Displaying articles for: June 2013

Sand & Chopin

July 1: On this day in 1804 George Sand (Aurore Dupin) was born. Sand's novels were as popular in nineteenth-century France as Charles Dickens's were in England, but for many now it is her life which attracts most attention: her cross-dressing, her cigars, her feminism, her bisexuality, her relationships with many leading figures in literary-artistic Paris, especially Chopin.

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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: 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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The Smoking Guns of WWI

June 28: The archduke of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo on this day in 1914, and on this day in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris. During the five years between WWI's casus belli and the declaration of peace, some 37 million died, making this one of the deadliest events in world history. Recent books on the war continue the attempt to puzzle out the path that led to the world-changing horror.

 

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Driving America

June 27: U.S. Route 66 was officially closed on this day in 1985. The mythic "mother road" of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath had connected Chicago and Los Angeles since 1926, but with the new interstates and a myriad of bypass alternatives, America's first paved highway was decertified. Rick Antonson's recent Route 66 Still Kicks is an affirmation of the old road and its place in the rambling, enduring national narrative.

 

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Ford & James

June 26: Ford Madox Ford died on this day in 1939. As founder and editor of both the English Review and the transatlantic review, and as "everybody's blessed Uncle and Headmaster" (D. H. Lawrence), Ford was a central figure in early-twentieth-century British literature. Among his seventy-seven books are eight volumes of memoirs containing many "impressions" of the famous writers of the day.

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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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"But Yesterday a King!"

June 24: Napoleon crossed into Russia on this day in 1812, beginning the disastrous six-month invasion that became a turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, and his own fortunes. Byron's "Ode to Napoleon," written just after the emperor's 1814 surrender, describes one "but yesterday a King! / And arm'd with Kings to strive – / And now thou art a nameless thing…."

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Anne Morrow Lindbergh

June 22: Anne Morrow Lindbergh was born on this day in 1906. Lindbergh's biographers make it clear that she regarded her fame as both worthwhile and worthless -- proud of her accomplishments as an aviator-adventurer and author, but scornful and puzzled by her celebrity status as bereaved mother and spokeswoman.

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Sartre & Sagan

June 21: Jean-Paul Sartre was born on this day in 1905, and Françoise Sagan was born on this day in 1935. Though some described Sagan as merely "a luxury hotel existentialist," her "Love Letter to Jean-Paul Sartre," published in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday, spoke for many who viewed Sartre as the intellectual-political hero of midcentury France.

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Refugee Day

June 20: Today is World Refugee Day, as designated by the United Nations in 2001. According to the renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the modern refugee problem should not be attributed to wars and despots but to a civilization that seems hard-wired for "excess, redundancy, waste and waste disposal" (Wasted Lives, 2004). Theory aside, the tales of displacement and flight continue to pour in from all continents.

 

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At Villa Diodati

June 19: On this day in 1816, the Shelleys, Lord Byron, and entourage gathered at the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva to tell the ghost stories that would trigger Frankenstein. This most legendary of storm-tossed evenings inspired more than Mary Shelley's story, and connects not only backward to John Milton but forward to the language of computer programming.

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Orwell & Churchill

June 18: George Orwell's "As One Non-Combatant to Another" was published on this day in 1943. Orwell's poem arguing against pacifism quotes from Churchill's "finest hour" speech, delivered to Parliament and the nation on this day in 1940 -- the 125th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and just days after Nazi troops had marched into Paris.

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Slippery Standards

June 17: The first college level standardized tests, forerunner to the modern SAT, were given on this day in 1901. Standardized testing is now present throughout education in America, as is the unabated debate over its fairness, efficacy, and attendant issues. Todd Farley’s Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry (2009) entertainingly argues that "the development and scoring of large-scale standardized tests is nothing but a theater of the absurd."

 

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Divine Payback

June 15: On this day in 1300, Dante was made one of the six Priors of Florence, the top political office in the city-state. Though only a two-month term -- the legal limit, so suspicious were the citizenry of corruption and power play -- Dante's appointment set in motion the series of events that would eventually cause his permanent banishment and inspire some of the most memorable lines in the Divine Comedy.

