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Thread: Literary Notes

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    It's the birthday of novelist Kenzaburo Oe, (books by this author) born on the island of Shikoku, Japan (1935). He fell in love with literature at an early age, after his mother gave him a translation of Mark Twain's novel Huckleberry Finn (1885). He spent most of his childhood playing in the forest near his house, and he often fantasized about flying away from his home like geese he saw above the forest.
    He was in grade school during World War II, and he always remembered the moment Japan surrendered to the United States. He wrote, "The adults sat around their radios and cried. The children gathered outside in the dusty road and whispered their bewilderment. We were most surprised and disappointed that the emperor had spoken in a human voice. ...How could we believe that an august presence of such awful power had become an ordinary human being on a designated summer day?" He was shocked when the American soldiers arrived in his village, and, instead of killing everyone, handed out chocolate bars and bubble gum.
    He became the first member of his family to leave his island when he went to school in Tokyo. He began writing fiction with some success, and then in 1963, his first son was born with a cerebral hernia, which resulted in permanent brain damage. He was devastated when he got the news, and found that he felt ashamed, as though his son's handicap were his own fault. During that time, he took a trip to Hiroshima where he met people suffering from radiation sickness, and he began to see that his feelings about his son were similar to Japan's feelings about its past. He used his experience to write a novel called A Personal Matter (1964), about a father struggling to love his deformed son. It was a huge success, and Oe went on to win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994.

    ~


    It's the birthday of (Pearl) Zane Grey, (books by this author) born in Zanesville, Ohio (1872). He's one of the most popular writers of Westerns of all time. He started out as a dentist, and only wrote in his spare time. But then he fell in love with a woman who encouraged him to give up dentistry and focus on his writing, so that's what he did. He's the author of Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) and many other novels.

    ~


    It's the birthday of short-story writer and novelist John O'Hara, (books by this author) born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1905). His father was a wealthy doctor, and his family lived in the most affluent part of Pottsville, but because they were Irish Catholics, they were never really accepted by upper-class society. O'Hara didn't do well in school, and his father punished him by getting him steel-working jobs during the summer. When he finally graduated from high school, his father refused to pay for him to go to Yale. He always felt inferior for having missed out on an Ivy League education.
    He got a job as a newspaper reporter and started writing fiction on the side. His upbringing had made him very sensitive to social distinctions, and he began to write fiction that examined, in precise detail, the way people dressed, the way they talked, what kinds of cars they drove, and what schools they went to. His dialogue was so accurate that some critics accused him of carrying around a tape recorder and transcribing conversations.
    He went on to become one of the most popular serious writers of his lifetime, writing many best-selling novels, including Appointment in Samarra (1934) and A Rage to Live (1949). Most critics consider his best work to be his short stories, which were published as the Collected Stories of John O'Hara (1984). He holds the record for the greatest number of short stories published by a single author in The New Yorker magazine.
    He said, "I want to get it all down on paper while I can. ... I want to record the way people talked and thought and felt, and do it with complete honesty."

    ~


    It's the birthday of Norman Mailer, (books by this author) born in Long Branch, New Jersey (1923). He was an engineering student at Harvard when he was drafted into the Army in 1944, and he served in the Philippines and Japan until 1946. After his discharge, he moved to New York City and spent 15 months writing a novel about the war called The Naked and the Dead (194.
    That book became the definitive literary novel about World War II, and it made Norman Mailer famous at the age of 25. It begins, "Nobody could sleep. When morning came, assault craft would be lowered and a first wave of troops would ride through the surf and charge ashore on the beach. ... All over the ship, all through the convoy, there was a knowledge that in a few hours some of them were going to be dead."
    His next two novels flopped, and critics said that he had failed to live up to his promise as a writer. He was depressed by the bad reviews he had gotten, and he decided that he would take a break from trying to write the great American novel. Instead he wrote one of the most confessional books that had been published up to that time, Advertisements for Myself (1959), about his own ambitions and fears. He wrote, "Like many another vain, empty and bullying body of our time, I have been running for President these last ten years in the privacy of my mind. ... The sour truth is that I am imprisoned with a perception which will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time." Norman Mailer died in 2007.
    ***********************
    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 novelist and essayist Reynolds Price, (books by this author) born in Macon, North Carolina (1933). He once described his birthplace as, "a town of 227 cotton and tobacco farmers nailed to the flat red land at the pit of the Great Depression." On the day Price was born, he and his mother almost died from complications. In his memoir Clear Pictures (1989), he wrote that his father, who was a hard-drinking salesman, "fled the house in the freezing dawn, went out to the woodshed; and there he sealed a bargain with God, as stark and unbreakable as any blood pact in Genesis - if Elizabeth lived, and the child, he'd never drink again." Reynolds grew up feeling like the anchor that held his family together. His most recent book is Letter to a Godchild: Concerning Faith (2006).

