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Thread: Literary Notes

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    It's the birthday of the man who has been called "the father of nonsense," Edward Lear, (books by this author) born in London, England (1812). He was the twentieth of his mother's twenty-one children, almost half of whom had died in infancy. He was raised by his sister Ann, who taught him at an early age how to paint birds and flowers. He went to school only briefly, and then, as a teenager, began to support himself painting shop signs for local merchants and sketching diseased patients for medical textbooks.
    At the time, there was a fad for books of illustrated birds, so Edward Lear got into that business and became one of the most successful bird illustrators in the industry. Unlike other painters, he refused to paint stuffed birds, and tried only to work from living specimens, which made his paintings more anatomically accurate. Among his clients was Charles Darwin, who had Lear illustrate the specimens he brought back from his trip on the H.M.S. Beagle.
    Lear suffered from periodic depression as an adult, along with terrible eyesight and epilepsy. Most scholars also believe he was a homosexual. Despite all his success as a painter and illustrator, he felt like an outcast in respectable British society. He wrote in his diary, "Nothing I long for half so much as to giggle heartily and to hop on one leg ... but I dare not."
    Then in 1832, the Earl of Darby invited Lear to come to his estate and paint all the animals in his private zoo, the largest private zoo in the world at the time. Lear agreed, and when he arrived at the estate, he wound up spending most of his free time with the Earl's grandchildren. Lear had never spent any time with children before, and he found that they brought out a whole different side of his personality. He began acting like a clown for them, singing songs, drawing cartoons, and making up humorous poems. The children loved the poems so much that he wrote them down and they became his Book of Nonsense (1846).
    There had long been an oral tradition of nonsense poetry in the English language, from nursery rhymes to schoolyard chants and drinking songs. Shakespeare had drawn on that tradition when he wrote the dialogue for fools and madmen. But Edward Lear was the first English writer to make nonsense poetry into an art form: something worth writing and publishing in its own right.

    ~

    It's the birthday of actress Katharine Hepburn, (books by this author) born in Hartford, Connecticut (1907). She became a Hollywood star by not doing anything that Hollywood stars were supposed to do. Her looks were unconventional: she had red hair and freckles and sharp cheekbones. She didn't wear make-up or dresses, she didn't cooperate with the media, and she had a habit of insulting other people in the business. She played smart, sexy, independent women who were always able to get the guy in the end.
    She won her first Oscar for her role in Morning Glory (1933). After that she hand-picked each of her movies, and she often had a say in who the other actors in the movie would be. Sometimes she rewrote her own lines, something almost no other actress would have dared to do at the time.
    In 1991, Hepburn published her autobiography, titled
    Me, and it was a best-seller. She wrote about her twenty-seven-year affair with Spencer Tracy, her career, and life in her brownstone in the middle of Manhattan, where she lived for more than sixty years.
    Katharine Hepburn said, "If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun."
    ***********************
    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 one half of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera writing team, Arthur Seymour Sullivan, born in London in 1842. He was a notorious drinker and smoker, and composing came very easily to him. He often entertained guests as he worked on a piece of music.
    He established himself in 1862 as a composer when he wrote an orchestral suite for Shakespeare's The Tempest that was performed at the Crystal Palace. Charles Dickens attended the concert and complimented Sullivan after the show. He began collaborating with William Gilbert in 1871, and the pair would go on to write fourteen enormously popular comic operas, including Trial by Jury (1875), The Mikado (1885), and The Pirates of Penzance (1879).

    ~

    It's the birthday of painter Georges Braque, born in Argenteuil-sur-Seine, France, in 1882. He painted scenes of villages where the buildings were reduced to their basic geometrical shape, the cube, and along with Pablo Picasso became a leader of Cubism. Cubist paintings challenged traditional art by using simple shapes and drab colors like gray and brown to show an object from multiple perspectives. Georges Braque said, "There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain."

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist Daphne du Maurier, (books by this author) born in London (1907). She came from a long line of actors and writers, and her first two big successes were books about her family— Gerald (1936), a biography of her father, and The Du Mauriers (1937), the story of her family tree dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. She said, "[I wanted to find out] why they wept and why they suffered, and what strange memories enfolded these Du Mauriers of 60 and 100 years ago."
    She spent most of her adult life in the coastal town of Cornwall, known for its stormy, unpredictable weather. Her three most famous novels, Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman's Creek (1941), and Rebecca (193, are all set in Cornwall.
    Rebecca is narrated by a young, nameless woman who lives with a rich widower in a haunted house near the cliffs of Cornwall. Rebecca has been made into a play, an opera, and a TV series. Orson Welles made it into a radio drama, and Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. In 2003, the BBC held something called the Big Read, in which the British public got to vote on their favorite books of all time. About 150,000 people cast votes, and Rebecca was named one of the nation's twenty favorite books.

