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Thread: Literary Notes

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    Today is the birthday of two famous musical composers, Stephen Sondheim born in New York City (1930) andAndrew Lloyd Webber born in London (194. Sondheim wrote the lyrics to West Side Story (1957) and the music and lyrics to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), A Little Night Music (1973), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), and Into the Woods (1987). Lloyd Webber wrote the music for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (196, Jesus Christ, Superstar (1971), Evita (197, The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Sunset Boulevard (1993), and Cats (1981).
    Both Sondheim and Lloyd Webber were interested in music at an early age. Sondheim grew up next door to the Oscar Hammerstein II family, and Lloyd Webber's father was the director of the London College of Music. Each has developed his own style of musical — Sondheim is famous for his complex lyrics and dark plots, while Lloyd Webber's name is synonymous with huge, operatic scores and experimentation with style and time signature. Each has won multiple Tony Awards for Best Musical Score — Sondheim in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and Lloyd Webber in 1980, 1982, and 1988. Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera was made into a movie in 2004, and a movie version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd was released last year.

    ~


    Today is the birthday of poet Billy Collins, (books by this author) born in New York in 1941. Collins is both a critically acclaimed and popular poet, a unique combination in the world of modern poetry. Collins began writing poems at age 12. He devoured all the poetry he read, especially the contemporary poems in Poetry magazine. In an interview, Collins explained, "I remember reading a poem by Thom Gunn about Elvis Presley, and that was a real mindblower because I didn't know you could write poems about Elvis Presley. I thought there was poetry — what you read in class — and then when you left class there was Elvis. I didn't see them together until I read that poem."
    Collins began selling his poems to Rolling Stone for $35 a pop in the 1970s. He married Diane Olbright in 1977 and published his first book of poems, Pokerface, that year, but it wasn't until the publication of Questions About Angels in 1991 that he began drawing critical attention. His other major poetry collections are The Apple that Astonished Paris (198, The Art of Drowning (1995), Picnic, Lightning (199, Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (2001), Nine Horses: Poems (2002), and The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems (2005). Collins' style is light, humorous, and fond of extended metaphor. He uses mundane situations as diving boards into the larger philosophical questions of life. His poem "Forgetfulness" starts this way:
    The name of the author is the first to go
    followed obediently by the title, the plot,
    the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
    which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
    never even heard of,

    as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
    decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
    to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
    Collins said, "Usually I try to create a hospitable tone at the beginning of a poem. Stepping from the title to the first lines is like stepping into a canoe. A lot of things can go wrong."
    ***********************
    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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    Well I missed a few days so here is the catch up post.

    For 3/23:

    It's the birthday of writer Kim Stanley Robinson, (books by this author) born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1952. Robinson is best known for his hard science fiction, beginning with the Orange County trilogy. The books aren't a trilogy in the traditional sense of one story carried onward in time, but rather represent three different alternate futures for California. The first book in the series, The Wild Shore, was Robinson's first novel, published in 1984. In this California, nuclear war has come and gone, and a young boy must find his place in a world that is both exhilarating and dangerous. The second book, The Gold Coast (198, is a bleak dystopian projection of an overcrowded, drug-riddled California, while Pacific Edge (1990) describes a practical utopian society in a small town called El Modena.
    In the 1980s, Robinson began exploring the topic of Mars and what it might be like after human colonization. The Mars Trilogy of Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1994), and Blue Mars (1996) follows a group of 100 scientists who settle on the planet, which is itself one of the most interesting characters. Robinson is known for his attention to detail, especially in his settings. He has written stories set on Pluto and Mercury, in the past and the future, on the slopes of the Himalayas and on the ice of Antarctica. He frequently highlights the importance of ecological conservation in his alternate realities. His most recent trilogy of Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007) centers on Earth after a climate breakdown caused by global warming.
    Robinson thinks of science fiction as a particularly American form. "America [itself] is an experiment," he said, "a mixture, future- and progress-oriented, and out of all of it pops this literature of what happens next. It's like jazz; it has European precursors, but we understand America through science fiction; we all feel we're in a giant science fiction novel that we all write together."
    ~
    Spanish painter Juan Gris was born José Victoriano González on this day in Madrid (1887). Gris studied engineering in Madrid but soon abandoned it for art. He moved to Paris in 1906 and rented the apartment right next to Pablo Picasso's. Picasso and collaborator Georges Braque greatly influenced Gris, and he exhibited artwork in the Cubist exhibition in 1912.