    ~


    It's the birthday of poet Galway Kinnell, (books by this author) born in Providence, Rhode Island (1927). He became obsessed with the poetry of William Butler Yeats in college when his roommate, the poet W. S. Merwin, woke him up one night and read Yeats to him until dawn. After that night, Kinnell devoted himself to writing poetry in the style of Yeats. He eventually found his own voice as a poet, but he named all of his children after important figures in Yeats's work.
    He said, "To me, poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment."

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist Muriel Spark, (books by this author) born Muriel Camberg in Edinburgh, Scotland (191. When she was growing up, she liked to write love letters to herself that she signed with men's names and hid in the sofa cushions in the hope of shocking her mother. During World War II, she got a job writing false news stories for the British Political Intelligence Department, with the goal of demoralizing the German people. In one such story she wrote that a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler had succeeded in blowing off his trousers.
    She was almost 40 years old when she published her first work of fiction, The Comforters (1957), but she then went on to write many more dark satirical novels. She's best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), about a strange teacher at a girls' school.

    ~

    It's the birthday of poet and novelist Langston Hughes, (books by this author) born in Joplin, Missouri (1902). His father divorced his mother and moved to Mexico when Hughes was just a baby. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, but after high school he went to Mexico to get to know his father for the first time. He was disgusted when he found that his father was obsessed with money and more racist than most white men Hughes had ever known.
    He went to Columbia University for a year, but then he decided that he wanted to learn from the world rather than books. He quit college, hopped a boat to Africa, and as soon as the boat left New York Harbor, he threw all his college books overboard. He took odd jobs on ships and made his way from Africa to France, Holland, Italy, and finally back to the United States.
    He got a job working as a busboy in a Washington, D.C., hotel, and one day he left three poems he had written next to the plate of the poet Vachel Lindsey. Lindsey loved them and read them to an audience the very next day. Within a few years, Hughes had published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues (1926).
    He got involved in the Harlem Renaissance and started to write poetry influenced by the music he heard in jazz and blues clubs. He said, "I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street... [songs that] had the pulse beat of the people who keep on going."
    Hughes was one of the first African-American poets to embrace the language of lower-class black Americans. In his essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926), he said, "[I want to write for] the people who have their nip of gin on Saturday nights and are not too important to themselves or the community, or too well fed, or too learned to watch the lazy world go round."
    In his poem "Laughers," he made a list of what he called "my people": "Dish-washers, / Elevator boys, / Ladies' maids, / Crap-shooters, / Cooks, / Waiters, / Jazzers, / Nurses of Babies, / Loaders of Ships, /Rounders,/ Number writers, / Comedians in Vaudeville / And band-men in circuses - / Dream-singers all."

