Displaying articles for: May 2011

The Oneida Experiment

June 1: John Humphrey Noyes began the Oneida Community, one of nineteenth-century America's most enduring and controversial utopian settlements, on this day in 1847. Noyes and his followers had practiced their beliefs—most notoriously, in a free love form of "complex marriage"—for years in Vermont; with the authorities about to lay charges of lewd behavior, it seemed timely to move to Oneida and "commence the testimony that the Kingdom of God has come."

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Whitman's Birthday

May 31: Walt Whitman was born on this day in 1819, and on this day in 1889, his seventieth (and second-to-last) birthday, he was honored in a gala celebration. Though wheelchair-bound, he raised a glass or two as the speakers and the telegrams (from Tennyson, Twain, and many others) sang their songs of himself.

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Thoreau, River & Cabin

May 30: On this day in 1849, Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, his first book, was published. It describes a trip taken years earlier by Thoreau and his brother, in a boat they had made themselves, sleeping in a tent made from its sails and living off the land. Among the similarities between the Week and the more famous Walden is the fact that neither book sold.

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Indian Removal

May 28: The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act on this day in 1830, setting in motion the events recalled in Vicki Rozema's recent Voices from the Trail of Tears: "…They persuaded us to sell them some land. Finally they drove us back, from time to time, into the wilderness, far from the water, and the fish, and the oysters—they have destroyed the game—our people have wasted away, and now we live miserable and wretched, while you are enjoying our fine and beautiful country…."

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Cheever & Ross

May 27: John Cheever was born on this day in 1912. In his 1976 interview with the Paris Review, Cheever recalls his early days—a slum room in New York City, a job at MGM summarizing the plot of "just about every book published," and a career built upon the stories he began to place at the New Yorker. Many got a close reading from editor Harold Ross, who could be appreciative, and sometimes even helpful.

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Edith Wharton's Debut

May 26: Edith Wharton's short story "Mrs. Manstey's View" was accepted for publication on this day in 1891 by Scribner's magazine. The story marks the beginning, at age twenty-nine, of Wharton's prose career—forty-three works of fiction and non-fiction over the next forty-six years, with a Pulitzer in 1920 for The Age of Innocence.

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Ginzburg in the Gulag

May 25: Gulag survivor Eugenia Ginzburg died on this day in 1977. When first taken into custody in one of Stalin's purges, Ginzburg was told that she'd be away only "forty minutes, perhaps an hour." She spent a total of eighteen years in Russian prisons and work camps, and then spent the next twelve years on her memoir Journey into the Whirlwind, regarded by many as one of the most readable and affecting accounts of Gulag life.

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Dylan on Dylan

May 24: Bob Dylan turns seventy today. Chronicles, the first volume of Dylan's memoirs, opens with an account of his first record deal, at age twenty—signing the deal in wide-eyed, pinch-me wonder, and then joshing Columbia's publicity writer, an Ivy League type who "tried to get me to cough up some facts, like I was supposed to give them to him straight and square…."

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Margaret Wise Brown

May 23: Margaret Wise Brown was born on this day in 1910. Included in the over one hundred children's books she published are The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon, two twentieth-century storybook classics. As described by biographer Leonard Marcus (Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon) Brown was charismatic and childlike in spirit, more the runaway than the bedtime bunny.

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Lindbergh & Earhart

May 21: Amelia Earhart completed the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman on this day in 1932, exactly five years after Charles Lindbergh's arrival in Paris made his flight the very first solo crossing by air. Earhart's accomplishment was almost certainly timed to capitalize on Lindbergh's fame; given his personality, and that Earhart touched down just days after the body of his baby was discovered, Lindbergh was eager to give her the spotlight.

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Undset's "Iliad of the North"

May 20: Sigrid Undset was born on this day in 1882. Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature for Kristin Lavransdatter, her three-volume epic of medieval Scandinavia. The book was praised at the Nobel ceremony as "an Iliad of the North" based on "the ideals of our forefathers," though at times Undset's heroine sounds closer to the New Woman of an Ibsen play.

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Camus & The Stranger

May 19: Albert Camus's first and most famous novel, The Stranger (or The Outsider), was published on this day in 1942. This was the same year that the movie Casablanca was released, and the most reproduced photographs of Camus show him looking like Humphrey Bogart—overcoated, cigaretted, and attractively worn-out. But the similarity between book and movie goes beyond image.

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Hemingway, Crane, War

May 18: Ernest Hemingway returned to the U.S. from the Spanish Civil War on this day in 1937, determined to rally support for the Republican cause through the film The Spanish Earth, the book The Fifth Column, and the speech "Fascism is a Lie." Another writer-war journalist, the twenty-six-year-old Stephen Crane, is tied to this day through his coverage of the 1897 Greco-Turkish war, where he finally experienced the thrill of real battle.

