Displaying articles for: October 2011

Bartleby & Melville

November 1: Herman Melville’s "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" appeared on this day in 1853. While allowing that Melville was as unusual and unknowable as his scrivener, Andrew Delbanco wonders if "Bartleby" reflects Melville’s own fall into obscurity and withdrawal.

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The Keats Brothers

October 31: John Keats was born on this day in 1795. The most recent biography of Keats, Denise Gigante’s The Keats Brothers (2011), is based on his close relationship to his next-eldest brother, George. George and his young wife immigrated to America in 1818; in his letters, Keats hammers out his belief, based on experience, that "the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways."

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Raleigh in El Dorado

October 29: On this day in 1618, English adventurer, courtier, soldier, historian, and poet Sir Walter Raleigh was executed. Whether he threw down his legendary cloak for his queen or not, "the last Elizabethan" lived and died with flair, and on the main stage. His execution came after thirteen years in the Tower, after he had failed for the second time to find the fabled El Dorado.

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Swift Among the Yahoos

October 28: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels was published on this day in 1726, selling out within the week and provoking an enduring debate. Swift clearly enjoyed rebutting those "so bold as to think my book of travels a mere fiction out of mine own brain" and those who disputed his portrait of the contemptible, all-too-English Yahoos.

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What Can't Happen Here

October 27: On this day in 1936 Sinclair Lewis's play It Can't Happen Here, adapted from his novel published the previous year, opened simultaneously in twenty-one theaters across the U.S. In Lewis's satiric story, what couldn't happen but did was the surprisingly easy rise of a folksy, conservative, regional politician to fascist dictator of the nation -- something that can indeed happen here, say some recent commentators.

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Overturning Tombstone

October 26: The legendary shootout at the OK Corral occurred 130 years ago today in Tombstone, Arizona, the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday killing or running off the Clanton-McLaury gang in a thirty-second blaze of gunfire. Months of trials and vendetta killings followed, and the gunfight was soon iconic, a frame for most portraits of the Wild West. But not so fast, pardner….

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Searching for Brautigan

October 25: On this day in 1984 Richard Brautigan was found dead in his California home, a suicide some weeks earlier. Brautigan's fame was based on the 1967 bestseller Trout Fishing in America, but he left behind over twenty books and a cult following. Memoirs by his daughter and few friends portray a man both engaging and disturbed, his personality a dark puzzle.

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Of Poodles & Blondes

October 24: On this day in 1958, Raymond Chandler began his last novel, the never-completed (by him) Poodle Springs. This was Chandler's name for Palm Springs, where "every third elegant creature you see has at least one poodle" and where Philip Marlowe has, against all experience and odds, chosen to settle down.

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A Lessing Lesson

October 22: Doris Lessing was born on this day in 1919. In awarding her the 2007 Nobel Prize, the Swedish Academy described Lessing as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny." They must have had a preview of her Acceptance Speech, which begins with a have vs. have-not parable based on her trip back home to Zimbabwe in the early eighties.

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Hemingway, Gellhorn, Spain

October 21: Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls was published on this day in 1940, selling a half million copies in its first six months. Hemingway said that the writing of the novel cost him his second marriage, to Pauline Pfeiffer. The biographies and memoirs concur, though perhaps it was not the writing that led to the breakup but the research -- covering the Spanish Civil War with fellow correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

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Poohed Out

October 20: On this day in 1928, under her New Yorker pen name Constant Reader, Dorothy Parker reviewed A. A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, with predictable and now legendary results: "And it is that word 'hummy,' my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

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Surrendering to Smiley

October 19: John le Carré (David Cornwell) turns eighty today. In a 2010 speech, the reticent le Carré highlighted his brief career in espionage -- scouting for Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, reporting from Germany on the evening the Russians put up "Checkpoint Charlie" in Berlin -- and confessed failure in his attempts to write a novel without George Smiley, his signature character.

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Hughes & Plath

October 18: "The Offers," the last poem published by Ted Hughes, appeared in the London Sunday Times on this day in 1998, ten days before his death. In Her Husband (2003), a study of the Hughes-Plath marriage, Diane Middlebrook makes a case for "The Offers" being the most important poem written by the post-Plath Hughes -- "the turning point in his creative life," a poem that "sends a pulse of light back through every page" he wrote after her suicide, or about it.

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West & Perelman

October 17: Nathanael West was born on this day in 1903, and S. J. Perelman, West's brother-in-law, died on this day in 1979. In The Hindsight Saga, his uncompleted autobiography, Perelman tells of the period in the early thirties when West was a manager at New York's Sutton Hotel, then a long-stay residence for the impoverished and for struggling young writers like Perelman, Lillian Hellman, and Dashiell Hammett.

