Displaying articles for: October 2010

Pound in Rapallo

November 1: Ezra Pound died on this day in 1972, two days after his eighty-seventh birthday. During his last fourteen years in Rapallo, Italy, Pound did little writing and eventually little speaking, declining most interviews and conversations: "I know nothing at all…. I have even forgotten the name of that Greek philosopher who said that nothing exists, and even if it did exist, it would be unknowable, and if it were knowable, it would be incommunicable."

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Welles & the Martians

October 30: On this day in 1938, the Orson Welles-Howard Koch-John Houseman radio adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel, The War of the Worlds aired—the famous hoax eye-witness account of "…they look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large, large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it…. Ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable…."

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Burying Boswell

October 29: On this day in 1795 James Boswell died, aged fifty-four. Even without his two-decade relationship to Samuel Johnson, Boswell would have a secure place in literary history. This is due to the remarkable stash of journals, letters, and personal papers which he kept, and which his friends and relatives kept from the world. Discovered in the 1920s and '30s, the journals were eventually published in fourteen volumes, with one of them now a million-seller.

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Beckett's Krapp

October 28: On this day in 1958 Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape was first performed. The play was one of the author's favorite works, though he knew that it was not likely to achieve the fame of Waiting for Godot and Endgame: "It will be like the little heart of an artichoke served before the tripes with excrement of Hamm and Clov. People will say: good gracious, there is blood circulating in the old man's veins after all, one would never have believed it; he must be getting old."

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Child Dylan

October 27: Dylan Thomas was born on this day in 1914 in Swansea, South Wales. The family was poor, but Thomas was no Welsh pit-boy: he had a poet-Uncle, a schoolteacher-father with a full library, and elocution lessons for his local accent. But he was also sickly and unenthusiastic about school, and he would often stay home with real or faked illness, or be allowed to run his "heedless ways" on his Aunt's tumble-down Fern Hill farm, "green and golden" and truant.

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Enrolling the Ugly Duckling

October 26: On this day in 1822 seventeen-year-old Hans Christian Andersen enrolled in school, taking his place in a classroom of eleven-year-olds. Andersen's diaries reflect his lifelong torment over his school days—looming tests, mocking laughter, a headmaster "in front of whom I stood miserable and awkward"; commentators regard the events as inspiration for many of the later folk tales.

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Tennyson's "Light Brigade"

October 25: On this day in 1854 one of the most famous battles of military history was fought at Balaclava, in the Crimea. Tennyson wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" after reading reports of the disaster five weeks later, composing the poem while raking leaves and writing it out in a few minutes; at Tennyson's funeral decades later, survivors of Balaclava lined the aisles.

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Zane Grey's Curve

October 23: On this day in 1939, Zane Grey died. Grey was a dentist and a semi-pro baseball pitcher before he was a writer. His most dangerous frontier adventure may have been the time in Baltimore, Ohio when he took time off from pulling teeth to pitch for the local squad: "Game called. Nine to nothing, favor Jacktown. Baltimore's ringer pitcher throws a crooked ball!"

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Thoreau's Journal

October 22: Henry David Thoreau began his journal on this day in 1837. He kept at it for the next quarter-century—forty-seven manuscript volumes, regarded by some as his most important writing. The journal contains reflections upon national and international events—the hanging of John Brown, for example—but we read mostly of the woods, the seasons, and Thoreau's daily comings and goings, all spiced with his large and small observations.

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Nobel's Puzzling Prizes

October 21: Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm on this day in 1833. The most famous name in philanthropy said that he felt excluded by work and temperament from "love, happiness, joy, pulsating life, caring and being cared for, caressing and being caressed," and that the idea of friendship should be placed "at the cloudy bottom of fleeing illusions or attached to the clattering sound of collected coins."

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Buchwald in Paris

October 20: The American humorist Art Buchwald was born on this day in 1925. In his twenties, Buchwald dropped out of college and bought a one-way ticket to Paris, where he managed to turn his lifestyle into the popular column, "Paris After Dark," published in the European edition of the New York Herald Tribune for thirteen years. In I'll Always Have Paris, his second, 1996 volume of memoirs, Buchwald amusingly recalls going to a reading at a Left Bank bookstore with Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, "two of the funniest people in Paris in the early fifties."

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The Death of Dean Swift

October 19: On this day in 1745 Jonathan Swift died at the age of seventy-eight. Swift spent his last years in poor physical and mental health, his senile dementia eventually so incapacitating that most friends stayed away in pity or fear—more or less as predicted fourteen years earlier: "Yet thus, methinks, I hear 'em speak: 'See, how the Dean begins to break! / Poor gentleman, he droops apace! / You plainly find it in his face….'"

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Seagull Flops

October 18: On this day in 1896 Anton Chekhov's The Seagull opened in St. Petersburg. This is the first-written of Chekhov's masterpieces, and though now regarded as one of the most influential plays in modern drama, its opening night was a flop of career-ending proportions: "Not if I live to be seven hundred," Chekhov vowed, "will I write another play."

