Displaying articles for: April 2011

White at the World's Fair

April 30: The New York World's Fair opened on this day in 1939. Billed as "The Dawn of a New Day" and "The World of Tomorrow," the Fair offered much technology that would and would not be (television, but also "Smell-O-Vision"). E. B. White went, took a ride on the Futurama, and left for Maine.

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Cavafy, Forster & Cohen

April 29: The Greek poet Constantine Cavafy was born on this day in 1863, and he died on this day in 1933. A career civil servant, Cavafy wrote only some 150 poems, most of these almost unknown beyond his circle of friends and writers in Alexandria, Egypt. E. M. Forster knew and was greatly influenced by Cavafy, and Leonard Cohen has recently turned one of his poems into a hit song.

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Driving with Penelope

April 28: Penelope Fitzgerald died on this day in 2000, aged eighty-three. Her career as a writer of fiction didn't begin until age sixty-one, but she enjoyed immediate and lasting acclaim: "Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality—the engine, the coachwork and the interior…. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window."

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Wollstonecraft & Imlay

April 27: Mary Wollstonecraft was born on this day in 1759. Wollstonecraft's most popular book in her lifetime was Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796). The book reflects Wollstonecraft's philosophical beliefs, her independent spirit, and the turmoil of her relationship to the shady American businessman-adventurer, Gilbert Imlay.

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Emerson & Thoreau

April 26: In his journal entry for this day in 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson describes a pleasant afternoon spent with Henry David Thoreau; in his journal entry for this day in 1841, written after coming home from Emerson's, Thoreau notes that "the civilized man" pays a high price: "His house is a prison, in which he finds himself oppressed and confined, not sheltered and protected…."

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Watson & Crick & DNA

April 25: James Watson and Francis Crick published their article on the double helix structure of DNA in Nature magazine on this day in 1953. Watson has described the discovery in several books, including his recent memoir Avoid Boring People, but according to Brenda Maddox's Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, neither he nor science history have told the whole story.

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The Easter Rising

April 23: This weekend marks the 95th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. The memoirs of those who manned the Republican barricades tell compelling stories of hopeless confusion and abounding courage of men such as the colorful Irish Volunteers leader Michael O'Rahilly—"The O'Rahilly," as he wished to be known, and as he has gone down in history.

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Chopin's Awakening

April 22: Kate Chopin's The Awakening was published on this day in 1899. Chopin scholar and biographer Emily Toth says that Chopin "anticipated so much: daytime dramas, women's pictures, The Feminine Mystique, open marriages, women's liberation, talk shows, Mars vs. Venus, self-help and consciousness raising."

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Shaw up in Arms

April 21: On this day in 1894, George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man opened. On the strength of this first commercial success, Shaw was able to give up being a music critic and, at the age of forty, become a full-time playwright. But he was not happy with the public for turning his social commentary into nothing but a "monstrously clever sparkler in the cynical line."

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Stoker, Irving & Count Dracula

April 20: Bram Stoker died on this day in 1912. Though the author of some twenty books, Stoker is known almost exclusively for Dracula, published in 1897. The novel brought little fame or fortune in Stoker's lifetime; nor did its erotic violence raise eyebrows, although it is now seen as a "veritable sexual lexicon of Victorian taboos."

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Paying for Sex

April 19: Mae West went to jail on this day in 1927 for Sex, which she wrote and produced, and which provided her with her first starring role on Broadway, as a prostitute named Margy LaMont. Advertised as "More laughs, thrills and action than a flappers' gin party," Sex had been popular. Many patrons were attracted by the notices praising West as "the Babe Ruth of the stage 'prosties.'"

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Eyewitness to Earthquake

April 18: The San Francisco earthquake occurred on this day in 1906. Given the turn-of-the-century fascination with photography—the Kodak Brownie hit the stores in 1900—this was the first natural disaster to be documented by citizen photojournalists, Jack London among them.

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Marketing to Middlebrows

April 16: On this day in 1926, the Book-of-the-Month Club mailed out its first monthly selection. The BOMC was the bright idea of Harry Scherman, an advertising copywriter who had already mail-order marketed his Little Leather Library—"30 Great Books For $2.98" + a box of chocolates.

