Displaying articles for: April 2013

Life with "Catch-22"

May 1: Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn on this day in 1923. Heller's memoir, Now and Then, published at age seventy-five, concludes on a self-satisfied note: "I have much to be pleased with, including myself, and I am…." Heller's daughter Erica has recently published her own memoir of family life; Yossarian Slept Here dubiously comments on the above quotation, and a father in whose presence "life was a Catch-22."

 

Read more...

Walden Burning

April 30: Twenty-six-year-old Henry David Thoreau accidentally set fire to 300 acres of the Concord woods on this day in 1844. Thoreau had taken a few days off from the family pencil-making business and set out down the Sudbury River with a friend. A spark from their first fire, a noonday fish fry -- this courtesy of a borrowed match, as they had forgotten to pack their own -- ignited the dry shoreline grass.

Read more...

The Broadway Rock Musical

April 29: Hair opened on Broadway on this day in 1968, running for over four years; and Rent, described as "a Hair for the '90s," opened on Broadway on this day in 1996, running for over twelve years. The two shows are regarded as defining moments in the "rock musical" genre, and Hair remains definitive for its '60s answers to the timeless questions: "Why do I live? (beads, flowers) Why do I die? (freedom, happiness)..."

 

Read more...

Emerson Remembered

April 27: On this day in 1882 Ralph Waldo Emerson died, aged seventy-eight. Though his last decade was one of increasing debility, Emerson was still invited to speak across America and Europe; his final return to Concord was part tribute and part house-raising, accepted as "a trick of sympathy to catch an old gentleman returned from his wanderings."

Read more...

Dickinson & Higginson

April 26: On this day in 1862, thirty-one-year-old Emily Dickinson sent the second of her famous letters to the critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson: "You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself, that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know, but do not tell; and the noise in the pool at noon excels my piano…."

Read more...

Defoe & Crusoe

April 25: Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was published on this day in 1719. The author may also have died on this day -- his circumstances at the end are obscure, but he passed away sometime between April 24–26, 1731, while separated from his family and hiding from creditors. Whether Defoe's tale was inspired by Alexander Selkirk or some other contemporary castaway, he was himself a survivor of many shipwrecks, most of them caused by his own tempestuous enthusiasms.

 

Read more...

Homage to Hubble

April 24: The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit on this day in 1990. The HST would not transmit any images for another three and a half years, this time needed for servicing missions to correct a technological near-catastrophe, but over the past two decades the Hubble has "lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way again."

 

Read more...

Book Day & the Bard

April 23: On this day in 1616 both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died, thus prompting UNESCO to declare today "World Book and Copyright Day." The declaration may also have been inspired by a third death on this day, that of William Wordsworth in 1850. As April 23 is also the generally accepted date of Shakespeare's birth, based on baptismal records, the day is even more momentous, or dubious….

Read more...

Giving Earth a Chance

April 22: The first Earth Day was observed across the U.S. on this day in 1970. Though sometimes theatrical and alarmist -- activists dumped oil-coated ducks at the Department of the Interior and dragged a net full of dead fish through downtown New York -- most events were affirming in a '60s, be-in, "Give Earth a Chance" fashion. The April 22 date, recently supported by a UN resolution, is now observed in almost 200 countries around the world.

 

Read more...

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."

Read more...

The Death of Lord Byron

April 19: Lord Byron died in Missolonghi, Greece, on this day in 1824. His last months, spent on a revolutionary war that proved to be "a fool's errand," caused not only his fatal illness but such extreme disillusionment that he had to stop writing in his journal in order to spare himself his observations. His last entry, three months before his death, contained his last poem: "If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live? / The land of honourable death / Is here: -- up to the field, and give / Away thy breath!"

Read more...

International Ice

April 18: The International Court of Justice, one of the six major organs of the United Nations, held its first meeting on this day in 1946. While it does not preside over the same sort of life-and-death issues as the International Criminal Court, there is every reason to believe that the ICJ will soon be in the spotlight. Within its jurisdiction are issues relating to territorial and maritime claims, and a handful of nations are poised to contest for the Arctic and its fortunes.

 

Read more...

The Bay of Pigs

April 17: The Bay of Pigs invasion began on this day in 1961. Far from overthrowing Fidel Castro and derailing his recent takeover of Cuba, the CIA-led assault was a humiliating failure for the U.S. and an enduring inspiration throughout the region. "Fifty years of the great victory of Bay of Pigs," tweeted Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in 2011. "Long live Fidel! Long live Socialist Cuba! We will conquer!"

 

Read more...

