Displaying articles for: August 2013

Shawn at The New Yorker

August 31: The legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn was born on this day in 1907. Most memoirs of Shawn's era are full of tributes to his care and craft, though Lillian Ross's Here but Not Here claims that Shawn's job made him feel "trapped, trapped forever, in what seemed to him was nonexistence."

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Cuba, Khrushchev & Kennedy

August 30: The Moscow–Washington "Hot Line" was established on this day in 1963. A Cold War icon, the Hot Line was the direct result of the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which exchanges between the Kremlin and the White House sometimes took dangerously long to send and decode. If the world was almost blown up by slow messaging, it may have been saved by having superpower leaders as "sane and level-headed" as JFK and Khrushchev.

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End of the Incas

August 29: Atahualpa, last ruler of the Incan Empire, was executed on this day in 1533. The storied details of Atahualpa's captivity and death -- his failed attempts to save his life with rooms of gold, and then with a conversion to Christianity -- and the subsequent decline of the Incas have inspired both treasure hunters and adventure seekers. Also city seekers: Hiram Bingham discovered the famous city-fortress of Machu Picchu a century ago this year.

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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 (1915). In 1952, when Ian Fleming's first James Bond book, Casino Royale, appeared, British reviewers thought the plot "staggeringly implausible" but "thoroughly exciting," something that a "supersonic John Buchan" might write.

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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.

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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 fifteenth-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."

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Little Orphan Dottie

August 22: Dorothy Parker was born on this day in 1893 in Long Branch, New Jersey, to Henry and Eliza Rothschild ("My God, no, dear! We'd never even heard of those Rothschilds..."). Parker was two months premature (allowing her to say that it was the last time she was early for anything); she was also late, in that her mother was forty-two years old, her closest sibling seven years older. These became the preliminary strokes in Parker's "Little Orphan Dottie" self-portrait.

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Bearing Up

August 21: Christopher Robin Milne was born on this day in 1920, an only child to A. A. Milne. For his first birthday, Christopher received "Edward," literature's most famous teddy bear and, says Christopher, the focus of family dysfunction. But the bear birthed an industry of toys and spin-offs; and in one of them, the parodic Postmodern Pooh, Christopher Milne gets the "parentectomy" he might have wanted.

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"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…."

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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."

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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.

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Praising Presley

August 16: Elvis Presley died on this day in 1977. The closing pages of Peter Guralnick's monumental two-volume biography -- Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love -- attempt to capture the King's freak-show funeral and to ignore the "cacophony of voices" that would drown the music in the legend.

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Woodstock Nation

August 15: "Woodstock Nation" was officially born on this day in 1969, when the legendary music festival opened in Upstate New York. Richie Havens recalls launching into his famous "FREE-dom!" improvisation, while Ravi Shankar describes the scene as "a terrifying experience" that "reminded me of the water buffaloes in India, submerged in the mud."

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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."

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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."

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Fordlandia

August 12: The first Model T car rolled off the assembly line on this day in 1908. The "Tin Lizzie," and the "Fordism" that came with it, have been featured in a range of literature, Huxley's "year of our Ford" in Brave New World perhaps the most famous instance. But there is nothing in fiction to rival the true story told in Fordlandia (2009), Greg Grandin's account of the company town Ford plunked down in the Brazilian rainforest.

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Milton, Wolfe, and the Angels

August 10: On this day in 1637 Edward King, a college friend of John Milton's, 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."

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The Elgins' Marbles

August 8: Panathenaea, the most important festival in ancient Athens, was held in mid-August, starting on August 8th according to some calculations. The festival is famous today for its closing pageant, as depicted in the marble friezes that Lord Elgin carted off to England in the early 1800s. According to her biographer, much of the praise or blame for the controversial crate-ship-sell scheme must go to Mary Nisbet, the newlywed countess of Elgin.

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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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Sitting with Shakers

August 6: Mother Ann Lee and a handful of Shaker followers arrived in America on this day in 1774. The Shakers (the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing) found many applications of Mother Ann's famous advice to "Put your hands to work and your hearts to God," one of them in furniture: "The peculiar grace of a Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it" (Thomas Merton).

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Bandstand Business

August 5: American Bandstand debuted on this day in 1957. While not the first television dance party, the Philadelphia-based show was the first to be broadcast live, daily, and nationally. The show "signaled the arrival of teenage culture in the mainstream," turned living rooms across the nation into sock hops, and made Dick Clark's fortune.

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The Letters of Flannery O'Connor

August 3: Flannery O'Connor died on this day in 1964, from lupus and attendant problems. O'Connor's fiction continues to hold its place, but many readers rank her letters as highly. "There she stands," writes O'Connor scholar Sally Fitzgerald, "a phoenix risen from her own words: calm, slow, funny, courteous…occasionally fierce, and honest in a way that restores honor to the word."

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Carver & Carruth

August 2: Raymond Carver died on this day in 1988, aged fifty. Although Carver's stories are ranked far above his poems, he published a half-dozen collections of poetry and spent what he knew to be his last months on a new one. This last collection inspired Hayden Carruth, one of Carver's friends and colleagues, to write his elegiac poem "Ray."

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Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.