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Burning Byron

May 17: Lord Byron's memoirs were burnt on this day in 1824—"the most famous sacrificial scene in literary history," says one recent biographer. Those who feared scandalous revelations endorsed Lady Byron's view that her husband "is the absolute monarch of words, and uses them, as Bonaparte did lives, for conquest."

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Boswell & Johnson

May 16: James Boswell published his Life of Samuel Johnson on this day 1791, the date chosen as a commemoration of their first meeting, on this day in 1763. Having developed a "mysterious veneration" of Johnson, Boswell had tried for some time to arrange a proper introduction, and then, while he was taking tea at the Covent Garden bookshop of his friend, Tom Davies, "Dictionary Johnson" suddenly walked in.

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Thoreau's "Disobedience"

May 14: Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" was published on this day in 1849.  An anthem for the idea of principled, independent behavior, Thoreau's essay was inspired by the nation's battle over slavery and its land-grabbing war with Mexico—or by those complicit fellow citizens who "sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say they know not what to do, and do nothing."

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Australia's Convict-Wives

May 13: On this day in 1787, Captain Arthur Phillip, in command of eleven convict ships, set sail for Botany Bay, Australia. Over the next eighty years, 825 such ships would carry 160,000 prisoners to serve their "transportation" sentence in the colony. Two recent books, Sian Ree's The Floating Brothel and Deborah Swiss's The Tin Ticket, tell the story of the women convicts given a sort of double sentence as not only felons but also wives or sexual recreation for other prisoners.

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Mowat at Ninety

May 12: The Canadian writer and activist Farley Mowat turns ninety today. Mowat's dozens of books cover a range of settings, issues, and adventures, though he returns often to the theme of cultural and environmental degradation. In his recent memoir Bay of Spirits, he also returns to the island of Newfoundland, a place which seems to suit his quirky, independent personality.

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Cats & Old Possum

May 11: The musical Cats opened on this day in 1981. T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats provided the source material—Eliot being sometimes "Tom Possum" in his letters, his real cats sometimes Pettipaws, Wiscus, and George Pushdragon (this last being also the name Eliot used when entering crossword competitions).

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Battling over the Bard

May 10: On this day in 1849 the Astor Place Riot occurred. In its simplest terms, the riot was a feud which got out of hand, those in support of the touring English tragedian William Macready battling those who preferred the American actor Edwin Forrest for artistic or market share reasons. Nigel Cliff's The Shakespeare Riots tells a much larger tale of patriotism and politics, from a time when the theater held a key place in New World cultural life.

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Rabbits Silly and Serious

May 9: Richard Adams was born on this day in 1920, and Shel Silverstein died on this day in 1999. Silverstein's posthumously-published Runny Babbit is a billy sook of Spooner-bunnies; Adams's Watership Down is a story of man-rabbit Armageddon.

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Faulkner in Hollywood

May 7: On this day in 1932, thirty-four-year-old William Faulkner began his off-and-on career as a screenwriter, reluctantly reporting for work in Hollywood, and then disappearing for a nine-day tour of Death Valley.

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Buying Manhattan

May 6: The Dutch purchased Manhattan Island on this day in 1626. The legendary deal is the starting point for Russell Shorto's recent bestseller, The Island at the Center of the World, which offers "a new foundation myth" in place of the Pilgrims: "Manhattan is where America began."

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Woolf's Lighthouse

May 5: On this date in 1927 Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse was published. Many of the earliest reviews were lukewarm, but not Conrad Aiken's: "The tragic futility, the absurdity, the pathetic beauty, of life—we experience all of this in our sharing of seven hours of Mrs. Ramsay's wasted or not wasted existence. We have seen through her, the world."

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Joyce's Wake

May 4: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake was published on this day in 1939 — three months late, as the author saw it. Superstitious in all things, Joyce had hoped to have the book come out on his February 2nd birthday, as both Ulysses (1922) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914) had done. This proved impossible, although one advance copy was made available for February 2nd, and a birthday-book celebration organized to toast the author and his seventeen years' labor. With the looming uncertainty of war, and the certainty that Joyce did not have another seventeen-year book in him, the party became something of a career celebration.

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Kerouac Desolated

May 3: Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels was published this day in 1965. The title and many of the events were based on the summer which Kerouac spent on Desolation Peak in the Cascade Mountains, looking for fires, a good smoke, and inner peace.

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400 Years of the KJV Bible

May 2: The Authorized King James Version of the Bible was published 400 years ago today. There was immediate controversy over some of the wording—about 80% of which was taken from William Tyndale's Bible; that edition was so unauthorized that Tyndale was hanged for it. 

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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.