    ~

    It's the birthday of humorist S(idney) J(oseph) Perelman, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1904). He wrote essays for The New Yorker magazine for years, and he's the author of the collections The Ill-Tempered Clavichord (1952) and Chicken Inspector No. 23 (1966). He was famous for his bizarre, absurdist humor. One of his essays begins, "I guess I'm just an old mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws."
    Perelman said of himself, "Button-cute, rapier-keen, wafer-thin and pauper-poor is S.J. Perelman ...that he owns one of the rare mouths in which butter has never melted [is a] legend treasured by every schoolboy."
    ***********************
    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 James Joyce, (books by this author) born in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin (1882). He only wrote four books of fiction in his life, but they're all considered masterpieces: Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939).
    He was born into a middle-class family, but his father was a heavy drinker and couldn't hold a job. They moved from house to house in Dublin, each one smaller and cheaper than the last, until by the time James was a teenager they were almost living in poverty. He went to Catholic schools, and he considered becoming a priest, but decided instead to go to college to study languages and literature.
    Joyce almost became a professional singer. He came from a musical family and learned piano as a child. Whenever he went to social gatherings in Dublin, he would entertain the guests by singing traditional Irish ballads, and he even sang in a few local concerts. When he was 21 years old, he still wasn't sure what to do with his life, and he entered a national tenor competition in Dublin. He pawned some books so he could pay the entrance fee, and then spent weeks taking voice lessons and learning songs. He ended up getting third place in the competition, and the judge recommended that he study music seriously. Joyce considered taking lessons from the best teacher in Dublin, but he finally decided that if he was going to be spending most of his time alone in a room, he would rather be writing stories than doing voice exercises.
    Joyce thought that to become a truly great writer he would have to escape Ireland, which was still under British control at the time. He went to live on the Continent, first in Paris and then in Trieste. He wrote: "I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use - silence, exile, and cunning. ... I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too."
    His first work of fiction was the book of short stories Dubliners (1914). After he finished that he started writing the autobiographical novel that would become A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). The process took 10 years, but the novel established Joyce as one of the best writers of his generation. It tells the story of the childhood and adolescence of Stephen Dedalus, who rejects an offer to become a priest so that he can try to become a writer. The book was revolutionary for its style: When Stephen is a small child, Joyce uses short simple sentences, and as Stephen grows older the language becomes more complex to reflect his growing maturity.
    Joyce spent seven years writing his next novel, Ulysses, which many people consider to be his greatest work. He wrote most of it in Zurich during World War I. He would stay out late at night at cafés and bars, sleep late into the morning, and then spend the day writing and giving English lessons. He gathered the material for Ulysses from his own life. He based most of his characters on his friends and family members, and the story's action takes place in real places in Dublin. During the years he was writing Ulysses, friends would get angry with him because he always directed conversations toward the topic he happened to be writing about that day, hoping to steal their ideas. He carried around dozens of small slips of paper in his wallet, and he would make tiny notes on them throughout the day. The next morning, he would decipher his notes with a magnifying glass, and then decide where to include them in the novel.
    Ulysses is about a day in the life of two Dublin men - Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jewish man whose wife is cheating on him. The two men go about their daily business and finally meet each other at the end of the day. One of the climactic moments comes when Bloom and Dedalus urinate together in Bloom's backyard. Joyce used Homer's Odyssey to come up with the elaborate structure for the novel, and he envisioned Bloom as a modern-day Odysseus - but instead of being lost at sea for 10 years and returning home to a faithful wife, Bloom wanders around Dublin for a day and returns home to an unfaithful wife.


    Ulysses is famous for being one of the first works of fiction to make extensive use of internal monologue. Many chapters consist almost entirely of a character's thoughts, with no narrator to help the reader make sense of them. At one point, Bloom is sitting drinking wine in a restaurant and remembers one of the first times he kissed his wife, who he knows is now having an affair with another man:
    "Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. ... Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft, warm, sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. ...Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her; eyes, her lips, her stretched neck, beating, woman's breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling. ...She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me. Me. And me now."
    Joyce set the action of Ulysses on June 16, 1904 as a tribute to the love of his life, Nora Barnacle, since it was on that day that they had their first date. Joyce had first seen Nora 10 days earlier, walking down a Dublin street. She was tall and beautiful, and Joyce approached her and asked her out on a date. They were supposed to meet on June 14, but she stood him up. Joyce wrote her a note that said, "I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected." She agreed to go on a walk with him two days later, on June 16, 1904. Today, June 16 is known in Ireland as Bloomsday, and thousands of people come to Dublin every year to celebrate Joyce and visit the sites mentioned in Ulysses.
    ***********************
    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 novelist Paul Auster, (books by this author) born in Newark, New Jersey (1947). He's the author of The Book of Illusions (2002), Timbuktu (2000), and many other novels. After he graduated from college, he got a job on an oil tanker, saved all the money he made, and then went off to Paris to become a writer. He started out translating French poetry and writing his own poems. After 10 years, he had published a few collections of poetry, but he barely had enough money to pay for food. For a year, he quit writing and started looking for other ways to make money. He even invented a card game and pitched it to toy companies.
    Then, in December 1978, he had an epiphany while watching a dance recital in New York City. He later said, "The simple fact of watching men and women moving through space filled me with something close to euphoria." The next day, he started writing again, but instead of writing poetry he wrote fiction. His first novel, City of Glass (1985), was published six years later. It's the first novel in his "New York Trilogy," which also includes Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1987).

