Displaying articles for: January 2010

OED, Murray to "Teledildonics"

February 1: The first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published on this day in 1884. When James Murray, the OED's most famous editor and personality, sent out an appeal for information on words which seemed "rare, obsolete, old-fashioned, new, peculiar or used in a peculiar way," scholars and logophiliacs around the world sent him 1000 letters a day; the appeal still stands, and the work on the peculiar words -- for example, "teledildonics" (computer sex) -- continues. Read more...

Of Bromides and Blurbs

January 30: The American humorist Gelett Burgess was born on this day in 1866. Burgess's comic writing may be forgotten, but two of the words he coined are all too much with us -- "bromide," for the platitudinous utterance, and "blurb," the special talent of his Miss Blinda Blurb, first artiste of dust-jacket hype. Read more...

Frost, Parsnips

January 29: Robert Frost died on this day in 1963, having accomplished much of the goal he gave himself a half-century earlier: "There is a kind of success called 'of esteem' and it butters no parsnips. It means a success with a critical few who are supposed to know. But really to arrive where I can stand on my legs as a poet and nothing else I must get outside that circle to the general reader who buys books in their thousands." Read more...

Brodsky vs. Videocy

January 28: Joseph Brodsky died on this day in 1996, aged fifty-five. When he became the American Poet Laureate in 1991, Brodsky proposed a poetry initiative that might "turn this nation into an enlightened democracy … before literacy is replaced with videocy." Although his imagined goal remains unaccomplished -- "books should be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England" -- he helped to inspire several enduring poetry-to-the-people campaigns. Read more...

Defoe's Moll

January 27: On this day in 1722 Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders was published, the title-page offering one of literature's longest come-hithers: "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders &c who was born at Newgate, and during a Life of continued Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five time a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew rich, liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent." Read more...

Captain Phillip's Convicts

January 26: On this day in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip brought the first British convict ships to anchor in Botany Bay, Australia -- the first of 825 such transports to arrive over the next eighty years. Captain Phillip went on to become the island's first Governor, and today became Australia Day -- the nation so proud of being bad-to-the-bone that web sites such as convictcentral.com allow Australians to search for any founding criminals that might be in the family tree. Read more...

"Gie her a Haggis!"

January 25: On this day in 1759 Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Scotland, and on this night lovers of Burns, Scotland, or conviviality will gather around the world to celebrate the fact. Though many of Burns's poems are philosophical or political, there are more than enough on the Highlands-lassies-wee dram themes to keep this evening going until well past when it shouldn't. Read more...

"Bewildered by the death of love"

January 23: Arthur Miller's After the Fall premiered on this day in 1964. In his 1987 memoir Timebends, Miller tries to explain that his play is about the universal fall from innocence, not just his recent break-up with Marilyn Monroe. Most critics share the view of the play's director, Elia Kazan, that at least "the second act of his play is about one thing: his marriage to Marilyn." Read more...

A Farewell to Arms, Scott

January 22: In a letter written from Paris on this day in 1929, Ernest Hemingway told his Scribner's editor, Max Perkins, that he had finished A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway's deliberations over the novel's ending are central to his legendary reputation as a painstaking craftsman. And as craftsmanship took precedence over friendship for Hemingway, the completion of A Farewell to Arms is directly linked to his farewell to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read more...

Orwell at the End

January 21: On this day in 1950 George Orwell died, aged forty-six. The achievement of Orwell's last years seems overbalanced by a withering series of personal challenges -- the death of his wife, his own imminent death from tuberculosis, and the need to find a new wife/widow to raise his young son. Perhaps worst of all, he had to accept the prescription of absolute bed rest, and surrender his typewriter. Read more...

Ruskin in Solitude

January 20: John Ruskin died on this day in 1900. Ruskin's odd and disastrous love life -- a nine-year, unconsummated marriage and, at age fifty, the hopeless pursuit of a teenager -- has attracted a stream of movies, plays, operas and stories. The biographies document a man who wished to be socially detached if not invisible, in order to observe "men and their ways" and to enjoy the "temper of my own solitude." Read more...

"Oh, what's a life or two?"

January 19: The crime-noir writer Patricia Highsmith was born on this day in 1921. Film adaptations have kept several of her books popular -- more recently, The Talented Mr. Ripley; more famously, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train. The latter novel was Highsmith's first of thirty books, and it displayed the coolly macabre style which became her hallmark: "Oh, what's a life or two? Some people are better off dead, Guy. Take your wife and my father, for instance." Read more...