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Charlotte & the Critics

October 16: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was published on this day in 1847. It was a fast seller at the bookshops, requiring a second edition within a few months. This gave occasion for Brontë's now-famous "Preface to the Second Edition," in which she hits back at those reviewers who had attacked the author for daring "to trample upon customs established by our forefathers, and long destined to shed glory upon our domestic circles."

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Kerouac's Dharma Bums

October 15: Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums was published on this day in 1958. Kerouac began to study Buddhism in the early 50s; his novel opens with its autobiographical hero, Ray Smith, hopping a freight train, quoting from the Diamond Sutra, and almost believing "that I was an oldtime bhikku in modern clothes wandering the world … in order to turn the wheel of the True Meaning, or Dharma, and gain merit for myself as a future Buddha."

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Mansfield's Notebooks

October 14: Katherine Mansfield was born on this day in 1888. Like those of Keats and Chekhov, who also died young of tuberculosis, Mansfield's notebooks, journals, and letters are prized almost as highly as her other writing. Many of her last entries, including the one made on her last birthday, vigorously resist "the idea that Life must be a lesser thing than we were capable of imagining it to be."

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Lowell in Jail

October 13: On this day in 1943 Robert Lowell entered New York City's West Street Jail for draft evasion. The twenty-six-year-old poet was barely published at this point, but because he came from a venerated Boston family the event made headline news. It also inspired "Memories of West Street and Lepke," a central poem of Life Studies, the 1959 collection regarded by many as the most important book of American poetry in the second half of the twentieth century.

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Ann Petry's The Street

October 12: Ann Petry was born on this day in 1908. Her first, record-breaking novel, The Street, describes the desperate and losing battle which a single, working mother in Harlem wages against petty crime, predatory men, and systemic racism: "Streets like the one she lived on were no accident. They were the North's lynch mobs, she thought bitterly; the method the big cities used to keep Negroes in their place."

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Elmore Leonard, Bad Guys

October 11: On this day in 1925 Elmore Leonard was born. Leonard has said that his goal as a writer is not to be one: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." And his bad guys also break the mold: "I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they're going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank."

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Poe's Annabel Lee

October 9: On this day in 1849, the New York Daily Tribune published Edgar Allan Poe's last poem, "Annabel Lee." Poe had died two days earlier from mysterious causes and in odd circumstances, even for him—theories include political thugs, rabies, brain lesion, or the most likely, a final binge either chosen or forced upon him by brothers of his newly-betrothed.

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Solzhenitsyn's Big Fist

October 8: On this day in 1970, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize. In his 1975 memoir, The Oak and the Calf, Solzhenitsyn describes his failed attempt to use his Nobel Prize as a knock-out blow to Soviet repression. "During my time in the camps," he writes, "I had got to know the enemies of the human race quite well: they respect the big fist and nothing else; the harder you slug them, the safer you will be."

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Faulkner's Splendid Failure

October 7: On this day in 1929, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury was published. Early reviewers compared it to Dostoevsky and Euripides, but a first printing of 1,789 copies lasted for a year and a half. Even this was more than Faulkner expected, and he maintained his folksy, self-deprecating view that the book was a "splendid failure" even after worldwide fame and the Nobel.

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Beach, Hemingway & Boxing

October 6: Sylvia Beach died on this day in 1962. Her memoir Shakespeare and Company contains a series of charming anecdotes about life at her Parisian bookstore, hardly a day going by there without one famous modernist or another showing up to browse or chat. Hemingway was "My Best Customer" because he actually bought books instead of just thumbing them, and because he tutored Beach in a range of sporting events. "Our studies began with boxing," writes Beach….

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Havel's Castle

October 5: Vaclav Havel was born on this day in 1936 in Prague. In To the Castle and Back, his 2007 memoir-meditation on his decades in politics, Havel cautions that "the old European disease, which is the tendency to make compromises with evil," can still spread easily. His 1965 black comedy The Memorandum, which combines Orwellian double-speak and Hellerian Catch-22s with Kafka's Castle, says much the same.

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Tyndale's Bible

October 4: On this day in 1535 the first complete English Bible was printed, using translations by William Tyndale and his disciple, Miles Coverdale. Tyndale was in confinement in England when the first copies of his Bible rolled off the press in Europe, finally captured by those authorities who had condemned as a capital crime his mission to bring a pocket-size Bible within reach of every "boye that dryveth the plough."

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Greene, Greeneland

October 2: On this day in 1904 Graham Greene was born. According to biographer Norman Sherry, Greene's worldview was formed primarily from the torment he suffered at his English boarding school. This caused Greene to run away, attempt suicide, and enter psychoanalysis; eventually, it shaped the fictional "Greeneland" in which Greene's fringe-dwellers, wanderers, secret agents, and tortured souls struggle to live.

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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).