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist James A. Michener, (books by this author) born in New York City (1907). He's best known for his epic historical novels such as Hawaii (1959), The Covenant (1980), and Poland (1983). His parents abandoned him soon after he was born, and he was raised by a poor widow named Mabel Michener. They moved from house to house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, sometimes in the middle of the night on just a few minutes' notice. His foster mother read him ++++++++++++++++++++ens and Balzac, and he grew to love their thick, old-fashioned novels.
    Michener worked at a series of teaching and editing jobs until he was 36 years old. Then, in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy, and the next year he was sent to the South Pacific. One night, after he almost crashed his plane, he couldn't sleep and went for a walk along the airstrip of his ship. It was then that he decided that if he made it back home, he was going to quit his job as an editor and become a writer. He later remembered thinking, "When this is over, I'm not going to be the same guy. I'm going to live as if I were a great man."
    He came up with the idea for a series of stories about the war called Tales of the South Pacific (1947). He said he wanted to show young men what life in the military was really like. He stayed up late at night and typed it out on old envelopes and the backs of old letters from home. When he got back to the States, he gave the papers to a publisher at Random House without retyping it. They published it, and Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. Two years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein made it into the musical South Pacific, and it made so much money that Michener was able to devote the rest of his life to writing.
    Michener sold more than 75 million books in his lifetime. He has written novels about Israel, Colorado, Spain, Maryland's Eastern Shore, South Africa, Poland, Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Most of his stories unfold across decades or even centuries, and include several pages of historical detail.
    Michener said, "I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.

    ~


    It's the birthday of writer Gertrude Stein, (books by this author) born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874). When she was 30 years old she moved to Paris, and lived there for almost the rest of her life. She once said, "America is my country and Paris is my hometown." She covered the walls of her house in Paris with paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, Gauguin, and others. Her house became known as "The Salon," and writers and artists came from all over to get advice and encouragement from her. Ernest Hemingway once said, "Gertrude was always right."
    She would hold dinner parties and then stay up afterward to work on her own novels and essays. But she wasn't very well known as a writer until she published her autobiography, which she called The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in 1933. It was serialized in The Atlantic Monthly and became a huge best seller in the United States. Stein became a household name, and the next year she returned to America for the first time in over 30 years, to go on a lecture tour.
    Stein said, "Everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really."

    ~


    It's the birthday of philosopher Simone Weil, (books by this author) born in Paris (1909). T.S. Eliot called her "a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints." After getting a degree in philosophy, she worked in fields and factories, so she could write about what it was like for manual laborers. She gave most of her money to the unemployed, living on as little as possible. She wrote essays on political, social, and religious issues, but not many of them were published during her lifetime. During World War II, she fled to the United States and then to England. There, she was hospitalized with tuberculosis, and she refused to eat more than she thought an average French person was getting on wartime rations. When she died soon afterward, it was ruled a suicide. After her death, her essays were published in Gravity and Grace (1947) and Waiting for God (1950).
    Weil said, "Whenever, in life, one is actively involved in something, or one suffers violently, one cannot think about oneself."
    ***********************
    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 MacKinlay Kantor, (books by this author) born in Webster City, Iowa (1904), who decided that he wanted to be a writer when he was 17 years old, and for the next four years, he helped his mother edit the local newspaper. He went on to write the Civil War novels The Jaybird (1932) and Long Remember (1934), and he spent 25 years researching Andersonville (1955), about the Confederate prison camp where 50,000 Union soldiers were held. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.

