Translate

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Rudolf Flesch letter to a bookseller 
(high readability score!)

Rudolf Flesch (1911-1986), a writer, readability expert, and proponent of the Plain English Movement, collected books on language, English, and writing. So it comes as no surprise that a letter he wrote to a New York bookseller in 1948 included an order for a book on language and a request for more books on the subject, particularly rare books.


Flesch, an Austrian immigrant who fled to America ahead of Hitler's invasion in the 1930s, had earned a law degree in Vienna, but in his new country, his scholarly pursuits turned to Library Science (Ph.D. from Columbia University), reading, and writing about the English language.


In 1955, he wrote the classic, Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About it, which advocated phonics for teaching students how to read. The book was a best-seller. Parents loved it, educators not so much. Today, more than 60 years later, cognitive neuroscientists still advocate it as an important tool in teaching reading skills. And many educators remain ambivalent about its use. In 1981, Flesch was compelled to write Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, but the Reading Wars have continued to this day. 

Flesch was not a fan of the Dick and Jane books used at that time to teach children to read, but he did like Dr. Seuss books and his praise wound up on the dust jackets of some of those books. And he may have been indirectly responsible for Seuss’ best-known work, The Cat in the Hat

In the December 23, 2002 New Yorker, Louis Menand writes that John Hersey, who like Flesch deplored the teaching methods for young readers, mentioned Dr. Seuss as an author that publishers should consider for inspiring school children to read. William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin's education division, read both Hersey's article and Flesch's Why Johhny Can't Read and proposed a list of words similar to the word lists in Flesch's book for Seuss to use in creating a story that first graders could read. Seuss initially balked at the idea, but worked with it and the words provided him, eventually culling out those he would use to write the story. 

When Flesch mailed his typed, signed letter to Schulte's Book Store to order A.P. Herbert's What a Word, he had already published two books by this time: The Art of Plain Talk (1946) and The Way to Write, with A.H. Lass (1947). He was working on his third book, The Art of Readable Writing (1949) and perhaps Herbert’s book found a place in his reference library for that project.

Also in 1948, Flesch published in the Journal of Applied PsychologyA New Readability Yardstick, in which he first proposed his Reading Ease Formula, which became a standard readability formula for the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies. 

Against this backdrop of language studies and efforts to improve readability in the post-World War II era, Flesch's 1948 letter to a bookseller provides an interesting snapshot of a process at work, underscoring the importance of a relationship with a knowledgeable and reputable bookseller. Those booksellers and relationships still exist, but the Internet era has taken its toll on both. 

A concluding thought on Flesch and the books he collected in addition to the A.P. Herbert title in this letter is this: What happened to those books, Flesch's personal library, upon his death? Surely it was a substantial collection on the topics of language, reading, and writing. Was it donated to the archives of a university library or similar institution for scholarly studies? Or did his heirs inherit them? Or, hopefully not, did they scatter to the four winds? I've not been able to find "Flesch papers" or Flesch's book collection intact anywhere through online searches. In the event they sold at auction and re-entered the second-hand market, I've searched high and low for evidence of this, such as books with Flesch's bookplate (if he used ex-libris) or other marks of ownership. Taking a cue from the previous paragraph, perhaps I should find a reputable bookseller with a specialty in the subjects Flesch collected. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Labels

