Writing the informal essays that I contribute to this site takes me back to my teens, when I was very much involved in science fiction fandom. The kind of writing I do here evolved from the fanzines I wrote for and sometimes published, and from writing I read at that time.

These days the term “blog” covers a much wider range of formality than I was used to in the past. There are now thoroughly professional “blogs” on line. I still think of the blog as a loose, informal style descended from the great essayists of the past, like the French Renaissance writer Montaigne–who popularized the genre–and the English writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, whose “The Spectator” (1711-12) was the Huffington Report of its day.

There were two highly diverse writers of my teens whose inspiration I still feel, both named Harry. One of them was widely known to the public: Harry Golden. The other was known only to science fiction fandom and the inhabitants of his home town: Harry Warner, Jr., the Hermit of Hagerstown.

I subscribed for several years to Golden’s weekly “newspaper” The Carolina Israelite. He wrote and published it from 1942 to 1968. I read it in the 1950s, and of course read his collections of columns, starting with the best-selling “Only in America.” I remember Golden, whom I haven’t read in a long time, as a superb informal essayist. He wrote reminiscences of his own life, including (after it was exposed) a frank discussion of time he had spent in prison for fraud following the 1929 crash. He became famous for “The Vertical Negro Plan,” a marvelous satiric essay in which he observed that racial integration was a problem only in places where people sat down. His solution to the problem was to remove seats in places where integration was a contested issue, like lunch counters and schools.

The content of Golden’s writing was interesting and sometimes challenging. But what made him so popular was his amusing means of expression. You could read a Golden essay on virtually any topic and remain engaged because he made you smile. “Only in America” was his fourth book, but it was the first one collected from the Israelite. Readers quickly discovered how entertaining Golden’s writing was and the book became a huge best-seller. He also came across well in frequent radio and television appearances.

   Harry Warner, Jr. was a very different sort of person and writer from Golden. He was a newspaper reporter in his home town of Hagerstown, Maryland, who became interested in science fiction and science-fiction fandom in their early days. He published his first fanzine in 1938, and continued active in fan writing until he died in 2003. He also wrote some science fiction and a book-length history of fandom, “All Our Yesterdays.”

Harry was a voluminous correspondent, sending a letter of comment to any fanzine he received and answering all letters. I began writing to him occasionally when I was in my mid teens. We had some things in common that we both appreciated. We were both greatly interested in classical music. I was a poor piano student. Harry was an accomplished pianist and oboist who performed locally. We both wrote music reviews.

For decades, Harry was a mainstay of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), a group which circulated fanzines published by its members to those members. Some of these fanzines went only to FAPA members; others had some outside circulation. Harry sent copies of his Horizons to me for several years. His training and discipline were awesome. He would start out with a quire of mimeograph stencils (24), compose his writing directly onto the stencils, and finish his last essay on the last line of page 24. As I recall the essays were bloglike, informally written and not the products of great research or contemplation, yet they were always interesting to read.

Harry got his nickname, “the Hermit of Hagerstown,” from his reluctance to travel or to engage in much personal contact with others outside his work. I was one of the few science fiction fans who got to meet him on his home turf. In 1960 I went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, within a few hours of Hagerstown. I was there for only six months, but during my fall semester I maintained my correspondence with Harry and he invited me to visit him. I got a ride with a classmate to Hagerstown, returning to Lancaster by bus. Harry was very welcoming and genial, taking me to eat in his favorite places. We spent the evening listening to some favorite classical recordings. It was a real treat.

I dropped out of science fiction fandom in my late teens and lost touch with Harry. I was a little surprised to learn that he had remained active until the end of his life. Now I regret that I didn’t write to him years ago and share with him details of my activities as a classical music critic, record dealer, and publisher. I’m sure he would have been pleased.

I still remember the writing of these two Harries, and I remain happily influenced by both of them.

About a year ago, I was surprised to get a hit from eBay on my Leslie Gerber search. Someone offered an APAzine that I had written and published. (It wasn’t from FAPA, which I never did get into; it had a very long waiting list.) The first page was posted in the offering, and I got to read it. I wrote about the some of same things that interest me today, including classical music and literature, as well as personal comments answering things other people in the group had written about. I was fascinated to encounter my teenage self in this way and would have liked to read the whole thing. But somebody outbid me.

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