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Titanic Turning 100

April 15: The Titanic went down ninety-nine years ago today. Among the wave of books and events which will mark next year's centennial is a "Memorial Cruise" aboard a luxury ship built by the same company that built the Titanic, featuring the same food, music, and route as the original voyage. (If you feel tempted to buy a ticket, you are in luck—there are none left.)

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Lincoln & Booth

April 14: Abraham Lincoln was shot on this day in 1865, dying the following morning. Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is one of the most famous laments for Lincoln, but Booth had his eulogists too, as well as his legend-makers and mummifiers.

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Heaney in County Derry

April 13: On this day in 1939 Seamus Heaney was born, the eldest of nine children on a County Derry farm. Heaney's first collection of poems earned four major awards and provoked Christopher Ricks to declare that those "who remain unstirred by Seamus Heaney's poems will simply be announcing that they are unable to give up the habit of disillusionment with recent poetry."

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Dylan & Caitlin

April 12: Dylan Thomas met Caitlin McNamara on this day in 1936. The most recent biography, Andrew Lycett's Dylan Thomas, warns that some details of this legendary first meeting may well have been embroidered—for example, that when Thomas slipped out of his trousers later that evening they were so dirty they stood in the corner by themselves, and that the two lovers managed to charge their room to Caitlin's current boyfriend, the painter Augustus John

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Sándor Márai

April 11: The Hungarian novelist Sándor Márai was born on this day in 1900. Márai's books have become bestsellers recently, after having been nearly forgotten for decades. Fiercely anti-Nazi and anti-Communist, Márai fled Hungary in 1948 and refused to allow his work to be published there under any Communist regime. Eventually settling in San Diego, he continued to write, publishing forty-six books before his suicide in 1989.

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Appomattox and After

April 9:  General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia on this day in 1865, signaling the end of the American Civil War. The eyewitness records of the event include the diary of William G. Hinson, a Confederate lieutenant: "…a small white flag and horror of horrors! it flashes through the command that Lee had surrendered. My pencil almost refuses to write the disgrace."

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West's Lonelyhearts

April 8:  Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts was published on this day in 1933. The oddball mix of distress, black comedy, and religion in West's "novel in the form of a comic strip" (his description) was highly praised by many critics, but like his other books it was largely a flop with the public when it first appeared.

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To Soar Angelic

April 7: The psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond coined the term "psychedelic" on this day in 1956, by way of a couplet competition with Aldous Huxley. Huxley's mescaline experiences with Osmond had inspired The Doors of Perception, and now Osmond was himself inspired to poetry: "To fathom hell or soar angelic, / Just take a pinch of psychedelic."

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Wilde at the Cadogan

April 6: Oscar Wilde was arrested on this day in 1895 and Sir John Betjeman was born on this day in 1906. The two cross paths at the location where Wilde, having delayed too long any attempt to flee the country, was taken into custody: "Mr. Woilde, we 'ave come for tew take yew / Where felons and criminals dwell: / We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly / For this is the Cadogan Hotel."

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Hobbes & Darwin

April 5: On this day in 1588, the natural law philosopher Thomas Hobbes was born. His famous description of man's "nasty, brutish and short" prospects comes in Leviathan (1651), a book in which some commentators see the seeds of Social Darwinism; Darwin delivered the first three chapters of The Origin of Species to his publisher on this day in 1859.

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Angelou's "Remedy of Hope"

April 4: On this day in 1928, Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, as Marguerite Johnson. She got the nickname "Maya" ("mine") from her brother; she chose the "Angelou" later, an adaptation of her first husband's name. She says that her remarkable and varied life—prostitute, dancer, actor, writer, activist, educator, academic—has been made possible by a "remedy of hope" forged from reading, courage, and "insouciance."

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Beat-Bashing

April 2: The term "beatnik" was coined on this day in 1958 by Herb Caen in his column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Caen said that "the word popped out," a flip comment inspired by the recent Sputnik launch, but the context and tone of the coinage reflect the Beat-bashing then current: "They're only Beat, y'know, when it comes to work…."

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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
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).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.