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Thread: Literary Notes

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    It's the birthday of the novelist John Irving,(books by this author) born in Exeter, New Hampshire (1942). His first successful novel was The World According to Garp (197. He's written many more novels since then, including The Cider House Rules (197 and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989). In addition to writing books, he also wrestled professionally until he was 34 years old, and he was voted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992. His latest novel, Until I Find You, came out in 2005.

    ~


    It's the birthday of the children's book author who wrote under the name Dr. Seuss, (books by this author) born Theodor Geisel, in Springfield, Massachusetts (1904). He was the son of German immigrants. His mother was an accomplished high diver, and his father was a target shooter who held the world record for marksmanship at 200 yards.
    He studied literature and planned on becoming an English professor. But a woman in one of his classes noticed the drawings he doodled in the margin of his notebook during a lecture on Milton, and she told him he should become a cartoonist. He took her advice and also decided to marry her.
    Seuss made a living selling cartoons to magazines, and he also drew cartoons for advertisements. The Standard Oil Company hired him to create monsters that live in the car, and he created the Moto-raspus, the Moto-munchus, and the Karbo-nockus. He published his first book for children, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937.
    He went on to publish a series of fairly successful books for older children, and then, in 1955, an educational specialist asked him if he would write a book to help children learn how to read. Seuss was given a list of 300 words that most first-graders know, and he had to write the book using only those words. Seuss wasn't sure he could do it, but as he looked over the list, two words jumped out at him: "cat" and "hat."
    Seuss spent the next nine months writing what would become The Cat in the Hat (1957). That book is 1,702 words long, but it uses only 220 different words. Parents and teachers immediately began using it to teach children to read, and within the first year of its publication it was selling 12,000 copies a month.
    A few years later, Seuss's publisher bet him $50 that he could not write a book using only 50 different words. Seuss won the bet with his book Green Eggs and Ham (1960), which uses exactly 50 different words, and only one of those words has more than one syllable: the word "anywhere." It became the fourth best-selling children's hardcover book of all time.

    ~


    It's the birthday of Tom Wolfe, (books by this author) born in Richmond, Virginia (1931). As a young boy, he would say a prayer every night before he went to bed, thanking God that he was an American. He's been obsessed with America ever since. He majored in American Studies at Yale, but he thought he might learn more about America by getting a job as a reporter, so that's what he did.
    He went on to write a series of best-selling books of nonfiction about many aspects of American life: stock car racing, the drug culture, architecture, surfing, and the space program. He came to believe that the novel was dead as an art form and that the only way to say the really important things about American life was through nonfiction.
    But then, in the 1980s, he decided to try writing a novel. He had been doing research on the criminal justice system in New York City, and he got the idea for a story about a court case that could involve as many different aspects of New York society as possible: the rich, the poor, the lawyers, the media, the activists, the politicians, and all the bystanders.
    He spent months going to trials at the Manhattan Criminal Court Building and the Bronx County Courthouse, and he took notes on all the stories he heard, the clothes people wore, the way everyone talked, and whatever else he could absorb, and he put it all in his novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, which became a huge best seller in 1987.
    His most recent book, I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), is about the party rituals and sex lives of contemporary college students. For his research, Wolfe went to 12 different universities and attended dozens of frat parties. He said, "I was so old, and I always wore a necktie — I must have seemed somewhat odd to them." He made sure to use all the most current slang and pop culture references. He asked his own children, both recent college graduates, to check the book over for mistakes. The book got mixed reviews from most major newspapers and magazines, but it received better reviews from college newspapers, most of which admitted that it's pretty accurate.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It was on this day in 1875 that the opera Carmen appeared on stage for the first time at the Opéra-Comique in France. In 1872, Georges Bizet wrote to a friend, "I am asked to write three acts for the Opéra-Comique...It will be bright, but of a brightness that allows style."
    When it premiered, the audience was shocked by the characters of Carmen, a gypsy girl, and her lover, Don José. It's set in an exotic Spain among gypsies and bullfighters. One element that surprised audiences was that the heroine smokes on stage, something considered less than proper then. Carmen's debut was not a failure, although some history books have portrayed it that way. The opera ran for 37 performances even though it came out late in the season, and it came back the next season, too.
    Nietzsche heard Carmen 20 different times, and thought of it as a musical masterpiece. Tchaikovsky first heard Carmen in 1880. Bizet died of a heart attack just three months after the opera's debut. He was worn out from rehearsals. Carmen is still the most popular French opera of the 19th century.

