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Thread: Literary Notes

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    It's the birthday of the psychologist and philosopher William James, born in New York City in 1842. He wrote a psychology textbook, The Principles of Psychology (1890), which was read all over the world. But today he is best remembered for a concept he introduced in that textbook that he called "a stream of consciousness."

    ~~~

    It's the birthday of the writer and environmentalist
    Aldo Leopold, born on this day in 1887 in Burlington, Iowa. Aldo grew up in a big family, lived on a 300-acre estate with a lot of his relatives. The whole family spoke German together and worked in the gardens and orchards on their property, where he learned about plants and soil.

    After he graduated from Yale, he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service, which had been created just a few years earlier by Theodore Roosevelt. He worked on surveying and drawing maps. After 19 years in the Forest Service, he became the Professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin. He bought a piece of land on the Wisconsin River, and there he wrote many of the essays for which he is now famous.

    He was collecting his essays into a book. But at the age of 60, helping to fight a grass fire, he suddenly lay down and died of a heart attack. His children put the book together, and in 1949 A Sand County Almanac was published. It's still considered one of the most important texts of the conservation movement.

    Aldo Leopold said, "There can be no doubt that a society rooted in the soil is more stable than one rooted in pavements."

    ~~~

    It's the birthday of the novelist
    Alan Paton, born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 1903. He became a teacher and transformed a reformatory in Johannesburg from a prison into an educational institution. He went on an international tour to learn about penal systems, and he wrote Cry, the Beloved Country in hotel rooms and on board ships. He started it in Trondhjem, Norway, and finished it in San Francisco. It was published in 1948, and it became an international best-seller.
    ***********************
    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.




  2. #152
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    Default January 12th

    It's the birthday of Edmund Burke, born in Dublin (1729). His father was a Protestant lawyer and his mother was Catholic. Burke studied law at university, but when he gave it up to study literature, his father withdrew Edmund's allowance.

    So Burke started writing in order to make some money. He became the assistant to the Secretary of Ireland, and then a Member of Parliament, representing the district of Bristol in the House of Commons. And he became a famous reformer. He opposed what he considered the tyranny of the British monarchy. He supported the American colonists' anti-British sentiments — he didn't think they should be granted full independence, but he thought that Britain should take a hands-off approach to America. He argued passionately against the Stamp Act, which was an effort by the British to fund their actions in America by taxing the colonists themselves.

    Edmund Burke was famous for his passionate oratory, which one biographer described as "impressive rather than effectual." A critic wrote that "one of the paradoxes of Burke's career is the gap between his acknowledged eloquence admitted even by his firmest opponents and his habitual inability to persuade."

    Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the novelist Haruki Murakami, born in Kyoto, Japan (1949). He is considered one of Japan's most important contemporary writers, but he is heavily influenced by American culture, and has been criticized by some Japanese for being too Westernized. His characters are often intelligent introverts who get mixed up with mysterious women and conspiracies.

    Murakami believes that to write well it is critical to be in good physical shape. He said in an interview, "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. I wake up at 6 in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. But when I write, I write weird."

    His books include A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), The Wind-up Bird ChronicleKafka on the Shore (2005). (1995), and

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of Jack London, born in San Francisco (1876). His first big success was his novel The Call of the Wild (1903), about a dog he had known when he was living in the Klondike. It was a huge best-seller, and in 1905, London purchased 1,400 acres of land in Glen Ellen, California, and named it "Beauty Ranch." It's now a historic park.

    Jack London made a lot of money, but he spent even more. He was an alcoholic, and he lost money on his ranch. His writing began to decline around 1909. He was suffering from kidney problems, and he self-medicated with morphine and died in 1914 from an overdose. Toward the end of his life, Jack London stooped to buying story plots from young writers like Sinclair Lewis, attempting to imitate his own earlier successes.
    ***********************
    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.