    For 3/24:

    It's the birthday of poet, publisher, and bookstore proprietor Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (books by this author) born in Yonkers, New York (1919). His Italian father died while his French-speaking mother was pregnant, and his mother had a nervous breakdown and went to a mental hospital the year after he was born. He was sent to live with an aunt, who divorced her husband and took Lawrence to France. Four years later, she returned to New York, placed him in an orphanage until she could find work, then brought him into the rich household where she had found a position as governess. She disappeared and later died in an asylum, and the family she worked for adopted and began to educate the boy with classic literature.
    After college, he served in the Navy during World War II. He was sent to Nagasaki shortly after the blast and said, "Before I was at Nagasaki, I was a good American boy. I was an Eagle Scout; I was the commander of a sub-chaser in the Normandy Invasion. Anyone who saw Nagasaki would suddenly realize that they'd been kept in the dark by the United States government as to what atomic bombs can do." He became staunchly antiwar.
    While in graduate school in New York and Paris, he began to write poetry and to draw and paint. He moved to San Francisco and wrote poems, book reviews, and columns for various Bay Area publications, including the City Lights magazine published by Peter Martin.

    In 1955, Ferlinghetti started a publishing company, which that year published his first book of poetry, Pictures of the Gone World. He hoped to publish volumes slim enough that workers would be able to slip them into their pockets to read during their lunch breaks. Later that year, he went to a poetry reading called "Six Poets at the Six Gallery," organized by the poet Kenneth Rexroth. There he saw a poet named Allen Ginsberg read a new poem called "Howl." Ferlinghetti was deeply impressed, and after the reading, he sent Ginsberg a telegram that said, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?"
    The next year City Lights published "Howl," which was seized on its way back from the London printer by customs officials for violating obscenity laws. Ferlinghetti was put on trial for printing and selling lewd and indecent material. The ACLU defended him and he was acquitted, and the publicity from the trial benefited his bookstore and helped "Howl" to become one of the most widely read poems of the century. Ferlinghetti said, "The San Francisco [customs office] deserves a word of thanks. It would have taken years for critics to accomplish what the good [customs office] did in a day." From then on, he could publish what he wanted.
    In 1994, he was named San Francisco's Poet Laureate. His plans in that capacity included campaigning to paint the Golden Gate Bridge gold and also to tilt Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill so that it would be like the leaning tower of Pisa.
    ~
    It's the birthday of playwright Dario Fo, (books by this author) born in San Giano, Italy (1926). He has based his plays on current political events. He is best-known for his play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1997. He said, "With comedy I can search for the profound."


    For 3/25:

    It's the birthday of young adult novelist Kate DiCamillo, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia (1964). She spent most of her childhood in Florida, but after college she moved to Minnesota to work for a book wholesaler, where she filled orders for bookstores and libraries. She worked in the children's book section, and it was the first time in her life that she really began to take children's literature seriously.
    That first winter in Minnesota was one of the coldest on record, and DiCamillo missed her hometown in Florida horribly. She also desperately wanted a dog, but couldn't have one because her apartment building didn't allow dogs. So she began writing a story about a stray dog that helps a 10-year-old girl adjust to life in a new town, and that became DiCamillo's novel Because of Winn-Dixie, which won a Newbery Honor and became a best seller when it came out in 2000.
    It begins, "My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog."
    ~
    It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Flannery O'Connor, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1925), the only child of a rare Catholic family in the Protestant Bible Belt. When she was five, she became famous for teaching a chicken to walk backward; a national news company came to town to film the feat and then broadcast it all around the country. She said, "That was the most exciting thing that ever happened to me. It's all been downhill from there."
    Her father died of lupus when she was 15 and she rarely spoke of him afterward.
    When she was 25, she was diagnosed with lupus, and she moved in with her mother on a farm in Georgia. The lupus left her so weak that she could only write two or three hours a day. She was fascinated by birds, and on the farm she raised ducks, geese, and pea++++++++++++++++++++s. She traveled to give lectures whenever she felt well enough, and she went once to Europe where, because of a friend's plea, she bathed in the waters at Lourdes, famed for their supposed healing powers.
    She wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two short-story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). She died at the age of 39 from complications of lupus.
    She said, "The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention."
    ***********************
    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 Robert Frost, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1874). He cultivated the image of a rural New England poet with a pleasant disposition, but Frost's personal life was full of tragedy and he suffered from dark depressions.
    He graduated from high school at the top of his class but dropped out of Dartmouth after a semester and tried to convince his high school co-valedictorian, Elinor White, to marry him immediately. She refused and insisted on finishing college first. They did marry after she graduated, and it was a union that would be filled with losses and feelings of alienation. Their first son died from cholera at age three; Frost blamed himself for not calling a doctor earlier and believed that God was punishing him for it. His health declined, and his wife became depressed. In 1907, they had a daughter who died three days after birth, and a few years later Elinor had a miscarriage. Within a couple years, his sister Jeanie died in a mental hospital, and his daughter Marjorie, of whom he was extremely fond, was hospitalized with tuberculosis. Marjorie died a slow death after getting married and giving birth, and a few years later, Frost's wife died from heart failure. His adult son, Carol, had become increasingly distraught, and Frost went to visit him and to talk him out of suicide. Thinking the crisis had passed, he returned home, and shortly afterward his son shot himself. He also had to commit his daughter Irma to a mental hospital.
    And through all of this, Robert Frost still became one of the most famous poets in the United States. He said, "A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression, an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the word."
    And, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

