Displaying articles for: July 2010

Wind, Sand and Stars

July 31: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry disappeared over the Mediterranean on this day in 1944 while piloting a WWII reconnaissance flight. Whether his death was suicide or accident—the plane, recovered in 2000, shows no sign of enemy fire—will not likely ever be known. His last letters and conversations were full of life-weary comments, but his writing, from The Little Prince to the bestselling Wind, Sand and Stars are full of the life-spirit. Read more...

"Peculiar Music"

July 30: On this day in 1818 Emily Brontë was born in Thornton, Yorkshire. Most accounts portray Emily as the brightest, most intense, and most difficult of the three sisters. Charlotte thought her a "nursling of the moors," her spirit transported into Wuthering Heights and her poetry, this "peculiar music—wild, melancholy, and elevating." Read more...

Marquis, the Cockroach & the Cat

July 29: On this day in 1878 Don Marquis was born. Marquis wrote a handful of plays, a dozen books, and a lot of stories and poems, but his fame came mostly from "Archy and Mehitabel," the cockroach-cat relationship that began in 1916, created for Marquis's column in the pages of the New York Sun : "expression is the need of my soul / i was once a vers libre bard / but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach…." Read more...

Shelley in Love

July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814. The details of the event are the stuff of romantic legend -- the two courting (if not making love) at the gravesite of Mary's mother, Shelley overdosing on laudanum at the idea of being denied, the several months of secret letters, the coach at 4:00AM, the 11-hour dash to Dover, the secretive and storm-tossed crossing to Calais, this later and repeatedly turned into verse.

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Hardwick at the Review

July 27: The American novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick was born on this day in 1916. In 1963 Hardwick co-founded the New York Review of Books, aimed at correcting, as one of Hardwick's earlier magazine articles titled it, "The Decline of Book Reviewing": "In America, now...a genius may indeed go to his grave unread, but he will hardly have gone to it unpraised. Sweet, bland commendations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomized, accommodation reigns."

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Borrowing Hamlet

July 26: On this day in 1602 "A booke called the Revenge of Hamlett Prince Denmarke" was entered in the Stationers' Register by printer James Robertes. If Robertes was practicing standard thievery for these pre-copyright times, Shakespeare too had borrowed, taking much of his plot from an 11th-12th century Danish saga entitled "Amleth." And the borrowing continues, according to a website listing some 800 book titles alluding to Shakespeare's play. Read more...

Newton's "Amazing Grace"

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born. Newton's memoirs make clear how repeatedly lost and found a wretch he was; he is also remembered for the Olney Hymns, written with the poet William Cowper, and for his spirited letter writing. Read more...

Mitford's Way of Death

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996. Having laid bare the funeral industry in her bestselling The American Way of Death, Mitford was not about to lose an opportunity with her own passing. Her jests include sending the bill for her funeral to Service Corporation International, America's largest franchise funeral home operation and one of her book's primary targets. Read more...

Long Day's First Night

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey Into Night to his wife, Carlotta, with deep love and a clear instruction that the play never be produced. Three years after his death in 1953, Carlotta authorized productions in Sweden and then New York, where the play won O'Neill a posthumous Pulitzer.

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Burns in Stone

July 21: On this day in 1796 Robert Burns died in Dumfries, Scotland at the age of thirty-seven. A decade earlier, almost to the day, had been the publication of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, the collection which made the "plowman poet" famous and which, according to some, caused only personality confusion, dissipation, and death. "Aye, Robbie," his mother reportedly said at the sight of his Edinburgh statue, "ye asked for bread and they've given ye a stone."

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Little Big Berger

July 20: The American novelist Thomas Berger was born on this day in 1924. Over a half-century career, Berger has written two dozen novels in a range of styles, his Little Big Man books perhaps most familiar. Many of these highly praised by the critics but not often popular successes—the New York Times reviewer of Neighbors (1980) said the novel "raises yet again the embarrassing question of why Thomas Berger isn't more generally recognized as one of the masters of contemporary fiction." Read more...

Mayakovsky in America

July 19: The avant-garde poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky was born on this day in 1893. As a proponent of Futurism and a propagandist for the October Revolution, Mayakovsky was one of the most well known writers in the early days of Communist Russia. When he came to America, he was greeted by the New York Times as the "generalissimo of the army of revolutionary minstrels." Read more...

Woolf's Waves

July 17: Virginia Woolf finished The Waves on this day in 1931: "Yes. This morning I think I may say I have finished. That is to say I have once more, for the 18th time, copied out the opening sentences. L. will read it tomorrow; & I shall open this book to record his verdict. My own opinion,—oh dear—, its a difficult book. I don't know that I've ever felt so strained…." Read more...