    ~

    It's the birthday of English poet and novelist Edward Thomas, (books by this author) born in London (187. He's best known for using natural word choices and colloquial speech rhythms in metric verse, a style he worked on with Robert Frost. The two poets became friends in 1913, while Frost was in England.
    Thomas had written a positive review of Frost's first poetry collection, and Frost encouraged Thomas to write his own poetry. Frost described Thomas as "the only brother I ever had." It took him a while before he followed Frost's advice, but Thomas started writing poetry in December of 1914.
    Edward Thomas wrote mostly about nature and solitude even though many of his contemporaries and their writing were preoccupied with World War I. One critic said Edward Thomas's poetry was "the last body of work to seek to define a rural concept of beauty that was finally invalidated by the First World War." Thomas enlisted in July of 1915, and he was sent to fight in 1917. He was killed in the first hour of the Battle of Arras, just 28 months after he started writing. He had written 143 poems.
    Edward Thomas wrote, "There is not any book / Or face of dearest look / That I would not turn from now / To go into the unknown / I must enter, and leave, alone, / I know not how."

    ~


    It's the birthday of British philosopher and novelist William Godwin, (books by this author) born in Cambridgeshire (1756). He started off as a minister but started writing when his extreme beliefs made him fall out of favor with his congregation. He'd eventually become an atheist. His most important book was Political Justice (1793), but this was only one of the defining pieces of his literary career. He's best known as the father of Mary Godwin, who would go on to marry and become Mary Shelley and write Frankenstein.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of the English novelist Alan Sillitoe, (books by this author) born in Nottingham, England (192. He wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (195, about a young man working at a factory.

    ~


    It's the birthday of the crime novelist James Ellroy, (books by this author) born Lee Earle Ellroy in Los Angeles (194.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of the novelist Frank Norris, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1870). Norris's father was a self-made man, a wealthy jeweler, and Norris grew up in luxurious homes in Chicago and then San Francisco. His mother read poetry to him, especially Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
    At 17, Norris went to Paris to study drawing, even though he had very little talent himself. He found his talent as a writer when he became obsessed with Arthurian legends. Norris began writing long, narrative poems about medieval knights, and he forgot about visual art altogether. Then, at his father's urging, Frank Norris began attending the University of California. His father wanted Norris to take over the family jewelry business, but Norris was a poor student. He took only those courses that interested him, and he spent much of his time partying with his fraternity. He spent four years at the university, without graduating.
    Then, Norris moved to Boston and enrolled at Harvard as a special student. Norris had been imitating the writing of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but a teacher at Harvard introduced him to the writing of Émile Zola, a naturalist. Norris was impressed, and he began to write fiction from a naturalist perspective, which painted humans as irrational, instinctual animals.
    Norris's most famous and important novel is McTeague (1899), about a man who kills his wife for money and flees to Death Valley.

    ~


    It's the birthday of Josephine Herbst, (books by this author) born in Sioux City, Iowa (1892). She is known for her novels Money for Love (1929) and The Executioner Waits (1934), and for her journalism that described life in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
    Herbst wrote articles on the Spanish Civil War and Cuba, but she wanted most to learn about Nazi Germany and the underground culture that was opposed to Hitler. She was assigned by the New York Post to travel to Germany, undercover, and learn all that she could. Herbst spent a month in Nazi Germany in 1935, and she was one of the first American reporters to warn about the meaning of the rise of Adolf Hitler.