Lessing's Albatross

April 16: On this day in 1962, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook was published. Still the bestselling of her two dozen books, Lessing has described it as an attempt "to break certain forms of consciousness and go beyond them"; she has also said that the novel became "an albatross" hung around her neck by a feminist misreading.

Read more...

Remembering No. 42

April 15: Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier on this day in 1947 -- as told in Robinson's 1972 autobiography, just barely: "For one wild and rage-crazed minute I thought, "To hell with Mr. Rickey's 'noble experiment.'… To hell with the image of the patient black freak I was supposed to create…."

 

Read more...

Shaking & Stirring

April 13: Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published on this day in 1953. It is not only the first of the dozen spy-sex cocktails Fleming would shake and reshake over the next decade, but the source for the actual Bond cocktail, named at a first meeting with Vesper Lynd, the first of the double-dealing femmes fatales.

Read more...

Madame Bovary in Court

April 12: On this day in 1857, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary was published. Flaubert's portrait of "ignoble reality" introduced a new style of writing, established his reputation, and landed him in court, charged with corrupting public morals -- and utterly defiant: "If the bourgeois are exasperated by my novel, I don't care; if we are taken to criminal court, I don't care…."

Read more...

The History of Boredom

April 11: So little happened on this day in 1954 that it has been designated "the most boring day in history," this title granted in 2010 by the artificial intelligence computer True Knowledge Answer Engine. Earning the MBDH award would make April 11 interesting, of course; and even setting aside this catch-22, the computer only used data from 1900 onward, by which time there was a long tradition of yawning and finger drumming.

 

Read more...

Pulitzer's World

April 10: Joseph Pulitzer was born on this day in 1847. Pulitzer's biographers describe a transcontinental riches-to-rags-to-riches story, one central to any history of the Gilded Age. During his boyhood in Hungary, Pulitzer's wealthy family fell into poverty; a penniless teenage immigrant, Pulitzer made a fortune at the New York World, and his golden-domed Pulitzer Building became a beacon for the American Dream.

 

Read more...

Rabelais, Rabelaisian

April 9: On this day in 1553 the French monk, physician, humanist scholar, and writer, François Rabelais died. His influential and inimitable Gargantua and Pantagruel is regarded as a masterpiece of the mock-quest tradition (emphasis decidedly on the mock). Its lampoon of just about every power-group going brought condemnation and censorship in the author's lifetime; modern readers marvel more at the style, that exuberant combination of humor, sex, and scatology now deemed "Rabelaisian."

Read more...

Stolen Beauty

April 8: The Venus de Milo was discovered on this day in 1820, by a farmer digging among the ruins of Milos, the ancient capital city on the Aegean island of the same name. Just as the island itself had for centuries been pulled by the tides of regional power politics, so the statue was immediately caught in a many-sided tug-of-war, won by France and the Louvre. "Trafficking in looted art," say Jason Felch and Ralph Frammalino in Chasing Aphrodite, "is probably the world's second-oldest profession."

 

Read more...

Petrarch & Laura

April 6: As noted on the flyleaf of his copy of Virgil, Petrarch first saw "Laura" on this day in 1327, while at a Good Friday church service in Avignon, France. Though some scholars hold that Laura was only an idealization, others think that she was not only real but an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade; whatever their inspiration, Petrarch's 366 love sonnets are their own testament, and model for a lot of later plaint-making.

Read more...

Mencken's Law

April 5: On this day in 1926, H. L. Mencken was arrested by the Boston vice squad, charged with the possession and sale of indecent literature -- the recent issue of Mencken's American Mercury magazine, found offensive for a short story by Herbert Asbury about a small-town prostitute. Mencken approached his trial as yet another opportunity to demonstrate Mencken's Law: "Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of improving or saving X, A is a scoundrel."

Read more...

Down from the Mountain

April 4: Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis on this day in 1968. King's death is closely connected to his speeches, not just the famous and prophetic "Mountaintop" address the evening before his assassination but also the controversial "A Time to Break Silence," his protest against the war in Vietnam delivered on this day in 1967.

 

Read more...

Boats Against the Current

April 3: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre were married on this day in 1920. Their springtime wedding, the direct result of Fitzgerald's success with This Side of Paradise, marks the beginning of the legendary champagne-and-dancing anecdotes, which lasted for precisely a decade, until Zelda's first mental breakdown in April 1930.

 

Read more...

Fraser & Forester

April 2: George MacDonald Fraser was born on this day in 1925, and C. S. Forester died on this day in 1966. Between the two of them, in two dozen books ranging over Her Majesty's lands and seas, Fraser and Forester turned the nineteenth-century British Empire into a never-ending, never-dull yarn.

Read more...

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…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

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.