Sep. 27, 2003

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Poem: "IV," by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir (Counterpoint).


The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth's green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of statesman and patriot Samuel Adams, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1722). As a young man, he tried to go into business for himself with some money his father had given him, but the business failed and he lost everything. He got a job as a tax collector, but he failed to collect any taxes and his accounting books were a mess. It wasn't until the British passed the Sugar Act of 1764 that he found his purpose in life. He was one of the first members of the colonies to speak out against taxation without representation and one of the first people to argue for the colonies' independence from Great Britain. He was the leader of the American radicals, and he was almost maniacal in his pursuit of American independence. He organized riots and wrote propaganda, describing the British as murderers and slave drivers. Adams said, "Mankind are governed more by their feelings than by reason," and he had a genius for stirring up feelings. In one speech he said, "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace ... Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." He was so influential in his opposition to the British that British soldiers tried to arrest him, but he and John Hancock hid in a farmhouse and weren't found. He went on to become one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and participated in the Continental Congress. He said, "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."

It's the birthday of hardboiled crime novelist Jim Thompson, born in Anadarko, Oklahoma (1906). He's best known for his novel The Killer Inside Me (1952) about a friendly, beloved sheriff who is also a serial killer. Thompson grew up in a town full of cattle thieves, gunfighters and bank robbers. He tried for seven years to get a high school diploma, working all night and going to school all day, but he finally dropped out and wandered around Texas, living as a hobo and working in the oil fields. One of his hobo friends encouraged him to write about his experiences, so he did. He spent the 1930s writing for true crime magazines. His mother, his wife and his sister would comb through the newspaper looking for crime stories, and he rewrote them as fiction. The newspaper stories often gave him nightmares, and he rewrote them with an emphasis on grisly violence, so that people would be as horrified as he was. When he began to publish crime novels like The Killer Inside Me (1952) andAfter Dark, My Sweet (1955), they were so dark and violent that they were only issued as pulp paperbacks and didn't get any critical attention. When he died in 1977, most of his books were out of print, but he told his wife to keep his manuscripts. He said, "Just you wait, I'll become famous after I'm dead about ten years." About ten years later, in the mid-1980s, all of his crime novels were republished. They are now considered classics of the genre.

It's the birthday of lawyer and novelist Louis Auchincloss, born in Lawrence, New York (1917). He is known for writing about the New York City upper class in books like Portrait in Brownstone (1962), A World of Profit (1968), and Diary of a Yuppie (1987). He grew up in one of the most prestigious families in New York City, and spent his childhood in private schools and private clubs, surrounded by debutants and servants. When his father took him to Wall Street to introduce him to the business world, he was horrified by what he called, "those dark narrow streets and those tall sooty towers." He wanted to be a writer, but when his first novel was rejected, he decided he wasn't cut out for the literary life and became a lawyer. He finally published his first book, The Indifferent Children, in 1947. It's an autobiographical novel about an upper-class young man and his experiences during World War II. He has published almost thirty books of fiction, most recently Her Infinite Variety (2000).

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