Displaying articles for: April 2012

May Day, May Day…

May 1: Historians cite the 1886 May Day parade in Chicago -- some 80,000 marching for an eight-hour workday, the Haymarket Square Massacre coming just days later -- as one of the pivotal moments in modern labor history. In her recent Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich says that the lowest-paid of America's working poor would need to put in a lot more than an eight-hour day to have any chance of "a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment."

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Sorting Plain from Fancy

April 30: Annie Dillard was born on this day in 1945. Dillard has earned high praise as a prose stylist; among her books is Living by Fiction, a reader-friendly field guide in which she sorts contemporary modernist writers into those who like a "fancy" style and those who prefer "plain."

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Pinter Party

April 28: Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, his first full-length play, opened on this day in 1958 in Cambridge, England. In a 1988 interview, Pinter said that the play expressed one of his most important themes, and sounded his own character-note: "All Petey says is one of the most important lines I've ever written. As Stan is taken away, Petey says, "Stan, don't let them tell you what to do." I've lived that line all my damn life."

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"So Why Kepler?"

April 27: The universe was created on this day in 4977 B.C., according to the German mathematician and astronomer-astrologer Johannes Kepler. The date is off by over 13 billion years, say today's Big Bang theorists -- billions more than that, say some with a competing TOE (Theory of Everything) -- but Kepler maintains his reputation as a founder of modern science, and a man worth knowing better.

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"Broke What Breaks"

April 26: Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn on this day in 1914. Malamud's father was an impoverished grocer, and Malamud grew up among hard-luck, shoulder-shrugging Jewish immigrants, a type that appears in some of his stories -- "Take Pity," for example, in which a poor Jewish grocer dies because, his friend tries to explain, something broke in him: "Broke what?" "Broke what breaks."

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The Birth of O. Henry

April 25: On this day in 1898 William S. Porter went to prison for embezzlement, coming out three years later as "O. Henry." Porter had published several stories prior to his prison term -- in time away from being a pharmacist, cowboy, journalist, bank teller, cartoonist, fugitive, etc. -- but the fourteen written behind bars represented a new style and quality, and began his rise to popularity.

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A Congress of Books

April 24: The Library of Congress was established on this day in 1800, President John Adams approving the spending of $5,000 on "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress." Since the Civil War the LofC has been open to the public as well as the politicians and has been a place for more than books -- even, the politician-founders might wince to know, the Bob Hope archive, anchored by a career file of some 85,000 jokes, many of these tied to the politics of the day.

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Books vs. Screens

April 23: On this day in 1616 both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, prompting UNESCO to declare today World Book Day. William Wordsworth also died on this day in 1850; those responsible for the upcoming Screen-Free Week (formerly, Turn Off the TV Week) might consider moving their campaign's start date to today and taking Wordsworth's "The Child is father of the Man" as their slogan.

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The Sons of Max

April 21: Ernest Hemingway wrote to his Scribner's editor, Maxwell Perkins, from Cuba on this day in 1940 to wonder, "How about this for a title -- For Whom The Bell Tolls." Perkins is also tied to this day through Thomas Wolfe, who published The Story of a Novel on April 21, 1936. The Sons of Maxwell Perkins follows the winding trail of Perkins's relationship with his three most famous (and high-maintenance) writers: Wolfe, Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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Dupin, Detectives

April 20: Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published on this day in 1841. Historians of the genre say it is the first detective story, its deductive hero, C. Auguste Dupin, a major inspiration for Inspector Bucket (Bleak House), Sergeant Cuff (The Moonstone), and the others who followed. Also an inspiration was Inspector Whicher, one of the first real detectives, so appointed at Scotland Yard the year after Poe's story.

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Murray, Minor & the OED

April 19: The final volume of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published on this day in 1928. Work on the OED began in 1879, with an original estimate that the projected four-volume set would take ten years; as told in The Professor and the Madman, the OED would have taken even longer than a half century without the help of an inmate of Broadmoor Asylum.

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Erasmus & Charles Darwin

April 18: Erasmus Darwin, one of the leading intellectuals of eighteenth-century England, died on this day in 1802; and his grandson Charles Darwin died eighty years and a day later. Principally a physician and natural philosopher, Erasmus Darwin made pioneering contributions to the theory and practice of a wide range of sciences, though he is now most famous for being among the first to tentatively voice some of the ideas his grandson would spend his career pursuing.

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Cynthia Ozick's New York

April 17: Cynthia Ozick was born in New York on this day in 1928. Among the high praise for Ozick's novels and essays is Anita Brookner's comment that she is "as authentic a voice of New York as was Edith Wharton before her," allowing that Ozick's terrain is not some Washington Square but "an affair of battered suburbs, of cavernous municipal buildings, of ancient Hebrew teachers living above Cuban grocery stores."

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Amis & Lucky Jim

April 16: Kingsley Amis was born on this day in 1922. Amis's first novel, Lucky Jim, was an award winner and bestseller when published in 1954, and it is now on many "Best" or "Funniest" lists for twenieth-century novels -- though Amis might wince to discover his book now enshrined by literary historians, given his aim to hoist academia with its own petard.

