CHURCHILL OUT OF HIBERNATION, WEEK 19
A good deal of Winston Churchill’s literary output was dictated by his finances. When Churchill needed money, he wrote. And Churchill often needed money. The results were usually timeless. Which brings us to THOUGHTS AND ADVENTURES, the next title in our tour of Winston Churchill’s books.
In the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash, which devastated him financially, Winston Churchill shifted his writing career into overdrive. He accepted an advance of £4,000 from publisher Thornton Butterworth to write a memoir of his youth, My Early Life, and another £3,000 from The Strand Magazine for a diverse series of articles. He embarked on an extended lecture tour of the United States (interrupted at its outset by his run-in with a small truck on New York’s Fifth Avenue in December 1931 that almost killed him). While recuperating, Churchill contracted for twenty-two more articles (or “potboilers,” as he liked to call them) with a variety of American magazines; articles that would ultimately generate income in excess of £40,000. He soon hired a principal resident secretary, Mrs. Violet Pearman, who would take down just about every word of these pieces as Churchill dictated them. “Mrs. P.” quickly became indispensable to him.
As they mounted up, Churchill pressed his published magazine work on Thornton Butterworth, opining in September 1931 that “there are materials here for two books of approximately 80,000 words each. The first might be called Great Contemporaries and the second Thoughts and Adventures.” He then decided to reverse the order of publication. Thoughts and Adventures, a marvelous anthology of largely non-political pieces, including Churchill’s original “Painting as a Pastime” essay from The Strand Magazine, was published in November 1932 and quickly surprised its publisher with the strength of its sales: substantially more than 5,000 copies in a few short weeks. The book was then published in the U.S. by Scribners under the title Amid These Storms, which resulted in a very striking new dust jacket but not commensurate big sales.
In typical fashion, Churchill managed, in the midst of “Painting as a Pastime,” included in Thoughts and Adventures, to range eloquently about the adoration of reading, and of books themselves as a physical presence in one’s life. It is a quotation that we adopted from day one as our store’s motto and it has appeared (judiciously abridged for space) on our bookmarks ever since we opened in 1983:
“What shall I do with all my books?” was the question; and the answer, “Read them,” sobered the questioner. But, if you cannot read them, at any rate handle and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read on from the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their shelves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances.
We wish you continued safety and good health, with literary companions who are not mere acquaintances but stimulating, good friends.