Displaying articles for: March 2013

Melville's Ship of Fools

April 1: Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man, his last novel, was published on this day in 1857. Melville chose April Fool's Day for not just his publication day but also his Mississippi riverboat setting and his dunce cap theme: "You fools!… you flock of fools, under this captain of fools, in this ship of fools!"

 

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Goya & van Gogh

March 30: Francisco Goya was born on this day in 1746, and Vincent van Gogh was born on this day in 1856. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "In Goya's Greatest Scenes" transports the suffering humanity depicted in Goya's "Disasters of War" to a new century and continent; Annie Dillard turns some of van Gogh's letters into 'found poems.'

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Wollstonecraft & Godwin

March 29: Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, two of the eighteenth century's most radical and prominent thinkers, married on this day in 1797. Many contemporaries reacted to news of the event with a raised eyebrow or smile, given that both bride and groom had been famously outspoken against contemporary marriage habits and laws.

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Banks & Algren

March 28: Russell Banks was born on this day in 1940, and Nelson Algren was born on this day in 1909. In his Introduction to a recent edition of Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side, Banks describes the beginning of his friendship with Algren, who came to offer "fatherly protection, encouragement and example all at once."

 

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March Madness

March 27: The first NCAA Basketball Championship concluded on this day in 1939, the University of Oregon Ducks defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes by a score of 46-33. With just eight teams and no national media coverage, the first tournament was not the modern "March Madness." Although the term was also coined in 1939, the mania we know today can be traced, says Seth Davis, to "The Game That Transformed Basketball."

 

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Odd Comfort

March 26: Alex Comfort died on this day in 2000. Apart from being a novelist and poet, Comfort was a respected academic and a social activist who wrote extensively on a wide range of topics. But, to his regret, he is most famous for The Joy of Sex, an essential text of the sexual revolution and later honored with the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year.

 

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Still Steinem

March 25: Gloria Steinem turns seventy-nine today. Steinem's birthday is also the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, in which 146 garment workers, most of them women, died. As Steinem continues to speak out -- a few days ago on "The F Word: Feminism Today" -- so Ms., the magazine she co-founded, continues to speak up for the female working poor, caught in a "resurgence of sweatshop labor throughout the U.S."

 

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F.P.A. in "The Conning Tower"

March 23: The New York newspaperman Franklin P. Adams died on this day in 1960. In the early decades of the twentieth century, as the muckraking journalists waged battle after battle, Adams became the quintessential gentleman-journalist, ready to deflate the latest fad or most earnest issue with a quip or a couplet. His "Conning Tower" column featured not just his own wit and around-the-town comments but the contributions of such rising stars as James Thurber, Ring Lardner, Eugene O'Neill, and many of the Algonquin group.

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Yondering & Pondering

March 22: On this day in 1908, the western writer Louis L'Amour was born in Jamestown, North Dakota. L'Amour wrote 113 books, more than 260 million copies of which have been sold worldwide, in dozens of languages. As prodigious was L'Amour's reading. In his memoir, Education of a Wandering Man (1989), he says that he read 150 books of nonfiction a year, even in his “yondering” days.

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Howling at the Moon

March 21: The Moondog Coronation Ball, regarded as the first rock 'n' roll concert, was held on this day in 1952. When 15,000 gate-crashed the sold-out event, the commentators sounded the alarm bell about the next generation and the new music: "Like a heathen religion, it is all tied up with tom-toms and hot jive and ritualistic orgies of erotic dancing, weed-smoking and mass mania…."

 

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Stowe's "Uncle Tom"

March 20: Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was published on this day in 1852. Though it had been popular enough when appearing earlier in serial form, at least one book publisher turned it down on the grounds that a novel by a woman on such a controversial subject was too risky. He must have regretted it: the novel sold 10,000 copies in the first week and 300,000 copies in a year, eventually becoming America's first million-seller.

 

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Debut Dylan

March 19: Bob Dylan's first album was released on this day in 1962. One of two original compositions on Bob Dylan is "Song to Woody," a tribute to Woody Guthrie and the musical-political tradition in which the twenty-year-old Dylan saw himself. In Chronicles, Dylan describes visiting Guthrie about this time, the folksinger then forcibly confined in an institution outside of New York City, suffering with a hereditary degenerative disease.

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Thurber, Mitty & The New Yorker

March 18: James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," one of the most anthologized stories in American literature, was published in The New Yorker on this day in 1939. Thurber became exasperated at being asked how he came to create his dreamy hero: "It is like asking me how I happened to think up my own species, masculine sex, and what in the world made me create the modern middle-aged male American…."

