Displaying articles for: June 2012

Mitchell, Fitzgerald, West

June 30: On this day in 1936 Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind was published. Because the novel had been extensively promoted and chosen as the July selection by the Book-of-the-Month Club, it was certain to sell, though few predicted the sustained, record-breaking numbers. This elevated the first-time author to such fame and power that F. Scott Fitzgerald, assigned to the movie script, said it was like working on "The Gospel According to Margaret."

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"All this is true…"

June 29: On this day in 1613 flames destroyed the Globe playhouse, where Shakespeare was not only playwright but part-owner. The fire started during a performance of his Henry the Eighth when sparks from a cannon set off to announce the King's entrance in Act I ignited the thatched roof, destroying the building in an hour and, almost as quickly, inspiring some fresh satirical poetry.

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Rousseau & Hume

June 28: Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born this day in 1712. His tercentenary is being marked by symposia around the world, these fueled by Rousseau's range of work in music, botany, education, and fiction, as well as his contentious religious and sociopolitical writing. Also receiving attention is Rousseau's difficult personality, famously illustrated by his seventeen-month stay in England, hosted by David Hume.

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Dunbar's Double Voice

June 27: Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio, 140 years ago today. Despite racial and economic obstacles, and despite dying at age thirty-three, Dunbar published some two dozen books, elevating him to "poet laureate of the negro race."  Scholars say that although Dunbar was one of the very first black Americans to gain an international, biracial readership, he was not fully appreciated nor even allowed his true voice.

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Of Rats, Pipers & Joy

June 26: Today is Rat Catcher's Day in Hamelin, Germany, commemorating the day in 1284 on which the town's children danced to their deaths, lured there by the Pied Piper. There is fragmentary evidence that the event indeed occurred; if it began as "collective joy," says Barbara Ehrenreich in Dancing in the Streets, it is part of a long, regrettably fading tradition.

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Down and Out with Orwell

June 25: Eric Blair was born on this day in 1903, becoming "George Orwell" with the 1933 publication of his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London. Seven books later, in his 1946 essay "Why I Write," Orwell gives this summary of his career objective: "What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art."

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Steinbeck's Discontent

June 23: John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent was published on this day in 1961. Steinbeck enjoyed reading Shakespeare, and he approached the publication of his novel with the hope that it might very well make "glorious summer" of his various discontents. Some celebrated the result, Saul Bellow saying that Steinbeck had returned to Grapes of Wrath form: "Critics who said of him that he had seen his best days had better tie on their napkins and prepare to eat crow."

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Remembering Remarque

June 22: Erich Maria Remarque was born on this day in 1898. Although many of Remarque's fifteen novels were popular upon publication, none were as acclaimed or enduring as All Quiet on the Western Front, his 1929 international bestseller. Remarque described his autobiographical novel as a memorial to "a generation that was destroyed by war, even though it might have escaped its shells."

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Mary McCarthy & Company

June 21: Mary McCarthy was born 100 years ago today. McCarthy's first book was the semi-autobiographical The Company She Keeps, describing the swirl of ideas, politics, and love found in New York City by a young woman fresh out of college. McCarthy was in the public eye throughout her fifty years as a writer and would keep company or cross swords with many of the twentieth century's most influential figures.

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World Refugee Day

June 20: Today is World Refugee Day, as designated by the United Nations in 2001. Appreciating that the raw numbers can be mind-numbing -- over 40 million people are currently in relocation or flight -- the UN website features a number of individual refugees telling their first-person tales. This is the approach behind Dave Eggers's What Is the What (2006), his novelized autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, one of Sudan's "Lost Boys."

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The Canon & the Cash

June 19: Nathanael West's A Cool Million was published on this day in 1934. A dark satire of the typical Horatio Alger story, done in the style of Punch & Judy or Mad magazine, West's novel later made Harold Bloom's list of the Western canon but was too dark and undiluted to ever be popular and did even less for West's own fame and fortune than his other books.

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The Chekhov of the Suburbs

June 18: John Cheever died on this day in 1982, aged seventy, in Ossining, New York. Celebrated over his last years as "the Chekhov of the suburbs," Cheever also seemed triumphant in his personal life. Apart from having overcome his alcohol and cigarette addictions, he had found some accommodation for both his marriage and his bisexuality and, wrote Susan Cheever in her memoir Home Before Dark, returned to being the "man whose humor and tenderness I dimly remembered from my childhood."

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Rolling Stone, Direction Known

June 16: Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded on this day in 1965. Released a month later, the song never made it to the top of the Billboard charts -- there it sits at #41 for the year, beaten into catchy-tune submission by the likes of "Wooly Bully," "The Name Game," and three hits by Herman's Hermits -- but in the 2004 Rolling Stone poll it was deemed the greatest song of rock's first half century.