"It was a dark and stormy night…"

January 18: On this day in 1873 the novelist-historian Edward George Bulwer-Lytton died. Although widely read in Victorian England, Bulwer-Lytton is now mostly known for his influence upon other writers. Most famously, he caused Charles Dickens to change his proposed ending to Great Expectations; most infamously, he wrote the rambling wreck of a sentence which inspired the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, now in its twenty-eighth year. Read more...

Cervantes & Quixote

January 16: Part I of The History of the Ingenious Knight-Errant Don Quixote was published on this day in 1605, becoming an immediate and enduring hit. Some of the windmills at which the Knight-Errant tilted also endure, one of them as a library devoted to preserving editions of Don Quixote in the over sixty languages into which it has been translated -- including, the author would smile to know, Braille. Read more...

Woolf at the Museum

January 15: The British Museum opened on this day in 1759. Apart from the BM's art and antiquities, its famous Reading Room has provided a place of research and inspiration for generations of writers, including Virginia Woolf: "The swing-doors swung open; and there one stood under the vast dome, as if one were a thought in the huge bald fore head which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names." Read more...

Plath's Bell Jar

January 14: Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar was published on this day in 1963, a month before Plath's suicide. The novel describes the fall of Esther Greenwood, a student-poet who is spending her summer in New York as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine; this a parallel of Plath's experiences a decade earlier, culminating in her suicide attempt and electric shock therapy. Read more...

Zola's "J'Accuse"

January 13: On this day in 1898 Emile Zola published his "J'Accuse" letter listing the eight politicians and military personnel (including the President of the Republic) whom he held responsible for the scapegoat, anti-Semitic conviction of Captain Dreyfus for treason three years earlier. This set in motion a chain of events resulting in Dreyfus's exoneration and Zola's exile -- some say his death. Read more...

London Under Sail

January 12: On this day in 1876 Jack London was born, and on this day in 1893, London's seventeenth birthday, he signed on for an eight-month stint as deckhand aboard a San Francisco sealer heading for the China Seas. The sealing voyage gave London his first published story and later his second best-seller (The Sea Wolf, 1904), but it is those first seventeen years, taken all in all, which put the stamp on London's remarkable life. Read more...

Paton's Beloved Country

January 11: On this day in 1903, novelist and reformer Alan Paton was born in South Africa. The Principal of a Johannesburg reformatory, Paton wrote Cry, the Beloved Country while on an international tour of reform schools, and fondly remembering his homeland: "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it...." Read more...

The Poetries of Kenneth Patchen

January 8: On this day in 1911 Kenneth Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio. Some remember Patchen for his crossover experiments in art-poetry and jazz-poetry; some for his politics and protest poems; still others for his love poems, most of these written to his wife Miriam, who nursed Patchen through a decades-long spinal injury that kept him more or less constantly in pain and in bed for his last twelve years. Read more...

The Suicide of John Berryman

January 7: On this day in 1972 American poet John Berryman committed suicide at the age of fifty-seven. His 77 Dream Songs won the 1964 Pulitzer, and the writing of some 300 more over the next eight years earned Berryman international fame, but his personal problems had kept pace. The most destructive and persistent of these was alcohol; he started drinking again two days before jumping from Minneapolis's Washington Avenue Bridge. Read more...

“The Mother of English Fiction”

January 6: Fanny Burney died on this day in 1840. Burney was one of the best-selling writers of the late eighteenth century, and for Virginia Woolf' she is “the mother of English fiction.” If her novels are not now widely read beyond the university curriculum, her diaries, journals and letters retain their reputation as not only an invaluable record of her day but lively reading -- from one who scoffed that Boswell, the era’s more famous diarist, was merely Johnson’s “memorandummer.” Read more...

Kerr & Culture Hour

January 5: The American playwright and humorist Jean Kerr died on this day in 2003. Kerr's midcentury popularity put her on the cover of Time in 1961, just after her bestselling Please Don't Eat the Daisies had been adapted for the movies, and as her romantic comedy Mary, Mary was just starting its record-setting 33-month run on Broadway. Read more...

Camus and The First Man

January 4: Fifty years ago today Albert Camus was killed in a car crash at the age of forty-seven. Both The Stranger and the “philosophical prose-poem” The Myth of Sisyphus were published in 1942; these and subsequent works elevated Camus to cult status, and left him feeling as if sentenced to “the center of a glaring light.” He had hoped that his incomplete autobiographical novel The First Man, found at the site of the car crash, would be his most deserving book. Read more...

“To-day Unbind the Captive”

January 1: Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law on this day in 1863, and on the afternoon of the same day, at Boston’s Music Hall, Ralph Waldo Emerson read his commemorative poem “Boston Hymn,” the reading a prologue to an afternoon of music celebrating the long awaited event. Read more...

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).