been stolen from him. But it was useless as he’d forgotten the very ingredients as well as the details of the process.

Mena, worn out with the long and fruitless search, was glad to have some scrubbing, washing, and something to do. August, who was so low in spring, would help her in nothing, so the poor soul was obliged to potter around with her pantry-shelves, her newly sorted window plants and such balm-giving occupations. It was a good day for her when she discovered a curious closet under the stair with a ….. like this paneling that  therefore she had overlooked it. Then she bought her…. (If you’d like to read the rest of the story, please click here:


Some context about this story: Denison High School had recently built a chemistry lab on campus. It was considered the height of sophistication and scientific advancement. Marie Curie was all over the newspapers then, having won the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics (she would also win the 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry). The women’s suffrage movement was acquiring an air of inevitability and progressive young women, like Maude, were looking to do more than study home economics.

During Maude’s high school years, the Arthur family lived at 1030 W. Sears St. in Denison (they had moved from 700 W. Owings St., and in later years the Arthur family lived at 1023 W. Morton).

Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 1.37.21 PM


It was at this house where Maude hosted the high school class for a Halloween party, which she described in her society column in the 1910 Yellow Jacket.



[Maude’s boyfriend was Leslie Cash, on the bottom row here, in the center, with the dark suit. He’s also the “One Who Loved Her” who wrote the tribute to her, below.]





Leslie Cash

(These photos are terrible quality-wise but they are all I have found so far.)

Leslie Cash later moved to Oklahoma and married a woman named Glennis. Their son, Robert, was born in 1924 and served in World War II. He passed away in 2013, but his experience as a prisoner of war in Europe is quite incredible:

He trained as a radio operator and top turret gunner on the B-24 Liberator. He was with the 8th Air Force, 492nd Bomb Group, based in Norwich, England. He was privileged to fly on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Two weeks later, on his 13th mission, his aircraft was shot down over the Baltic Sea. Bob was badly burned and wounded. He bailed from the burning plane, was rescued by German Marines and classified as a POW. At the time, he didn’t know it, but Bob was the sole survivor of a crew of 10 men. Not a day in his life went by without remembrance of those crewmen. He spent more than 10 months as a POW, living on quarter rations. On Feb. 6, 1945, they struck out in the snow for what they were told was a 16-day march that ended 90 days and 800 miles later from the starting point. It was aptly named “The German Death March,” as some 2,500 POWs perished on that march. The British 11th Armored Division, one week before peace was declared in Europe, mercifully liberated them.
 Maude_3 Maude_4
Shortly after these school photos were taken, for her senior year, Maude got sick. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly after she graduated high school and her condition worsened. In the first decade of the twentieth century, tuberculosis was so common that many families had a consumptive member. The disease was little understood and prevention included anti-spitting campaigns, an increase in hygiene, and various types of supplemental air.
(A typical sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Texas.)
In early 1914, the Arthur family decided to move to a dryer, desert climate in west Texas. Robert T. Arthur kept an apartment at a rooming house at 214 N. Mirick Ave. It was thought that dry, desert air could help cure tuberculosis. There were two smaller sanatoriums in San Angelo and a larger colony just outside San Angelo, founded in 1909 (sometimes called “Sanatorium, Texas“.) It’s not clear to me yet which of these housed Maude. Her sister Marie stayed behind in Denison to attend school. The 1915 city directory lists only Robert T. as a resident of Denison.


Alas, she didn’t survive. Maude L. Arthur died in San Angelo, Texas, at the age of 23.

(As before, I am transcribing these newspaper articles so that the text may be searchable.)


Denison Daily Herald, January 8, 1916

Popular Denison Girl Dies in San Angelo

A message received in Denison this morning from San Angelo conveyed the sad news of the death of Miss Maude Arthur, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. T. Arthur.

Death occurred at 9:30 a.m. today. Mr. Arthur, who is a passenger conductor for the Katy, and the youngest daughter, Marie, who is attending the public schools in Denison this winter, left the city at an early hour this morning for San Angelo in response to a message stating that the condition of Miss Maude was very critical. They will not reach San Angelo until tonight. Mrs. Arthur was with her daughter when death came.

The remains, accompanied by the family, will leave San Angelo Sunday morning and are expected to arrive in Denison Monday morning. No definite word as to the funeral arrangements have reached here as yet.

Too many words of love and commendation cannot be spoken of Maude, who was universally loved in Denison. She was a member of the Denison High school class of 1911, and was a member and faithful worker in the First Presbyterian church of this city. The memory of the many charitable acts of kindness and her sweet and lovable ways will dwell forever in the hearts and minds of all those with whom she was associated in any way. Her life was one of purity, filled with the love of true friends.

Owing to the impaired condition of the deceased’s health, the Arthur family left Denison about two years ago, going to San Angelo, in the hopes that the change of climate would be of material benefit to her, but all was done that the mortal hands could do, and “He who doeth all things well” called her home.]



[Denison Daily Herald, January 10, 1916

Hundreds Paid Last Tribute to Miss Arthur

Hundreds of sorrowing friends, including many out-of-town residents, gathered at the First Presbyterian church at 3 o’clock this afternoon to pay their last respects to Maude Lorene Arthur, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. T. Arthur, whose death occurred at 9:30 o’clock Saturday morning at San Angelo.