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"At Runnymede, at Runnymede…"

June 15: England's King John signed the Magna Carta on this day in 1215. The watery meadow twenty miles west of London that hosted the momentous event gave Rudyard Kipling the setting for his famous rights-and-freedoms poem: "At Runnymede, at Runnymede, / Your rights were won at Runnymede!"

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Arriving at Auschwitz

June 14: Auschwitz received its first victims, a transport of 728 Polish political prisoners, on this day in 1940. The story of the camp's first eighteen months, during which the Nazis worked through various non-final solutions for their occupation/annihilation problems, is given a new telling in Lawrence Rees's Auschwitz (2005), which argues that the Nazis did not initially conceive of Auschwitz as the final horror it became.

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Pessoa et al.

June 13: Fernando Pessoa was born on this day in 1888. Though he published very little in his short lifetime, Portugal's most important twentieth-century poet is such an essential presence on the postmodern syllabus that, says John Hollander, "If Fernando Pessoa had never existed, Jorge Luis Borges might have had to invent him." Even without Borges, Pessoa exists in multiple "heteronyms" -- sustained fictitious personas, each with a distinct biography and writing style.

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Djuna Barnes

June 12: Djuna Barnes was born on this day in 1892. If "the unknown legend of American literature," Barnes earned her self-description on a number of fronts: for her 1936 cult lesbian novel, Nightwood; for her poetry and artwork; for her sensationalist journalism and offbeat interviews; and for being at the center of the eccentric, bohemian crowd in between-the-wars Paris.

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Styron & Suicide

June 11: William Styron was born on this day in 1925. Styron's first novel was the prizewinning Lie Down in Darkness (1951), a story about a depressive and suicidal woman. His last book was Darkness Visible (1990), the acclaimed memoir that chronicled his own slide into depression and near suicide. In her memoir Reading My Father (2011), Alexandra Styron says that her father's "fragile equilibrium" brought both risk and reward to him and his family.

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The Secretariat Stretch

June 9: Secretariat won the Triple Crown on this day in 1973, the first horse to do so in a quarter century. Before he was scratched from the running of today's Belmont Stakes, I'll Have Another, having won the Kentucky Derby on May 5 and the Preakness on May 19, had a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in thirty-four years. But no win at Belmont, say most racing historians, could compete with Secretariat's record-smashing, thirty-one-length victory, now ranked among the iconic moments in sports history.

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Guilty Innocents

June 8: On this day in 1867 Mark Twain set off on the European/ Mideast tour that would inspire The Innocents Abroad, his bestselling book in his lifetime. Many of Twain's observations about the Grand Tour are in the debunking mode, a raised eyebrow at the hallowed tourist sites, or the various subspecies of Dumb Tourist.

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Dorothy Parker & the NAACP

June 7: Dorothy Parker died on this day in 1967, aged seventy-three. Having tried to remain whimsical about death when alive -- her mock-epitaphs include "Excuse My Dust" and "This Is on Me" -- Parker would have enjoyed the story of her ashes, these now -- after gathering extra dust for almost two decades -- in a garden at NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.

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Bentham Immortalized

June 6: The radical British philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham died on this day in 1832. Apart from his controversial contributions to the social and political debate, Bentham holds an esteemed place in any list of Oddest Last Wills & Testaments through his mummified "Auto-Icon." Dickens has also immortalized Bentham in the character of Thomas Gradgrind, the utilitarian headmaster in Hard Times.

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Hawthorne at the Old Manse

June 5: Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse was published on this day in 1846. For the literary traveler, the Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts, now a museum, is almost in the same class as Thoreau's Walden cabin. Hawthorne wrote his book there, and enjoyed his three-year stay, except for the throng of the "young visionaries," "gray-headed theorists," and "uncertain, troubled, earnest wanderers" who came to sit by Emerson's "intellectual fire."

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Of Pulitzers and Pull-Overs

June 4: The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on this day in 1917. Even when not tied by Pulitzer's original stipulation that the fiction prize go to a book reflecting "the wholesome atmosphere of American life, and the highest standard of American manners and manhood," the Pulitzer jury has made some odd and controversial selections.

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Ruth & Gehrig

June 2: Babe Ruth retired on this day in 1935, and Lou Gehrig died on this day in 1941. As in the batting order for the New York Yankees during the glory years of the 1920s and '30s, the two are back-to-back in any lineup of baseball's most coveted records and legends. But the Sultan of Swat and the Iron Horse were polar opposites in personality and playing style, this nowhere clearer than the manner in which they made their respective exits from the game.

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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
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

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).