May 23, 1958: Mitch Albom Born

Mitch AlbomOn this day in 1958, Mitch Albom was born in Passaic, New Jersey. The author, sportswriter, radio talk show host and frequent on ESPN‘s “The Sports Reporters,” is best known for his novels

In his day-job with the Detroit Free Press, Albom also covers the Motor City’s professional teams and the University of Michigan. In both mediums (but especially his novels), he captures humans’ emotional search for happiness and life’s meaning like no other writer. Here are three of his books worth reading.

  • The Fab Five: The definitive account of the college basketball’s most revolutionary team of the last 25 years (even if they  never beat Duke). Albom chronicles the story of Chris Weber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson from their recruiting to their loss to North Carolina in the 1993 NCAA title game.
  • Tuesdays with Morrie: A dying man’s wonderful wisdom is captured over a series a Tuesdays by Albom in this moving, inspiring book.
  • The Five People You Meet in Heaven: The life of a good man, tragedies, flaws and all, are told through the stories of five seemingly random individuals. In the end, Albom creates a Heaven that we all hope exists.

December 19, 1843: A Christmas Carol Released

On this day in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens went on sale. This classic Christmas story is also one of the first self-published works in history.

A Christmas Carol - First Edition 1843On this day in 1843, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens went on sale. This classic Christmas story is also one of the first self-published works in history.

Dickens conceived and wrote the novella of cold-hearted miser Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by four spirits in the fall of 1843. Because of a disagreement with his publisher, Chapman & Hall, over the poor sales of “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit” Dickens chose to forgo the typical lump-sum payment for his work. Instead, he financed the publishing and took a percentage of the profits.

The book was an overwhelming success and is now an essential part of the holiday season. However, because of high production costs, Dickens profits from the book were very minimal.

November 15, 1959: The Clutter Family Murders

On this day in 1959, Herbert Clutter, his wife and two of his four children were shot to death in their farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas. The murders were the basis of Truman Capote’s pioneering novel, “In Cold Blood.”

Clutter Family Home - 1959On this day in 1959, Herbert Clutter, his wife and two of his four children were shot to death in their farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas. The murders were the basis of Truman Capote’s pioneering novel, “In Cold Blood.”

Clutter was a wealthy wheat farmer who conducted every single business transaction by check to keep record of it. Somehow Floyd Wells, an inmate in the Kansas State Penitentiary and former Clutter farmhand, convinced fellow inmates Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith that Clutter kept large sums of cash on his property. After Hickock and Smith were released, the two descended on Clutter’s home. They didn’t find any money, but killed Clutter, his wife Bonnie, his 16-year-old daughter Nancy and 15-year-old son Kenyon. Clutter’s two older children had already moved out of the house.

When Capote learned of the murders, he traveled to Holcomb to investigate with friend Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Capote was there from the beginning of the investigation and for Hickock and Smith’s capture six weeks later, taking thousands of pages of notes in the process.

Smith and Hickock were executed in 1965. “In Cold Blood” published the next year and launched the true-crime novel genre.

November 9, 1967: Rolling Stone First Published

On this day in 1967, Rolling Stone published its first issue. It has remained one of the most popular magazines in the world today.

Rolling Stone First IssueOn this day in 1967, Rolling Stone published its first issue. It has remained one of the most popular magazines in the world today.

Named after the Muddy Waters song, “Rollin’ Stone,” the magazine that covers politics and entertainment helped launch the careers of Hunter S. Thompson, Cameron Crowe, Joe Klein and countless other writers. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was first published in Rolling Stone.

The magazine has always been left leaning and has never made any apology for its articles. While you may not agree with the writings, you’ll never be bored.

September 28, 1891: Herman Melville Dies

On this day in 1891, Herman Melville died of cardiac issues at his home in New York City. The author was 72 years old and his greatest work still had not been discovered.

Herman MelvilleOn this day in 1891, Herman Melville died of cardiac issues at his home in New York City. The author was 72 years old and his greatest work still had not been discovered.

Melville published “Moby Dick” when he was 32 years old, but his prominence in the literary scene quickly waned. By the time he passed away, Melville was almost completely forgotten.

Fortunately, biographer Raymond Weaver decided to chronicle Melville’s life in the early 1920s and was given his papers by his granddaughter. In them, he found Melville’s unpublished novella, “Billy Budd.” Weaver published it and critical claim poured in launching a Melville revival. “Billy Budd” was turned into a Broadway play and a 1962 movie starring Terence Stamp.

Melville’s life shows that if we may not always receive the immediate appreciation we think we deserve, we still may. It just won’t be at a time of our choosing.

September 25, 1959: David Brown and Helen Gurley Marry

On this day in 1959, David Brown and Helen Gurley were married. The two became one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful and influential couples.

David Brown and Helen Gurley BrownOn this day in 1959, David Brown and Helen Gurley were married. The two became one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful and influential couples.

