Displaying articles for: September 2012

"Your fat chief of police tried to assassinate me."

October 1: "Peter Collinson" published "Arson Plus" in Black Mask magazine on this day in 1923, introducing a nameless hero called "the Continental Detective." Soon the hero was "the Continental Op," and soon Dashiell Hammett was signing his work with his real name.

 

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Auden Alone

September 29: W. H. Auden died on this day in 1973, aged sixty-six. His brother paints a bleak final portrait: "Seen unawares in an armchair, with The Times crossword puzzle on his knee, a vodka martini by his side and cigarette-ends covering large dishes, there was an isolation and sadness which arose from his uprooted and solitary existence."

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Evidence of Exploitation

September 28: Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opened on Broadway on this day in 1926, becoming as big a hit there as it was in its other incarnations: the 1925 book, the 1928 and 1953 movies, the 1949 musical, and the sequel, which was titled But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.

 

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Going Google

September 27: Google celebrates its fourteenth birthday today. If a teenager in years, Google is the patriarch of search engines and, as described by Randall Stross in Planet Google,  mothercorp to all at Googleplex headquarters near San Jose, California.

 

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Lights, Cameras…Presidents

September 26: The first televised U. S. presidential debate was held on this day in 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon meeting to discuss domestic issues. The title of Jim Lehrer's Tension City, his insider's account of forty-eight years of presidential debates, comes from George H. W. Bush's term for them. Lehrer's book describes the evolution of the debate format from the more scripted early debates to the more spontaneous, gloves-off style now favored.

 

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All the News That's Fit for Profit

September 25: The first American newspaper was published in Boston on this day in 1690. Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick was shut down after one edition, the colonial authorities objecting to its "reflections of a very high nature" and "sundry doubtful and uncertain reports." According to James O'Shea's The Deal from Hell, the modern newspaper has been censored from within, by publishers "worrying as much about the first quarter as the First Amendment."

 

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Devouring Welty

September 24: Eudora Welty's A Sweet Devouring was published on this day in 1969. Originally an essay -- one often reprinted, recently in Joyce Carol Oates's edition of Best American Essays of the Century -- this book version was a signed, limited edition aimed at collectors. Ordinary Welty fans prize the essay/book as another One Writer's Beginnings, though here we meet the author as a voracious young reader.

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Eliot & Pound

September 22: Twenty-five-year-old T. S. Eliot and twenty-eight-year-old Ezra Pound met on this day in 1914, one of the most famous friendships and collaborations in twentieth-century literature beginning with a cup of tea in Pound's Kensington flat. When The Waste Land appeared eight years later, it was dedicated to Pound; when Eliot died a half century later, Pound elegized him as "the true Dantescan voice."

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Hem, Hadley, Paris

September 21: Ernest Hemingway completed his first draft of The Sun Also Rises on this day in 1925. Hemingway seemed to think he had something even in first draft, writing on his last page, "The End. Paris, Sept. 21, 1925." These words proved prophetic in unintended ways: by the time the novel was published, his six-year marriage to Hadley Richardson was over, the novel's royalty payments serving as her divorce settlement.

 

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Contested Crow

September 20: William Shakespeare entered the written record on this day in 1592. This first reference appears in a pamphlet by the contemporary author Robert Greene describing the twenty-eight-year-old Shakespeare as a plagiarizing "Shake-scene" and "an upstart crow." Alas, Greene's pamphlet offers little help with the controversy over the playwright's very existence, the "Stratfordians" and "Anti-Stratfordians" going at it for over 200 years now.

 

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The Transcendental Club

September 19: The first meeting of the Transcendental Club took place on this day in 1836. The club was an attempt to counter the "rigid, cautious, circumspect, conservative tang in the very air" at Harvard and Cambridge. Emerson, Alcott, and their circle met irregularly for the next four years to discuss a range of philosophical, religious, moral, and literary topics, and to throw open a window to a fresh, Transcendental breeze.

 

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Johnson in Lichfield

September 18: Samuel Johnson was born on this day in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire. Among the annual celebrations in Lichfield on Johnson's birthday is the laying of a wreath at his statue in Market Square. One of the scenes carved into that statue commemorates a famous story associated with the author, his parents, and his hometown, a story that demonstrates Johnson's "depth of tenderness" and also his "morbid melancholy."