    ~

    It's the birthday of the poet Gavin Ewart, (books by this author) born in London, England (1916). He's the author of many books of poetry, including Pleasures of the Flesh (1966) and The Learned Hippopotamus (1987). He started his poetic career early, when he was just 17 years old, with a poem in the prestigious British literary journal New Verse. He published his first book of poems when he was 23, and his work was compared to T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. But when World War II broke out, he stopped writing poetry, and he became an advertising copywriter and didn't publish another book until 1964, when his collection Londoners came out. Hs poetry is often described as light verse:
    "For nursery days are gone, nightmare is
    real and there are no god Fairies.
    The fox's teeth are in the bunny
    and nothing can remove them, honey."
    ~
    It's the birthday of writer Stewart O'Nan, (books by this author) born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He worked for years as an aerospace engineer, and when he came home from his work every day he would go down to his basement and write. In 1994, he published his first novel, Snow Angels, about a murder in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He often writes about characters who feel trapped by their circumstances and end up doing horrible things. He said, "My own life isn't terribly interesting, even to myself, and that ... [is] why I write about people and places so different from the ones I know."

    ~

    It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Robert Coover, (books by this author) born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). As a boy, he moved with his family to a mining town in rural Illinois, where his father ran the local newspaper. His first novel, The Origin of the Brunists (1966), is about the lone survivor of a mining accident who goes on to start a religious cult. In response to the question "Why do you write?" he once said, "Because art blows life into the lifeless, death into the deathless." And, "Because art's lie is preferable, in truth, to life's beautiful terror."
    He has gone on to write many experimental novels, including The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. (196, The Public Burning (1977), and A Child Again (2005).
    ***********************
    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 is the birthday of one of the most prolific Catholic writers of our time, Andrew M(oran) Greeley. (books by this author) Born in 1928 in Oak Park, Illinois, to Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace Anne (McNichols), the priest and author owes his Irish heritage to grandparents who migrated to American from County Mayo, Ireland. Greeley was ordained a priest in 1954 and attended the University of Chicago where he completed his graduate work in sociology in 1962. He's published close to 170 works with subjects ranging from the Catholic imagination and Catholic education to sociological analysis. Greeley gained notoriety for his fiction writing with the publication of The Cardinal Sin (1981), a novel about an Irish priest who takes a mistress and fathers an illegitimate child on the way to becoming cardinal of Chicago. With critics so focused on his novels sexual scenes, Greeley once said, "Sometimes I suspect that my obituary in The New York Times will read 'Andrew Greeley, Priest, wrote steamy novels.'" Some of Greeley's recent publications include Jesus: A Meditation on His Parables (2007) and Irish Linen: A Nuala Anne McGrail Novel (2007), a new addition to the fictional series about an Irish psychic.

    ~


    It is the birthday of American author, playwright, musician, and composer Elizabeth (Liz) Swados, (books by this author) born 1951 in Buffalo, New York, to Robert O. and Sylvia (Maisel) Swados. Swados is the winner of five Tony Award nominations and three Obie Awards. She gained notoriety both on and off Broadway for her Tony-nominated production of Runaways (197, a collage musical that explored the theme of troubled kids through songs and sketches, without relying on plot. She's written many plays, including Alice in Concert, which starred Meryl Streep at the Public Theatre in 1980. In addition to her stage work, Swados has published three novels, including My Depression: A Picture Book, an illustrated look at the author's own personal struggle with depression, as well as textbooks for the next generation of playwrights and composers, including Listening Out Loud: Becoming a Composer (198 and most recently, At Play: Teaching Teenagers Theater (2006).

