Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Non-Fiction of L. Frank Baum

It's no secret that L. Frank Baum is mainly known for his fiction. However, he wrote non-fiction as well. During his early years, he wrote and published a little newspaper for the neighborhood, The Roselawn Home Journal, and later bought a new press and began a new little paper called The Empire and a circular called The Stamp Collector. The three non-fiction books found in Baum's bibliography all take after some of his hobbies or methods which he'd written of before in periodicals.

His first book, Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers Directory (1873, he was about 17 at the time), was the result of The Stamp Collector. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see a copy of any type, so I cannot tell you anything other than it was his first book, intended to aid stamp collectors by listing dealers.

We're more lucky with what is more widely considered his first substantial book: The Book of the Hamburgs. Books of Wonder issued a reprint in hardcover and paperback and a print on demand edition is now available that is seems to be identical to it. Archive.org also has a complete version scanned available for downloading and viewing online.

The book appeared in 1886, and was a result of Baum's magazine The Poultry Record, which was published during the 1870s. I've seen claims that the book is an edited version of excerpts from the magazine, but I can't attest to that. It does seem to flow very well.

The book focuses on the care and breeding of the hamburg variety of chickens, particularly in efforts to create good-looking fowl to win prizes. This stemmed from Baum's own chicken farming, which many believe is what makes Billina in Ozma of Oz such a successfully executed character.

The final of Baum's non-fiction books is a result of his magazine The Show Window. As part of his brief stint as a traveling salesman, Baum offered advice for decorating windows of dry goods stores. His advice worked, so he created the magazine to assist store owners to decorate their windows quite attractively. The resulting book was titled The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors.

Although the book has not been reprinted, it has gained notoriety because it was published in 1900, the same year The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published. After that, Baum never produced another book of non-fiction, aside from editing his wife's book In Other Lands Than Ours.

In Hamburgs, Baum speaks with a voice of professional, authoritative experience, and I should not be surprised to find the same voice in the other two books. (That is, if Baum's Complete Stamp Dealers Directory isn't just a list of where to get collectible stamps in 1873.) It is a very different voice than we see in his works of fiction, but it is still a friendly one all the same.

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