Friday

Nov. 6, 2009

Twenty-three

by Liam Rector

When he was 23 and beautiful
He liked to hang around
With other beautiful people.

He liked to get intoxicated with them,
Have sex with them, make money
With them. Among them,

He found, one did not have to strain.
Other people
Wanted to hang around with them

And came bearing gifts,
A little something. (These
Gift-bearers were a lot like

Politics itself is, "Showbiz
For ugly people.") In this world
If anything went wrong there

Was always enough money around
To cover it. After he was through
With this crowd he started hanging

Out with a bunch of academic
Gangsters. These were
A different crew altogether:

Smart, on the main, but mean
And eaten alive by resentment.
They never had enough money

And were bitter beyond belief,
Compared, say,
To a troupe of electricians.

Freud said somewhere
In our unconscious
We are always 23.

"Twenty-three" by Liam Rector, from The Executive Director of the Fallen World. © University of Chicago Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Cunningham, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati (1952), whose novel The Hours (1998), won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999. It was made into a movie in 2002.

It's the birthday of actor and novelist Ethan Hawke, (books by this author) born in Austin, Texas (1970). He's best known for acting in such movies as Dead Poets Society (1989) and Training Day (2001), but he has also published some novels. He says he likes writing because it doesn't require collaboration. His first novel, The Hottest State (1996), got mixed reviews, but most critics praised his second, Ash Wednesday (2002). It's about an Army staff sergeant who goes AWOL to take a road trip with his pregnant girlfriend Christy.

It's the birthday of novelist James Jones, (books by this author) born in Robinson, Illinois (1921). He's best known as the author of the military novel From Here to Eternity (1951). At the urging of his father, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939. He was stationed in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He went on to fight in the battle of Guadalcanal, where he was wounded, earning the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He kept a journal while he was in the Army, and when he got home from the war, he wrote a novel about the experience of disillusioned veterans. It was rejected by all the major publishing houses, but the editor Maxwell Perkins liked a particular scene from the novel and told him to expand it. He spent five years expanding that scene, and it became the novel From Here to Eternity (1951), the story of a soldier's life in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The novel was a huge international best-seller, in part because Jones tried to portray military life as realistically as possible, using dirty language in the dialogue and describing soldiers' reckless sex lives. Jones used much of the money he made from the book to help start a writing colony, and he bought a mobile home to travel around the country. He went on to write many more novels, including The Thin Red Line (1962) about the Battle of Guadalcanal.

It's the birthday of the founder and first editor of The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross, (books by this author) born in Aspen, Colorado (1892).

The money for the magazine was first put up by a man whose family made a fortune in the yeast business. