Apr. 22, 2007
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Poem: "Bicycle Spring" by Kevin FitzPatrick, from Down on the Cornor. © Midwest Villages and Voices. Reprinted with permission.
Windy, sunny, and Sunday,
the afternoon of your father's promise,
you will learn to ride your bike:
your father breathing hard
pushes, runs at your side,
one hand on the handlebars,
the other firm on the seat,
launching you like a glider
to soar long seconds
before wobbling to crash
in the soft green field
until you know how to ride
suddenly except for the brakes
and your father suddenly
is a speck waving way behind.
as you pedal toward strange sights
in blocks where he
has forbidden you to walk.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the novelist Paula Fox, (books by this author) born in New York City (1923). Her parents were bohemians: her mother a Cuban refugee who'd grown up in Spain, and her father an alcoholic screenwriter. They had no interest in being parents, and so they repeatedly passed Fox off to relatives and friends. Instead of being angry with her parents for abandoning her again and again, Fox thought of them as exotic, magical creatures, appearing and disappearing at will. She later wrote of spotting them on the deck of a ship when they returned from Europe to visit. She wrote, "It had been years since I'd seen them. They were as handsome as movie stars. Smoke trailed like a festive streamer from the cigarette my mother held between two fingers of her right hand. When she realized we'd spotted her, she waved once and her head was momentarily wreathed in smoke."
Fox eventually got married, started teaching elementary school, and began writing fiction. She immediately found success with her children's books, and went on to win the Newbery Medal for The Slave Dancer (1974). But she also published six short novels for adults, including Desperate Characters (1970), about a couple of middle-aged intellectuals living in a New York City neighborhood that's on the decline. Desperate Characters got good reviews when it came out, but it didn't sell many copies and quickly went out of print. But in 1991, the novelist Jonathan Franzen came across a copy of the book, and he was so impressed that he began lobbying publishing houses to republish it. It finally came out again in 1999, with an introduction by Franzen, and critics called it a masterpiece. Eventually all of Fox's novels for adults were reissued, including Poor George (1967) and The Widow's Children (1976).
It's the birthday of Henry Fielding, (books by this author) born in Sharpham Park, Somerset, England (1707). He was one of the first great novelists to write in English. His books include Joseph Andrews (1742), Amelia (1752), and his masterpiece, Tom Jones (1749). Fielding became a novelist in part because his plays had been censored by the government after he went over the line with some of his jokes.
It's the birthday of Norwegian-American novelist O.E. (Ole Edvart) Rolvaag, (books by this author) born in Helgeland, Norway, in 1876. He came to the United States as a young man, and eventually made his way to South Dakota, where he worked on his uncle's farm for three years. He got a degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, and went on to write novels chronicling the experiences of Norwegian immigrants in the American Midwest, including his most famous book, Giants in the Earth (1927).
It's the birthday of philosopher Immanuel Kant, (books by this author) born in Königsberg, Germany in 1724. He wrote hugely influential treatises, including Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Critique of Judgment (1790). He tried to define the limits of the human mind, and argued that we cannot know anything outside of the realms of mathematics and science. He never traveled more than one hundred miles from his home city and held to a strict daily routine. It has been said that the people of Königsberg set their watches by his daily afternoon walks.
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