    ~

    It was on this day in 1920 that This Side of Paradise was published, launching 23-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald to fame and fortune.

    ~

    It's the birthday of Tennessee Williams, (books by this author) born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi (1911), author of more than 24 full-length plays, including Pulitzer Prize winners A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955).
    He said, "I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really." And, "A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace."

    ~

    It's the birthday of poet Alfred Edward Housman— A.E. Housman — born in Worcestershire, England (1859), (books by this author) who worked as a clerk in the Patent Office in London for 10 years as he wrote the poems for which we know him today, including "When I was one-and-twenty / I heard a wise man say, 'Give crowns and pounds and guineas / But not your heart away.'"; and "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough."

    ~

    It's the birthday of mythologist Joseph Campbell, (books by this author) born in New York City (1904). When he was a young boy, he was taken to see Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Madison Square Garden, and it prompted him to become fascinated with Native American culture. He read all he could on it; after working his way through the children's section at the public library, he turned to reports from the Bureau of Ethnology. Later, when reading the medieval stories of King Arthur, he noticed similarities with Native American stories. In 1949, he published a monumental study of mythology called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which traced the common theme of the spiritual quest in myth.
    All sorts of writers found the book valuable for their own work, including the poet Robert Bly and the filmmaker George Lucas, who said that without it, he would never have been able to write Star Wars.
    ***********************
    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 T. R. Pearson, (books by this author) born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (1956). He's the author of several novels, including Cry Me a River (1993) and Polar (2002).

    ~

    It's the birthday of the novelist Julia Alvarez, (books by this author) born in New York City (1950). Though she was born in New York, she grew up in the Dominican Republic. When Alvarez was 10 years old, her family had to flee the country because her father was implicated in a plot to assassinate the Dominican president. All Alvarez knew at the time was that she was going back to New York, which she'd heard was a magical city. She said, "I would get to see the miracle of the snow, buildings that pricked the sky with their tops, and a host of other things which heretofore had only been the province of stories."
    But when she got to America, she found that she didn't speak English as well as she thought she did. The other students made fun of her and called her names that she couldn't even understand. She said, "That was where I landed when we left the Dominican Republic, not in the United States but in the English language." She's written the novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), about four sisters making their way as Dominican refugees in New York, another novel called In the Time of the Butterflies (1994), and a poetry collection, The Woman I Kept to Myself (2004).


    ~


    It's the birthday of poet Louis Simpson, (books by this author) born in Jamaica, West Indies (1923). He's written 17 volumes of poetry, and his collection At the End of the Open Road (1963) won the Pulitzer Prize. In the late 1950s, his early, traditional rhyming verse — like that in The Arrivistes (1949) and Good News of Death and Other Poems (1955) — gave way to experimental free verse; he decided old forms were dead, that poetry should spring from the poet's inner life in a more natural way. He said, "The old-fashioned verse of epithets and opinions — writing of the will rather than the imagination — which is still practiced by those who think of themselves as avant-garde —is dead. And objective verse, which is only photography, is boring. Those who still write in these ways are at the mercy of their surroundings; they are depressed, and create nothing. Only in Surrealism, creating images and therefore realities, is there any joy."