    ~


    It is the birthday of actor, director, and writer Christopher Guest, born Christopher Haden-Guest in New York City (194. Guest grew up with a fascination for voices and the comedy of Peter Sellers. He attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City, where he befriended Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk singer Woody Guthrie. After attending New York University, Guest appeared in a number of off-Broadway plays before achieving real success as a writer of music and lyrics for National Lampoon's Lemmings (1973) at Village Gates theater.
    Guest is most famous for his hilarious mock documentaries or "mockumentaries" — a phrase the writer despises — including This is Spinal Tap (1984), Best in Show (2000), A Mighty Wind (2003), and For Your Consideration (2006). In each of these films, Guest relies on an improvisational style, with just the characters' backgrounds and an outline scripted. Each actor is responsible for improvising his or her own dialogue. Guest relies on an acclaimed troupe of actors, including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Jennifer Coolidge, Parker Posey, and Fred Willard. The actors are encouraged to research their own characters, bring their own props, and be prepared to respond to improvised dialogue while in character.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

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




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    It's the birthday of lexicographer and writer Eric Partridge, (books by this author) born in Poverty Bay, New Zealand (1894), who wrote some of the very first dictionaries of slang before scholars considered it a serious subject. In A Dictionary of the Underworld (1949) and A Dictionary of Catchphrases (1977), Partridge chronicled the language of not only the common person, but also of "crooks, criminals, racketeers, beggars, and tramps."

    ~


    It's the birthday of poet Victor Hernández Cruz, (books by this author) born in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico (1949). His parents moved to New York City when he was six years old, and he grew up on the Lower East Side. He went on to become an important member of the group of writers known as the Nuyorican poets — poets from Puerto Rico who grew up in New York City and who write about the blending of the two cultures. He has published many books of poetry, including Snaps (1969) — titled for the finger-snapping rhythms in El Barrio, a Puerto Rican neighborhood of New York City — as well as Tropicalization (1976) and Maraca: New and Selected Poems (2000).

    ~


    It's the birthday of NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw (books by this author) born in Webster, South Dakota (1940). As the anchor of NBC's The Today Show and the Nightly News, Brokaw earned a reputation for straight reporting and for working long hours to stay with a story no matter where or when it happened. In 1998, he wrote the book The Greatest Generation about the people who shaped the United States after World War II. In his new book, Boom!: Voices of the Sixties (2007), he takes a look at where current leaders were during the decade and at the legacy that the Sixties has left on America today. When remembering the November morning in 1963 when President Kennedy was shot, he writes "In ways we could not have known then, the gunshots in Dealey Plaza triggered a series of historic changes: the quagmire of Vietnam that led to the fall of Lyndon Johnson as president; the death of Robert Kennedy in pursuit of the presidency; and the comeback, presidency, and subsequent disgrace of Richard Nixon."
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

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




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    It's the birthday of the poet who wrote about the daily lives of urban workers, David Ignatow, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1914). His parents were Russian immigrants, and he was inspired to become a writer by his father's love of Russian literature. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Ignatow thought that his dreams of writing were over when his father forced him to work in the family binding company. But, he continued to write poetry, and when he was commissioned as a WPA reporter, his father paid for the publication of a small edition of David's poetry, Poems (194. He gained critical acclaim, but he still needed to take on a variety of odd jobs, working as a shoe salesman, a shipyard handyman, and a clerk at a vegetable market to support his family until he finally secured teaching positions at Vassar College and Columbia University. He went on to write many more collections of poetry, including Rescue the Dead (196 and I Have a Name (1996), but he never forgot his struggle with poverty as a young adult. In an interview with The Paris Review - when asked what would be the worst thing that could happen - Ignatow said, "Well ... losing my job, being out of money. Problems of love, problems of human relationships are secondary."