Brown met Gurley when he was a managing editor at Cosmopolitan and she was one of the highest-paid copywriters in the publishing industry. By the time they married, Brown was an executive at 20th Century Fox Studios. The two only made each other’s work stronger. Brown went on to produce numerous films, including “Jaws,” “The Sting” and “Cocoon.” Gurley wrote the classic book “Sex and the Single Girl” and became editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan in 1965, a job she held until 1997.

Brown died in 2010 at the age of 93. Helen Gurley Brown away passed two years later at the age of 90.

September 21, 1897: The Sun Reports There is a Santa Claus

On this day in 1897, The (New York) Sun published its famous editorial, “Is There a Santa Claus?” The piece, which included the famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is ingrained in holiday pop culture and has become the most reprinted editorial in the history of the English language.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus Original ClippingOn this day in 1897, The (New York) Sun published its famous editorial, “Is There a Santa Claus?” The piece, which included the famous line, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” is ingrained in holiday pop culture and has become the most reprinted editorial in the history of the English language.

The story goes that eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon asked her father if Santa Claus really existed.  He suggested that she write to the now-defunct Sun, saying, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” She did and one of the editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, took the opportunity to write a philosophical response. The full text of Church’s editorial can be found on the Newseum’s website, but he reassured her, along with children and adults everywhere, writing:

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

The editorial quickly received national attention and has since become a staple of holiday television and movies as well as charity campaigns.

September 15, 1981: The Reagan Revolution is Published

On this day in 1981, “The Reagan Revolution” by Robert Novak and Rowland Evans was published. This interesting and out-of-print book chronicles the formative early months and significant changes brought about by President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

The Reagan RevolutionOn this day in 1981, “The Reagan Revolution” by Robert Novak and Rowland Evans was published. This interesting and out-of-print book chronicles the formative early months and significant changes brought about by President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Evans and Novak, of course, wrote the longest double by-lined syndicated column in history and numerous books.  Their level of access was legendary and this particular book is not some gushing lament about conservatives retaking the mantle, but more of an inside look at the major changes Reagan’s presidency brought.

The book highlights everything from Reagan embracing Congressman Jack Kemp’s supply-side economic policies to being the first president in decades to push for major budget cuts to his loosening of regulations. The book also includes fascinating tidbits, such as the fact the Reagan would have let the U.S. auto industry succeed or fail on its own accord in 1981, but provided government support after being persuaded by Vice President George H.W. Bush. In addition, “The Reagan Revolution” also highlights the fact that he was  the first Republican leader to seriously court the social conservatives that dominate the party today.

The book that was published less than one-year into Reagan’s presidency provides a snapshot of him and the public’s perception. It is worth checking out.

August 5, 2009: Budd Schulberg Dies

On this day in 2009, Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg died of natural causes in Quogue, New York. The novelist, sports writer and Academy Award-winning screenwriter was 95.

Budd SchulbergOn this day in 2009, Seymour Wilson “Budd” Schulberg died of natural causes in Quogue, New York. The novelist, sports writer and Academy Award-winning screenwriter was 95.

Schulberg, the son of Paramount studio head, B.P. Schulberg, wrote “What Makes Sammy Run,” an insider’s look at Hollywood, and “The Harder They Fall.” He also penned the Oscar-winning screenplay to “On the Waterfront,” as well as “A Face in the Crowd.”

Barring an overwhelming release of landmark films, “On the Waterfront” will likely remain on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 films for decades to come. Most of us can only hope to contribute half as much to American culture.

July 24, 1901: O. Henry Released From Prison

On this day in 1901, William Sydney Porter was released from federal prison in Columbus, Ohio. While prison may have been the lowest point for Porter, it was the best thing to happen to O. Henry, his literary pseudonym.

O. HenryOn this day in 1901, William Sydney Porter was released from federal prison in Columbus, Ohio. While prison may have been the lowest point for Porter, it was the best thing to happen to O. Henry, his literary pseudonym.

Unless you never went to school, you have read one of O. Henry’s short stories.  Vignettes like “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Ransom of Red Chief” and “Hearts and Hands” ring as true today as they did more than 100 years ago. Those interested in writing short stories should read his collected works to truly see a master of the craft.

But before he found his beloved alter ego, Porter worked as a bookkeeper at the First National Bank of Austin in the 1890s, where he was fired on suspicion of embezzlement. A few years later, the bank was federally audited and Porter was actually charged. At the time, he was writing for the Houston Post, but fled to Honduras. Porter returned to Austin in 1897 when he learned that his wife was dying of tuberculosis and surrendered to federal authorities.

Porter was convicted and began his five-year sentence in 1898. He only served three years because of good behavior and during that time he published 14 short stories under various pseudonyms, the most popular being O. Henry.

Upon his release, O. Henry would write 381 more short stories before his death in 1910. One has to wonder if the world would have experienced this man’s talent if not for his trip to the penitentiary.