Displaying articles for: July 2011

Dana & Melville

August 1: Richard Henry Dana was born on this day in 1815, and Herman Melville was born on this day in 1819. Their sea voyages—the nineteen-year-old Dana hauling goods to California and back, twenty-one-year-old Melville whaling in the South Seas—were formative for them, and inspiration for two of the most influential sea books in American literature.

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Parkinson's Law & Veblen's Leisure

July 30: Cyril Northcote Parkinson was born on this day in 1909, and Thorstein Veblen was born on this day in 1857. As Parkinson is remembered for his law about useless work, Veblen is remembered for his Theory of the Leisure Class.

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Tarkington's Penrod

July 29: Booth Tarkington was born on this day in 1869. Tarkington published over fifty books and plays in a half-century-long career. In his Introduction to the 2007 Penguin Classics edition of Penrod, Jonathan Yardley argues that Tarkington's comic coming-of-age books are his best, still possessing "power to amuse and delight."

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RLS in Samoa

July 28: Thirty-seven-year-old Robert Louis Stevenson arrived in Polynesia on this day in 1888. As the opening sentences of Stevenson's The South Seas make clear, his trip was something of a last resort: "For nearly ten years my health had been declining; and for some while before I set forth upon my voyage, I believed I was come to the afterpiece of life, and had only the nurse and undertaker to expect."

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Stein's Roses

July 27: Gertrude Stein died on this day in 1946. It is unlikely that Stein's last words were those reported by Alice B. Toklas: "What is the answer?…. In that case, what is the question?" It is also unclear if there were three of her famous roses or four. Then again, "Clarity is of no importance because nobody listens and nobody knows what you mean no matter what you mean, nor how clearly you mean what you mean."

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Shaw's Skeletons

July 26: George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin on this day in 1856. If his descriptions of his childhood are to be believed, Shaw got his first feelings of being different at home, from a family of wildly divergent oddballs from which he took a life lesson: "If you have skeletons in the closet you may as well make them dance."

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"Work Without Hope"

July 25: On this day in 1834 Samuel Taylor Coleridge died. Over his final few years Coleridge continued to write in his religious-philosophical vein, but he was decades past his great poems, and from hope for any more: "Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve, / And Hope without an object cannot live."

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Atwood and Chandler

July 23: Raymond Chandler was born on this day in 1888. Among the many tributes to the master of L. A. hard-boiled style is Margaret Atwood's rapturous confession of what it means to be "In Love with Raymond Chandler": "An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but because of his interest in furniture."

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Being Velveteen

July 22: The British-American author Margery Williams was born on this day in 1881. Williams's first children's book, The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), is a beloved toy-that-became-real story; it was also inspiration for the recent bestseller The Velveteen Principles, which gives advice on people becoming real—advice its author, Toni Raiten-D'Antonio, says she failed to heed.

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Hans Fallada

July 21: The German novelist Hans Fallada was born on this day in 1893. Although regarded as one of the most important German novelists of the 20th century, with a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1930s, Fallada had been a forgotten writer in North America until the recent publication of a number of his novels, chief among them Every Man Dies Alone, based on a true story of anti-Nazi resistance.

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McCarthy's Sunset Limited

July 20: Cormac McCarthy was born on this day in 1933. McCarthy's Sunset Limited presents another end-of-the-road scenario, though here contracted to a few hours in a New York City tenement in which "Black," a born-again ex-con, and "White," a professor, are locked into a life-and-death discussion.

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The Last Years of Margaret Fuller

July 19: The American feminist and Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller drowned on this day in 1850, aged forty. Fuller's beliefs, accomplishments, and fervent personality put her in the spotlight throughout her life, but her last years, spent in Rome supporting the short-lived Roman Republic, reached an operatic level of passion and poignancy.

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Going Gonzo

July 18: Hunter S. Thompson was born on this day in 1937 in Louisville, Kentucky. The anecdotes related in Gonzo, a 2007 oral biography, capture Thompson's penchant for itinerant, incendiary behavior, with his friends and enemies acting as participants, targets, or awed bystanders to his ultimate self-combustion.

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Catching On

July 16: J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye turns sixty today. The novel was immediately and enduringly popular, and not just with bestseller buyers and book-of-the-month subscribers: "J. D. Salinger wrote a masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, recommending that readers who enjoy a book call up the author; then he spent his next 20 years avoiding the telephone" (John Updike, in 1974).