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist Armistead Maupin, (books by this author) born Armistead Jones in Washington, D.C. (1944). He's famous for his Tales of the City series, which evolved from a regular column he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning in 1976. The novels focus on a group of gay and straight characters who share a boarding house in San Francisco.

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, (books by this author) born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England (1940). His father took him on trips when Chatwin was a boy, and he later became an archeologist, traveling to Africa and Afghanistan. He began writing a column for the London Times, and then decided to go off to Patagonia. There he collected the material for what would become his first book, In Patagonia (1977).
    It became an instant classic, and its popularity helped to inspire a new generation of travel writers in England and America-authors like Paul Theroux, Jonathan Raban, Peter Matthiessen, and Bill Bryson.
    ***********************
    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 1857 that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading (books by this author). He did this for several reasons: to get away from marital discord at home, because he loved to perform in front of an audience, and because he could make more money reading than he could by writing. His first reading, of A Christmas Carol, was held at Saint Martin's Hall in London, and it was so successful that Charles Dickens became one of the first authors to go on huge, international book tours, performing his own work.
    He controlled every aspect of his public readings, down to designing his own reading stand, which was red, with a fringe around the little desk for the book. He kept special reading copies of selected passages from his works, with stage directions for himself written in the margins. He had considered becoming an actor early in his career, and he used his acting abilities at his public readings, creating different voices for each of the characters, acting out some of the action, reading everything with great dramatic energy.

    ~~~

    It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published. When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than 1,000 pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title, "Tomorrow Is Another Day," because at the time there were already 13 books in print with the word "tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett.
    Mitchell later said, "I just couldn't believe that a Northern publisher would accept a novel about the War Between the States from the Southern point of view." But Gone with the Wind broke all publication records. It sold 50,000 copies sold in one day, a million copies in six months, and 2 million by the end of the year. The sales of the book were even more impressive because it was in the middle of the Great Depression. The hardcover of the novel cost $3 a copy, which was fairly expensive at the time. Its sales injected millions of dollars into the publishing industry. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Christmas bonuses for the first time in nearly a decade.
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    ***********************
    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 1961 that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho (books by this author). He was one of the most famous and most respected authors in the world at the time. It was originally reported that Hemingway had accidentally shot himself with a shotgun, but it eventually came out that he'd done so intentionally. The news was shocking, and many people wondered why he'd done it.
    He'd had trouble writing since he'd participated in World War II. After the war was over he said, "[It's] as though you had heard so much loud music you couldn't hear anything played delicately." He'd been struggling to write a long novel called The Sea Book, but it wasn't coming together so he was only able to publish a small part of it called The Old Man and the Sea (1952). It got great reviews, and won the Pulitzer Prize, but he was frustrated that all he'd been able to produce was a small novella.
    And then, in 1953, he decided to go on a safari in Africa, and he chartered a plane to fly over the countryside. Things went badly right from the start. On the first flight, the hydraulic system of the plane wasn't working well, and they had to make an emergency landing. Then, when they took off again, they almost collided with a flock of birds and crash landed on the shore of the Nile River. Hemingway sprained his shoulder and his wife broke several ribs. But still, they climbed into another plane for a third flight, and this one crashed almost as soon as it took off. Hemingway fractured his skull, got a concussion, cracked two discs in his spine, and suffered from internal bleeding.
    Because a search team initially failed to find Hemingway's crashed plane, he was reported dead, and there were obituaries printed around the world. He later said that he strangely enjoyed reading what people said about him when they thought he was gone. He cut out the articles and saved them in two separate scrapbooks bound in zebra and lion skin.
    But he never really recovered from the injuries he sustained in that plane crash, and he began to drink more and more as a way to self medicate. He wrote pages and pages about his experiences in Africa, but published none of it. Then, in 1956, he found a trunk of old manuscripts and notebooks from his early days as a writer in Paris, and those notebooks inspired him to write his memoir A Movable Feast(1964), about the period of his life just before he became famous. Many critics consider it his greatest work of nonfiction.
    But almost as soon as he finished it, he began to suffer from insomnia and depression. He was having problems with his eyes, he was losing his hair, and he'd come down with a skin condition. He also became obsessed with the idea that he was under FBI surveillance, and his wife thought he was losing his mind. In fact, FBI records would later show that they did in fact have him under surveillance, and they even interviewed his psychiatrist. But he finally decided to check into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. The treatment did not help his depression, and he hated it. He wrote in a letter, "What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business?"
    But after several more treatments in June of 1961, he appeared to have gotten better, and his doctors decided to release him on June 26th of that year. He went back to the house where his wife was staying in Ketchum, Idaho. On the morning of July 2, 1961, he got up early, found his favorite shotgun and, in the foyer of the house, shot himself — before his wife had woken up. She later said that the noise that woke her sounded like a drawer slamming shut.
    Just a few years earlier, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Hemingway had said: "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. ... [The writer] grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."
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    ***********************
    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 humor columnist Dave Barry, (books by this author) born in Armonk, New York (1947), the son of a Presbyterian minister. He was elected Class Clown by his high school class of 1965, then went on to major in English at Haverford College, where he claimed to have written "lengthy scholarly papers filled with sentences that even he did not understand."