The remains, accompanied by the parents, the sister, Marie, and Leslie Cash of Denison, who accompanied Mr. Arthur and Marie to San Angelo Saturday morning and Mrs. W. P. Hulen and Mrs. Joe Davis, who met the party in Dallas, arrived in the city on the Katy Flyer this morning. Many friends of the family met the body at the depot and accompanied it to the Presbyterian church, where it lay in state, until the funeral service at 3 p.m. Interment was made in Fairview cemetery.

Among the societies who attended the funeral in bodies were the Madge Waples Circle of the Presbyterian church, the As You Like It club and the class of 1911 of the Denison High school, all of which Maude was a member until she let Denison about two years ago. Maude was one of whom her associates can truly say “she was a friend,” always ready to lend her assistance in any way.

The services were simple and impressive and were conducted by Rev. J.E. Aubrey. As the family entered the church the choir sang softly and sweetly “Lead Kindly Light.” This was followed by hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul,” “Asleep in Jesus,” and “Home of the Soul.” The recessional sung by the choir was “Nearer My God To Thee.”

Floral offerings of every design covered the mound at Fairview, speaking in a small way of the love and friendship cherished by the host of deeply grieved friends. The conductor organizations and railway offices of almost every station both on the North and South end of the Katy sent beautiful flowers in wreaths and bouquets.

The session of the First Presbyterian church acted as pall bearers.

Among the out-of-town friends who attended the funeral were: D.S. Mcmillan of Whitewright, Mr. and Mrs. Tee Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. M.S. Barton, Mrs. A.F. Henning of Dallas; Mrs. C.M. Stone and daughter, Miss Alta, of Parsons, Kas.; J.R. Kramer of Hillsboro.]

Researching all of this about Maude has deeply affected me. I have given great consideration to the fact that Maude Arthur has not walked this earth in almost 100 years but her headstone remains in near-perfect condition. I have considered how advances in medicine and transportation have changed our ability to prolong life over the course of a century. I have pondered the nature of success and accomplishment and how little of it truly endures, mostly due to the whims of an uncontrollable fate.


Rest in peace, Maude.

More on Robert T. Arthur and Family

Posted: January 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Since my initial post on this subject back in October, I have done some more digging and uncovered more of the story of Denison resident, and prominent Mason, Robert T. Arthur.

First, thanks to the granddaughter of his sister, Sue Major Holmes, I’ve received these photos of him. I am posting these pictures here with her permission.

I’d estimate this photo of him to be from the late 1930s.

Robert T. Arthur

According to Sue, this photo dates from 1943-46 since her mother, Martha Major, pictured here, is in her Army nurse’s uniform. It’s neat that you can also see Arthur’s pocket watch (he was a railroad conductor).


Over the Christmas break, I went to Denison to visit family and stopped by Fairview Cemetery (where both my grandfathers and one great-grandfather are buried). It’s a fairly large cemetery and the attendant was not there so I was not sure where to find Arthur’s grave. My mom and I drove around for about ten minutes before I spotted it near the front. There is a family grave marker that just says “Arthur” and headstone each for Robert T. Arthur, his wife Lenora E. Arthur, their daughter Maude, who died at age 23, and their young daughter Lenora Fay, who died at only 22 months old. The Arthur’s youngest daughter, Marie, is also buried in Fairview with her husband, W. Roy Miller, but I could not find her grave on this visit.

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Little Lenora Fay was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, and buried there in 1896. When the Arthurs moved to Denison, they had her body disinterred and re-interred in 1904 in Denison. Fort Scott was a depot stop on the MKT Railroad (like Denison) and it was Robert’s job as a conductor that brought the family to Denison, Texas.

I have collected more information about Maude and Marie Arthur and will post more about them soon.

Best Books of 2014

Posted: November 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , | No Comments »

This has been an interesting year in reading for me. I read a lot of books, about 65. I didn’t track them all, but I reviewed 25 books for Publishers Weekly, read 6 books in manuscript form,  3 books for the Texas Book Festival panel I moderated in October, 6 books for our book club at work, and I got about 10 other books for free (review copies). I checked out 140 books at the library so far this year, but many of those were children’s books or books which I read only a portion of.  Several of the books I reviewed will not be published until 2015 and many of the books I read for personal pleasure were published in years past. I’m not counting those for this list, but if I did, the blue-ribbon would go to Reif Larsen’s I am Radar. I’ll save that one for 2015. Here are some of the best things I read this year, published in 2014.

1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

This was probably my most-anticipated book of the year. And I found it fairly disappointing. The first three fifths of the novel were excellent and Mitchell had me in thrall, gliding along on the expectation of a tight conclusion. But I could not find the urge to care enough about the science fiction angle of a supernatural battle. The first section, about Holly Sykes, sort of goes off the rails when Holly discovers a brutal murder caused by some sort of spirit or apparition. But I stuck with it for the next section, which is centered around Hugo Lamb. The story of his pursuit of Holly in a Swiss ski resort is expertly told, Mitchell at his best.

2. 10:04 by Ben Lerner

This, along with the Mitchell novel, was at the top of my list for 2014 novels. I adored Lerner’s first novel and had high hopes for his Atocha-Station-set-in-NY and there are parts of this book that are fantastic, but overall, I didn’t feel that the book had the narrative coherence Lerner was able to establish in Atocha Station.

3. My Struggle, volume 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

4. Women by Chloe Caldwell

5. Sister Golden Hair by Darcey Steinke

6. Fancy by Jeremy Davies

7. The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley.

Honorable Mentions: The David Foster Wallace Reader, Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis