Jan. 30, 2007


by Kim Garcia

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Poem: "Eager" by Kim Garcia, from Madonna Magdalene. © Turning Point. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Above the snow, a single maple holding forth
its dying flame. Among the feats of Nature:
                         the wild
greening from dry bulb, sour alchemy of rot, a rusty
     handprint of lichen;
                         the eager
space-seeking species springing up after fire,
as though they took no lesson from destruction
but to begin again, twice as joyful.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1815 that the U.S. Congress accepted Thomas Jefferson's offer to rebuild the Library of Congress with more than 6,000 books from his own library. The Library of Congress had been established in 1800 as a research library for congressional members, and it was located in the Capitol building. But in August of 1814, British troops had burned much of Washington, D.C., and the library had been destroyed.

At that time, Thomas Jefferson owned the largest private collection of books in the United States. He'd been a lifelong booklover and collector. He loved books so much that he gave up reading the newspaper so that he'd have more time to read the great philosophers, and he said, "I am much the happier."

Within a month of hearing the news that the Library of Congress had been destroyed, Jefferson offered his own library as a replacement. Congress eventually agreed to purchase Jefferson's library for $23,950.

Today, the Library of Congress has grown into the largest library in the world, with more than 130 million items on approximately 530 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 29 million books and other printed materials, 2.7 million recordings, 12 million photographs, 4.8 million maps, and 58 million manuscripts.

Some of the books that belonged to Thomas Jefferson were destroyed in a fire in 1851, but many still remain in the library. When the first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, was sworn in a few weeks ago, he took the oath of office by laying his hand on a copy of the Quran that had originally belonged to Jefferson.

It's also the birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (books by this author) born in Hyde Park, New York (1882). He was the first president to set up a presidential library, in part because he was a lifelong collector, and he didn't want to break his collection up. He had a collection of more than a million stamps in 150 matching albums; he collected coins; medals; 1,200 naval prints and paintings, and more than 200 model ships; armies of miniature donkeys, elephants, pigs; and political cartoons. He kept numerous stuffed birds and birding guides, walking sticks, Christmas cards, and 37 books of photographs of naval vessels. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library would eventually contain more than 16 million pages of personal and official papers, more than 45 tons of documents.

Franklin Roosevelt said, "Remember you are just an extra in everyone else's play."

It's the birthday of historian and author Barbara Tuchman, (books by this author) born Barbara Wertheim in New York City (1912). She's best known for her book The Guns of August (1962), a history of the outbreak of World War I. She said her number one rule as a writer of history was, "Above all, discard the irrelevant."

It's the birthday of humorist and novelist (Frank) Gelett Burgess, (books by this author) born in Boston, Massachusetts (1866). He wrote more than 35 books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as several plays, including the satirical book Are You a Bromide? (1897). But he is best known for a short poem he published in the first issue of a humor magazine called Lark. It reads, "I never Saw a Purple Cow; / I never Hope to See One; / But I can Tell you, Anyhow, / I'd rather See than Be One." The fame of the poem followed him for a long time, and years later he wrote, "Ah, yes, I wrote the Purple Cow; / I'm sorry now I wrote it; / But I can tell you, Anyhow, / I'll Kill you if you Quote it."

Gelett Burgess said, "If in the last few years you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Shirley Hazzard, (books by this author) born in Sydney, Australia (1931). She's best known for her novel The Transit of Venus (1980), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981.

She said of writing, "It's a nervous work. The state that you need to write is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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