Displaying articles for: January 2012

After Shelley

February 1: Mary Shelley died on this day in 1851, and one of her biographers, the novelist and short story writer Muriel Spark, was born on this day in 1918. Mary Shelley spent eight years with her husband and then nearly three decades without him. In her biography, Child of Light, Spark portrays Shelley's widowhood as a prolonged, many-sided struggle, occasionally relieved by bouts of hope or composure.

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Raising Glasses

January 31: On this day in 1948, J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" was published in The New Yorker; in the same magazine, on the same day in 1953, Salinger's "Teddy" also appeared. "Bananafish" marks the debut of the Glasses, the fictional family that dominated Salinger's imagination and writing.

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Pound & Mussolini

January 30: On this day in 1933 Ezra Pound met with Benito Mussolini. This was a brief, one-time talk, but it would bring out the worst in Pound's personality and lead to personal disaster. It would also inspire some of the best of modern poetry -- The Pisan Cantos, winner of the 1948 Bollingen Prize.

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David Lodge, On & Off Campus

January 28: The British novelist David Lodge was born on this day in 1935. Lodge is a retired English professor, many of his satiric novels based on his twenty-seven years at the University of Birmingham. In A Man of Parts (2011), Lodge moves from academia to H. G. Wells, but he carries on with some of his campus themes: "Lodge has made something of a specialty of intellectuals behaving badly in bed," says critic Christopher Benfey in his review.

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Mordant Mordecai

January 27: Mordecai Richler was born on this day in 1931. In Richler's breakthrough novel, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, young Duddy makes avant-garde bar mitzvah films. In Barney's Version, Richler's last novel, Duddy reappears as an aging movie producer, like Barney himself. The two books frame Richler's forty-year career and reflect his ability "to become himself on the page, to let Richler be Richler -- funny, profane, defiant."

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Hale Bloomsbury

January 26: The British author and artist Kathleen Hale, one of the last living members of the Bloomsbury Group, died on this day in 2000, aged 101. Hale was secretary to Augustus John, friends with Vanessa Bell and others, and writer-illustrator for her own dozen Orlando books, these now classics of children's literature.

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Thomas at the BBC

January 25: Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas's lyrical voice play of Welsh village life, was broadcast by the BBC on this day in 1954. Richard Burton played First Voice, the role Thomas would have taken had he not died eleven weeks earlier. Often heard on the BBC, Thomas was praised by Burton as "an explosive performing force."

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Emily Enamored

January 24: On this day in 1929, Further Poems of Emily Dickinson: Withheld from Publication by Her Sister Lavinia was published. This was the seventh volume of Dickinson's poems to appear, and the provocative subtitle gives some indication of the forty-year tug-of-war over manuscripts that had consumed the Dickinson family since Emily's death.

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Walcott in the Caribbean

January 23: On this day in 1930 Derek Walcott was born on St. Lucia. Many of Walcott's two dozen collections of poems and plays are rooted in the Caribbean; in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech he scorned those who look upon Caribbean culture "as grammarians look at a dialect, as cities look on provinces and empires on their colonies…illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized."

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Hem, Agnes & Hadley

January 21: Nineteen-year-old Ernest Hemingway returned to the United States on this day in 1919, heading home to recuperate from wounds suffered on the Italian Front. He would receive another war wound six weeks later, when a Dear John letter arrived from his nurse in Italy, Agnes von Kurowsky; this was healed by his new relationship with Hadley Richardson, the two "preconceived as a pair by the Maker."

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Catch & Release

January 20: The Iran Hostage Crisis ended on this day in 1981, and Terry Waite's captivity began on this day in 1987. Waite tells his own, emotional story in Taken in Trust; Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah (2006) is the definitive chronicle of the larger ordeal in Iran, while Robert Wright's Our Man in Tehran tells the side story of Ken Taylor, the "Scarlet Pimpernel" of the "Canadian Caper" in which six American diplomats were covertly rescued.

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Barnes-Storm

January 19: Julian Barnes was born on this day in 1946. When in his mid-thirties Barnes was featured in Granta magazine's "Best of Young British Fiction" issue. Flaubert's Parrot was published the very next year, and some two dozen books have followed, most recently The Sense of an Ending, winner of the 2011 Booker Prize.

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In Praise of Parody

January 18: Edward Bulwer-Lytton died on this day in 1873, and Rudyard Kipling died on this day in 1936. To some of his contemporaries, Kipling was a target for parody; Bulwer-Lytton's "It was a dark and stormy night...," the rambling wreck of a first sentence that begins his novel Paul Clifford, continues to inspire today's budding parodists.