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The Muckrake Man

April 14: On this day in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt made his famous speech labeling as "muckrakers" the new breed of investigative writers. Though the term was intended as a criticism, Upton Sinclair regarded the muckraker as a new and necessary kind of superhero: "See, we are just like Rome. Our legislatures are corrupt; our politicians are unprincipled; our rich men are ambitious and unscrupulous. Our newspapers have been purchased and gagged...."

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Welty at Home

April 13: Eudora Welty was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on this day in 1909. Welty lived in Jackson all her life, for over seventy years in the home into which her family moved when she was in her late teens. One Writer's Beginnings, her revealing memoir, is rooted in a sense of home and place -- roots conducive to true adventure, she claims in her final sentences: "As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."

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Fort Sumter to Appomattox

April 12: The beginning and ending of the American Civil War is tied to this week -- the opening shots fired at Fort Sumter on this day in 1861, General Robert E. Lee surrendering to General Ulysses Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Adam Goodheart's recent 1861, a month-by-month portrait of the war's first year, has two "April" chapters, these Northern and Southern snapshots offering a double fulcrum for the divided, seesawing nation.

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Dorothy Parker, Terrorist

April 11: Dorothy Parker stepped down as drama critic for The New Yorker on this day in 1931, so ending the "Reign of Terror" she endured while reviewing plays, and that others endured while being reviewed by her. Parker reviewed plays for only a half dozen years in a fifty-year career, but her Broadway days brought her first fame and occasioned some of her most memorable lines.

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The Shakespeare of Prose

April 10: William Hazlitt was born on this day in 1778. He is now regarded as one of England's greatest critics, essayists, and talkers -- as he was when alive: "Hazlitt is giving lectures on poetry; they are said to be the finest lectures ever delivered. He is the Shakespeare prose writer of our glorious country; he outdoes all in truth, style and originality…."

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Twain's Mississippi

April 9: After an eighteen-month apprenticeship, Samuel Clemens received his steamboat pilot's license on this day in 1859, thereby joining an elite class: "All men -- kings & serfs alike -- are slaves to other men & to circumstance -- save alone, the pilot…. [T]he only real, independent & genuine gentlemen in the world go quietly up and down the Mississippi river, asking no homage of any one, seeking no popularity, no notoriety, & not caring a damn whether school keeps or not."

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Thompson, Noir

April 7: The pulp-noir writer Jim Thompson died on this day in 1977, all of his three dozen books already out of print. "Just you wait," he told his wife shortly before his death, cautioning her to hang on to his copyrights, "I'll become famous after I'm dead about ten years." He wasn't off by much: in 1990, the movie made from his 1963 novel The Grifters received four Academy Award nominations, and today nearly all of Thompson's work is back in print.

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The Devil in Rwanda

April 6: The Rwandan Genocide began on this day in 1994, triggered by the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents. What happened next, during the three months when Hutu-Tutsi enmity erupted to destroy 20 percent of the population, is chronicled in Shake Hands with the Devil, the award-winning memoir by Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda.

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The Gilbreth Dozen

April 5: Ernestine Gilbreth Cary was born on this day in 1908. Along with her younger brother and eventual coauthor, Frank Gilbreth Jr,, Ernestine recognized the comic possibilities of her family situation: parents who were pioneers in the study of workplace efficiency having twelve children. The result was the 1948 hit Cheaper by the Dozen, the chronicle that made the Gilbreth family's story famous.

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Winston Smith, George Orwell

April 4: On this day in 1984, as the clocks struck thirteen, George Orwell's Winston Smith gulped down a teacup of VICTORY GIN, lit one of his VICTORY CIGARETTES, found a corner not in view of his telescreen, and turned to the first blank page of his diary: "He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act…."

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Being Beckett

April 3: Samuel Beckett's Endgame was first performed on this day in 1957, a French-language production at London's Royal Court Theatre. Though greeted by confusion or contempt by some, Endgame is now regarded as one of the essential texts of modern drama and reportedly was Beckett's favorite among his plays -- or more precisely and more Beckettian, "the one I dislike least."

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George Eliot, Silly Novels

April 2: George Eliot's Silas Marner was published on this day in 1861. This third novel in three years was as popular as the earlier Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss, confirming Eliot's place among the preeminent writers of the day. It also made good on Eliot's implied promise to add nothing to the ranks of "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists."

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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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The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Amara Lakhous delivers a mystery novel with its finger on the hot-button issues of today's Europe.  Immigration and multicultural conflicts erupt in the Italian city of Turin, as journalist Enzo Laganà looks to restore peace to his native burg.

Papers in the Wind

In this insightful novel by Eduardo Sacheri, a young girl left destitute by the death of her soccer-playing father is uplifted by the bold schemes of her uncle, his pals, and one newbie player to the professional leagues.