    ~


    It's the birthday of Leslie Marmon Silko, (books by this author) born in Albuquerque, New Mexico (194. Silko grew up on the Laguna Pueblo reservation and is best known for her novels Ceremony (1977) and Almanac of the Dead (1992). Her books are about the increasing disappearance of Native American cultures.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (books by this author) born near Durham, England (1806). She was the first to write and publish love poems in English from a woman's point of view. Many of her love poems were sonnets for or about her husband, the poet Robert Browning, whom she met after he sent her a telegram that praised her writing. She married him in 1846 in secret, when she was 40 years old. She ran away with him to Florence, Italy, because her father had forbidden her to marry.

    ~


    It's the birthday of sculptor, painter, architect, and poet Michelangelo, born in Caprese, Italy (1475). During his lifetime he created some of the most important artistic work ever made, including the Pietà in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome (1499) and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-12). He also wrote around 300 poems, as well as many letters. Most of the poems are love poems. He started writing poetry when he was young, but he wrote his best poems in the last 20 years of his life.
    In 1505, Michelangelo was commissioned to build a huge marble monument for Pope Julius II's tomb, and he worked on this piece for 40 years. Pope Julius kept interrupting him to make changes and to give him other jobs, and the monument was never actually completed. Only fragments of it survive today.
    One of the jobs that the pope gave Michelangelo that interrupted his work on the monument was the painting of frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It took him three and a half years to finish.

    ~


    It's the birthday of humorist and fiction writer Ring Lardner, (books by this author) born Ringgold Wilmer Lardner, in Niles, Michigan (1885). He was famous for his sports writing and the way he captured the way baseball players spoke in his writing.
    When games were boring, Lardner would fill his articles with jokes and stories about the personal lives of players. He wrote for several Chicago newspapers, covering the Cubs and the White Sox. He wrote more than 4,500 articles and columns for newspapers throughout his life, as well as several other longer works of fiction. His first book was called You Know Me, Al (1916), about a made-up baseball player named Jack Keefe. It was supposedly a collection of letters Keefe had written.
    One of Ring Lardner's good friends and drinking buddies was F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald encouraged Lardner to publish a collection of short stories, and he did with the book How to Write Short Stories (1924). Lardner wrote a lot of satire, and he once wrote of Fitzgerald, "Mr. Fitzgerald sprung into fame with his novel This Side of Paradise which he turned out when only three years old and wrote the entire book with one hand. Mr. Fitzgerald never shaves while at work on his novels and looks very funny along towards the last five or six chapters." Some of Lardner's other fans included Dorothy Parker, H. L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, and Virginia Woolf.
    Ring Lardner said, "Where do they get that stuff about me being a satirist? I just listen."

    ~


    It is the birthday of novelist Gabriel García Márquez, (books by this author) born in Aracataca, Colombia (1927). He's best known as the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature, and for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He's also known as the main figure in writing known as "magical realism," which combines storytelling with elements of the supernatural.
    García Márquez lived with his grandparents until he was eight years old. He was a shy boy, and his nickname in school was "the Old Man." He never liked playing sports and started telling stories from a young age. He said, "My earliest recollection is of drawing 'comics,' and I realize now that this may have been because I couldn't yet write. I've always tried to find ways of telling stories and I've stuck to literature as the most accessible."
    García Márquez started writing for the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador, and he was eventually sent to Europe as a foreign correspondent. The government shut down the paper while he was in Paris, and this left him without any way of making money. He said, "For three years I lived by daily miracles. This produced tremendous bitterness in me. ... But if I hadn't lived those years I probably wouldn't be a writer.
    One day in January of 1965, the complete first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude came to him suddenly while he was driving his car from Mexico City to Acapulco. He came home that night and told his wife not to bother him and locked himself in a room for eight to 10 hours a day for the next 18 months and wrote the novel. The original manuscript was 1,200 pages long, and García Márquez pawned their heater and his wife's hair dryer to pay for the postage to send the novel out to publishers.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of the novelist William Boyd, (books by this author) born in Accra, Ghana (1952). He's the author of many novels, including A Good Man in Africa (1981), The Blue Afternoon (1995), and Restless (2006).

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist Bret Easton Ellis, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1964). He grew up in California, but he went to college in Vermont, as far away from California as possible. And it was there, at Bennington College, that he took a creative writing class with true crime writer Joe McGinnis and wrote a series of stories about substance abuse and the sex lives of California teenagers.
    McGinnis loved the stories and showed them to his agent, and the result was Ellis's first book, Less Than Zero (1985), which came out when he was only 21. The book became a best seller, and Ellis went on to write many more novels, including American Psycho (1991) and Glamorama (2000).

