Displaying articles for: December 2012

The First Homestead

January 1: Daniel Freeman, a Nebraskan physician-farmer, filed the first homestead claim on this day in 1863, the first day that America's 1862 Homestead Act took effect. Willa Cather's O Pioneers! has the same Nebraska setting; it also features an immigrant homesteader who came to America with "the Old-World belief that land, in itself, is desirable" and found a prairie stubborn "like a horse that no one knows how to break to harness."

 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Show Boating

December 27: Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat opened on this day in 1927, for a sixteen-month run and a place in the history books as "the original American musical." Nine years later, the movie version of Show Boat had its world premiere at Radio City Music Hall, which opened its doors on this day in 1932, showcasing the best art and architecture that money could buy and "The Supreme Stage Entertainment of All Time!"

 

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Bierce in Mexico

December 26: Ambrose Bierce was last heard from on this day in 1913, in a letter sent from Chihuahua, Mexico, that concludes, "As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination." Those who would unravel the mystery of Bierce's disappearance and fate have been at it for a century now and come up with more theories -- suicide, firing squad -- than facts.

 

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Christmas Truce

December 25: On this day in 1914 troops fighting the first World War observed what became known as the "Christmas Truce." Tentatively and spontaneously begun at various times and places along the front, the day featured anything from gift giving to soccer games -- an "outbreak of peace" that some wanted "dismissed in official histories as an aberration of no consequence."

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Surviving in Stasiland

December 20: The Berlin Wall budged open for the first time on this day in 1963 when thousands of West Berliners were granted a one-day Christmas visit to their East German friends and relatives. The "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" (the official Communist term for the Wall) and the GDR would last for another quarter century, the ramparts manned by the army of sentinels who worked for or ratted to State Security, the infamous and pervasive Stasi.

 

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NHL, NFL, NBA…Sports Nation

December 19: The first NHL season began on this day in 1917. Professional hockey was a little different ninety-five years ago -- the players worried about getting frostbite as well as goals -- but perhaps then was similar to now: one recent history of the league's earlier power struggles is titled Deceptions and Doublecross: How the NHL Conquered Hockey.

 

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The Arab Spring

December 18: The Arab Spring enters its third year today, the anniversary of the first uprising in Tunisia in 2010. This was sparked by street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who had the day before protested against harassment by the authorities by setting himself on fire. By mid-January the Tunisian president was out of office; a few days later, protests began in Egypt; at last count, a dozen countries in the region have been touched or convulsed by turmoil.

 

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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.

 

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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...."

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Hempel & Friends

December 14: Amy Hempel was  born on this day in 1951. Hempel does not enjoy interviews -- "I'm not good at small talk; I'm not good at big talk; and medium talk just doesn't come up" -- but she's always happy to talk about dogs. Or write about them, as in the story collection The Dog of the Marriage; or collect other people's dog devotion, as in Unleashed, a collection of "Poems by Writers' Dogs" she co-edited.

 

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Worship in the Woods

December 13: The Canadian painter and writer Emily Carr was born on this day in 1871. As demonstrated by Susan Vreeland in The Forest Lover, her bestselling 2004 novel, Carr's handful of memoirs can be read as a window into her art. In The Book of Small, Carr describes what drove her outdoors; in Growing Pains she describes what she found there -- "the deep sacred beauty of Canada's still woods."

 

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Kenya's Legacy

December 12: Kenya gained its independence from Britain on this day in 1963. Those who assembled in Nairobi's Uhuru (Freedom) Park to celebrate the moment saw "one of the precious few moments of authentic unity in this complex and diverse country," says Daniel Branch in Kenya: Between Hope and Despair. David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged (2005) chronicles only the despair, embodied in the Mau Mau uprisings of the 1950s.

 

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Mahfouz, Egypt

December 11: The Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was born on this day in 1911. Author of some forty novels and story collections, Mahfouz is reportedly the most-read Arabic novelist both within and outside the Arab world. His epic social chronicles, most notably the Cairo Trilogy, cover much of the first half of the twentieth century; at the other end of the range, his novella The Day the Leader Was Killed offers a study of terrorist attitudes.

 

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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.

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Thurber & Trillin

December 8: James Thurber, who set a high bar for American humorists to follow,  was born on this day in 1894. This year's winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor is Calvin Trillin's Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin, a collection representing the author's decades of newspaper columns, books and poems, and sharing Thurber's interest in domestic battles.

 

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Crane & the Crosbys

December 7: On this day in 1929, Hart Crane hosted a party for Harry and Caresse Crosby attended by E. E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, and others in celebration of the publication of Crane's The Bridge by the Crosbys' Black Sun Press. Among the richest and most lost of the Lost Generation, Harry Crosby killed himself in a double suicide two-and-a-half days later.

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Becoming Encyclopedic

December 6: Encyclopaedia Britannica, the oldest English-language encyclopedia still produced (though now only electronically), was first published on this day in 1768. Of the Britannica's fifteen editions, the Eleventh, published 1910-11, is regarded as a work of lasting literary appeal -- "like reading a Faulkner novel instead of an instruction manual," says A. J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.

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Wet Appeal

December 5: After thirteen contentious years, Prohibition ended on this day in 1933, repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment. The wet-dry debate was won more on taxation than temperance grounds, a government starved for cash weighing the money it was losing from not selling liquor against the money it was spending "to enforce prohibition, which does not exist" (E. B. White).

 

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Carlyle, Dickens, Social Reform

December 4: Thomas Carlyle was born on this day in 1795. Carlyle found fame through his three-volume The French Revolution, which inspired Charles Dickens to A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens saw in the great historian and essayist a like-minded spirit, dedicating  Hard Times to the Carlyle who was a skeptic of headlong industrialization, a champion of social reform, a critic of those "Gradgrind" social scientists who argued only with facts and figures, or with "the dismal science" (Carlyle coined the term) of economics.

 

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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.”

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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).