Apr. 17, 2007

26 It's all I have to bring today

by Emily Dickinson

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Poem: "It's all I have to bring today (26)" by Emily Dickinson. Public Domain. (buy now)

It's all I have to bring today (26)

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget—
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the most successful British novelists of his generation, Nick Hornby, (books by this author) born in Maidenhead, England (1957). His parents got divorced when he was a kid, and he only managed to have a relationship with his father when his father began to take Hornby to football (soccer) games. Hornby later wrote of the first football match. He said, "I remember the overwhelming maleness of it all—cigar and pipe smoke, foul language (words I had heard before, but not from adults, not at that volume). ... [But] what impressed me most was just how much most of the men around me hated, really hated, being there." Hornby eventually realized that the reason so many men looked so miserable that day was that their team was in the middle of a long losing streak, and he was impressed by how all these men refused to give up on the team, despite their losses.

After college, Hornby began writing book reviews and music reviews for various London newspapers. But he wanted to write something bigger. And then he got the idea to write a memoir about his life, except that it would be about his life through the lens of his obsession with football, full of his memories of specific football matches and how they made him feel at specific moments in his life.

The book was called Fever Pitch (1992), and it came out at a time when football fans were generally looked down upon by the British upper class. But the book became something of a phenomenon in Great Britain, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, making it one of the best-selling books about sport ever published in the English language. Part of what made the book so popular was that it captured the way people can rely on a sports team to give their lives drama and meaning. Hornby wrote, "The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score."

Hornby's next book, the novel High Fidelity (1995), was even more successful. It's the story of an obsessive record collector and record store owner who copes with the failures of his life by creating numerous lists: his top 5 favorite albums, top 5 TV shows, top 5 ex-girlfriends, and so on. The book was made into a movie in 2000.

His most recent novel is Long Way Down (2005), about four people who meet on New Year's Eve, when each of them climbs up to the top of a building to commit suicide.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, (books by this author) born in New York City (1928). She's the author of several novels, including The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) and The Puttermesser Papers (1997), but she's perhaps best known for her essays, collected in Art and Ardor (1983), Metaphor and Memory (1989), and Quarrel and Quandary (2000).

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). As a boy, he lived near a university theater where they performed Greek dramas, and his mother let him participate as a member of the chorus. He never forgot the experience, and he decided then that he would try to write for the theater someday. He got a job at the University of Chicago and began to write a series of experimental one-act plays that used a minimum of scenery and props, and often included an all-knowing character called the Stage Manager. Then, in 1938, he produced the play for which he is best known, Our Town, one of the first major Broadway plays to use almost no stage scenery, so that the audience had to imagine the world in which the characters lived.

Our Town is about the New England village of Grover's Corners, where the characters George Gibbs and Emily Webb grow up, fall in love at the soda fountain, and get married. When Emily dies in childbirth, she gets to relive the day of her 12th birthday and realizes how little she cherished life while she was alive.

It's the birthday of Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). As a young woman, she and her husband moved to Kenya, where they started a coffee plantation. But the couple did not get along, and they separated in 1925. Alone and unhappy on the coffee plantation, Dinesen said, "I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times." The plantation grew less and less profitable, and she struggled to stay in business. After a swarm of locusts and a drought, she finally had to sell the farm to a local developer.

But just as she was leaving Africa for good, Dinesen sent some of her stories to a publisher, and they were published as the collection Seven Gothic Tales (1934). The book was a big success, and her American publisher wanted her to write a new book as soon as possible, so she wrote memoir about her time in Africa called Out of Africa (1937).

Isak Dinesen said, "All sorrows can be borne, if you put them into a story."

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