    ~


    It's the birthday of fiction and nature writer Rick Bass, (books by this author) born in Fort Worth, Texas (195. He studied geology in college and started working for an oil company in Mississippi, prospecting for oil. He wrote a book about his experiences called Oil Notes (198.
    Bass and his girlfriend eventually decided that they wanted to get away from civilization, so he quit his job and they packed all their possessions into a pickup truck and drove to Montana. He said, "[We were looking for] a place of ultimate wildness, with the first yardstick of privacy: a place where you could walk around naked if you wanted to."
    They wound up in the Yaak Valley, and he published a memoir of his first winter there called Winter: Notes from Montana (1991). He wrote, "I can picture getting so addicted to this valley, so dependent on it for my peace, that I become hostage to it."
    He's gone on to write many books of fiction and nonfiction.

    ~


    On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in The New Republic magazine (books by this author). It was Frost's favorite of his own poems, and he called it "my best bid for remembrance." He's remembered for many of his poems today, but that one is his best known and one of the most popular poems in American literature.
    Though it's a poem about winter, Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. The night before, he had stayed up working at his kitchen table on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire" (1923). He finally finished it and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He'd never worked all night on a poem before. Feeling relieved at the work he'd finished, he went outside and watched the sunrise.
    While he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back inside his house and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page. He said, "It was as if I'd had a hallucination."
    He later said that he would have liked to print the poem on one page followed by "forty pages of footnotes." He once said the first two lines of the poem, "Whose woods these are, I think I know, / his house is in the village though," contained everything he ever knew about how to write.

    ~


    It was on this day in 1994 that the Supreme Court ruled that parody can be protected by the fair use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976. The case arose from a song by the rap group 2 Live Crew, which used elements of the Roy Orbison song from 1964: "Oh Pretty Woman."
    The Roy Orbison version of the song is about a man watching a pretty woman walking down the street. The 2 Live Crew version is about the subsequent relationship with that woman, who becomes a hairy woman, a bald-headed woman, and a two-timing woman. The music publishing company Acuff-Rose, which holds the copyright for the Roy Orbison song, sued 2 Live Crew for copyright violation.
    Among those who sent "friend of the court" briefs in support of 2 Live Crew were Mad magazine, The Harvard Lampoon, and the Comedy Central TV channel. Among those who argued against 2 Live Crew were Dolly Parton and Michael Jackson. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of 2 Live Crew.
    Justice David H. Souter wrote, "Like less ostensibly humorous forms of criticism, [parody] can provide social benefit by shedding light on an earlier work and, in the process, creating a new one."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of the literary critic Leslie Fiedler, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1917). He's best known for his book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960). He believed that the great theme of American literature was the search for identity. He said, "Americans have no real identity. We're all ... uprooted people who come from elsewhere."
    Fiedler spent most of his life struggling with his own identity. His father was a pharmacist and an atheist. Fiedler went to Hebrew school behind his father's back, but he said, "I stubbornly resisted learning Hebrew — spending most of my lesson time haranguing the rabbi ... trying to explain to him why all religions were the opium of the people. To all of this he would retort only that I read Hebrew like a Cossack, which was, alas, true."
    During his teens, he wanted to be a Marxist revolutionary, but he eventually lost his idealism. During World War II, he served as an interrogator of Japanese prisoners of War, and before the war was over, he felt closer to many of the Japanese prisoners than he was to most of his fellow soldiers.
    When he got back to the states, he studied literature and began writing fiction. His stories were usually rejected by magazines, but the editors started asking him to write book reviews, and that's how he became a critic. He made a name for himself in the academic world when he wrote the hugely controversial 1948 essay "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" in which he argued that Huckleberry Finn and Jim the slave were in love with each other. Fiedler was one of the first American critics to argue in favor of popular culture. He loved comic books and horror movies and soap operas, and he once said that the only writer of the late 20th century who would be remembered was Stephen King.
    Though he made his living for most of his life as a professor of literature, he said, "I never had any interest, really, in being a teacher. ... It's a mistake to teach literature at all, I think: the student doesn't have a sense of discovery about it. You have to teach it as if you weren't teaching it."
    He died in 2003. His last book was Tyranny of the Normal: Essays on Bioethics, Theology & Myth (1996).

    ~


    It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Kenneth Grahame, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859), known today for his book The Wind in the Willows (190, which began as a series of stories he told to his young son.
    Grahame had a difficult life. His mother died when he was five years old, and he was passed around among relatives in England. He wanted to go to college, but his uncle refused to pay for it, so he got a job as a clerk at a bank. He began writing essays and stories on the side, and in 1895, he published two books of stories about children: The Golden Age (1895) and Dream Days (189, which were very popular in England and the United States.
    But when he wrote The Wind in the Willows, many publishers turned it down because the idea of talking animals was too fantastic. At the time, Victorian educators believed that children should be discouraged as soon as possible from pretending and daydreaming, that letting children believe in fairy tales and myths was detrimental to their development. Grahame believed the opposite.
    It was finally Teddy Roosevelt, a huge fan of Grahame's early work, who convinced a publisher to take on The Wind in the Willows. It became such a success that Grahame was able to retire from the Bank of England and move to the country. He lived for another 25 years, but he never wrote another book.
    The Wind in the Willows still sells about 80,000 copies a year.

    ~

    It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, (books by this author) born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931), and considered one of the greatest living literary journalists. He is known for the huge range of his subjects. He has written about canoes, geology, tennis, nuclear energy, and the Swiss army. He once researched his own family tree and traced it back to a Scotsman who moved to Ohio to become a coalminer.
    As a high school student, McPhee played a lot of sports, especially basketball. His English teacher required her students to write three compositions a week, each accompanied by a detailed outline, and many of which the students had to read out loud to the class. Since then, McPhee has carefully outlined all his written work, and he has read out loud to his wife every sentence he writes before it is published.
    In college, McPhee was a regular contestant on a weekly radio and television program called "Twenty Questions," which he believes taught him to gather facts and guess at their hidden meanings. His goal as a young writer was to write for The New Yorker, but it took 14 years of being rejected before he published his first article there. During those years, he said, "I tried everything, sometimes with hilarious results. I think that young writers have to roll around like oranges on a conveyor belt. They have to try it all."
    In 1962, he got a phone call from his father about an amazing new college basketball player at Princeton. McPhee went to see him play and decided to write a profile of the young man, whose name was Bill Bradley. The profile was published in The New Yorker, which invited McPhee to be a staff writer, and the profile became McPhee's first book: A Sense of Where You Are (1965). He went on to become one of the foremost journalists for The New Yorker. His name in the table of contents would actually increase the sales of that issue of the magazine. Then, in the early 1980s, he decided to write a geological history of the United States, based on the roadcuts carved out for Interstate 80. William Shawn wasn't sure readers would be interested in that particular subject, but McPhee didn't care. He spent almost 20 years writing about geology, and in 1999, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for his book Annals of the Former World (199.
    McPhee has published more than 25 books, even though he rarely writes more than 500 words a day. He once tried tying himself to a chair to force himself to write more, but it didn't work. He said, "People say to me, 'Oh, you're so prolific.' God, it doesn't feel like it — nothing like it. But you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart."
    When asked what he writes about, McPhee said, "I'm describing people engaged in their thing, their activity, whatever it is."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It was on this day in 1913 that Virginia Woolf delivered the manuscript for her first novel, The Voyage Out, (books by this author) to the Duckworth Publishing House. She had been working on it for almost seven years. She first mentioned it in a letter in 1907. She wrote, "I have wasted all my time trying to begin things and taking up different points of view, and dropping them, and grinding out the dullest stuff, which makes my blood run thick."
    By 1912, she had written five drafts of the novel, including two different versions that she worked on simultaneously. Between December 1912 and March 1913, she rewrote the entire novel one more time, almost from scratch, typing 600 pages in two months.
    The book was finally accepted, and then she had to work on correcting the proofs. She found the experience of re-reading her own work in print almost unbearable. She had a nervous breakdown, and spent two years recovering. The experience helped persuade her and her husband to start their own publishing house so she wouldn't have to go through the agony of submitting her work to others.
    The Voyage Out was eventually published in 1915, but it didn't sell well. It took 15 years to sell 2,000 copies. Critics don't consider it a great work, but among the novel's cast of characters is a woman named Clarissa Dalloway, a character who would stick in Virginia Woolf's mind for more than a decade until she wrote an entire novel about that woman called Mrs. Dalloway (1927).