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The Rosetta Stone

July 15: The Rosetta Stone was found on this day in 1799. The modern day Rosetta Project aims to create a permanent digital record of as many of the world's languages as possible before they disappear, taking whatever unique attributes they may have with them. Guy Deutscher's Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, on many "Best Books of 2010" lists, explains why the Project is important.

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Ginsberg & Oppenheimer

July 14: Allen Ginsberg completed his nuclear protest poem "Plutonian Ode" on this day in 1978, and the first atomic bomb test took place sixty-six years ago this week--July 16, 1945. J. Robert Oppenheimer, lead physicist of the Manhattan Project, was also something of a poet, whether writing, translating, or quoting verse: "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds…."

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Soyinka Sets Forth

July 13: Wole Soyinka was born on this day in 1934. Soyinka has published some three dozen plays, novels, and poetry collections, but his legacy may well be his political activism, which has made him "the face of spirit of African democracy" and, as told in his memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, "a card-carrying member of the party of life."

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Neruda, Chile

July 12: On this day in 1904, Pablo Neruda was born in Parral, Chile. Included in his Memoirs is an account of his flight from Chile in 1949--by packhorse over a smuggler’s trail through the Andes to Argentina, carrying a bottle of whiskey, his typewriter, and a camouflaged copy of his epic poem-in-progress, Canto General.

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The Destructive Element

July 11: Delmore Schwartz died on this day in 1966, aged fifty-two. Despite his escalating personal problems and erratic behavior, Schwartz continued to receive critical praise, teaching appointments, and prestigious awards during his last half-dozen years. But nothing or no one seemed capable of combating the effects of Schwartz's accelerated substance abuse and his apparent resolve: "Into the Destructive element…that is the way."

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Mervyn Peake Centennial

July 9: Mervyn Peake was born on this day in 1911. Peake's work has received new attention over the last decade, most recently from Titus Awakes, a final Gormenghast novel written by Peake's widow from drafts he left behind. The handful of centenary editions coming out this summer will enlarge Peake's reputation from novelist--the London Times named him to their list of "the 50 greatest British writers since 1945"--to poet, children's writer, painter, and illustrator.

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Quindlen on Homer & Home

July 8: Anna Quindlen was born on this day in 1952. Less known than Quindlen’s bestselling novels--the most recent of them Every Last One (2010)--and her Pulitzer-winning journalism is her memoir of life as a voracious reader, in which she scoffs at the book snob who cannot recognize "that the uses of reading are vast and variegated and that some of them are not addressed by Homer."

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Pinocchio at 130

July 7: Carlo Collodi's "The Story of a Puppet," introducing Pinocchio, began serialization on this day in 1881. The first book publication of The Adventures of Pinocchio came two years later; by the early decades of the 20th century the story was popular internationally, though the many translations often strayed from Collodi's tone and character, a hero closer to Huck Finn than Walt Disney.

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River & Road

July 6: Kenneth Grahame died on this day--or, as his gravestone in Oxford, England, puts it, he "…passed the River on the 6th of July 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time." The allusion is to his children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, which celebrates "messing about in boats" or, for the more adventurous, hitting the open road.

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Math at the Mint

July 5: Sir Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica, often described as the single most influential book in the history of science, was published on this day in 1687. Several recent books on Newton explore or expand upon his later years when he was master of the Royal Mint, responsible for bringing dozens of counterfeiters to trial, some to the gallows.

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Slavery & Independence

July 4: Henry David Thoreau moved into his Walden Pond cabin on this day in 1845. In Walden, Thoreau claimed that his move occurred on Independence Day only "by accident," but freedom was a lifelong theme and commitment, as expressed on this day in 1854 in the Independence Day speech that would become "Slavery in Massachusetts."

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Rousseau as "Restless Genius"

July 2: Jean-Jacques Rousseau is tied to this week through his birth, on June 28, 1712, and his death on this day in 1778. The 2012 birth tercentenary will be marked by symposia around the world, these fueled by Rousseau's range of work in music, botany, education, and fiction, his contentious socio-political theories, and his ground- and mold-breaking Confessions: "I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence…."

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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…

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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.