Catching the Catcher

July 16: On this day in 1951 J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was published. Salinger's 1941 story "Slight Rebellion Off Madison" was the first appearance of Holden in print, and the basis of the Sally Hayes sections of the novel. It also gave the first indication of where Salinger's own slight rebellion might lead: "…Here's my idea. I'll borrow Fred Halsey's car and tomorrow morning we'll drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont and around there, see?..." Read more...

Roberto Bolaño

July 15: The Chilean-Spanish novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño died on this day in 2003, aged fifty. According to many critics, Bolaño deserves a place with "Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes, and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope." According to Bolaño, the writer's only concern is "to know how to thrust your head into the darkness, know how to leap into the void, and to understand that literature is basically a dangerous calling." Read more...

Killing the Kid

July 14: On this day in 1881 Billy the Kid was killed, receiving a fatal shot above the heart from his nemesis, the Sheriff and bounty hunter Pat Garrett. This was also the starting shot for a fiction marathon which shows no signs of being over, and without which, says Western scholar Jon Tuska, the Kid "would have remained an obscure New Mexican horse thief," and a small player in the Lincoln County cattle-baron war, guilty of perhaps four murders. Read more...

Wordsworth at Tintern

July 13: On this day William Wordsworth finished writing "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798." Wordsworth worked on the poem during a 4-day walking tour of the region, composing as he walked by way of a singsong, "booing and hawing" method he had developed. Delivered to the printers on the 13th, the poem would become one of the most famous in Lyrical Ballads. Read more...

Thoreau in Concord

July 12: Henry David Thoreau was born on this day in 1817. If often a burr under the saddle of hometown Concord, Thoreau clearly needed the saddle as much as he thought the saddle needed the burr. The vow which he made in the Class Book for his year at Harvard says as much: "If I forget thee, O Concord, let my right hand forget her cunning…. Read more...

Proust at Illiers-Combray

July 10: Marcel Proust was born on this day in 1871 in the north-central French town of Illiers-Combray. The town was originally named Illiers, but as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time called it Combray, it officially renamed itself in order to pay homage, or just to capitalize as a stop for the Proustian literary pilgrim. Read more...

Burying Chekhov

July 9: Anton Chekhov was buried on this day in 1904, some 4000 escorting the casket on its four-mile procession across Moscow. Chekhov had died in a German spa town, his short stay there, like his longer stays in the Crimean resort of Yalta throughout his last years, part of a lifelong battle with the tuberculosis that killed him at the age of forty-four. Read more...

Shelley at Viareggio

July 8: Percy Bysshe Shelley died on this day in 1822, or thereabouts — having disappeared while sailing in a storm on July 8th, his body did not come to shore at Viareggio, Tuscany for another ten days. Most of the first-hand details of Shelley’s last days come from recollections published by Edward John Trelawny, the novelist-adventurer who snatched Shelley’s heart from his funeral pyre. Read more...

Defoe in the Pillory

July 7: On this day in 1703 Daniel Defoe was sentenced to the pillory for having written The Shortest Way with Dissenters. This satiric pamphlet had suggested that instead of passing laws against all religious Dissenters — Protestant "Nonconformists," such as Defoe — the quicker, cleaner solution would be to kill them. When many in power took the idea seriously, and then realized that Defoe had taken them, they flushed him from his hiding spot and took revenge for their embarrassment. Read more...

“As He Lay Dead”

July 6: William Faulkner died on this day in 1962. William Styron was one of the few friends invited to the small, family funeral in Oxford, Mississippi. His reflective description of the event, published two weeks later in Life magazine under the title “As He Lay Dead, a Bitter Grief,” elegizes Faulkner and his fictional Yoknapatawph — “…the tumultuous landscape and the fierce and tender weather, and the whole maddened, miraculous vision of life wrested, as all art is wrested, out of nothingness.” Read more...

Nemerov’s Ars

July 5: Howard Nemerov died on this day in 1991. Nemerov was a Poet Laureate, a Pulitzer and National Book Award winner, and a vocal opponent to the highbrow, “Ars Poetica” school of modern poetry: “Big pear-shaped poems, ready to parse / In the next Creative Writing clarse. / Yeh, he sure fell flat on his ars / Poetica that time….” Read more...

Supertramps

July 3: The Welsh hobo-poet William H. Davies was born on this day in 1871. Davies was very popular in turn-of-the-century England for his Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, his account of six hobo years in North America. Jack London's The Road, another hit in the blossoming genre, had come out the previous year: "I became a tramp—well, because of the life that was in me, of the wanderlust in my blood that would not let me rest." Read more...

Cradling the Abyss

July 2: Vladimir Nabokov died on this day in 1977. Nabokov spent his last years in Montreux, Switzerland, the last of the many hotel-residences in which he and his wife lived. Having been displaced from Russia by revolutionary politics, Nabokov said that the "unreal estate" of memory and art was his, and anyone's, only enduring inheritance: "The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness…." Read more...

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).