    ~


    It's the birthday of crime novelist Mickey Spillane, (books by this author) the pen name of Frank Morrison, born in Brooklyn, New York (191. He spent his childhood defending himself as the only Irish boy in a tough Polish neighborhood. His father worked in a hardware store, and it was there that Spillane saw a typewriter for the first time. He later said, "I would type on it. ... I loved the sound it made ... [and] I knew I was going to be a writer."
    As a high school student, he wrote for a local newspaper, and he covered bootlegging scams and other criminal activity. He would make carbon copies of the newspaper stories and turn one copy in as a writing assignment for school and get paid for the other. In 1940, he got a job as a scripter of comic books for Funnies, Inc. Other writers required a week to produce a Captain Marvel story while Spillane could write one in a day.
    After he served in World War II as a fighter pilot, Spillane bought some land in the Catskill Mountains, where he lived in a tent while building his own house. He kept a typewriter on a wobbly table in that tent, and he wrote at night by the light of a Coleman lamp. It was there that he wrote his first novel, I, the Jury (1947), which introduced his famous detective Mike Hammer. It begins, "I shook the rain from my hat and walked into the room. Nobody said a word. They stepped back politely and I could feel their eyes on me."
    I, the Jury got terrible reviews when it came out in hardcover. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune called Spillane, "An inept vulgarian." The hardcover only sold 7,000 copies. But when the paperback came out, with one of the most sexually explicit covers ever printed on a book at that time, it sold a quarter of a million copies in one week, and it went on to sell about 9 million.
    Spillane published six more books in two years, all best sellers, including My Gun Is Quick (1950), The Big Kill (1951), and Kiss Me, Deadly (1952). He was known for including far more graphic sex and violence in his books than any other writer at the time. His work helped spark the pulp fiction craze of the 1950s, and he was one of the targets for a U.S. Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency.
    Spillane never got as much respect as other detective novelists like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but he sold many more books than they did. Six of his books are now among the 25 top-selling novels of the 20th century. It's estimated that there are about 130 million copies of his books in print.
    Spillane was once asked why detective Mike Hammer is always depicted drinking beer. He said, "Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can't spell cognac."
    And, "If you're a singer you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. [But] a writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes."

    ~


    It's the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, (books by this author) born at Knole, her family's castle in Kent, England (1892). She grew up in an incredibly wealthy family, but she never got along with her mother, who was the illegitimate daughter of a famous Spanish dancer. Sackville-West said, "I used to be taken to [mother's] room to be 'passed' before going down to luncheon on party days ... and I was always wrong and miserable, so that parties used to blacken my summer."
    Sackville-West spent most of her childhood wandering around her family's huge house, which had 52 staircases and 365 rooms. She began to write, and by the time she was 18, she had written eight novels and five plays.
    She married for convenience and she said, "[I became] the correct and adoring wife of the brilliant young diplomat." But it turned out that both she and her husband were homosexual, so while they remained married good friends for the rest of their lives, they each had many affairs.
    Around 1918, Sackville-West began going out in public dressed as a man. The first time she ever put on men's pants she said, "I ran, I shouted, I jumped, I climbed, I vaulted over the gates. I felt like a schoolboy." She went on to have several affairs with women, most famously with Virginia Woolf. She inspired Woolf's novel Orlando, about a character who lives for centuries as both a man and a woman. It was Woolf who published Sackville-West's novel The Edwardians (1930), which became a big best seller.
    She went on to write many more novels, as well as plays, poetry, and biographies, but she's also remembered as one of the great gardening writers of all time. In the 1930s, she and her husband spent years restoring a castle estate called Sissinghurst that had fallen to ruin. Sackville-West grew to love the country, spent much of her time working on the garden, and she began contributing a weekly gardening column to the London Observer. She kept it up almost 15 years. At the time, gardening was considered a masculine hobby, and most members of the British upper class employed gardeners to do all the actual work. But Vita Sackville-West wrote about the joys of digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, and arranging the flowers herself. She persuaded many people to start their own gardens, and she helped start many gardening trends, including single-color gardens, the incorporation of wildflowers, and the planting of climbing roses at the base of apple trees.
    Vita Sackville-West thought of her gardening column as insignificant compared to the rest of her writing until, in 1954, she was awarded a medal by the Royal Horticultural Society. She wrote of the award to her husband: "I was rather pleased but even more astonished. It is all due to those beastly little Observer articles... Haven't I always said that one got rewarded for the things that one least esteemed?"
    Vita Sackville-West said, "I suppose the pleasure of country life lies really in the eternally renewed evidences of the determination to live."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of lexicographer Henry Watson Fowler, (books by this author) born in Tonbridge, Kent, England (185.