    ~


    It's the birthday of novelist (Harry) Sinclair Lewis, (books by this author) born in Sauk Centre, Minnesota (1885). His mother died of a chronic illness when he was six years old, and he never got along with his father, who was the town's physician. He felt stifled by Sauk Centre and once tried to run away to fight in the Spanish-American War when he was 13. He escaped to the East Coast for college at Yale University, and during school vacations he would smuggle himself onto cattle ships heading for England. As a young man, he tried to get a job working on the Panama Canal, and he traveled across 40 states in the U.S. working as a journalist. Though he spent time in 14 countries in Europe and traveled through Venezuela, Colombia, and Russia, the majority of his books are set in small-town Midwestern America. His first success was his novel Main Street (1920), about a rebellious woman named Carol Kennicott, who is ostracized by the citizens of the fictional small town of Gopher Prairie.
    He went on to write many other books, including Babbitt (1922) and Arrowsmith (1925). In 1930, he became the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

    ~


    It's the birthday of Charles ++++++++++++++++++++ens, (books by this author) born in Portsmouth, England (1812), who had a relatively happy childhood until his father's debts sent the ++++++++++++++++++++ens family into poverty. At the age of 12, Charles was pulled out of school and had to work in a factory pasting the labels onto shoe polish, while his younger siblings lived with his parents in debtors' prison. In some of his most famous novels, Oliver Twist (1837-3, Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), and A Christmas Carol (1843), he revealed the plight of England's poor. After he became one of the most famous men in England, ++++++++++++++++++++ens used his wealth and influence to convince the upper classes to give to the poor. He was also opposed to capital punishment and worked internationally for prison reform, helped set up a halfway house for former prostitutes, and promoted public education and better sanitation systems throughout England.

    ~


    It's the birthday of lexicographer Sir James Murray born in Denholm, Scotland (1837). He was the president of the Philological Society in London, and in 1879 he became the editor of a 10-year project called the New English Dictionary (later known as the Oxford Dictionary). When he died in 1915, more than 30 years after he started work on it, Murray had compiled roughly half of the entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.
    ***********************
    We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
    ~Joseph Campbell

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




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    It's the birthday of the man known as the father of science fiction, Jules Verne, (books by this author) born in Nantes, France (182. In his adventure novels, Paris in the 20th Century (written 1863, not published until 1994), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), Verne described inventions that were similar to modern airplanes and automobiles, and tall skyscrapers where people use electricity to listen to the radio and send faxes, and yet he wrote his stories by candlelight.

    ~

    It's the birthday of novelist (John Grisham,books by this author) born in Jonesboro, Arkansas (1955). His father was a migrant construction worker, and the family traveled throughout the Southwest. "We'd move into a small town," Grisham recalled, "and the first thing we'd do is join a local Baptist church. The second was to go to the library and get our library cards and check out all the books we were allowed." He went to law school at the University of Mississippi, and over the course of a few years he switched from being a tax lawyer to practicing criminal law to serving in the state House of Representatives. However, Grisham gained his most useful experience when he overheard the testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim in the DeSoto County courthouse and decided to write a book after imagining what might happen if the victim's father sought vengeance on her attackers. When A Time to Kill was published in 1989, it sold badly, but two years later, his next book, The Firm, was on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 40 weeks. Grisham went on to publish another novel every year for the rest of the 1990s, all of them best sellers. His latest books include Innocent Man (2006), a nonfiction account of a man who was wrongly sent to death row, and The Appeal (200.
    ***********************
    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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    For Saturday 2/9

    It's the birthday of Alice Walker, (books by this author) born in Eatonton, Georgia (1944). She was the youngest of eight children, the daughter of poor sharecroppers. Walker graduated first in her high school class and won a scholarship to Spelman College (1961). She transferred to Sarah Lawrence after two years, and a short story she wrote there was sent to Langston Hughes, who became an early champion of her writing. In 1968, she published her first collection of poetry, Once, and her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, in 1970, about a family of poor sharecroppers in the 1920s. Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Alice Walker had a modest following, but it wasn't until her third novel, The Color Purple (1982), won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award that her work reached a much larger audience. She once wrote, "Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence."

    ~


    It's the birthday of Irish playwright and novelist Brendan Behan, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1923). He grew up in one of the poorest sections of Dublin. His father took part in the Irish rebellion in the early 1920s, and when Brendan was born, his father was being held in a British prison. When Brendan was nine years old, he joined a youth organization that had ties to the IRA. He later called the group "the Republican Boy Scouts." He rose through the ranks of the IRA, and by the time he was 16 he was being sent on missions to bomb British targets.