  3. #153
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    Default January 13th

    On this day in 1941, James Joyce died of a stomach ulcer at the age of 58. He is the author of Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake, which remained a work in progress for 16 years until it was finally published in 1939. Finnegans Wake is meant to show that history is cyclic, so the first sentence of the book is the end of the last sentence, which is unfinished. The last sentence is: "A way a lone a last a loved along the," and the first sentence is: "riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs."

    Joyce was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zurich. He wrote in Ulysses: "We are praying now for the repose of his soul. Hoping you're well and not in hell. Nice change of air. Out of the fryingpan of life into the fire of purgatory."

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Searle, born in Penne York, Pennsylvania (1962). In college, she wrote a 100-page novella, and then she cut it down into a short story. That story, "Missing La Donna," was published in Redbook magazine when she was 19 years old. Her first novel was A Four-Sided Bed (199. And her most recent work is a rock opera called Tonya & Nancy (200, about the Olympic figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of short-story writer Lorrie Moore, born in Glens Falls, New York (1957). In her first book of stories, Self-Help (1985), she wrote a piece called "How to Be a Writer." It begins: "First, try to be something, anything, else." She's the author of Like Life (1990) and Birds of America (199.
    ***********************
    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.




  4. #154
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    Default January 14th

    It's the birthday of the author of 52 books and nearly 200 articles and short stories, Emily Hahn, born in St Louis, Missouri (1905).

    She went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and she was the first woman in the university's history to graduate with a degree in Mining Engineering. Many of her peers and instructors disapproved and insisted that she would not be able to get a job. After college, she and another adventurous young woman disguised themselves as men and set out on a cross-country road trip, driving more than 2,400 miles.

    She wrote: "Then followed several years of drifting, or as near drifting as a middle-class well-brought-up woman can achieve. … I needed money, and began to write in order to earn some." She taught geology at Hunter College in New York, and then she took off for Europe.

    While she was in England, her first book was published in the United States: Seductio ad Absurdum: The Principles and Practices of Seduction — A Beginner's Handbook (1930). She traveled around Europe, then joined a Red Cross mission to the Belgian Congo. She spent nine months there with the mission, and then stayed in Africa another year, living with a pygmy tribe and traveling around central Africa on foot. Her experiences in Africa formed the basis for several of her books, fiction and nonfiction, including a travel memoir, Congo Solo: Misadventures Two Degrees North (1933), a novel, With Naked Foot (1934), and Africa to Me (1964), a collection of articles she wrote for The New Yorker on the subject of emerging African nationalism.


    She worked for a while in England at the British Museum Reading Room, and then moved to China, where she wrote for The New Yorker. She moved into an apartment in the red-light district of Shanghai, and she had a pet gibbon, which she brought to dinner parties. In Shanghai, she became romantically involved with prominent men in the city, including the poet and publisher Sinmay Zau. He taught her to smoke opium, and she became an addict.

    She moved to Hong Kong, and became lovers with a British spy, Major Boxer. They had a daughter together a few weeks before Hong Kong was invaded by the Japanese. She recounted these experiences in her memoir China to Me (1944), which was a great literary success.

    She and Boxer got married and moved to his estate in England, where they had another child. Hahn lived a domestic life in rural England for several years, but then escaped to New York, where she bought an apartment and wrote memoirs, articles, fiction, and nonfiction. She continued to go into her office at The New Yorker until a few months before she died at the age of 92.


    Emily Hahn said, "Nobody said not to go."
    ***********************
    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.




  5. #155
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    Default January 15th

    It's the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. He was a minister in Montgomery, Alabama, 26 years old, when he was chosen to lead a boycott of segregated buses. He didn't set out to become civil rights activist, and he said later that if he'd known what the job would entail, he might have turned it down. He wasn't even sure he wanted to become a preacher. As a teenager, he thought that the way people shouted and made noise in his Baptist church was embarrassing.

    But during the bus boycott, during which he was assaulted and arrested and his house was bombed, he experienced what he described as a religious conversion. He realized that the civil rights movement was greater than King himself, greater than his own doubts, and that he had to act like a charismatic figurehead, even if he didn't feel like one. He said: "As I became involved, and as people began to derive inspiration from their involvement, I realized that the choice leaves your own hands. The people expect you to give them leadership."