    He studied at Oxford and taught Latin, Greek, and English at a boy's school in northwest England for 17 years, then resigned and moved to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, built himself a one room cottage, and began living like a hermit. Though he spent all his time writing essays and produced enough to fill two book-length manuscripts, he could not succeed in getting them published. He then came up with the idea to write "a sort of English composition manual, from the negative point of view, for journalists & amateur writers." Collaborating with his brother on the work for Oxford University Press, he wrote The King's English (1906), which begins:
    "Any one who wishes to become a good writer should endeavour, before he allows himself to be tempted by the more showy qualities, to be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid."
    The first chapter, entitled "Vocabulary," lays out the following principles:
    "Prefer the familiar word to the far-fetched. Prefer the concrete word to the abstract. Prefer the single word to the circumlocution. Prefer the short word to the long. Prefer the Saxon word to the Romance."
    The book was a success and he was commissioned to produce The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, which appeared in 1911. His biggest success, however, was A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (1926), a collection of common mistakes in English that Fowler organized into categories, such as "Battered Ornaments," "Love of the Long Word," "Sturdy Indefensibles," "Swapping Horses," and "Unequal Yokefellows."
    T. S. Eliot said, "Every person who wishes to write ought to read A Dictionary of Modern English Usage ... for a quarter of an hour every night before going to bed."

