Becker, May Lamberton (1873–1958)

views updated

Becker, May Lamberton (1873–1958)

American critic and journalist who edited a column titled "Reader's Guide" for 40 years. Born May Lamberton in New York, New York, on August 26, 1873; died on April 27, 1958; daughter of Emma (Packard) Lamberton and Ellis Tinkham Lamberton; educated at her mother's private school and Jersey City High School; married Gustav Louis Becker (a musician), in 1894 (divorced 1911); children: Beatrice Becker Warde.

Selected works:

(editor) "Reader's Guide" (1915–55); A Reader's Guide Book (1924); Adventures in Reading (1927); Books as Windows (1929); First Adventures in Reading (1936); Choosing Books for Children (1937); Introducing Charles Dickens (1940).

Born in New York City, May Lamberton was raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, where her mother Emma ran a small private school for girls. (Her father Ellis died when she was 12.) Becker enjoyed learning so much that, when she advanced to public high school, "the teachers were so amazed to find somebody who enjoyed study that they shoved me on with speed and glory." She graduated at age 16, and, though a teacher offered to pay her tuition, she turned down Barnard College. Becker worked as a newspaper theater critic, writing columns that were popular because, like her readers, she had never formally studied drama. Following her marriage in 1894 to pianist and composer Gustav Becker, she began lecturing to women's groups, first on music and later on literature. The Beckers had one child and divorced in 1911.

May Lamberton Becker was invited to begin a literary reference column in 1915 and thus launched the "Reader's Guide" at the New York Evening Post. The column, which answered inquiries from readers who were seeking books on specific topics, moved to the Saturday Review of Literature in 1924, and to the Herald Tribune in 1933, where it ran until Becker retired on May 1, 1955. For many years, Becker lived in New York City, as she said, "at the home of my Siamese cats" and summered with her daughter in London, writing the "Reader's Guide" from a rooftop garden. May Lamberton Becker died on April 27, 1958.

Crista Martin , freelance writer, Boston, Massachusetts