Displaying articles for: July 2013

Frost's Road to Fame

August 1: Two of Robert Frost's most famous poems, "The Road Not Taken" and "Birches," were first published in The Atlantic on this day in 1915. Frost had recently returned to the U.S. after over two years in England, where his first two collections of poetry had been published and praised. Mountain Interval, Frost's first collection to be published in America, came out a year later, with "The Road Not Taken" the first poem in the book.

 

Read more...

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...

The Flight of the Penguins

July 30: The first Penguins were published on this day in 1935, the event generally regarded as the birth of the modern paperback industry. When Allen Lane, managing director of the Bodley Head press, couldn't find anything worthwhile to read for his train ride back to London, he decided to remedy matters "by producing a line of paperbacks that cost no more each than a packet of cigarettes, looked bright and elegant rather than garish, and included worthwhile works of literature."

 

Read more...

Himes in Harlem

July 29: The novelist Chester Himes was born on this day in 1909. Himes titled his autobiography My Life of Absurdity to convey the dark comedy of mischance, mistake, and racism that combined to send him to prison and to inspire his Harlem Detectives novels, which made him "The Greatest Find in American Crime Fiction Since Raymond Chandler."

 

Read more...

The Wascally Wabbit

July 27: Bugs Bunny was born on this day in 1940, in the Warner Bros. cartoon A Wild Hare. The debut of "the first real cartoon movie star" shows him greeting the befuddled Elmer ("Be wery, wery quiet -- I'm hunting wabbits") with the cheeky, carrot-chomping line that would enter cultural history: "What's up, doc?"

 

Read more...

Securing America

July 26: The National Security Act became law on this day in 1947, President Truman signing off on the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, as well as a reorganization of the military. Cold War politics led to the formation of the National Security Agency in 1952; since 9/11, its mandate in signals intelligence has produced so many petabytes of data that it needs a warehouse, says James Bamford in The Shadow Factory, that is "almost the size of the Alamodome."

Read more...

Borrowing Hamlet

July 25: 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 eleventh-to-twelfth-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.

Read more...

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.

Read more...

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.

 

Read more...

In Honor of Austen

July 18: Jane Austen died on this day in 1817, aged forty-one, probably from a hormonal disorder like Addison's disease. Austen's devoted older sister, Cassandra, inherited all the author's papers and immediately began to polish a portrait reflecting more of Austen's "benevolence" and "sweetness" than the sharp wit and satire often present in her novels.

 

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...

Money Matters

July 16: The first banknotes in Europe were issued by Sweden's Stockholms Banco on this day in 1661. The bank soon collapsed, but the idea of banknotes spread quickly; most modern historians of finance describe them as an essential step in the evolution of any economic system or civilization, though some now foresee "the twilight of money in its most commonly understood form."

 

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...

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."

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...

The Bloom Reader

July 11: Harold Bloom was born on this day in 1930. Belonging to "a singular breed of scholar-teacher-critic-prose poet-pamphleteer," Bloom expects and seems to enjoy controversy: "I realized early on that the academy and the literary world alike -- and I don't think there really is a distinction between the two -- are always dominated by fools, knaves, charlatans and bureaucrats."

 

Read more...

Munro's Finale

July 10: Alice Munro was born on this day in 1931. In her most recent interviews, Munro has reiterated that Dear Life (2012), her fourteenth story collection, will be her last. If so, would-be biographers will be combing "Finale," the quartet of bio-stories that conclude the collection, for clues: "I believe they are the first and last -- and the closest -- things I have to say about my own life."

 

Read more...

Burying Chekhov

July 9: Anton Chekhov was buried on this day in 1904, some 4,000 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, were part of a lifelong battle with the tuberculosis that killed him at the age of forty-four.

Read more...

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."

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 Yoknapatawpha, “…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...

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.

Read more...

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."

Read more...

After the Auk

July 3: The last pair of great auks were killed on this day in 1844. The extinction of the great auk (or garefowl) species has iconic status in the conservation movement. This is partly because the large, flightless birds were so vulnerable, and partly because the precise time and manner of the death of the last breeding pair, killed on Eldey Island, Iceland, has been documented.

 

Read more...

Africa, America & the Amistad

July 2: The slaves imprisoned aboard the Amistad rebelled on this day in 1839. The rebellion was immediately famous in America, sometimes for three-ring-circus reasons -- the first play about the events was performed only six days after the rebels’ recapture. The attention intensified with the controversial U.S. Supreme Court case of 1841, deciding whether the men were to be punished or liberated.

 

Read more...

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…

advertisement
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.