    ~


    It's the birthday of jazz singer and pianist Sarah Vaughan, born in Newark, New Jersey (1924) — who sang gospel music as a child and learned to play on a church organ. She was 18 when, on a dare, she entered a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, sang "Body and Soul," and won. She was spotted by singer Billy Eckstine, who recommended her to Earl Hines, a bandleader with a remarkable ear for talent, who hired her as his band's relief pianist as well as singer. She sang "Misty," "Tenderly," "All of Me," and made dozens of other classic jazz recordings with Count Basie, Cannonball Adderly, Lester Young, and Oscar Peterson. Her hits include "It's Magic," "Send in the Clowns," and "I Cried for You."
    She had a range of four octaves, as wide as an opera singer's. When she died in 1990, Mel Torme said, "She had the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field."
    ***********************
    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 Nelson Algren, (books by this author) born in Detroit (1909). He settled in Chicago, which he called "The City on the Make," or sometimes, "the lovely lady with the broken nose."
    He wrote two novels: A Walk on the Wild Side (1956) and The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), about a disillusioned, card-dealing World War II veteran named Frankie Machine. It's Algren who's responsible for the famous advice, "Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play cards with a guy named Doc, and never go to bed with anyone who has more troubles than you."

    ~


    It's also the birthday a man who counts Algren among his heroes: poet, novelist, and short-story writer Russell Banks, (books by this author) born in Newton, Massachusetts (1940). He wrote, "At a university, you study books that can be deconstructed, not books that can change your life. Algren's books can change your life, and this kind of book you always have to discover on your own."
    Russell Banks' family moved to New Hampshire, where his father was a plumber and an abusive alcoholic who hit his toddler son in the eye, leaving it so that Russell has had to squint for the rest of his life. His father finally abandoned the family when Russell was 12, and the boy was forced to help out his mother with family finances. He later said, "I can really see my life as a kind of obsessive return to the wound. Going back again and again trying to get it right, trying to figure out how it happened and who's to blame and who's to forgive."
    He was an exceptionally bright student and won a scholarship to Colgate, the first in his family to go to college. But he dropped out after only eight weeks, feeling that he, a poor boy, didn't fit in among the privileged preppies, "the sons of the captains of American industry," as he called them. He left the North for Mexico and Florida and intended to join Castro's rebellious army, but he ended up in Florida fishing, writing, and working as a gas station attendant. By his early 20s, he was married and had a daughter, but the relationship ended in divorce when he was 22. He later called this period "the terrible years."
    When he was 24, he went back to college, entering the University of North Carolina, and this time around he felt well adjusted was a good student.
    He wrote a novel, Hamilton Stark(197, in which he experimented with narration techniques and perspective, using shifting points of view to frame the novel. His novel Continental Drift (1985) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and called by Atlantic reviewer James Atlas "the most convincing portrait I know of contemporary America: its greed, its uprootedness, its indifference to the past. This is a novel about the way we live now."
    Since then, Banks has written several more novels, including Affliction (1989), The Sweet Hereafter (1991), Cloudsplitter (199, and most recently, The Reserve (200.

    ~


    It's the birthday of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, (books by this author) born in Arequipa, in southern Peru (1936). He's the author of Conversation in a Cathedral (1969), Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (197, and The Feast of the Goat (2002). He lived abroad for several decades, but he returned to Peru in the '80s, ran for president against Alberto Fujimori, and lost. "Never again," he said, about his decision to enter politics. "Literature and politics are mutually exclusive. A writer is someone who works alone, who needs total independence. A politician is someone who is totally dependent, who has to make all kinds of concessions, the very thing a writer can't do."

    ~


    It was on this day in 1941 that the novelist Virginia Woolf drowned herself in a river near her house (books by this author). She had long suffered from periods of depression, and modern scholars believe these depressions may have been symptoms of manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder.
    In early March of 1941, she wrote in her diary that she had fallen into "a trough of despair." She wasn't satisfied with her most recent book, and she felt as though World War II was making writing insignificant. She wrote three letters in the weeks before she committed suicide, explaining her reasons for wanting to end her life. In the longest of the three, she wrote to her husband, "I feel certain that I am going mad again. ... I shant recover this time. ... I cant fight it any longer. ... What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. ... I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been."
    Woolf left the letters where her husband would find them, and then on this day in 1938, she walked a half mile to a nearby river and put a heavy rock in the pocket of her fur coat before jumping into the water.
    ***********************
    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 comic actor and writer Eric Idle, (books by this author) born in South Shields, Durham, England (1943) — who performed at Cambridge in the "Footlights Review" with John Cleese and other future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus. On the Python show, Idle's most memorable roles are creepy old men, annoying talk show hosts, and fussy old women.