    ~


    It was on this day in 1926 that the first-ever Book of the Month Club selection was published by Viking Press: Lolly Willowes, by English novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner, about a spinster aunt who ventures away from her controlling family, negotiates with the Devil, and becomes a witch.
    The Book of the Month Club was the creation of Harry Scherman (b. Feb. 1, 1887), a Jewish immigrant merchant's son who had dropped out of business school and law school and worked as a freelance journalist before joining a large advertising agency, where he specialized in writing copy for mail-order firms. When a candy company client of the ad agency wanted to sell more boxed candy, Scherman came up with the idea of adding leather-bound copies of classic Shakespeare plays to the boxes of candy and then advertising the fact. The candy company liked the idea, ordered 15,000 copies of different Shakespeare plays, and sold the candy boxes with books at drugstores.
    The success of this led Scherman to resign from the ad agency and launch the "Little Leather Library Corporation" in 1916. It became a mail-order service that offered 10-cent, miniature-size reprints of classics (all past copyright so that they would not have to pay royalties), and it sold 40 million copies in its first five years.
    Scherman decided that his company was running out of classics to reproduce, and he wanted to find a good way to market new books. So he started the Book of the Month Club, which would feature a prestigious selection committee whose reputation and esteemed taste would ensure the potential customer that the book of the month selected to be shipped was worth buying and reading, and this would help to reduce the cost of publicizing new titles. The first panel consisted of authors Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Christopher Morley, critic Henry Seidel Canby, journalist Heywood Broun, and newspaper publisher William Allen White. The judges met for lunch and brandy once a month to make their selection.
    The club had initially offered the right to return the book if dissatisfied with the selection, and the first two selections "came back in droves," flooding the office facilities and creating logistical difficulties. So the club developed a negative option format in which it sent an announcement of the forthcoming book and gave the customer a form and short amount of time to decline having the book sent if they found it unappealing. If there was no response, then the book was shipped and the customer was billed.
    The club's membership grew steadily from the beginning and even through the Great Depression. By 1966, the club had more than 1 million members. Its membership peaked in 1988 with 1.5 million people, but 15 years later had only 350,000 members, declining steadily through the 1990s due largely to the rise of online book-selling and the increasing development of large warehouse-style bookstores.
    The Book of the Month Club has sent out more than 570 million books in the U.S. since it began in 1926.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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    It's the birthday of writer Douglas Adams, (books by this author) born in Cambridge, England (1952), best known for his five-book "trilogy" The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of comic science fiction novels that sold more than 14 million copies during his lifetime and inspired a cult-like following.
    The idea for the first book came to Adams when he was 19 years old and backpacking through Europe. After a day of wandering through the Austrian countryside carrying the Hitch-hiker's Guide to Europe, Adams lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck with the book, ruing his inability to communicate with residents and gazing up at the stars. He said it occurred to him right then that somebody ought to write a hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy.
    At age 24, he felt frustrated by his lack of success as a writer and was on the verge of pursuing a different career when the BBC accepted his outline of the Hitchhiker story, about an Englishman named Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect who hitch a ride from Earth on a passing starship before the planet is destroyed by a band of bureaucratic aliens. He wrote a 12-part radio series, which was broadcast for the first time in March 1978. A publisher approached Adams about turning the series into a novel, and the next year The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy appeared in print.
    It was followed by The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) and then Life, the Universe, and Everything (1982), each popular and best-selling, and then a fourth book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (1984).
    He was a notoriously unpunctual writer and said, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

    ~


    It's the birthday of poet, critic, and novelistD. J. Enright, (books by this author) born in Warwickshire, England (1920).
    He earned a scholarship to study English at Cambridge and then embarked on a career in academia, teaching literature at universities in Egypt, England, Japan, Germany, Thailand, and Singapore, experiences that he later recounted in Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (1969). He called himself a "Sunday writer," dependent on the day traditionally reserved for beach-going, and imagined it would be nice to be subsidized by a generous foundation to do nothing but write poetry for a year, but then thought, "Since I am one of those people who work under pressure or not at all, it seems better to have a full-time job, if only as an alibi."
    He wrote three collections of poems by the time he was 40: The Laughing Hyena (1953), Bread Rather Than Blossoms (1956), and Some Men Are Brothers (1960). In his verse he generally rejected the modernist traditions, favoring lucid imagery and clear diction over the abstruse. He also featured working-class subjects like noodle-venders and shoeshine boys: "The more or less anonymous, to whom no human idiom can apply / Who neither passed away, or on, nor went before, nor varnished on a sigh" (from Bread Rather Than Blossoms, 1956).
    In addition to writing more than a dozen books of poetry, he wrote six novels, many collections of essays, and a translation of Proust's A Remembrance of Things Past. He edited several anthologies, including The Oxford Book of Death (1983) — which he said he found to be an energizing rather than depressing undertaking — The Faber Book of Fevers and Frets (1989), and The Oxford Book of the Supernatural (1994).

    ~


    It's the birthday of media entrepreneur (Keith) Rupert Murdoch, born in Melbourne, Australia (1931). He inherited two small Australian papers and gave them banner headlines of sex and scandal. Circulation soared. Over time, he has built an international media empire that includes radio and television stations, film and record companies, and book publishers around the world.

    ~


    It was on this day in 1818 that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was published (books by this author). Shelley was only 19 years old when she wrote the novel, and the first edition was published anonymously with a preface written by her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelly. She revised the novel and published it under her name own name in 1823.
    The story of Frankenstein's monster was first staged as a play in 1823 in London and was followed shortly thereafter by a musical burlesque. Today there are more than 80 films that carry "Frankenstein" in their title.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

    There are three kinds of people : Those who can count and those that can't.




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