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Going Further

June 14: On this day in 1964, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters boarded their bus, "Further," for their first coast-to-coast trip. Novelist Robert Stone recalls some of the details in Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties: “Like everything that was essential to the sixties, the cross-country trip has been mythologized. If you can remember it, the old saw goes, you weren’t there….”

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The Press & the Pentagon Papers

June 13: The New York Times published the first installment of the Pentagon Papers on this day in 1971. Though the leaked documents showed how four successive presidents had been duplicitous about American involvement in Vietnam, it was the current Nixon administration that made most of the headlines. On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court decided that the First Amendment protected the Times; the ruling, the first of its kind by the Court, put new weight behind freedom of the press.

 

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Medgar in Mississippi

June 12: Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his Mississippi home 50 years ago today, aged thirty-seven. Although outspoken on racial issues since a teenager, Evers was murdered not for any high-profile provocation but for his devotion to grassroots change. A field secretary for the NAACP for the previous nine years, he was gunned down as he got out of his car after a sixteen-hour day, a bundle of "Jim Crow Must Go" T-shirts in his arms.

 

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"Strata Smith"

June 11: After dinner on this day in 1799, the Rev. Joseph Townsend, the Rev. Benjamin Richardson, and William Smith created the "Table of Strata" that would became The Map That Changed the World, and make "Strata Smith" the "Father of British Geology."

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Call of the Wild Things

June 10: Maurice Sendak was born on this day in 1928. Sendak said that his children's books are addressed to "freaky kids who lick, sniff, and carry on over their books before they even read them." In his Caldecott acceptance, he referred to his desire to voice "this inescapable fact of childhood -- the awful vulnerability of children and their struggle to make themselves King of All Wild Things."

 

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Orwell's Warning

June 8: George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on this day in 1949. Shortly afterward, to point his theme and his lifelong commitment, Orwell issued a post-publication press release: "The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one:  Don't let it happen. It depends on you. "The quotation was soon given the status of a last statement or deathbed appeal, given that Orwell was hospitalized at the time and dead six months later.

 

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Nin, Miller, Venus

June 7: On this day in 1977 Anaïs Nin's Delta of Venus was published, and on this day in 1980 Henry Miller died. Based on her journal entries, and originally written as Nin's contribution to the dollar-a-page pornography that she, Miller, and others contracted to write for an anonymous client in the 1940s, Delta of Venus became Nin's first bestseller. Miller's Venus was a last "paramour and muse" and a former Playboy Playmate.

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D-Day Deception

June 6: The Normandy D-Day invasion began on this day in 1944. The success of Operation Overlord depended heavily upon multiple layers of secrecy and surprise, each stage leading the expectant Germans ever further from the exact time and place of the Allied landings. Ben Macintyre’s Double Cross tells "The True Story of the D-Day Spies," a vital inner circle of double agents who "were, without question, one of the oddest military units ever assembled."

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Going Home in the Dark

June 5: O. Henry's death from alcoholism on this day in 1910 was the farthest thing from a surprise ending, but it came with some characteristic and now-legendary lines: "The train for happiness is late," and "Here I am going to die and only worth 23 cents," and, asking the hospital nurse to turn the light back on. "I don't want to go home in the dark."

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Remembering Tiananmen

June 4: The Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred on this day in 1989. The decades have not much clarified the original news reports that "hundreds, maybe thousands" of pro-democracy demonstrators were slaughtered, but anthologies that bring together the stories of witnesses  have given us an inside view of the events, these often expressed by "A Student Who Survived" or someone else well within range of a rifle or reprisal.

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Freud in Mudville

June 3: Joy left Mudville on this day in 1888, when Ernest Lawrence Thayer's "Casey at the Bat" was first published in the San Francisco Examiner. Stephen Jay Gould’s Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville, his personal testament to "A Lifelong Passion for Baseball," takes Sigmund Freud out to the ballgame -- specifically the final game of the 1955 World Series, in which Gould’s beloved Yankees lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

 

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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).