Displaying articles for: December 2009

D. H. Lawrence’s “New Year’s Eve”

December 31: D. H. Lawrence described his poetry collection Look! We Have Come Through! as a connected “story, or history, or confession of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself.” In poems such as “New Year’s Eve,” Lawrence tells that story with such erotic intensity that W. H. Auden said he felt more like a Peeping Tom than a reader. Read more...

Kipling’s Permanent Contradictions

December 30: Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on this day in 1856. Although one of England's most popular writers at the turn of the century, by the time of his death in 1936 Kipling was not merely forgotten but cartooned as one incapable of moving beyond patriotic themes, or poems that rhymed; modern re-evaluations have found a more complex man and writer. Read more...

Dedalus in Flight

December 29: James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man was published on this day in 1916. The autobiographical novel ends with one of literature’s most famous proclamations of independence and aspiration: “Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” Read more...

Mencken’s Dirty Joke

December 28: On this day in 1917, H. L. Mencken's “A Neglected Anniversary,” a hoax article honoring the American invention of the bathtub, was published. Mencken's lifelong campaign to deride and derail Main Street America — the “booboisie” — had a number of easy victories, but this joke succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and in Swiftian proportions. Read more...

War & Peace

December 25: On this day in 1914 the "Christmas Truce" of WWI, tentatively and spontaneously begun the previous evening at many places along the Front, held. This meant a day of anything from conversation to gift giving to soccer games to dining out. Read more...

Wilde West

December 24: On this day in 1881 Oscar Wilde embarked for America and a year-long lecture tour on such topics as "The House Beautiful" and "The Decorative Arts." He may or may not have told a customs agent that "I have nothing to declare except my genius," but the captain did apparently express his regret at not having Wilde "lashed to the bowsprit on the windward side." This would have deprived the thousands throughout America who flocked to see, hear and target him. Read more...

Santa Anapests

December 23: On this day in 1823, the Christmas classic "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (commonly known as " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was published anonymously. Twenty years and much popularity later, Clement C. Moore claimed and was granted authorship, but the descendants of Henry Livingston Jr. have been contesting the claim for a century now — and recently, one “forensic” literary critic has offered some "smoking pen" evidence against Moore. Read more...

Beckett’s Endgames

December 22: Samuel Beckett died on this day in 1989. The disciples, hangers-on and “Sammists” sought Beckett out in even greater numbers during his last years, hopeful of a marketable comment on the obscure plays. The famously reluctant author was rarely forthcoming, but the biographies and memoirs abound with demonstrations that, however demanding and guarded about his writing, Beckett was an approachable and convivial man. Read more...

Ibsen’s Door Slam

December 21: On this day in 1879 Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House opened in Copenhagen, this the first of the half-dozen masterpieces performed to great controversy throughout the next decade. The Doll’s House premiere came as the published play was breaking sales records in Scandinavia, no doubt spurred on by those critics who described Nora's exit from her house and gender-roles at the end of Act V as a “door slam heard ’round the world.” Read more...

Dickens’s Sledge Hammer

December 19: Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was published on this day in 1843. After reading a report on the realities of child labor in the factories of Victorian England, Dickens had resolved to write “An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child.” This plan evolved to a Christmas story which might act as “a Sledge hammer” blow for the poor — upon the skulls of the “sleek, slobbering, bow-paunched, over-fed, apoplectic, snorting cattle” among the privileged. Read more...

Melville & Beckett

December 18: Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener concluded its two-part serialization on this day in 1853. Melville had enjoyed a considerable reputation for some of his earlier novels but, say some biographers, his more recent humiliation over Moby Dick (caused him to publish the novelette anonymously. On this day in 1959 Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape was published — this regarded as his most optimistic play, relatively speaking…. Read more...

Ford’s The Good Soldier

December 17: On this day in 1873 Ford Madox Ford was born, and on this day in 1913, his fortieth birthday, Ford "sat down to show what I could do, and The Good Soldier resulted." Most critics rank the 1915 novel as his best: Many go much further, ranking The Good Soldier with Ulysses and The Sun Also Rises for its contribution to modernism — Ford’s book behind Joyce’s but ahead of Hemingway’s on the Modern Library Top 100 of the Century list. Read more...

Pott & Peter

December 16: On this day in 1901 Beatrix Potter published The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Having been turned down by a half-dozen publishers, Potter financed this first edition herself — 250 copies with her own black-and-white illustrations, given away or sold at a half-penny each because, as she put it, “little rabbits cannot afford to spend 6 shillings.” Read more...

