Displaying articles for: March 2011

Of Food & Folly

April 1: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the French lawyer, politician, and gastronome, was born on this day in 1775. Brillat-Savarin's The Physiology of Taste is a culinary classic and, together with April Fool's Day, the inspiration for the food-book puns by which the International Edible Books Festival is celebrated each year: "To Brie or not to Brie…"

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Fowles in Dorset

March 31: John Fowles was born on this day in 1926. After a series of hits through the sixties and seventies, Fowles stopped writing fiction while still in his fifties. This is partly explained by a stroke suffered in 1988, but the two volumes of Fowles's Journals which have so far been published offer stronger reasons, and reveal a reclusive, discontented man.

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McPhee in Alaska

March 30: The contract for The Alaska Purchase was finalized on this day in 1867, the U.S. buying the territory from Russia for seven million dollars. The deal was greeted with skepticism by the newspapers of the day, but in John McPhee's bestseller, Coming into the Country, Alaska is a priceless, paradoxical adventure: "If at moments it was frightening, requiring an effort to put down the conflagrationary imagination, it also augmented the touch of life. This was not a dare with nature. This was nature."

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Idi Amin, King of Scotland

March 29: On this day in 1979, Idi Amin fled Kampala for his tribal homelands, his mad, monarchial rule of Uganda effectively over. Amin's decade of terror, atrocity, and black comedy inspired Giles Foden's award-winning 1998 novel, The Last King of Scotland. 

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Woolf's Dark Cupboard

March 28: Virginia Woolf committed suicide seventy years ago today, after a handful of such attempts and a lifelong battle with her "dark cupboard" of illness. Her final note conveys apprehension, torment and love: "Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. …You have given me the greatest possible happiness.…"

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Titular Titillations

March 26: Alex Comfort died on this day in 2000. Comfort was a novelist, a poet and author of many books on many topics, but he is most remembered for his bestseller, The Joy of Sex. Comfort's book, or its offspring, has a rarefied place in book history: The Joy of Sex, the Pocket Edition won the 1997 Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year. That competition is still going strong today.

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Enjoying Flannery

March 25: Flannery O'Connor was born on this day in 1925. Some attempt to classify O'Connor as a "Southern Gothic" or "Southern Catholic" writer, but most just surrender themselves to her unique talent and enjoyable idiosyncrasies: "Flannery O'Connor was far from normal, and we should all be grateful for that…."

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Great Escape & Ardeatine

March 24: Two storied events of World War II happened on this day in 1944: the Great Escape from Stalag Luft III and the Ardeatine Caves Massacre in Rome. The Great Escape is usually offered as a testament to Allied pluck and ingenuity, though half of the recaptured escapees were executed. Ordered by Hitler, the 335 executions in Rome were also payback, at a 10 to 1 ratio, for the German soldiers killed in a partisan ambush the previous day.

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Halliburton, Horizon Chaser

March 23: The adventurer Richard Halliburton was last heard from on this day in 1939. After dropping out of college to take his first, unannounced trip, Halliburton told his parents of his intention to become a "horizon chaser": "And when my time comes to die, I'll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain, thrills—every emotion that any human ever had…."

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Poet Unparadelled

March 22: Billy Collins was born on this day in 1941. If Collins "has brought laughter back to a melancholy art," some of the laughs have come from a joke he played a few years ago through his mock-promotion of the highly restrictive but non-existent "paradelle," which he had junked together from some wrecking-yard for poetic forms.

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Middle Eastern Protest Poetry

March 21: The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani was born on this day in 1923. Qabbani is one of the most well-known and influential 20th-century Arab writers; a glance through Reza Aslan's new anthology shows that he is far from alone as a voice of political change—a voice which seems recently to have been heard.

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Roth in Newark

March 19: Philip Roth was born on this day in 1933. In The Facts, his memoir of the earlier years, Roth says that his first short stories demonstrated only how blind he was to the material that later made him famous. While he would happily regale his friends with stories of growing up Jewish, the idea of moving this world onto the page had not yet occurred to him.

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Updike's Rabbits

March 18: On this day in 1932, John Updike was born. In a writing career of almost fifty years, Updike's five Rabbit books stand out as a bell tolling, at decade intervals, for Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom and America. As Joyce Carol Oates puts it, the saga stands as Updike's "surpassingly eloquent valentine to his country, as viewed from the unique perspective of a corner of Pennsylvania."

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Putting for Paddy

March 17: Those looking for a reader's way to toast Ireland on this St. Patrick's Day might consider following in the footsteps of  Tom Coyne, the Irish-American golfer-writer who traveled on foot to forty Irish golf courses in four months, and chronicled his trip in  A Course Called Ireland: A Long Walk in Search of a Country, A Pint and the Next Tee.

