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Hooked on Books

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Before you curl up in an easy chair with that novel you've been wanting to read, be warned by the story of Floyd Dell, a Davenporter who got hooked on books at the age of five and ended up going to jail.

Dell was born in Barry, Illinois, in 1887. By the time he was five, he had taught himself to read. His family, however, was poor, and could not afford even the cheap novels in the drug store window. One day, he saw a sign above the candy store that read "Public Library," and discovered that one could take out books for free. Soon, the librarian had him reading Elsie Dinsmore, and then DeFoe and Hugo.

The Dell family moved to Quincy in 1899 where Floyd discovered a real, much larger library, and where he was soon allowed, against the rules, to browse the shelves for his own books. By the time the Dell family moved upriver to Davenport in 1903, a passion for books and their ideas had already taken Floyd into dangerous water of Marx and other socialist writers. He was ready for the liberal Germans in Davenport. Reading is a chronic disease that only gets worse. Reading leads to writing. Dell soon became a member of a group of young avant-garde Davenport writers. He published his first poem in a Davenport newspaper in 1904 and was soon publishing poems and stories in national magazines.

Reading and writing soon carried Floyd Dell away from Davenport to Greenwich Village in New York, where he joined several other Bohemians in publishing a socialist newspaper, The Masses, which attacked World War I as a capitalist war.

On April 15th, 1919, Dell and four others were indicted under the United States Espionage Act, charged with "conspiring to promote insubordination and mutiny in the military and naval forces" and "obstructing recruiting and enlistment."

The trial lasted for two weeks, during which Dell continued to write editorials for the newspaper. In the end, the jury could not agree on a verdict, and Dell was set free, and went on to a long career as a major American writer, helping to pass the disease of reading on to a new generation of young and unsuspecting readers.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.