Waste Land Voices

December 15: On this day in 1922 T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land was published in book format. Eliot's manuscript title for the poem was "He Do the Police in Different Voices," this taken from Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, in which the orphan, Sloppy, entertains his acquaintances by a dramatic reading of the crime news. Virginia Woolf noted Eliot’s similar talent, describing in her diary how she listened rapt to his after-dinner reading of his poem: "He sang it & chanted it & rhymed it. It has great beauty and force of phrase; symmetry; & tensity. What connects it together, I'm not so sure...." Read more...

Shirley Jackson’s Demons

December 14: Shirley Jackson was born on this day in 1916. Jackson and her husband, the English scholar Stanley Hyman, raised their family in Bennington, Vermont. Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), Jackson's two memoirs on the misadventures of family life there, continue to be held in high regard, especially by other misadventurers. Read more...

The “Hermit of Croisset”

December 12: Gustave Flaubert was born on this day in 1821 in Rouen. Flaubert lived for most of his life with his mother in a house near Croisset, his birthplace. Apart from several longer trips and occasional visits to Paris, most often to visit his friends or seek sexual companions, “the hermit of Croisset” desired only to keep his routine and his distance: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Read more...

MacLeish & Magee

December 11: Archibald MacLeish’s J. B., his reworking of the Book of Job, opened on this day in 1959, running on Broadway for a year, earning several Tonys and then a Pulitzer. MacLeish is also connected to “High Flight,” the most famous poem by John Gillespie Magee; the pilot-poet died on this day in 1941, one of the first American casualties after the U. S. entered WWII. Read more...

A "Furnace of Ambivalence"

December 10: On this day in 1941 twenty-six-year-old Thomas Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist Order near Bardstown, Kentucky; and on this day in 1968 the fifty-three-year-old Merton died in Bangkok, a victim of accidental electrocution. At the time, Merton was at the height of his fame as a spokesman for counterculture spirituality, though he was still in a “furnace of ambivalence” over being a monk. Read more...

Ford, Poetry in Head-On Crash

December 9: On this day in 1955, American poet Marianne Moore submitted “Utopian Turtletop” as her last effort to name the new car about to be launched by the Ford Motor Company. Her contracted labor had begun six weeks earlier, Ford looking to the poet for a catchy car name, and getting "Anticipator," "Thunder Crester," "Pastelogram," "Intelligent Whale," "The Resilient Bullet," and moore…. Read more...

“The Boy in the People Shooting Hat”

December 8: On this day in 1980 Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon outside his New York City apartment building. After shooting Lennon, Chapman sat down on the sidewalk to wait for the police, and to read The Catcher in the Rye, the inside cover of his copy inscribed, “This is my statement. Holden Caulfield.” Salinger’s novel evolved from a story that The New Yorker had rejected, this titled “The Boy in the People Shooting Hat.” Read more...

Twain in Patent White

December 7: On this day in 1906, Mark Twain spoke in Washington before a Congressional Committee on patents, arguing for a proposed bill establishing copyright at life + fifty years. Although other eminent authors and musicians spoke, Twain got all the attention; this was due to his fame, his entertainment value, and his white suit — the debut of the iconic garb which Twain wore over his remaining three-and-a-half-years. Read more...

Didion & Trillin

December 5: Joan Didion was born on this day in 1934, and Calvin Trillin was born on this day in 1935. Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, winner of the 2005 National Book Award, explores the death of her husband; Trillin’s 2006 memoir, About Alice, paints a portrait of his wife and their thirty-five-year marriage. Read more...

Huck Finn Recall

December 4: On this day in 1884, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was first published. The prank which caused this most American of novels to be first published in England is one that Twain might have relished had he not been its victim. By the time Twain’s production team discovered what had happened, thousands of advance copies of the novel had to be recalled and the book reset, causing the American edition to be delayed for months. Read more...

Williams and Desire

December 3: A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway on this day in 1947, with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Jessica Tandy as Blanche Dubois. The production ran for over two years, and the play won Williams the first of two Pulitzer Prizes. “In those days,” producer Irene Selznick later wrote, “people only stood for the national anthem. That night was the first time I ever saw an audience get to its feet.” Read more...

Dickens in America

December 2: On this day in 1867 Charles Dickens gave the first reading of his second and final American tour. Like all but a few over the five months, the evening was a sellout, some having slept out overnight to beat a ticket line almost a half mile long. Though there were dissenters — for instance, the little girl who took a seat beside Dickens on the train to tell him how much she liked his books: "Of course, I do skip some of the very dull parts, once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long ones." Read more...

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).