 

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Ralph and Walt

September 17: In his autobiographical Specimen Days, Walt Whitman notes that he visited Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Alcotts, and others in Concord on this day in 1881. Whitman toured the Old Manse and added a stone to the cairn that marked the site of Thoreau's Walden cabin, but his visit with Emerson was the highlight -- "a long and blessed evening…in a way I couldn't have wish'd better or different." Whitman was sixty-two, with a decade left; then seventy-eight and suffering from advanced senility, Emerson had just seven months to live; as described in Specimen Days, this last of a handful of visits shared by the two men is autumnal in every sense.

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Hallam & Tennyson

September 15: On this day in 1833 Arthur Henry Hallam died suddenly at the age of twenty-two. Although a promising poet and essayist, Hallam is chiefly remembered as the one eulogized in Tennyson's "In Memoriam A. H. H." Sixteen years in the writing, the poem was overwhelmingly popular when published in 1850 -- 60,000 copies sold in six months -- and was soon regarded as a monument not just to Hallam but to the Victorian Age.

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Gardner & Grendel

September 14: On this day in 1982 the novelist and scholar John Gardner died at the age of forty-nine in a motorcycle accident. Academically, Gardner was a medievalist, as is reflected in his first popular novel, Grendel (1971), which retells the Beowulf story from the point of view of the monster, made over into a philosopher: "I observe myself observing what I observe. It startles me. 'Then I am not that which observes!' I am lack. Alack!"

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Undying Dante

September 13: Dante Alighieri died sometime during the night of September 13-14, 1321. The famous 700-year-old poetry may be immortal, says A. N. Wilson in his Dante in Love (2011), but it might as well be dead, even for "the intelligent general reader of the twenty-first century -- that is to say, you." Wilson's "guidebook" to the Divine Comedy tries to equip and encourage that general reader to try "one of the supreme aesthetic, imaginative, emotional, and intellectual experiences on offer."

 

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Living with Lowell

September 12: Sixty-year-old Robert Lowell died of a heart attack on this day in 1977. If Lowell was "the last great public poet in the U.S., one who had more than once managed to reshape the direction of modern American poetry" (biographer Paul Mariani), recent books have concentrated more on his tumultuous relationships -- for example, his years as husband to the Dangerous Muse, Caroline Blackwood.

 

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Mucking with Mitford

September 11: The author and investigative reporter Jessica Mitford was born on this day in 1917. In her first book, Hons and Rebels, Mitford describes the upbringing that gave her and her sisters their independent spirit; in Poison Penmanship, partly a collection of Mitford's investigative reporting and partly a how-to book on "The Gentle Art of Muckraking," Mitford displays that independent spirit in action.

 

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Deadly Duo

September 10: The sentence was delivered in the famous Leopold and Loeb murder trial on this day in 1924. Having convinced teenage Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb to plead guilty to the "thrill murder" of another Chicago teen, Clarence Darrow managed to get life in prison for his defendants.

 

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Magellan's Closer

September 8: On this day in 1522 Captain Sebastian del Cano returned to Spain, completing Magellan's first circumnavigation of the earth.

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Lost Lisa

September 7: On this day in 1911 the poet Guillaume Apollinaire was jailed, suspected of being involved in the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.

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Conrad, Kurtz & the Congo

September 6: On this day in 1890, thirty-two-year-old Joseph Conrad took command of a small stern-wheeler for the Congo River trip that became the genesis of Heart of Darkness, published twelve years later. Foreign journalist Michela Wrong's In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz (2000) follows Conrad's tracks into the next generation horror that descended upon the Congo, the tragically absurd "Alice-in-Wonderland universe" ruled by the despot Mobutu Sese Seko.

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Robespierre & the Terror

September 5: The French Revolution's Reign of Terror officially began on this day in 1793. Over the next eleven months, the Committee of Public Safety would arrest over 300,000 and execute some 40,000; and then, on a wave of new fears and counter-factions, Robespierre and many other leaders who had set the Terror in motion were themselves put to the guillotine.

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Geronimo & Crook

September 4: The Apache chief Geronimo surrendered for the fourth and final time on this day in 1886, effectively ending the Indian Wars fought on various fronts throughout the Southwest over the previous half century. Peter Aleshire's The Fox and the Whirlwind (2000) is a "paired biography" of Geronimo and his pursuer General George Crook, who had developed a star-crossed relationship of Shakespearean proportion.

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Waugh, Eliot, "Madders"

September 3: Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust, on several end-of-century Top 100 lists, was published on this day in 1934. Waugh's title was inspired by a line from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land: "I will show you fear in a handful of dust." Biographer Paula Byrne says Waugh was also inspired to this and other novels, and to his own near-madness, by his conflicted relationship to "Madders" -- Madresfield Court, ancestral home of his Oxford friend and lover.

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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.