    He got a job with a daily newspaper and was assigned to cover town hall meetings. Then he joined a consulting firm that specialized in teaching business executives to write effectively. He said he "spent nearly eight years trying to get various businesspersons to for God's sake stop writing things like 'Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosure,' but he eventually realized that it was hopeless." He left and joined The Miami Herald, and in 1988 he won a Pulitzer for commentary.

    He once said, "You can only be young once. But you can always be immature."

    And, "Never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night."
    ***********************
    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 1931, James Joyce married Nora Barnacle at the Kensington Registry Office in London. They had been living together for 26 years. She once complained about Joyce's late hours, "I can't sleep anymore. ... I go to bed and then that man sits in the next room and continues laughing about his own writing. And then I knock at the door, and I say, now Jim, stop writing or stop laughing!"

    ~~~


    On this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond. It was 10 feet wide by 15 feet long, had an attic and a closet, two windows, and a fireplace. It cost twenty-eight dollars and twelve cents to build. The single biggest expenditure was three dollars and ninety cents for nails. Thoreau boasted that he was a good builder, but when the cabin was excavated a hundred years later, the investigators found hundreds of bent nails in the cellar hole. He had two knives and forks, three plates, one cup and one spoon. He had a huge garden, seven miles of bean rows altogether, and he spent a lot of time weeding them and chasing away the woodchucks.

    ~~~


    On this day in 1855, the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass was printed. It consisted of 12 poems and a preface. The printers were friends of his, and they did not charge Whitman for their work. He helped set some of the type himself. "Grass" is a printer's term; it refers to a casual job that can be set up between busy times.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the first great American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, (books by this author) born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He's the author of The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of Seven Gables (1851). He came from a family of Puritans and his great-grandfather was a witchcraft judge in the Salem trials. His father was a sailor and died at sea when Nathaniel was only four. After his father's death, his mother became a recluse and rarely left the house. Hawthorne learned from her what he called the "cursed habits of solitude." When he did go out of the house, he took long walks by himself. He loved to climb the steeple of Christ Church and look down on the town beneath him.
    He began to support himself writing and editing for various magazines, but he had a hard time getting books published. He grew depressed and spent more and more time at home. He wrote to his friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "I have made a captive of myself and put me in a dungeon; and now I cannot find the key to let myself out." In 1849, his mother died, and he wrote in his diary that her death was "the darkest hour I ever lived." Soon after he began work on his novel The Scarlet Letter (1850), about a Puritan woman named Hester Prynne who has to wear the letter "A" on her chest after she commits adultery. The novel was a huge success, and Hawthorne became a literary celebrity, even though he was still very shy.
    Hawthorne once wrote, "Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
    ***********************
    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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    Default January 7th

    It's the birthday of Charles Addams, born in Westfield, New Jersey (1912). He had a normal, happy childhood and went on to draw macabre cartoons. He created The Addams Family.


    ~~~



    It's the birthday of
    Zora Neale Hurston, who said she "heard tell" she was born on this day in Notasulga, Alabama. She wrote an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), and she's best known for her book Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).


    ~~~



    It was on this day in 1896 that Fannie Merritt Farmer published The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, later renamed The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It was the first cookbook to use accurate measurements.


    ~~~



    It's the birthday of the British zoologist and writer
    Gerald Durrell, born in Jamshedpur, India, in 1925. He grew up in Greece, then in England, and he loved animals. Then he worked for a while collecting animals for zoos, but his methods clashed with the zoology ideas of the day — he wanted to get rare animals and increase their populations, not just get the showy animals that people would pay a lot of money to see.



    His dream was to open a zoo of his own. His older brother, Lawrence Durrell, was a successful novelist, and Lawrence suggested that Gerald should write an autobiography in order to raise money. So in 1953 Gerald published The Overloaded Ark, a huge success in Britain and America, and he went on to write 32 more books, mostly nonfiction, many of them best-sellers, including A Zoo in My Luggage (1960), A Bevy of BeastsMy Family and Other Animals (1956), a memoir of his childhood.


    With the money from his books, he succeeded in opening his own zoo, on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. He thought that zoos should be more than places for people to gawk at exotic-looking creatures. He thought that animals should be in zoos as a means to save them from extinction. He believed in housing animals in habitats that would be comfortable environmentally and socially, not just big cages.