    ~


    It's the birthday of poet R.S. Thomas, (books by this author) born in Cardiff, Wales (1913). He became an ordained priest in 1937, and published more than 20 books of poetry from 1946 until his death in the year 2000. Along with Dylan Thomas, he's considered one of the best Welsh poets of the 20th century.
    R.S. Thomas called the Welsh, "an impotent people ... sick with inbreeding / worrying the carcass of an old song."

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist and screenplay writer Judith Guest, (books by this author) born in Detroit, Michigan (1936). Her first novel, Ordinary People (1976) — about a teenage boy in the aftermath of a suicide attempt — was a big success from the moment it was published, though it had been rejected for publication twice, and the third publisher waited eight months after receiving the manuscript to decide to go through with it. It was the first unsolicited manuscript that Viking Press had accepted in 26 years.
    She started writing it as a short story but was not ready to be finished with the characters, so she worked on what happened before the story started and then what happened after it. Soon it was 200 pages long. She said, "I wrote it because I wanted to explore the anatomy of depression — how it works and why it happens to people; how you can go from being down but able to handle it to being so down that you don't even want to handle it, and then taking a radical step with your life — trying to commit suicide — and failing at that, coming back to the world and having to 'act normal' when, in fact, you have been forever changed." It took her three years to write, and in order to concentrate on finishing the book, she quit her job teaching elementary school.
    She once said, "Living the blessed life is the luck of the draw. We don't get control over the cards we're dealt, but we do have control over how we face the odds, how we play them. Some people with awful cards are successful because of how they deal with them, and that seems courageous to me."

    ~


    It's the birthday of politician and poet Eugene McCarthy, (books by this author) born in Watkins, Minnesota (1921). He's the Democratic senator from Minnesota who ran for president in 1968 and then a few more times. When he decided to run against Lyndon Johnson for the presidency in 1968, it was almost unheard of for any politician to run against a sitting president of his own party. But McCarthy had decided that someone had to challenge the policy on the war in Vietnam. Johnson was considered unbeatable, but hundreds of students canvassed door-to-door for McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, and McCarthy came close to winning more votes. Johnson announced he would not run for re-election.
    After his retirement from the Senate, McCarthy wrote several books about politics in America as well as many collections of poetry, including Ground Fog and Night (1979) and Other Things and the Aardvark (1970).
    McCarthy said, "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."
    ***********************
    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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    On this day in 1862, Henry David Thoreau died of tuberculosis. (books by this author) He was 44. His aunt asked him if he was at peace with God. Thoreau said, "I was not aware that we had quarreled." The last clear thing he said was, "Now comes good sailing," and then two words: "moose" and "Indian."

    ~

    It's the birthday of poet and critic Randall Jarrell, (books by this author) born in Nashville, Tennessee (1914). In his critical essays, collected and published as Poetry and the Age (1953), he revitalized the reputations of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. During World War II he worked as a control tower operator, and he wrote about war in his books of poetry, collections Little Friend, Little Friend (1945) and Losses (194. In Losses, he wrote:
    We read our mail and counted up our missions —
    In bombers named for girls, we burned
    The cities we have learned about in school —
    Till our lives wore out; our bodies lay among
    The people we had killed and never seen.
    When we lasted long enough they gave us
    medals; When we died they said, "Our casualties were low."

