Displaying articles for: February 2013

"The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love"

March 1: Fulfilling one of his most publicized campaign promises, President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps on this day in 1961. Over the past half century, 210,000 volunteers have gone to 139 countries, devoting two or more years to, as the Corps' unofficial slogan puts it, "the toughest job you'll ever love." The memoirs of those who served offer different explanations of what makes the job both tough and rewarding.



Gravity's Rainbow Appears

February 28: On this day in 1973 Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow appeared, causing among the critics the sort of wonder and mayhem that begins the novel, as a V-2 rocket slams into 1944 London: "A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now...."


Byron's Maidens

February 27: Lord Byron delivered his maiden speech in the House of Lords on this day in 1812, speaking against a bill to suppress the Luddite riots, which had begun in Nottingham, where Byron had his ancestral home. There is some evidence to suggest that he could have had a political career, had not his poetry and personal life -- at the time of his maiden speech, an affair with one of his maids -- taken him over.



America's National Parks

February 26: Grand Canyon (1919) and Grand Teton (1929) National Parks were created on this day; and Yellowstone, the world's first national park, was created 141 years ago this week. The congressional act establishing Yellowstone mandates "a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people"; recent studies of the National Park Service assess the damage of over-visitation, pollution, commercial encroachment, "park barrel" politics….



Sinclair’s Jungle

February 25: On this day in 1905 the first installment of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle appeared. Before the year was out, the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act were in force across the country, and Sinclair was on his way to a series of investigative novels that "put to the American public the fundamental questions raised by capitalism in such a way that they could not escape them" (Edmund Wilson).


"The Incarnation of Humanism"

February 23: The bodies of expatriate Austrian writer Stefan Zweig and his wife were discovered on this day in 1942, the two having committing double suicide in Brazil. Zweig’s work was popular during the prewar decades, but being Jewish, a man of letters, a pacifist, a humanist, and an internationalist, he had come to represent all that Hitler wished to destroy, and his death made international headlines.



Punching Papa

February 22: On this day in 1903 the Canadian novelist and short story writer Morley Callaghan was born. Callaghan may be “the most unjustly neglected writer in the English language” (Edmund Wilson), but That Summer in Paris, his Lost Generation memoir, is highly regarded, if only for revealing “the charm, the mystery, and the curious perversity of Hemingway's personality” (Norman Mailer).



In Search of Malcolm X

February 21: Malcolm X was assassinated on this day in 1965. Three members of the Nation of Islam, the religious-political organization from which Malcolm X had separated eleven months earlier, were convicted of the murder, but like much else associated with Malcolm X, controversy persists over who ordered and carried out the killing, as well as the role of law enforcement; the larger controversy over Malcolm X's enigmatic personality and evolving political views also persists.



Adams, Land, Photography

February 20: Ansel Adams was born on this day in 1902. In his autobiography Adams describes several converging events in the spring and summer of his fourteenth year as responsible for propelling him toward photographic fame -- getting his first camera while having his first peek at Yosemite. Adams also describes his career-long relationship to Edwin Land and his Polaroids.



Becoming Carson McCullers

February 19: Carson McCullers was born on this day in 1917. McCullers took years of music lessons during her childhood, becoming good enough to be accepted at the Juilliard School. But at age fifteen she swapped her piano for a typewriter; her first story, "Wunderkind," published at the age of nineteen, tells of a schoolgirl exhausted by her music study and her teacher's expectations.   



"The Wilderness Idea"

February 18: The American writer, teacher, and conservationist Wallace Stegner was born on this day in 1909. Stegner's three dozen books include the award-winning novels Angle of Repose and The Spectator Bird, but he may be more remembered for his ten-page "Wilderness Letter," written in 1960 and now "the conscience of the conservation movement."


Thomas Gray & the Hermit Tradition

February 16: On this day in 1751, Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" was published, becoming the most reprinted poem of the eighteenth century. Gray and his "Elegy" are central to the century's idealization of rusticity and reclusion, and its related obsession with sensibility; as documented in Isabel Colegate's A Pelican in the Wilderness: Hermits, Solitaires and Recluses (2003) , these fads could lead to some odd behavior.


The Death of Socrates

February 15: Socrates was sentenced to death on this day in 399 B.C., his crime that of irreverence toward the Greek gods. Many commentators interpret the irreverence conviction more politically, seeing it as a reflection of the degree to which Socrates had become an irritant to the power elite and, given the popularity of his philosophical skepticism among the young, even a social threat. Over the years, the attack upon him had been taken up on many sides.


