Displaying articles for: January 2013

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 1,000 letters a day; the appeal still stands, and the work on the peculiar words -- for example, "teledildonics" (computer sex) -- continues.

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Mailer Onstage

January 31: Norman Mailer was born on this day in 1923. The Naked and the Dead, Mailer's first novel, was published just a few days after he turned twenty-five, incited the first controversy of his long, often belligerent career. The outrage and praise for the book immediately catapulted Mailer to a celebrity status that he often embraced and sometimes claimed to regret.

 

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"Pardon My Strange Interlude"

January 30: Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude opened on Broadway on this day in 1928. Despite being over four hours long and packed with stream-of-consciousness soliloquies, the play ran for over a year, won O'Neill his third Pulitzer, and crowned the decade of hits that earned him the 1936 Nobel Prize. But Strange Interlude also provoked parody -- the Marx Brothers' Animal Crackers, which packed them in just down the street from O'Neill's play.

 

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The Beggar's Opera

January 29: On this day in 1728 John Gay's The Beggar's Opera opened in London. The musical's satire and singability made it a first-run sellout, a cultural craze across England, the most produced play of the eighteenth century, and the original "ballad opera," first in the Gilbert and Sullivan line. In 1750 it became the first documented musical performed in New York; it ran for months, indicating that its message played well in pre-Revolutionary America.

 

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Two Centuries of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

January 28: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is two hundred years old today. The first reviewers judged it "very superior … in the delineation of domestic scenes"; Annabella Milbanke, later Lady Byron and embroiled in some notorious domestic scenes of her own, praised it for not stooping to "any of the common resources of novel writers, no drownings, no conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs and parrots…."

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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.

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"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 Highland lassies/wee dram themes to keep this evening going until well past when it shouldn't.

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California Dreamin'

January 24: James W. Marshall found gold near Sacramento on this day in 1848, the discovery setting off the California Gold Rush. Marshall's initial find was serendipitous, and he tried to act cautiously and quietly upon it; but soon, says historian H. W. Brands in The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, the area witnessed the "most astonishing mass movement of peoples since the Crusades."

 

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Remembering Rorke's Drift

January 23: The Battle of Rorke's Drift, the most famous encounter of the Anglo-Zulu War, concluded on this day in 1879, a garrison of 150 British soldiers defeating some 4,000 Zulu warriors. Viewed by the winning side as a demonstration of British know-how and pluck, the legendary battle was immediately iconized in popular paintings and commemorative products; the recent Zulu memorial features a mound of fallen warriors' shields, guarded by a wary leopard.

 

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Wilder, Miller, Main Street

January 22: On this day, fifteen years apart, Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953) and Thornton Wilder's Our Town (1938) premiered. Although both were poorly reviewed to start, Miller's play would win a Tony, Wilder's a Pulitzer; and both would become not only classics of American theater but classic opposing statements about life in small-town America.

 

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Five Books for Martin Luther King Day

January 21: As the nation commemorates the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a look at some reading to illuminate the life of an American icon.

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

January 19: The crime-noir writer Patricia Highsmith was born on this day in 1921. Film adaptations of books like The Talented Mr. Ripley  and Strangers on a Train have kept several of her books popular. 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."

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Best of Bulwer-Lytton

January 18: The novelist-historian Edward George Bulwer-Lytton died on this day in 1873. Although widely read in Victorian England, Bulwer-Lytton is now mostly known for his influence upon other writers. Most famously, he told Dickens that his proposed ending to Great Expectations was too bleak, whereupon Dickens opted for a happier ending. Most infamously, Bulwer-Lytton holds a prestigious place in the history of literary parody for inspiring the Bad Fiction Contest.

 

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Mind-Snatching Sitcoms

January 17: American sitcom television hit an early milestone on this day in 1949 with the debut of The Goldbergs, about an immigrant Jewish family living in the Bronx. If the "progenitor of every overtly ethnic show that has come after it," The Goldbergs is also on the historical record for a different sort of mold making, and breaking: it featured one of the most successful stars of early television, a woman opposite to the stereotypical wife-mother she portrayed on screen.

 

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Sempre Susan

January 16: Susan Sontag was born on this day in 1933. Sontag became one of the most quoted cultural critics of her generation and the "dark lady of American letters"; the recent memoir Sempre Susan reinforces Sontag's unyielding, sometimes overpowering sense of herself and her role, describing a woman with "outsize needs" who "practically lived in a state of indignation."

 

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Hawthorne's "Veil"

January 15: Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil" was first published on this day in 1836. Hawthorne was thirty-one at the time and virtually unknown; nor did the now-famous story help much. Looking back fifteen years later, after a measure of success with The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne recollected a two-decade apprenticeship during which he wrote with no "reasonable prospect of reputation or profit" and became "the obscurest man of letters in America."

 

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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.

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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 bestseller (The Sea Wolf, 1904), but it is those first seventeen years, taken all in all, that put the stamp on London's remarkable life.

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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...."

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Spindletop, Texas, America

January 10: The American oil industry was gush-started on this day in 1901 when a well on Spindletop Hill in southeastern Texas suddenly erupted. A description of the fabled moment begins The Big Rich, Bryan Burrough's 2009 account of "The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes"; opposite to Burrough's story of oil as the hero in a "big, sprawling American epic" are books such as Private Empire, an exposé of "ExxonMobil and American Power."

 

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Second Sex, Second Birth

January 9: Simone de Beauvoir was born on this day in 1908, and on this day in 1949, her forty-first birthday, she delivered Volume One of The Second Sex to her publisher. In her Introduction, de Beauvoir speaks of writing The Second Sex as a kind of second birth, if not an act of self-conception born of the need to "explain myself to myself."

 

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Debt Zero

January 8: The United States national debt was reduced to zero on this day in 1835, for the first and only time. Debt elimination became a special passion for Andrew Jackson when he took over the presidency in 1829; his speedy accomplishment of his goal drew widespread praise, and some used the opportunity to recall his most famous previous accomplishment -- his victory as commander at the decisive Battle of New Orleans, on this day in 1815.

 

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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.

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Dumas as Musketeer

January 5: On this day in 1825 twenty-three-year-old Alexandre Dumas (Sr.) embarked on his self-proclaimed "career as a romantic" by fighting his first duel. Dumas's memoirs are about as reliable as his historical fiction, but they tell the pants story in glorious, comedy-of-errors detail, and prepare us for some of the escapades in The Three Musketeers.

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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.

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Apple Core

January 3: Apple was incorporated on this day in 1977. Apple's journey from the garage to "insanely great" has inspired books with two kinds of narratives. Though both have the same hero and a happy-ending plotline, one type of book describes Steve Jobs as an inimitable, Napoleonic genius, while the other type describes the Jobs-based principles any start-up might use for its own march to market-share dominance.

 

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I, Asimov

January 2: Isaac Asimov was born in Russia on this day in 1920. Or so he decided: the family emigrated to America when Asimov was three, and with no birth records available and no wish to return to Russia to look for them, the author selected January 2 as a likely date. For many of Asimov's fans and biographers, his uncertain birthday seems appropriate, given the time-traveling prescience of his work.

 

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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).