    ~

    It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud, (books by this author) born in Freiberg in what was then the Austrian Empire (1856). He started out as a medical doctor and scientist in Vienna, studying the anatomy of eels. He developed a laboratory technique that involved staining tissue samples so that they could be seen more easily under the microscope, and he also made breakthroughs in the use of anesthetic for surgery. One of his superiors in the medical community, however, told him that he would never go far in his career because he was Jewish.
    So Freud decided to go into the less crowded field of psychology, where he thought he might be able to break new ground. He was particularly interested in the mental illness called hysteria, which caused patients to suffer from tics, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and hallucinations. Hysterics were given a variety of treatments, including isolation, electrocution, and in the case of women, surgical removal of the uterus.
    Freud learned that some doctors were using hypnosis to treat hysteria, and he went to France to see the use of hypnosis firsthand. Seeing that a patient could be talked out of his or her symptoms gave Freud the idea that the symptoms were a product of the mind and not the body. He learned the method of hypnosis himself and began to treat patients, but he had little success. Then, one of Freud's colleagues told him about a patient named Anna O., whose hysterical symptoms had improved when she told stories about her life. The woman herself named this process of storytelling "the talking cure."
    Freud saw her talking cure as a groundbreaking technique for the treatment of mental illness. He thought that maybe all the symptoms of the hysterics he was treating were the result of stories they hadn't ever been able to tell anyone about their lives. He took a couch that had belonged to his wife, covered it with a Persian rug, and asked his patients to lie down on it. Instead of looking at him, he asked them to stare at an empty wall, and he sat behind them as they talked, occasionally asking a question. He called the process free association.
    Over the next few years, he developed the idea that his patients were not conscious of all their desires and fears, that many of their own thoughts were hidden from them in their unconscious mind. He believed that their unconscious mind would reveal itself in various ways, through slips of the tongue, jokes, and especially dreams. What made his ideas so revolutionary and controversial was that he didn't just apply them to mentally ill patients, but to all human beings, even himself. When he came out with The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, it read like a partial autobiography, because many of the dreams in it were his own. He was suggesting that no one can easily understand his or her unconscious mind, not even the doctor who invented the concept.
    Freud went on to write many more books, including The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904) and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). Many of them were read by the general public, in part because of their scandalous frankness about sexuality. Freud was also a great fan of literature, and he filled his books with references to Shakespeare and Greek mythology.
    Scholars have questioned whether psychoanalysis is really a science, and today his ideas are no longer part of modern psychology. Many critics mocked his obsession with sex, including the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who referred to him as "Dr. Fraud" and said, "Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts." But Freud had a tremendous impact on Western culture. The idea that people were driven by unconscious desires had a huge impact on literature. It was after Freud's writings became widespread that novelists began to write fiction that took place entirely inside their characters' minds. His work also gave writers permission to start describing more frankly their characters' sexual desires.
    ***********************
    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 English poet Robert Browning, (books by this author) born in Camberwell, south London (1812). Growing up, he had access to his father's enormous library, which had more than 6,000 volumes and contained works in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian. When he was 12, he was given a book of Shelley poems, and he became such a fan that he asked for the complete collection for his 13th birthday, and mimicked Shelly by becoming an atheist and vegetarian. He read a collection of poems by Elizabeth Barrett and began exchanging letters with her. The two met in 1845 and married the next year. Before they were married, Elizabeth wrote 44 secret love poems for Robert, which were compiled in Sonnets from the Portuguese. One of them is the poem that begins "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. "
    A number of Browning Societies were established during his lifetime, and he often made appearances at their meetings. Today, Browning Societies still exist in several major cities, including London, where the society aims "to widen the appreciation and understanding of the poetry of the Brownings … and to collect items of literary and biographical interest." The members arrange lectures and visits, and they publish a Browning journal. The New York Browning Society also celebrates the work of both Robert and Elizabeth and always follows its monthly meetings with tea. It also supports a high school poetry contest.
    The readers of several other authors have formed notable clubs, including ones dedicated to James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Jane Austen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats, and C.S. Lewis.
    The James Joyce Society of New York first met in 1947 at Gotham Book Mart on West 47th Street and continues to meet there. There are two groups who are reading Finnegan's Wake — a general one, open to everyone, which gets through two to six pages per monthly meeting, and a special subgroup by invitation only, which averages less than 10 pages a year.
    Novelist Christopher Morley founded, in 1934, the Baker Street Irregulars to celebrate the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and today there are many groups of Sherlockians, including the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, who developed in protest to the men-only Baker Street Irregulars. Both of those groups now admit members of both sexes. The London Sherlock Holmes Society, which began in its current incarnation in 1951, has an annual dinner and regular meetings, and produces a Sherlock Holmes Journal twice a year. There are also occasional mock trials, trivia challenges, pub nights, London walks, and cricket matches against the P.G. Wodehouse Society.
    ***********************
    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 Thomas Pynchon, (books by this author) born in Glen Cove, New York (1937), the author of large books of fiction, including Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Mason and Dixon (1997), and the 1,085-page Against the Day (2006). He studied physics engineering at Cornell, left to serve in the Navy, and then returned to study literature, where fellow students report that he attended lectures given by Vladimir Nabokov. He applied to Berkeley's graduate school of math, but his application was rejected.
    He is well known for his reclusiveness and elusiveness. After his first novel, V., was published in 1963 and Time magazine sent a photographer to his home in Mexico City, Pynchon reportedly evaded the reporter by jumping out his window, riding a bus to the mountains, and staying there while he grew a beard — and when he returned natives called him Pancho Villa. In 1997, a CNN crew stalked Pynchon in his Manhattan neighborhood and was able to capture him on film. He became upset, called the station, and asked that he not be pointed out to viewers in any of the footage. He said, "Let me be unambiguous. I prefer not to be photographed." When they asked him about his reclusiveness, he said, "My belief is that 'recluse' is a code word generated by journalists ... meaning, 'doesn't like to talk to reporters.'"
    When he received the National Book Award in 1974 for Gravity's Rainbow, he sent comedian Irwin Corey to the ceremony to accept the prize.
    He has, however, made two cameo appearances on the animated television series The Simpsons. In one of them, Marge has become an author and Pynchon provides a blurb for her book. Pynchon appears on the show and says, "Here's your quote: Thomas Pynchon loved this book, almost as much as he loves cameras!" Then he yells at cars passing by, "Hey, over here, have your picture taken with a reclusive author! Today only, we'll throw in a free autograph!"
    He lived for a period in Los Angeles, now resides in New York City, in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He is married to his literary agent, Melanie Jackson, and the couple has a son, who was born in 1991.