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The First NBAs

March 16: The first National Book Awards were presented on this day in 1950. The winners were Ralph L. Rusk for The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Carlos Williams for two poetry collections, and Nelson Algren for The Man with the Golden Arm. Fifteen recent NBA winners and finalists are interviewed in The Book That Changed My Life, most of them offering not one influential book but a truckload.

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Goodbye to Aunt Susan

March 15: Funeral services were held in Rochester, New York for Susan B. Anthony on this day in 1906, with an estimated crowd of 10,000 lining up to pay their respects. Anna Howard Shaw, the last to speak at the church service, used the occasion to forge a new rallying cry for the suffrage movement: "Failure is Impossible!"

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Grapes of Wrath Marches On

March 14: On this day in 1939, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was published. With a lifelong empathy for the working poor, and months spent researching the "fruit tramps" and "Okies" who lived in the West Coast migrant camps, Steinbeck had his theme early; less certain was the title, originally "L'Affaire Lettuceberg."

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Kerouac & Charlie Parker

March 12: Jack Kerouac was born on this day in 1922, and on this day in 1955 Charlie "Bird" Parker died. In On the Road, Kerouac puts Parker atop his list of jazz greats, those who were "children of the American bop night." In "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," Kerouac goes further, describing his own writing as an attempt to catch the same rush and pause as Parker's jazz.

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Hansberry vs. Chicago

March 11: Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun opened on this day in 1959, becoming a popular hit and a historic moment in American theater—530 performances, 6 Tony Awards, the first play by a black woman to run on Broadway. The play was inspired by Hansberry's father who made headline news when he won his Supreme Court challenge to Chicago's racist "covenant" agreements.

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Trollope in America

March 10: The British writer-activist Frances Trollope was born on this day in 1779. Trollope vaulted to celebrity just after her fifty-third birthday by publishing the witty and outspoken Domestic Manners of the Americans. Over the next quarter-century she published well over a hundred other books, most of them in the fiction and travel genres, a handful of them almost as provocative as her first hit.

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Mickey & Mike

March 9: Mickey Spillane was born on this day in 1918. Spillane began his writing career in comic books, concocting heroic adventures for Captain Marvel, Superman, and others. His first ambition was to create his own comic hero, Mike Danger; in the mid-1940s, for fun and quick cash, he tried his hand at a crime novel, turning Mike Danger into Mike Hammer and setting him loose for a five-decade shoot-out with a dame-trap, punk-rotten world.

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Women's Day

March 8: This is International Women's Day, so designated by the United Nations in 1977, now honored in most countries, and a national holiday in some. The idea for such a day was first proposed in the early 1900s; the story told in Slave and similar books shows that, a century later, the issues which provoked IWD have not gone away.

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Frost's "Snowy Evening"

March 7: Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" was first published on this day in 1923. The poem was included in Frost's New Hampshire collection, published later the same year; it earned Frost the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes, and confirmed the fifty-year-old as one of the preeminent poets of his generation.

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Akhmatova & Stalin

March 5: Anna Akhmatova died on this day in 1966. "I've had everything," Akhmatova told Robert Frost late in life, "—poverty, prison lines, fear, poems remembered only by heart, and burnt poems. And humiliation and grief." Most of the grief was directly or indirectly caused by Joseph Stalin, who died on this day in 1953.

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Hemingway's Old Man

March 4: Ernest Hemingway finished writing The Old Man and the Sea on this day in 1952. That day he wrote his publisher describing his book as "the best I can write ever for all my life." A follow-up letter three days later said that the story represented "an epilogue to all my writing and what I have learned, or tried to learn, while writing and trying to live."

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The Shoals of Dissipation

March 3: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned was published on this day in 1922. Fitzgerald described his story one of a couple who are "wrecked on the shoals of dissipation," though they go down showing "the exquisite perfection of their boredom, the delicacy of their inattention, the inexhaustibility of their discontent." Most modern commentators describe the story biographically: "It were almost as if Fitzgerald were reading his own palm."

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Lawrence in Ashes

March 2: On this day in 1930 D. H. Lawrence died in Vence, France. Lawrence was so scoffing of medical (or any other) science that he refused to name or accept his tuberculosis, or to submit to any of the "magic mountain" treatments. He was buried without ceremony, a simple phoenix symbol done in seashore pebbles marking the spot; what happened to his remains five years later is part of literary legend, and so bizarre that it became a television episode of "Ripley's Believe It or Not."

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Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.