The Penicillin Story

February 14: Sir Alexander Fleming announced his accidental discovery of the mold byproduct penicillin on this day in 1929.  Fleming's scholarly paper only tentatively suggested that penicillin "may be an efficient antiseptic" against some bacteria, and his experiments over the following decade made so little progress that, even in his 1945 Nobel lecture he tried to dispel the myth, still persistent today, that he discovered one of the century's most important drugs.



Oscar & Constance

February 13: Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" was published on this day in 1898, nine months after the author's release from prison. Dedicated to a Royal Horse Guards trooper who, during Wilde's term at Reading, was hanged for killing his wife, the poem is a plea against the death penalty. But the famous line "Yet each man kills the thing he loves" and other passages have encouraged a more autobiographical reading.



Marking Mardi Gras

February 12: Today is Mardi Gras, a party not always celebrated in literature. Both Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner, each of them once resident in New Orleans, hated what they saw as organized and desperate gaiety. But a twenty-three-year-old Samuel Clemens loved every minute, mask, and madame of it, declaring that "an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans."


Siddal Among the Pre-Raphaelites

February 11: On this day in 1862 Elizabeth Siddal died at the age of thirty-two, almost certainly a suicide. Husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti discovered her body after returning home from an evening out; several days later, he was stirred by grief and guilt to the last-minute gesture of placing the only manuscript copies of many of his poems in his wife's coffin; seven years later, in one of the most notorious second thoughts of love and literature, Rossetti retrieved and published the poems.


The Hemingway Puzzle

February 9: On this day in 1926 Ernest Hemingway ended his contract with his first publisher, Boni & Liveright; this enabled him to sign with Scribners a week later, and so complete the maneuver he had orchestrated by means of his satiric novella, The Torrents of Spring. While the novella is little read now, scholars regard it and the attendant double-dealing as an early peek into the puzzle of Hemingway's personality.


Evermore "Nevermore"

February 8: Twenty-two-year-old Edgar Allan Poe was court-martialed out of West Point on this day in 1831. Although it cannot compete for drama, Poe's military career is consistent with and indicative of his later misadventures. As such, it occasioned the death's door despair and the "nevermore" refrain that would, in various applications -- loving, drinking, borrowing, surviving -- be repeated throughout his life.


The "Monopoly" Monopoly

February 7: Charles Darrow, an unemployed repairman from Philadelphia, sold his game Monopoly to Parker Brothers on this day in 1935. The game made fortunes for everybody and became, says Philip Orbanes in Monopoly, the fairy-tale final chapter to "a rags-to-riches American success story filled with unexpected twists, turns, surprises, disappointments and triumph" But it was a story filled also with fraud, says Ralph Anspach in The Billion Dollar Monopoly® Swindle.



Slaves to Africa

February 6: Eighty-six freed American slaves set sail for Africa on this day in 1820, to found the settlement that eventually became Liberia. Guided by the American Colonization Society, the first group of settlers were joined by some 20,000 other freed slaves over the next four decades. Alan Huffman's Mississippi in Africa tells how the slaves of Prospect Hill, a Mississippi cotton plantation, became part of the story.



Swamped by Plastic

February 5: Leo Baekeland introduced Bakelite, the first synthetic plastic, to the world on this day in 1909. Baekeland began commercial production soon afterward; by the time his patents expired in 1927, many other companies were offering a variety of similar polymer products; by the time Benjamin Braddock got his famous advice in The Graduate, more plastic was being produced than steel; in the first decade of 2000, we produced as much plastic as did the entire twentieth century.




February 4: Neal Cassady died on this day in 1968, four days before his forty-second birthday. The direct cause seems to have been a drug overdose, but the death of "Fastestmanalive" on the railway tracks outside the Mexican mountain town of San Miguel de Allende is buried in obscurity and legend.



Bloomsday to Doomsday

February 2: On this day in 1922, James Joyce's fortieth birthday, Ulysses was first published. Joyce was very superstitious, and very apprehensive of a hostile reception for the novel that had been seven years in writing and sixteen years in gestation. Just as he had chosen his first date with Nora Barnacle as the day for the story, he chose the birthday publication for luck.


Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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.


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).