Displaying articles for: August 2010

Stein & Toklas

September 1: On this day in 1933, Gertrude Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, her account of her salon life as seen through the devoted eyes of her companion: "It does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. …And she has and this is it."

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Beyond Timorous

August 31: John Bunyan died on this day in 1688, four years after publishing the second part of A Pilgrim's Progress. Having been told he would "stretch by the neck" if he persisted in his preaching, Bunyan must have had a special point to make by including Mr. and Mrs. Timorous in his famous allegory.

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James in America

August 30: Sixty-one-year-old Henry James returned to the U.S. after almost a quarter-century absence on this day in 1904. Although undertaken in "a passion of nostalgia," the ten-month trip aimed to take the pulse of the bustling nation and its "poetry of motion." In the resulting travel book, The American Scene (1907), James decries American materialism and bad manners in his customary high style.

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Goethe's Light

August 28: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born on this day, as announced in the opening sentences of his four-volume autobiography: "On the 28th of August, 1749, at mid-day, as the clock struck twelve, I came into the world, at Frankfort-on-the-Main." Goethe goes on to describe his high noon birth as propitious; many biographers pair it with the famous "More Light!" story of his death eighty-three years later.

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Bumppo Bashing

August 27: On this day in 1841 James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer, last-written of the five Natty Bumppo/Leatherstocking books, was published. In "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences," Mark Twain finds the novel guilty of breaking eighteen of his nineteen rules for romantic fiction, including Rule Three: "That the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others."

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Buchan to Bond

August 26: On this day in 1875, the lawyer-politician-writer John Buchan was born, in Perth, Scotland. Buchan wrote prolifically and in almost all genres, but he is best known for his spy-adventure novels, particularly the first of his Richard Hannay books, The Thirty-Nine Steps. The British reviewers of Fleming's first Bond book, Casino Royale, thought the plot "staggeringly implausible" but "thoroughly exciting," something that a "supersonic John Buchan" might write.

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Bellow and Amis

August 25: Saul Bellow's Humboldt's Gift was published on this day in 1975, and Martin Amis was born on this day in 1949. Amis is well known for his high opinion of Bellow, most notably that "The Adventures of Augie March is the Great American Novel" and that "Bellow's first name is a typo: that 'a' should be an 'o.'" Read more...

Borges in Buenos Aires

August 24: On this day in 1899 Jorge Luis Borges was born in Buenos Aires. Borges can seem as elusive and labyrinth-hidden as his writing, but the biographies offer fascinating glimpses—for example, the fact that, except for his brief first marriage, Borges lived with his mother until he was in his seventies, and that even after his mother's death, the housekeeper tells us, Borges maintained his habit of pausing each evening at her bedroom door to tell about his day. Read more...

Braveheart, Blind Harry & Burns

August 23: On this day in 1305, Scotland's William Wallace was executed—more specifically, hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered—as a traitor in London. The Braveheart legend owes much to a 15th-century epic poem by Blind Harry, inspiration for "Scots Wha Hae," one of Robert Burns's most famous airs, composed in "a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of Liberty and Independence." Read more...

"Comet of the Enlightenment"

August 21: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu died on this day in 1762. The biographies describe the high-born Montagu as the "Comet of the Enlightenment," and one of the era's most sought and shunned figures—one so "brilliant in mind, beautiful in face and body" that the men lined up at her door, yet such an "assertive, unconforming woman" that she became "a lightning rod for misogynist anxiety and anger." Read more...

"Russian Tanks in Prague"

August 20: The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia began on this day in 1968. In the aftermath, Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem, "Russian Tanks in Prague" was picked up immediately on underground radio in Czechoslovakia, making him a hero there and an official target at home: "Tanks are rolling across Prague / in the sunset blood of dawn. / Tanks are rolling across truth, / not a newspaper named Pravda…." Read more...

At Home With the Lardners

August 19: On this day in 1915 Ring Lardner, Jr. was born. Though Lardner's adult fame was earned—screenplay Oscars for Woman of the Year (1942) and M*A*S*H (1970); the novel, The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (1954); blacklisting as one of McCarthy's "Hollywood Ten"—he met the public early and often in his father's daily column, albeit as "Bill." Read more...

Balzac & the Countess

August 18: On this day in 1850 Honoré de Balzac died at the age of fifty-one. Balzac's last months were as tumultuous as all the others, and as brimming with life as anything in his seventeen-volume Human Comedy. Most of the drama was related to the Polish Countess with whom he had been corresponding for sixteen years. Read more...

Tales of Ted Hughes

August 17: Ted Hughes was born on this day in 1930. Apart from his fame as poet and husband, Hughes is highly regarded as a writer of children's literature and as a translator. Some feel that his best book, and "one of the great works of the century," may prove to be Tales from Ovid, his 1997 translation of twenty-four stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Read more...

