Displaying articles for: November 2012

The Gumshoe and the Playboy

December 1: Woody Allen was born on this day in 1935, and Playboy began publishing on this day in 1953. The reader that Hugh Hefner said he wanted might have stepped out of Allen’s “The Whore of Mensa,” in which hardboiled detective Kaiser Lupowitz goes undercover, looking for intellectual prostitutes: “Suppose I wanted Noam Chomsky explained to me by two girls?...”

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Wilde & the Wallpaper

November 30: Oscar Wilde died on this day in 1900, in the nick of time: “If another century began and I was still alive, it would really be more than the English could stand.” During his three and a half years after prison, the only writing Wilde completed was The Ballad of Reading Goal, and though he maintained his ability to turn a phrase as he roamed Europe over these last years, looking for companionship or handouts, most of his comments are darkly shaded.

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Levi, Lucania, Rome

November 29: Carlo Levi, the Italian writer, painter, doctor and politician, was born on this day in 1902. Levi's midcentury fame came from Christ Stopped at Eboli, his compassionate record of an impoverished region and a peasant class forgotten by those at the highest levels: "Christ never came this far, nor did time, nor the individual soul, nor hope…." Fleeting Rome, a recently published collection of Levi's miscellaneous writings, is a contrasting celebration of the city's spill-over life.

 

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The Opry & the Air Castle

November 28: The Grand Ole Opry, the world's longest-running live radio show, had its start on this day in 1925 when the new radio director at Nashville's WSM, searching for a wider audience, invited an old-timer to play some fiddle tunes and provoked a "good-natured riot" of enthusiasm. The story of the Opry is a chapter in the history of WSM, the "Air Castle of the South," and the larger history of American radio.

 

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Burns in the City

November 27: On this day in 1786 twenty-seven-year-old Robert Burns left the family farm for his first, legendary trip to Edinburgh, a two-day ride on a borrowed pony. Apart from finding a publisher for a second edition of his first book of poems, Burns hoped to escape a difficult romantic situation at home, to enjoy city society, and to test his powers -- whether as poet, drinker or lover -- against it. According to all accounts, he made an overwhelming impression in all areas.

 

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Faulkner Flying High

November 26: On this day in 1919, twenty-two-year-old William Faulkner published his first prose, a short story about an air force cadet's first solo flight. “Landing in Luck” is a lighthearted and possibly autobiographical tale: Faulkner’s time in the Canadian Air Force is clouded by bourbon and other embellishments, and his hero is the “Biggest liar in the R.A.F.”

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Darwin, God & Science

November 24: Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published on this day in 1859. Envisioning an eventual career in the Church, Darwin had boarded the Beagle on the belief that “the pursuit of Natural History...is very suitable to a clergyman,” and part of the ship’s mission, eventually abandoned, had been to spread the Word.

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"Kill a Man as Kill a Good Book"

November 23: On this day in 1644 John Milton published his pamphlet, Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, to the Parliament of England. Having just returned from a visit to the imprisoned Galileo, Milton’s famous metaphor equating murder and censorship was in earnest, and part of his larger argument against establishing any sort of inquisition, sacred or secular.

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Kennedy & Conspiracy

November 22: John F. Kennedy was assassinated on this day in 1963. The upcoming fiftieth anniversary has prompted another wave of conspiracy books, giving further indication that "the assassination was never fully digested by the generation that lived through it." But the JFK assassination has no generational boundaries, says Jonathan Kay in Among the Truthers, and it has helped to spawn "the flourishing and variegated conspiracist subcultures of later decades."

 

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Cole & Ella

November 21: Cole Porter's Anything Goes opened on Broadway on this day in 1934; on the same evening, at a very different venue, seventeen-year-old Ella Fitzgerald had her legendary debut, winning one of the first Amateur Night competitions at Harlem's Apollo Theater. Fitzgerald was a reform school runaway at the time; as it would do for many, the Apollo helped turn her into a star.

 

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Nazis at Nuremberg

November 20: The Nuremberg Trials, a series of thirteen separate legal actions before Allied military tribunals, began on this day in 1945. The Trial of Major War Criminals condemned all but a few of the two dozen defendants to lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty. Among the memoirs by those at Nuremberg are two books written by men with unique vantage points, in that they had regular contact with the defendants during the months of trial preparation and testimony.

 

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Wobbling On

November 19: The labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill was executed on this day in 1915, having been found guilty of murder in a controversial, internationally reported trial. As Hill and his fellow Wobblies (International Workers of the World) saw it, he was scapegoated for his unionizing activities; most commentators conclude that Hill was innocent, or at the very least convicted on shoddy evidence.

 

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Sylvia Beach and Company

November 17: On this day in 1919 American expatriate Sylvia Beach opened her bookshop-library, Shakespeare and Company, in the Left Bank section of Paris, where it became an intellectual and social center for the international literary community throughout the next decades. As Beach's determination to publish Joyce's Ulysses made her bookshop famous, it seems fitting that it was her refusal to sell her last copy of Finnegans Wake which finally caused her doors to close….