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of the writer Frank Conroy, born in New York City (1936). He wrote the memoir Stop-Time (1967) and the novel Body and Soul (1993). He directed the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 18 years. He once scolded a student for using irrelevant details in her short story. He said: "The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it — to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain — to the end of the story — and they find that this Volkswagen has nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you're going to have a very irritated reader on your hands."

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of man known as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," the physicist Edward Teller, born in Budapest in 1908. He went to college in Germany, and studied with Werner Heisenberg, a leader in quantum mechanics. He finished a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at about the same time that the Nazis were coming to power, and he realized that, as a Jew, the hope of making an academic career in Germany no longer existed.
    ***********************
    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.




  6. #156
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    Default January 16th

    It's the birthday of Dian Fossey, born in San Francisco (1932). She lived alone for 18 years, studying mountain gorillas in the cold, rainy mountains of Rwanda. She was the first person ever approached by gorillas in the wild, and she would sit with them for hours while they swatted her gently with leaves and played with her hair. She wrote a book about her experience called Gorillas in the Mist (1983).

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of poet Laura Riding, born in New York City (1901). She went to Cornell, started writing poetry, and tried to make it as a writer in New York, but she was unsuccessful. She got married and then divorced. She was invited to go to Europe by the poet Robert Graves and his wife, Nancy, and so Laura Riding spent the next 13 years abroad, living in England, Majorca, France, and Egypt, where she claimed she "wrote hard all that time, trying to use words with new exactness."

    While living with Robert Graves and his wife at their home in London, she became romantically involved with Robert. When Robert Graves took on another lover, Laura Riding was distraught, and tried to commit suicide by jumping out the window. She survived, but ended up with a broken spine.

    Robert Graves and his wife split up, and he and Laura Riding moved to Majorca together. They were both very productive during that period, producing several volumes of poetry, and each came out with a separate Collected Poems. Riding was a great muse to Graves, appearing in many of his poems. But after they split up in 1939, she got married, moved to Florida, raised citrus trees with her husband, and renounced poetry.
    ***********************
    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 17th

    It's the birthday of the poet William Stafford, born in Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1914. He usually wrote poetry in the early morning. He sat down with a pen and paper, looked out the window, and waited for something to occur to him. He wrote about farms and winter, about the West and his parents and cottonwood trees.
    He wrote,
    In the winter, in the dark hours, when others
    were asleep, I found these words and put them
    together by their appetites and respect for
    each other. In stillness, they jostled. They traded
    meanings while pretending to have only one.

    And about his own writing, Stafford said, "I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

    ~~~

    It's the birthday of Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston (1706). He was one of the most famous leaders of the American Revolution. He invented bifocals and the glass harmonica, he charted the Gulf Stream on his way across the Atlantic, he chased tornadoes on horseback, and he founded America's first circulating public library. And as the author, printer, and publisher of Poor Richard's Almanac, he circulated adages such as "Little strokes fell great oaks," and "Early to bed and early to rise, Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
    ***********************
    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 18th

    It's the birthday of the physician and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget, born in London, England (1779). He was a working doctor for most of his life, but in his spare time he invented a slide rule and a method of water filtration that is still in use today. And he wrote papers on a variety of topics, including the kaleidoscope and Dante. He was a contributor to the early Encylopaedia Britannica.

    He was 61 years old, and had just retired from his medical practice, when he decided to devote his retirement to publishing a system of classifying words into groups, based on their meanings. And that became the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, published in 1852. The word "thesaurus" means "treasury" in Greek.

    At the last minute, Roget decided to include an index. That index, which helped readers find synonyms, made Roget's thesaurus one of the most popular reference books of all time.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, born in Palo Alto, California (1949), the son of an oil executive. He joined the Times in 1984 as a Washington correspondent and soon became a foreign correspondent. He moved to Moscow, where he worked 16-hour days. But he loved Russia, and he and his wife, Ann Cooper, adopted a Russian orphan.