    He spent most of the 1940s in prison. First he was thrown in jail for carrying a suitcase full of homemade explosives through the streets of Liverpool. After he got out, he was arrested for the attempted murder of two policemen. It was during his second stay in prison that he began to write. He wrote his first play, The Quare Fellow (1956), about the execution of a convict in a Dublin prison. When he got out of prison, it became a big hit in London and then New York. He followed that up with the novel Borstal Boy (195 and The Hostage (195, in which he wrote:
    "Never throw stones at your mother,
    You'll be sorry for it when she's dead,
    Never throw stones at your mother,
    Throw bricks at your father instead."
    ~
    It's the birthday of poet Amy Lowell, (books by this author) born in Brookline, Massachusetts (1874), the daughter of a prominent Boston family. Her first poem, "Fixed Idea," wasn't published until she was 36, and she threw herself into studying the latest trends in poetry — imagism and unrhymed meter. She once said, "God made me a businesswoman and I made myself a poet." Her posthumous collection of poetry, What's O'Clock (1925), won the Pulitzer Prize.

    ~


    It's the birthday of humorist and playwright George Ade, (books by this author) born in Kentland, Indiana (1866). One of his plays, The College Widow (1904), was turned into a motion picture, but he is best known for his Fables in Slang (1899).

    ~


    It's the birthday of J.M. (John Maxwell) Coetzee (books by this author) born in Cape Town, South Africa (1940). He's the author of many novels, including Dusklands (1974), Life and Times of Michael K (1983), and Disgrace (1999). He's known for his intense self-discipline and dedication to writing. Someone who worked with him for more than a decade claimed that he only saw Coetzee laugh once. He's lived most of his adult life in England, America, and Australia, but much of his writing deals with South African apartheid. His breakthrough novel was Waiting for Barbarians, published in 1980. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.



    For Sunday 2/10


    It's the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, (books by this author) born in Augsburg, Germany (189. He studied medicine and philosophy at Munich and Berlin Universities, and served briefly in an army hospital during World War I. He gave up studying medicine after he got involved in the theater scene in Munich. In 1922, he won a drama prize for his first two expressionist plays, Drums in the Night and Baal, and followed those with Man is Man (1926). He was very interested in the idea of combining drama and music, and he collaborated with composer Kurt Weill on the production that established his reputation. It was The Threepenny Opera (192, an adaptation of John G a y 's Beggar's Opera in a sham Victorian London setting. Brecht was a Marxist, and he regarded his plays as social experiments, requiring detachment from his audience, not emotional involvement. His theory of "epic theatre" asks the audience to acknowledge the stage as a stage, the actors as actors, and not some make-believe world of real people.
    With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Brecht sought asylum in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, journeyed across Russia and Persia, and in 1941, settled in Hollywood. In Germany, his books were burned and his citizenship was withdrawn. It was during this period that he wrote most of his major essays, his poetry, and his great plays, including Mother Courage (1941), The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (194.

    ~


    It's the birthday of Fleur Adc o c k, (books by this author) born in Papakura, New Zealand (1934), who is the author of the poetry collections The Eye of the Hurricane (1964), High Tide in the Garden (1971), Time Zones (1991), and Looking Back (1997). Her family moved to England during World War II while her father worked on a Ph.D. in psychology, and Fleur and her sister went from school to school collecting, as she said, "a succession of English accents" until her father found a position at Victory University and settled the family back in Wellington, New Zealand. Fleur Adc o c k disliked the move. She said, "I couldn't play tennis; I could barely swim. I found a nation of well-fed, sports-crazy extroverts; and the Welfare State. It struck me as cosy, carefree, insular, and deprived." But she remained tied to the country, writing verses about the New Zealand landscape and editing The Oxford Book of Contemporary New Zealand Poetry (1982). In 2006, she was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.

    ~


    It's the birthday of the novelist Mary McGarry Morris, (books by this author) born in Meriden, Connecticut (1943). She's the author of the big best seller Songs in Ordinary Time (1995).
    ***********************
    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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