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist and critic Edmund Wilson, (books by this author) born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895), the son of an attorney who succumbed to mental illness and a woman who went deaf shortly thereafter. He went to Princeton and then worked for The New York Evening Sun, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and The New Yorker. Wilson wrote all sorts of opinions about major writers of his day. He was an early appreciator of Hemingway, and he said in 1922 that "F. Scott Fitzgerald has been left with a jewel which he doesn't know quite what to do with." He wrote that Yeats, Proust, and Joyce "break down the walls of the present and wake us to the hope and exaltation of the untried, unsuspected possibilities of human thought and art."
    He said that "Marxism is the opium of the intellectuals" and that "No two persons ever read the same book."

    ~

    It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, (books by this author) born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950s and he's had a long steady career as a poet, an environmental activist, a Zen Buddhist, and a hero to the counterculture. He's one of first American poets since Henry Thoreau to think so much about how a person ought to live — and to make his own life a model. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1975.
    While he was a student, he spent his summers working as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman, and in 1955 he worked at Yosemite National Park on the trail crew. He said, "I had given up on poetry. … Then I got out there and started writing these poems about the rocks and blue jays. I looked at them. They didn't look like any poems that I had ever written before. So I said, these must be my own poems." They became his first book, Riprap (1959).
    In 1956, he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next 12 years in a monastery studying Buddhism. He went to India too, where he and Allen Ginsberg and others had a conversation about hallucinogens with the Dalai Lama. His friend Alan Watts wrote, "He is like a wiry Chinese sage with high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, and a thin beard, and the recipe for his character requires a mixture of Oregon woodsman, seaman, Amerindian shaman, Oriental scholar, San Francisco hippie, and swinging monk, who takes tough discipline with a light heart."
    He said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe."
    And he said, "True affluence is not needing anything."
    ***********************
    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 Karl Barth, (books by this author) born in Basel, Switzerland (1886), one of the most influential theologians of this century. He said, "Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God."

    ~


    It's the birthday of Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós, (books by this author) born in Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island (1843). He was called the greatest Spanish novelist since Miguel de Cervantes. He wrote 77 novels and 21 plays.

    ~


    It's the birthday of British romance writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, (books by this author) born in Leeds, England (1933). She writes books about strong women driven by work and by love. Her first novel, A Woman of Substance (1979), sold over 19 million copies. It's a rags-to-riches story about Emma Harte, who builds a clothing store empire and gets revenge on the family of a man who seduced and abandoned her when she was a girl. She said, "If anyone asks me whether I like being a popular writer, I ask them whether they think I'd rather be an unpopular writer."
    ***********************
    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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