    In 1988, Bill Keller covered the deadly earthquake in Armenia, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for that reporting. He was given a lucrative book contract with a big advance, but he was never able to finish the book, and he had to pay back the advance to the publisher.

    He moved to Johannesburg as a foreign bureau chief for the Times. He loved being a reporter. But after covering the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and the fall of apartheid in South Africa, he wasn't sure what more he could do as a foreign correspondent that could be as satisfying. So he accepted a job as an editor, back in New York.

    He took over as executive editor in 2003 from Howell Raines, who resigned after two years during a period of scandal at the Times. Bill Keller said that on the day he was appointed, he looked around the newsroom and felt "like somebody had just handed you the keys to a Jaguar."
    ***********************
    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 19th

    It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1809). He became a writer, but nobody paid much attention to him until his poem "The Raven" appeared in the New York Evening Mirror in 1845, and he suddenly became a celebrity. Children followed him down the street chanting, "Nevermore, nevermore!" And he was asked to recite the poem at all sorts of gatherings.

    ~~~


    It's the birthday of novelist Julian Barnes, born in Leicester, England (1946). His parents were French teachers. He had already published two novels when he happened to visit two museums devoted to the novelist Gustave Flaubert. At the first museum, Barnes saw the stuffed green parrot that Flaubert had kept on his writing desk. Then, at the second museum, Barnes saw another stuffed parrot, which was supposedly the same parrot. It gave him an idea for a short story about a man obsessed with Flaubert, and it grew into his novel Flaubert's Parrot (1984), which became his first big success. His most recent book is a memoir, Nothing to Be Frightened Of (200.

    Julian Barnes said, "The secret of happiness is to be happy already."

    ~~~

    It's the birthday of the man who coined the term "altruism" and who helped found the field of sociology: philosopher Auguste Comte, born in Montpellier, France (179.


    He made friends with a social philosopher who insisted that the goal of philosophy should be improved social welfare, and Comte used this as a guiding principle for the rest of his life's work. His most famous work was Système de Politique Positive, published in four volumes between 1851 and 1854. It established a basis for sociology.
    And then, Comte's life began to fall apart. He had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. He suffered from serious depression and tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in the Seine River. He was imprisoned, his wife left him, and he lost his job. By the end of his life, he had alienated most of his friends, and he died sad, lonely, and impoverished.
    He said, "Everything is relative, and only that is absolute."
    ***********************
    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.




  10. #160
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    Default January 20th

    Today is Inauguration Day. The Constitution mandates that each new president take the following oath of office:
    I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. George Washington also started a tradition of adding the line "so help me God."
    Until 1937, Inauguration Day was March 4th. But it was changed in 1937 by the 20th Amendment, because there was no reason to have that much time between November elections and the inauguration.
    The shortest inaugural address was the first one, delivered by George Washington. It was 135 words long. The longest inaugural address was by William Henry Harrison — it was 8,495 words.
    There have been three poets who have recited at inaugurations. Maya Angelou read at Bill Clinton's first inauguration, Miller Williams at his second. In 1961, Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy's inauguration. Frost wrote a poem specifically for the occasion, called "Dedication." It began:
    Summoning artists to participate
    In the august occasions of the state
    Seems something artists ought to celebrate.
    Today is for my cause a day of days.
    And his be poetry's old-fashioned praise
    Who was the first to think of such a thing.

    And it ended:
    A golden age of poetry and power
    Of which this noonday's the beginning hour.

    But because the January morning was so bright, and the glare on his faint typewritten paper was so intense, the 86-year-old Frost had a hard time reading the poem he had composed. So he recited one of his poems that he knew by heart, "The Gift Outright." It was a great moment for poetry.
    About a month ago, Barack Obama announced his inaugural poet: Elizabeth Alexander, a professor at Yale. Obama knows Alexander from the days when they both taught at the University of Chicago. And Alexander has been working on her inaugural poem ever since.
    ***********************
    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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