Johnson in Devon

August 16: On this day in 1762, Samuel Johnson and Sir Joshua Reynolds departed on their six-week trip to Devonshire, an excursion rich in Johnsonia. The highlight was perhaps a footrace against one of his hostesses: "The lady at first had the advantage; but Dr. Johnson happening to have slippers on much too small for his feet, kick'd them off up into the air, and ran ... leaving the lady far behind him…." Read more...

Dana Before the Mast

August 14: On this day in 1834 Richard Dana boarded the merchant brig, Pilgrim for the Boston-California return voyage that would become Two Years Before the Mast. Dana had just turned nineteen when he decided to escape Harvard and his comfortable, upper class life for the high seas, in search of hides and tallow. His 1840 book was an attempt to tell of the ordinary seaman's life at sea, in "a voice from the forecastle." Read more...

Hemingway's First

August 13: On this day in 1923 Ernest Hemingway published his first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems. Hemingway had arrived in Paris two years earlier, an unpublished twenty-two-year-old journalist with a recent bride, a handful of letters of introduction provided by Sherwood Anderson, and a clear imperative: "All you have to do is write one true sentence." Read more...

Blake in Paradise

August 12: On this day in 1827 William Blake died, aged sixty-nine. His burial in Bunhill Fields was largely unnoticed and on borrowed money—nineteen shillings for an unmarked grave, the body nine feet down, stacked on top of three others, and eventually followed by four more. Not that Blake would have noticed, either: "I have very little of Mr. Blake's company," his wife told a friend much earlier, "as he is always in Paradise." Read more...

Alex Haley, Watts & Malcolm X

August 11: The week-long Watts Riots began on this day in 1965, and Alex Haley was born on this day in 1921. Haley's roots as a writer were in journalism, and among his first major interviews for Playboy was one with Martin Luther King, Jr., published seven months before Watts and predicting violence; seven months after Watts Haley published his first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Read more...

Milton, Wolfe, and the Angels

August 10: On this day in 1637 Edward King, college friend of John Milton, drowned at sea. Milton published "Lycidas" three months later, giving the elegiac tradition one of its most famous poems and, three centuries later, giving Thomas Wolfe the title to his first and most famous novel: "Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth; / And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth."

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Touring Walden

August 9: Henry David Thoreau's Walden was published on this day in 1854. Thoreau planned a lecture tour, hoping to showcase his new book, but he was forced to cancel because of disinterest. This was mutual, judging by his journal: "To read to a promiscuous audience...the fine thoughts you solaced yourself with far away is as violent as to fatten geese by cramming, and in this case they do not get fatter." Read more...

Ulysses in America

August 7: On this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals allowed James Joyce's Ulysses into America. This enabled Random House to issue the first U.S. edition, over a decade after Sylvia Beach's original Paris edition, and after a decade of American tourists had been nervously returning from Europe with their banned copies. As told by Random House editor Bennett Cerf, the success of the original court case hinged entirely, and humorously, upon these smuggled editions of the novel.

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Austen Unpersuaded

August 6: Jane Austen completed Persuasion on this day in 1816—a date lamented by all Janeites, as she died not quite a year later and this last novel, published posthumously, marks the close of her career. Family and friends were always trying to persuade Austen to give up her fine brush and sharp scalpel for High Romance. Her letters seem to have given answer—"Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked." Read more...

Rebuilding the Colossus

August 5: On this day in 1884 the cornerstone was laid for the pedestal of New York City's Statue of Liberty. Much of the money needed for Liberty would be raised by Joseph Pulitzer's campaign for the penny-donations of the poor, but one of the most historic fundraisers had a more literary slant. This was the Pedestal Art Loan Exhibition, to which Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and others had donated manuscripts for auction, and for which poet Emma Lazarus wrote "The New Colossus." Read more...

The Gospel of Cleanliness

August 4: On this day in 1821 the first issue of the Saturday Evening Post appeared, reincarnated from Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette. The Post gave itself a double mandate that was sometimes difficult to exercise—both "the best and worthiest of contemporaneous literature" and "the gospel of cleanliness" which "appeals to the great mass of intelligent people who make homes and love them, who choose good lives and live them…." Read more...

P. D. James at Ninety

August 3: P. D. James turns ninety today. Although almost a half-century and some twenty whodunits long, James's career did not get going until she was forty-two. In an interview two weeks ago she said she wasn't sure if she had another Dalgliesh book in her: "Life has been so busy I have only done 10,000 words in six months. I don't want the standard to drop and I don't want a reviewer to be saying: "It's a remarkable book, for a 91 year-old."

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"Rule, Britannia!"

August 2: On this day in 1740, James Thomson's Alfred the Great was first performed, an open-air presentation before the Prince and Princess of Wales. Included in the masque's lessons on Alfred's greatness and visions of future English glory were seven songs; one of them, "Rule, Britannia!" became immediately and enduringly popular, and the motto of the British naval empire. 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).