A.S. Burbank (1) Abel Tompkins (1) abraham lincoln (2) ad booklets (1) ad card (2) ad cover (1) ad covers (12) advertising (1) Africa (1) African American (1) Alabama (1) alexandria virginia (1) Alfred Lorentz (2) Alfred Sutro (1) Allentown PA (1) Amalfi (1) american antiquarian society (2) American Book Company (1) American Bookbinders Museum (1) American literature (1) Americana (1) Andrew Hoyem (1) Andy Rooney (1) announcement card (1) announcement cards (1) announcements (1) Anthony Newnham (1) antiquarian book (1) Aoki (1) Arion Press (1) Arthur H. Chase (1) astronaut (1) auction catalogs (1) Australia (1) author (1) author promo (1) authors (1) autographs (1) automobiles (1) Baghdad (1) Baltimore (1) bank drafts (1) Barcelona (1) baseball writer (1) Beatles (1) Berlin (1) Bertha Mahoney (1) Bertha Mahony (1) bibliately (1) bibliomania (1) bibliophilately (1) bibliophiles (4) billhead (6) billheads (4) Billie Burke (1) Birchall's Bookstore (1) Birmingham (1) black culture (1) blotters (1) Bob Dylan (1) Boernicke and Tafel (1) book (2) book caravan (1) Book Club of California (1) book collecting (1) book collector (1) book collectors (3) book design (1) book fairs (2) Book of Kells (1) book shop label (1) book shop labels (1) book shops (15) book signing (1) book store (2) book stores (1) bookbinder (2) bookbinder tickets (2) bookcards (1) booklets (1) bookmark (3) bookmarks (2) bookmobiles (5) Bookplate (4) bookplate design (1) bookplates (15) books (6) bookseller (18) bookseller circus books Maine (1) bookseller labels (5) bookseller labels tickets (1) bookseller reviews (1) booksellers (47) Booksellers' League of New York (1) bookshop (1) Bookshop for Boys and Girls (1) bookstore (6) bookstores (8) boston (11) bottle (1) bouquinistes (1) brattle (1) broadside (2) brochure (1) brochures (1) Brooklyn (1) Bruce Rogers (1) business cards (1) button chaser (1) Buzz Aldrin (2) calendars (1) California (1) Canada (2) cancer medical bookplate (1) catalog (1) catalogs (5) catalogues (2) Catholic books (1) Charles C. Soule (1) Charles Hoy Fort (1) charleston (1) checkers (1) Cherokee (1) chicago (1) children's literature (1) Christmas (1) chromolithograph plate (1) cigarettes (1) Civil War (3) Classic Motorbooks (1) Clayburgh (1) Clements Library (1) collectors (1) collectors' institute (1) Confederate (1) Confederate Home for Veterans (1) Connecticut (1) Cooperstown (1) Cornhill (1) Cosmic Aeroplane (1) covers (1) Croatia (1) Cuba (1) D. Lothrop (1) D. Lothrop and Co. (1) Dartmouth (1) Decatur Illinois (1) Declaration of Independence (1) Dedham Massacusetts (1) Denver (1) Detroit (1) DF Wallace (1) Dial (1) diary (1) Dickensiana (1) die-cut (1) digital ephemera (2) Doane (1) dolls (1) Donohue & Henneberry (1) Dr. Seuss (1) draughts (1) drug store (1) Dublin (1) Dubrovnik (1) Durrie and; Peck (1) dust jacket (1) Dutch (1) Dutch Booksellers Association (1) dutton (1) Ed Sullivan (1) Emil Prass (1) encino press (3) engraving (1) ephemera (3) Ernest Dawson (1) Eugene O'Neill (1) Eurkea Bazaar (1) European history (1) Evelyn Waugh (1) ex libris (2) exhibits (2) expositions (1) Felix Cunha (1) feria del libro (1) fine printing (1) Firenza (1) Firenze (1) Florence (1) flyaways (1) flyers (1) Fortean Society (1) Foyles (2) France (2) Francis Scott Key (1) Friedrich Furchheim (1) G. Wyman (1) George Doll (1) German (1) Germany (1) GF Warfield (1) ghosts (1) Goodspeed's (2) Goodspeed's Book Shop (1) Grabhorn Press (1) graphic design (1) Greenaway House (1) Greenwich Village (1) greeting cards (1) Haines and Essick (1) Haiti (1) hand fans (1) Hans P. Kraus (1) Hartford (1) Hartford Connecticut (1) Harvard Library (1) haunted (1) headshop (1) Herbert Fahey (1) Herbert Faulkner West (1) Holmes Book Company (1) holt and rinehart (1) homeopathy (1) Horace Mann (1) Horn Book Magazine (1) Houghton Mifflin (1) Houston (4) Hudson's (1) Iceland (1) illuminated manuscripts (1) illustrations (1) illustrators (1) IMBS (1) indiana (1) instructions (1) International Exhibit 1862 (1) International Miniature Book Society (1) invoice (1) Iraq (1) isaiah thomas (2) Italy (2) J.F. Collins (1) J.J. Lankes (1) Jack Kerouac (1) Jacqueline Kennedy (1) James Hustler (1) James Walker (1) Japanese paper (1) Jean Frey (1) jerome holtzman (1) JJ Lankes (1) JK Gill Company (1) John Chapman (1) John Ford Esq. (1) John Langdon Sibley (1) John Love Bookseller