    Gerald Durrell wrote a letter to seal in a time capsule, and he said: "The world is to us what the Garden of Eden was supposed to be to Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were banished, but we are banishing ourselves from our Eden. The difference is that Adam and Eve had somewhere else to go. We have nowhere else to go. We hope that by the time you read this you will have at least partially curtailed our reckless greed and stupidity. If we have not, at least some of us have tried. … All we can say is learn from what we have achieved, but above all learn from our mistakes, do not go on endlessly like a squirrel in a wheel committing the same errors hour by hour day by day year after year century after century as we have done up to now. We hope that there will be fireflies and glow-worms at night to guide you and butterflies in hedges and forests to greet you. We hope that there will still be the extraordinary varieties of creatures sharing the land of the planet with you to enchant you."
    ***********************
    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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    Default January 8th

    It's the birthday of poet and novelist John Neihardt, born near Sharpsburg, Illinois (1881). He grew up in Kansas and Nebraska. He went to college, became a schoolteacher, and moved to a town in Nebraska on the edge of the Omaha reservation. In 1912, he began a huge project, a series of epic poems called A Cycle of the West. It was a history of the West, from the arrival of the first European trappers through the death of Crazy Horse and the Battle of Little Big Horn.
    While he was doing research for this project, he met the Oglala holy man Black Elk, a survivor of the massacre at Wounded Knee. Black Elk agreed to be interviewed, and that turned into a series of conversations between the two men, and John Neihardt published Black Elk's story as Black Elk Speaks
    (1932).


    ~~~~


    It's the birthday of the poet Francisco González Bocanegra, born in 1824 in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. In November of 1853, the president of Mexico announced a nationwide contest to write the lyrics for the national anthem. But even though he was a poet, Bocanegra wasn't interested in the contest. So his fiancée, Guadalupe, locked him in a bedroom at the back of her parents' house and told him that she wouldn't open the door until he had written the lyrics. Four hours later, he had written 10 verses to "Mexicanos, al Grito de Guerra" ("Mexicans, at the Cry of Battle"). He pushed the paper under the door, his fiancée let him out, he submitted the poem, and it won the contest by unanimous vote. A shortened version of it is still used today as the national anthem.
    ***********************
    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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    Default January 9th

    It's the birthday of the book critic Michiko Kakutani, born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1955. She's known as a critic who's unafraid to be critical. She got a job as a reporter for The New York Times and became a literary critic there in 1983. As the newspaper's lead fiction critic, she is considered one of the most powerful book reviewers in the world. She doesn't go to literary functions, she doesn't let people take her picture, and she won't give interviews. In 1998, she won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism.


    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the writer Judith Krantz, born in New York City in 1928. She worked as a fashion editor for Good Housekeeping. She was almost 50 years old when she wrote her first novel, Scruples (197. It became a best-seller, and she went on to write nine more novels. Her most recent book is an autobiography, Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl (2000).

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the Czech writer Karel Capek, born in a village in Bohemia in 1890. He wrote novels, travel books, fairy tales, political memoirs, romances, and plays. He introduced the word "robot" in his play R.U.R. (1921). "Robot" comes from the Czech word for serf labor.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of Simone de Beauvoir, born in Paris in 1908. Her father encouraged her to be a scholar. She went to the Sorbonne, and at age 21 she became the youngest person ever to graduate with top honors in philosophy. She wrote The Second Sex (1949), and argued that gender is a result of culture, not nature. She wrote, "One is not born a woman, one becomes 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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    Default January 10th

    It was on this day in 1776 that an anonymous pamphlet was published, 46 pages long, in Philadelphia. The pamphlet was called "Common Sense." It explained why the American colonies should declare independence from Great Britain. It was easy to understand, it was popular, and it rallied many people for the revolutionary cause who had not been involved before they read it.
    It was written by a man who had been born and raised in England and had come to America only about a year before. He had lost his job in England, his marriage had fallen apart, he wanted a new life. In London, he happened to meet Benjamin Franklin, who suggested he move to America. That man was Thomas Paine.
    "Common Sense" sold 500,000 copies in its first year after publication, at a time when about two and a half million people lived in the 13 colonies. Thomas Paine donated all the royalties to George Washington's Continental Army.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the poet Philip Levine, born in Detroit in 1928. He was working in an auto plant when he decided to write poems about the men working around him. He said, "I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them and that's what my life would be. And sure enough I've gone and done it."


    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1887. He moved to the coast of California and built himself an observation tower with no electricity or plumbing. And from there, he looked out at the world and wrote his poems.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of historian Stephen E. Ambrose, born in Decatur, Illinois, in 1936. He wrote a biography of Dwight Eisenhower and many best-selling history books, including Band of Brothers (1992), about World War II.
    ***********************
    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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