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White's Web

October 15: On this day in 1952, E. B. White's Charlotte's Web was published. Doubts and self-deprecations were basic elements of White's winning style, and he undervalued his children's classic spectacularly. Figuring that his "hymn to the barn" would be too low-key for midcentury tastes, he casually agreed to place his royalties above $7,500 a year in a tax shelter with his publisher—and then, twenty-five years later, received a check for half a million dollars.

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The World of Was

October 14: E. E. Cummings was born on this day in 1894, and his poetry collection 1 x 1 was published on this day in 1944. An individualist in spirit and an original in verse form, Cummings was also a political skeptic—as driven home by Eimi: A Journey Through Soviet Russia. Part travelogue and part prose-poem, Eimi describes the 1931 trip Cummings took to "a world of Was—the subhuman communist superstate."

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Kingsley in Africa

October 13: The Victorian scientist-adventurer Mary Kingsley was born on this day in 1862. Kingsley's 1897 bestseller, Travels in West Africa, describes her trips to the region in search of new animal species and old tribal customs -- "fish and fetish," as she put it. Kingsley became a popular draw on the lecture circuit in England, speaking as a woman who defied gender expectations and as an advocate for change in England's policies towards Africa.

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After 1492

October 12: Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World on this day in 1492, his ten-week voyage touching down in the Bahamas and transforming the planet: "It put the Old World in touch with the New and united formerly sundered civilizations in conflict, commerce, contagion, and cultural exchange" (Felipe Fernández-Armesto, 1492: The Year the World Began).

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Woolf, Sackville-West, Orlando

October 11: Virginia Woolf's Orlando was published on this day in 1928. Woolf's novel/biography borrowed from a long tradition of Orlando/Roland literature, but it was especially inspired by her friendship with Vita Sackville-West. A photo of Sackville-West was included in Orlando as a portrait of the hero/heroine—Vita in the pearl necklace she liked to wear, as did Orlando (when a woman).

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Shrugging & Nodding

October 10: Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged was published on this day in 1957. Rand is regarded as "one of the first American writers to celebrate the creative possibilities of modern capitalism," and Atlas Shrugged is considered her best and most philosophically representative novel, sure to cause a headshake in most readers—the pro-Rands up-and-down, the anti-Rands side-to-side.

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Synge's Ireland

October 8: John Millington Synge's one-act play The Shadow of the Glen premiered on this day in 1903 in Dublin. This was Synge's first professional production, the beginning of his short and controversial career. The outrage over Synge's portrait of rural Irish life in Shadow of the Glen was topped the next year by the outrage over his Riders to the Sea; the riots over The Playboy of the Western World came three years after that.

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Howl at Six

October 7: The legendary first reading of Allen Ginsberg's Howl took place at San Francisco's Six Gallery on this day in 1955. Apart from providing a kick-start to the Beat movement, the entire evening is regarded as seminal in other ways, and as delivering on the advertisements which promised a "remarkable collection of angels on one stage reading their poetry. No charge, small collection for wine, and postcards. Charming event."

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Five by Faulkner

October 6: William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying was published on this day in 1930; his Light in August was published on this day in 1932; and The Sound and the Fury was published on October 7, 1929. Adding Sartoris (the first Yoknapatawpha book, also published in 1929) and Sanctuary (1931) to the list, these five novels over three and a half years represent one of the most remarkable bursts in twentieth-century literature, and form the foundation of Faulkner's fame.

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In Praise of Yiddish

October 5: On this day in 1978 Isaac Bashevis Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, becoming the only laureate whose work is in Yiddish. In his Nobel speech, partly delivered in Yiddish, Singer praised his heritage: "There is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love…."

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Riding & Reading the Orient Express

October 4: The Orient Express began service on this day in 1883—Paris to Istanbul in 83.5 hours, barring floods or landslides. Agatha Christie may be the most famous writer to have capitalized on the train's romantic allure in books such as Murder on the Orient Express, but the list of books begins decades before her and goes for decades after.

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Vidal's Lincoln

October 3: Gore Vidal was born on this day in 1925. Vidal has almost as many books as birthdays, but at the core of his work in fiction is the Narratives of Empire series, which displays his contentious approach to American history -- for instance Lincoln (1984), intended as a "counterbalance to the folksy figure so beloved" by writers like Robert E. Sherwood, whose Pulitzer-winning play Abe Lincoln in Illinois opened on this day in 1938.

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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.