 

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Hawthorne in Salem

March 16: Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter was published on this day in 1850. Among Hawthorne's inspirations for the novel were two sisters who had been forced to wear forehead bands identifying their incestuous conduct, and another ancestor who was a judge at the witch trials. But the novel also comes from the author's own feeling that growing up in Salem was itself a punishment.

 

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Rebecca West

March 15: On this day in 1983 Dame Rebecca West died at the age of ninety. Cicily Fairfield took her pseudonym from the passionate, outspoken heroine of Ibsen's Rosmersholm; from her early days writing about suffragettes to her last days writing about Watergate -- a seventy-year career of novels, essays, journalism, literary criticism, and nonfiction books on a range of topics -- she lived up to her choice.

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Young Einstein

March 14: Albert Einstein was born on this day in 1879. Einstein’s first scientific paper, published at age twenty-two, “contributed nothing to the history of science” (Walter Isaacson, Einstein, 2007) and did nothing to help him move from the Patent Office to a job in science. The five papers he published a few years later, all of them appearing in his annus mirabilis of 1905, transformed physics.

 

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Capturing Khartoum

March 13: The ten-month siege of Khartoum began on this day in 1884. The storied event is engaging from multiple angles -- as a case study of imperialist arrogance and ineptitude, as the last chapter in the dashing and controversial life of General Charles George Gordon, as the first jihad and the modern world foretold.

 

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Counting Kerouac

March 12: Jack Kerouac was born on this day in 1922, and on this day in 1948, his twenty-sixth birthday, he enthusiastically noted in his journal his progress on The Town and the City, his first published novel: "Guess what?! -- on my birthday today, wrote 4500-words(!) -- scribbling away till six-thirty in the morning next day. A real way to celebrate another coming of age. And am I coming of age?..."

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Manchester’s MacArthur

March 11: General Douglas MacArthur left Corregidor on this day in 1942; after escaping the Japanese blockade, he arrived several days later in Australia, delivering one of warfare’s most famous pledges: "I came through and I shall return." It would take two and a half years for MacArthur to keep his promise, and the events of the ensuing U.S. war in the Pacific would test and shape the nation.

 

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Being Buk

March 9: On this day in 1994 Charles Bukowski died. Bukowski published over fifty books of poetry and prose in a career spanning a half-century. Although ever true to his blue-collar Barfly themes, Buk eventually shared poetry readings with Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, taking to them four bottles of good French wine rather than the two six-packs of beer.

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Wolfe & Perkins

March 8: Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River was published on this day in 1935. With Wolfe's death in 1938, aged thirty-seven, this second novel was the last to appear in his lifetime. The legendary story of how the "Leviathan" manuscript was wrestled into publication shape is funny, poignant, and full justification for editor Maxwell Perkins's initial feeling "that Wolfe was a turbulent spirit, and that we were in for turbulence."

 

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Phone Theft

March 7: Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for his telephone on this day in 1876, and three days later he made his first, legendary voice transmission: "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you." While the call would transform communications worldwide, the patent, says Seth Shulman in The Telephone Gambit (2008), represents "the most ignominious act of Bell's life" and "one of the most consequential thefts in history."

 

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Remembering the Alamo

March 6: The Battle of the Alamo ended on this day in 1836, 1,500 Mexicans overcoming some 200 American soldiers and volunteers after a siege of almost two weeks. With few eyewitness accounts of the last assault, key facts remain uncertain -- for example, whether Davy Crockett died defiantly or by execution, perhaps after surrendering -- but the uncertainty has fueled the enduring legends.

 

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Norris & Bierce

March 5: Frank Norris, the "American Zola," was born on this day in 1870, and Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary began magazine serialization on this day in 1881. The two men shared a similar outlook, as shown in Dennis Drabelle's The Great American Railroad War: How Ambrose Bierce and Frank Norris Took On the Notorious Central Pacific Railroad.

 

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Cortés in Mexico

March 4: Conquistador Hernán Cortés landed on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula on this day in 1519, claiming the region for Spain. After an eight-month march, Cortés was welcomed into Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) by Montezuma, part of a greet-and-defeat strategy that would backfire so quickly that "[n]o other great ancient civilization suffered such complete devastation and ruin in so short a time."

 

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The Road to "On the Road"

March 2: Jack Kerouac's first novel, The Town and the City, was published on this day in 1950. Although it sold very poorly, the book received some good reviews and comparisons to Thomas Wolfe. It is a conventionally told coming-of-age story, though the ending, set up as something of a parable, rings a bell: one brother chooses town, one brother chooses city, and one brother "was on the road again, traveling the continent westward, going off to further and further years…."

 

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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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