Displaying articles for: July 2012

Elemental Priestley

August 1: Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen on this day in 1774. In the early 1770s several other European scientists also identified the unique properties of "dephlogisicated air," as Priestley called it. But Priestley was the first to publish, and given the wide scope of his other interests and discoveries, history has not only granted him the oxygen discovery but made him a metaphor for the elemental, inquiring mind.

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"A Way to Away"

July 31: The Dutch novelist and travel writer Cees Nooteboom was born on this day in 1933. Though his allusive, intellectual novels can be demanding, Nooteboom is often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel, and his travel writing is unreservedly praised. Nooteboom says that his travels feed his fiction writing, and provide him with "a way to away."

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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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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 4:00 a.m, the eleven-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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Shep & the Night People

July 26: Jean Shepherd was born on this day in 1921. For most, Shepherd's fame is based on his humorous coming-of-age tales, these recounted on his late-night radio show, collected in a handful of anthologies, and reshaped in the movie A Christmas Story. He is also fondly remembered for coining the term "night people" and for conspiring with them to fabricate one of the most successful media hoaxes of the century.

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Canetti on Canetti

July 25: Elias Canetti, winner of the 1981 Nobel, was born on this day in 1905. Canetti's reputation is based upon work in several genres -- the pre-WWII novel Auto-da-Fé, the anthropological study Crowds and Power, his volumes of memoirs -- and upon his outspoken individualism: "My chief trait, much my strongest quality, which has never been compromised, was the insistence on myself."

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Handcart Pioneers

July 24: Brigham Young and a group of Mormon pathfinders reached Salt Lake Valley on this day in 1847, the date now commemorated across Utah as Pioneer Day. Some 70,000 would join the Mormon Exodus over the next quarter century; 3,000 of these went by handcart, their story now regarded one of the most hallowed and controversial chapters in the Church's history.

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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.

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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 that 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."

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Of Lyres & Fires

July 19: On this day in A.D. 64 Nero played the lyre -- the fiddle was not yet invented -- while Rome burned. Nero’s lyre playing almost certainly took place in Antium (now Anzio) on Italy’s west coast, the emperor back in his hometown to participate in a musical competition; but the rumors of heartless indifference spread quickly, and within four years Nero, the last of the Caesars, would be driven from power.

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Gilbert White’s Selborne

July 18: The writer and naturalist Gilbert White was born on this day in 1720 in the village of Selborne, Hampshire. The home in which White was born and lived for all but a few years of his life is now a museum, and the bachelor curate’s Natural History of Selborne, describing the birds, plants, and seasons he observed in and about his Selborne parish, is in the top handful of English-language bestsellers.

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Lowell, Pound, Imagism

July 17: On this day in 1914 Amy Lowell hosted an "Imagist" dinner party in London attended by Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and others prominent in modernist literature. Though intended as a joining of avant-garde forces, the legendary dinner became an early skirmish in a longer war between Pound and Lowell over who would lead modern poetry, and in what direction.

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Taking Down the Big Top

July 16: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus presented the last of their traveling “Big Top” shows on this day in 1956. The last show played to an overflow crowd, but only because the decision to close, made earlier that day, had been headline news on television -- one nail in the traveling circus coffin being the new medium itself, able to offer small-town America its own screen-sized parade of “Step Right Up! Step Right Up!” wonders.

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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.

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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.

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Full and Fuller

July 12: Buckminster Fuller was born on this day in 1895, and the first of his Dymaxion cars was produced on this day in 1933. Just as "car" does not adequately signify Fuller's invention -- he called it "the land-taxiing phase of a wingless, twin orientable jet stilts flying device" -- so do none of the professions usually assigned to Fuller -- architect, engineer, designer, futurist, humanist -- seem accurate, or adequate.

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E. B. White, Midtown & Off-Road

July 11: E. B. White was born on this day 1899. The battle between midtown and off-road started early in White's career. Throughout his first years at The New Yorker he was thinking of chucking the day job for the backwoods; within a decade White and Katherine Angell would move to their Maine farm, this option a compromise lifestyle and a place where White would write not only Charlotte's Web but Here Is New York.

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Rimbaud & Verlaine

July 10: On this day in 1873 Paul Verlaine shot Arthur Rimbaud in a Brussels hotel, wounding him in the arm -- their short relationship in such sexual, emotional, financial and absinthe-fueled confusion that no specific motive seems relevant. Both would bring out now-famous collections of poetry the following year; shortly afterwards, Rimbaud gave up literature and Europe for travel and gun-running in Africa.

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Winning Wimbledon

July 9: The first Wimbledon tennis tournament began on this day in 1877, with twenty-one entrants in Gentlemen's Singles play, the only category, competing for twelve guineas in prize money (about $1,200 today). The first Wimbledon was gentlemanly in all respects, given the underhand serves and the finesse game tactics; turning to High Strung, Stephen Tignor's account of the Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe rivalry, can feel as if lobbed not just a century ahead but to a planet apart.

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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.

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“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,” eulegizes 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.”

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"Let Not My Body Be Hacked"

July 5: On this day in 1824 Lord Byron's body arrived in London, returned home for burial from Greece, where the thirty-six-year-old poet had died ten weeks earlier. Though his last days were confused and feverish, Byron was clear on several points: "Let not my body be hacked, or be sent to England.... Lay me in the first corner without pomp or nonsense." But neither hacking, nor shipping, nor pomp and nonsense proved escapable.

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Saluting Simon

July 4: Neil Simon turns eighty-five today. One of Simon's earliest professional writing jobs was for The Phil Silvers Show, helping Sergeant Bilko send up the U.S. Army; but as described in his memoir The Play Goes On, Simon's actual writing start came while serving, to the best of his ability, in the Air Force.

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Kafka at Home

July 3: Franz Kafka was born on this day in 1883. Kafka lived in Prague with his parents for most of his life, and few writers have been so closely linked to or made so much of their home and city. According to Kafka's own self-description, he was "fretful, melancholy, untalkative, dissatisfied and sickly" -- made this way, and made into a writer, by "this giant of a man, my father, the ultimate judge."

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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…."

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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
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).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.

Landline

What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.