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Twain's Ambition

January 17: Mark Twain published "The Boy's Ambition" in the Atlantic Monthly on this day in 1875. Later collected in book form as Life on the Mississippi, this was the first installment in his "Old Times on the Mississippi" series. As the magazine series appeared a year before Tom Sawyer, this first article marks the debut of the setting and river-boy persona that made Twain famous.

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Kennedy, Albany

January 16: William Kennedy was born on this day in 1928 in Albany, New York. Kennedy's Albany Cycle, now eight novels long, reflects his long and loving relationship with his hometown: "I once thought I loathed the city, left it without a sigh and thought I'd gone for good, only to come back to work and live in it and become this curious cheerleader I now seem to be."

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Bellamy's Looking Backward

January 14: Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was published on this day in 1888. The utopian fantasy became the bestselling book of the next decade, and the third-bestselling book of the nineteenth century. Over 150 Bellamy Clubs were formed across America to promote the socialist reforms described in the novel; the book also inspired several utopian experiments in communal living.

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Heilbrun & Joyce

January 13: Carolyn Heilbrun was born on this day in 1926. As a professor of English at Columbia, Heilbrun wrote a number of influential feminist studies; as "Amanda Cross," she wrote the Kate Fansler mysteries, her heroine a feminist-minded English professor. One of the Fansler books is The James Joyce Murder; Joyce died on this day in 1941.

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Kaufman, Winans & the Beats

January 12: Bob Kaufman died on this day in 1986, and A. D. Winans was born on this day in 1936. The two Beat poets were friends, though the older Kaufman was a legend on the San Francisco poetry scene by the time Winans met him there: "…his life measured in hot jazz and verse / a surreal mirage where hip cats / wailed in perfect rhythm...."

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The Wilderness Warrior

January 11: President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument on this day in 1908. Roosevelt designated seventeen other national monuments during his time in office, thereby becoming the White House's Wilderness Warrior -- to borrow the title of David Brinkley's 2009 biography.

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Jeffers in Tor House

January 10: Robinson Jeffers was born on this day in 1887. Jeffers lived on and often wrote about the California coast, and is regarded by many as "the father of environmental poetry." His Tor House in Carmel is today a popular stop for both literary travelers and environmentalists.

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Marco Polo's "Million Lies"

January 9: On this day in 1324 Marco Polo died in Venice, aged seventy. The adventurer's Travels of Marco Polo, dictated several years after his return from decades in the land of Kublai Khan, became an influential book in Renaissance Europe, though some contemporaries were so dubious of a vast and grandiose empire to the East that they published Polo's account as Il Milione, "The Million Lies."

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Hurston & the Judge

January 7: Zora Neale Hurston was born on this day in 1891. Though now sometimes reduced to a personality or a few famous quotations, or accused of writing that was merely "a minstrel-show turn that makes the white folks laugh," Hurston was an important writer in the Harlem Renaissance movement and, in her reports of southern injustice, a force for racial change.

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Edgar Doctorow

January 6: E. L. Doctorow turns eighty-one today. Named Edgar by his Poe-loving father, Doctorow says that he had decided to be a writer by age nine and had already worked through his Poe period by age twelve, but one too-successful classroom writing assignment suggests that he retained Poe's overactive imagination throughout high school.

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Eco-ing Babylon

January 5: Umberto Eco was born on this day in 1932. Eco's latest novel continues his play with literary genres and historical periods. The Prague Cemetery rewrites nineteenth-century European history as a babble of conspiracy theories, all hoaxed by one man, all attributing the century's wars and disasters to a convenient, you-pick-'em list of scapegoats, programmed to please any prejudice.

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"Without Isms"

January 4: Gao Xingjian was born on this day in 1940. Despite his exile and his antipathy toward the current Chinese government, Gao refuses to politicize his life. In "Without Isms" he asserts the "minimum human right" to march under no flag: "People are born without isms, but after birth various types of isms are foisted upon them, so that if they try to get rid of them later it is not a simple matter…."

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Hašek's Good Soldier Švejk

January 3: Thirty-nine-year-old Jaroslav Hašek died on this day in 1923, while still at work on his rollicking, episodic WWI novel, The Good Soldier Švejk. The 800-page story has humor "on a level with Cervantes and Rabelais" and an international readership, but it has a special, enduring appeal at home in the Czech Republic, where there are "Švejk-style" pubs, Švejk postal stamps, Švejk statues, and Švejk images everywhere….

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The Eccentric Parson(s)

January 2: Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould died on this day in 1924, the featured hymns at his funeral two of his most famous compositions, "Onward Christian Soldiers" and "Now the Day is Over." Baring-Gould was also a prolific English novelist and antiquarian scholar; some describe him as eccentric, until they read his biography of the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, the poet-parson of Norwenstow, Cornwall.

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Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.