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The Beat Gen

November 16: John Clellon Holmes published “This is the Beat Generation” in The New York Times Magazine on this day in 1952. His article contains the first print use of the term “Beat Generation,” and his novel Go, published earlier that year, is regarded as the first Beat novel. On this day seven years later, Jack Kerouac appeared on The Steve Allen Show, introduced as the author of On the Road and “the embodiment of the Beat Generation.”

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Unlocking the Unabomber

November 15: The FBI began their seventeen-year hunt for Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, on this day in 1979, following a failed bomb aboard an American Airlines flight. Finding that two letter bombs had recently exploded at Northwestern University, the FBI formed their Unabom Task Force -- "Un" for universities, "a" for airlines, "bom" for bomb. The larger search for the motives behind Kaczynski's terror campaign leads us from the Unabom acronym to the CIA cryptonym MKUltra and to Harvard.

 

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Bly, Bisland & Verne

November 14: Nellie Bly (Elizabeth Jane Cochrane) departed on her record-setting, world-circling trip on this day in 1889, besting Jules Verne's fictional eighty-day journey by more than seven days. Bly raced not only the calendar but another woman, also sent round the world by her employer, departing on the same day as Bly (though in the opposite direction) and arriving back in New York four days behind her.

 

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Remembrance Wall

November 13: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. was dedicated thirty years ago today. The controversy surrounding Maya Lin's "anti-monument" has turned to praise on all sides, and the Wall has not only become the most visited war memorial in the United States but "bequeathed to us a therapeutic model of commemoration that has become the new common sense of our era."

 

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New England Coptic

November 12: Emily Dickinson’s Poems, her first posthumous collection, appeared on this day in 1890, Some praised “a power, a vision that enthralls”; many others expressed regret for a mind “that has suffered some obscure lesion,” capable only of “a farrago of illiterate and uneducated sentiment,” in language that “is no more English than it is Coptic.”

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Prophets of the Road

November 10: Ken Kesey died on this day in 2001. The author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the ringleader of the Merry Pranksters, whose exploits on a psychedelically decorated bus were chronicled in Tom Wolfe's classic The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was buried on his Oregon farm, in a homemade pine box sprayed in Day-Glo, beneath a headstone inscribed with “Sparks Fly Upwards” (from the Book of Job: “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upwards”). The coffin received an assortment of blessings and provisions.

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Kertész, Kristallnacht

November 9: The Nazis' infamous Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, occurred on this day in 1938 -- the ninth birthday of the Hungarian Holocaust writer and Nobel winner, Imre Kertész. Seen as a point of no return by historians of the Holocaust, the nightlong pogrom left streets throughout Germany and parts of Austria littered with glass from thousands of Jewish shops, schools, and synagogues, the destruction carried out by civilians and paramilitary groups while police stood by.

 

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Galloping Gellhorn

November 8: Martha Gellhorn was born on this day in 1908. Ernest Hemingway, married to Gellhorn for five off-and-on years, complainingly described her as a racehorse with two speeds, galloping away and asleep. Gellhorn stayed put long enough to write eighteen books, most of them reflecting the galloping that made her famous -- worldwide travel and a half century of war reporting, from the Spanish Civil War to the U.S. invasion of Panama.

 

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Camus in Algeria

November 7: Albert Camus was born in Mondovi, Algeria, on this day in 1913. It will be interesting to see if Camus receives any recognition in Algeria in his upcoming centenary year. Because of his ambivalence about independence, Camus is still a controversial topic in his homeland, and few of the Algerian memorials erected to Camus have survived the lingering anticolonial anger.

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Heisting Russia

November 6: The Bolsheviks, led by forty-seven-year-old Vladimir Lenin, took control of Russia on this day in 1917. Despite the ensuing five years of civil war, the Bolsheviks recognized that their greatest obstacles would be more economic than military or ideological, and they immediately began to obey Marx's call to "expropriate the expropriators," laundering gold bullion from the state banks, seizing rubles from private bank accounts, and fencing national treasures on the international market.

 

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James Clerk Maxwell, Physicist-Poet

November 5: The Scottish physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell died on this day in 1879. Maxwell’s work in physics was "the most profound and most fruitful…since the time of Newton" (Albert Einstein). Maxwell was also something of an original as a poet in a crossover genre: "Gin a body meet a body / Flyin' through the air. / Gin a body hit a body, / Will it fly? And where?..."

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Nixon & the Silent Majority

November 3: President Richard Nixon made his "Silent Majority" speech on this day in 1969, hoping to rally support for his approach to the war in Vietnam and stem the antiwar protests sweeping the nation. Pundits rank the speech as the most effective of Nixon's presidency, and most biographies include the photo of Nixon at his desk behind piles of congratulatory mail -- some 80,000 supportive letters and telegrams -- as testimony of his popularity, though also fortune's wheel.

 

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Boone, Byron, Coleridge & Pantisocracy

November 2: On this day in 1734 Daniel Boone was born, becoming an inspiration for not just the romantic legends but the Romantic poets. Byron's Don Juan imagines Boone as "happiest amongst mortals anywhere," if not as Adam in Eden. Coleridge took this vision a few steps (or a continent) further: his imagination fired by Boone, Rousseau and the ideals of the French Revolution, he planned a "pantisocratic" commune in America.

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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.