England 1700s Goodspeed William Wadd (1) John Penington (1) John Rothensteiner (1) John W. Park (1) Johnny Appleseed (1) Jones' Bookstore (1) JR Osgood (1) Justin Brierly (1) Justin Brierly Denver Neal Cassady Jack Kerouac Beat Generation (1) Katherine Goddard (1) Ketterlinus (1) Kitemaug (1) Knoxville (1) label (1) language (1) law books (2) LBJ (1) Leipzig (2) Leona Rostenberg (1) letter (3) letterhead (2) letters (6) Levi K. Fuller (1) librarian (2) librarians (2) libraries (9) library (1) library accessions list (1) library catalogs (2) Little Brown (1) Lloyd Adams Noble (1) London (1) Longfellow (1) Los Angeles (2) Lowman and Hanford (1) lunar landing (1) Macedonia (1) Macmillan (1) Magazine ads (2) Maine (1) Malta (1) manuscript (1) Marian Cutter (1) Mark Twain (1) martyr (1) massachusetts (1) Mayfair Bookshop (1) McGirr's (1) medical (1) Menno Hertzberger (1) menus (1) Michigan (1) Michigan history (2) miniature books (2) Minneapolis (1) Minnesota (1) motorsports (1) Mrs. Paul's Kitchens (1) Mundelein (1) Museum of Printing History (1) Naples (1) Napoli (1) National Library Association (1) Neal Cassady (1) Nederlandse Boekverkopersbond (1) Nevada (1) New Hampshire (2) New Mexico (1) New Orleans (1) New York (7) New York Public Library (1) newsletters (2) Nice (1) Niles Michigan (1) nuns (1) Oakland (2) Oklahoma (1) Olympia Dukakis (1) Ontario (1) opera (1) Oregon (1) Ottawa (1) P. Garrett & Co. (1) pamphlets (1) Paris (1) Patriot (1) patriotic (1) Penguin Book Shop (1) Penn Letter Book (1) Pennsylvania (1) Philadelphia (5) Philip Greely Brown (1) photos (1) Pilgrim Bookshop (1) Pilgrims (1) playbill (1) Plymouth (1) poets (1) Poland (1) post card (2) post cards (1) postal covers (1) postal history (1) postcards (5) Postcards Leipzig Publishers Booksellers Buchhändlerbörse (1) President Kennedy (1) President Truman (1) press photos (1) press release (1) Princeton (1) print announcements (1) printer (4) printers (5) Printing (1) printing arts (2) program (1) promotional letters (1) promotional photo (1) prospectus (1) prospectuses (2) Providence (1) publisher (6) publisher insert (1) publishers (21) publishers booksellers encyclopedias dictionaries (1) publishers Japan (1) Publishing (1) Puerto Rico (1) Ransom Center (1) Rare Bibles (1) rare books (1) Rasmussen (1) Raymer's (2) Raymond Carver (1) readability (1) reading (1) receipt (1) receipts (1) Reed Books (1) review copy (1) review slips (1) Rhode Island (1) Ricardo Veloso (1) Rice Institute (1) Richter (1) riverrun bookshop (1) Robert Frost (1) rodeo (1) roger beacham (1) Rose Wilder Lane (1) Roxburghe Club (2) Rudolf Flesch (1) Rumball-Petre (1) Russia (1) sales receipts (1) sales rep (1) Salt Lake City (1) Samuel Hooper Hooper (1) San Diego (1) San Francisco (7) Santa Fe (1) Saunders (1) Sausalito (1) Schomburg (1) school (1) Schulte's Book Store (5) Schumann-Heink (1) Scofield Thayer (1) Seattle (2) ships (1) Sidney L. Smith (1) Sidney S. Rider (1) Sierra Leone (1) Sir Thomas Phillipps (1) small presses (1) Society of Lincoln's Inn (1) south carolina (1) south dakota (1) Southwest (1) Spain (2) spelling (1) Springfield Illinois (1) St. Paul (1) stamps (1) Star-Spangled Banner (1) statements (1) stationers (3) Stefan Lorant (1) Sun Iron Building (1) swap cards (1) Switzerland (1) teaching (1) Tennessee (1) Texas (4) Thanksgiving (1) Thatcher (1) The Netherlands (1) The Tides (1) The Virginian (1) Theodore Dreiser (1) Tibbals (1) tickets (2) Ticknor (2) Tiffany Thayer (1) trade card (2) trade cards (6) trading cards (1) trailers (1) Treves. Florence (1) Trinity College (1) typewriters (1) typography (1) Universalists (1) University of Delaware Library (1) University of Michigan (2) University of Texas (1) university of texas-pan american (1) university presses (1) Utah (1) valentines (1) Valletta (1) Vermont (1) W.E. Osborne (1) W.I. Whiting (1) W.M. Morrison (1) War of 1812 (1) Waring (1) Waterbury (1) Wendemuth (1) Western Americana (1) Westerns (1) Wiener Library (1) william and barbara holman collection. book arts (2) William Briggs (1) William Goddard (1) william r. holman (5) wire photos (2) Wisconsin (1) Wister (1) Witkower's (1) wittliff (3) woodcuts (1) Wooster Ohio (1) worcester (1) World War II (1) writers (1) Zagreb (1) Zahm (1)
 
Creative Commons License
Bibliophemera by Chuck Whiting is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.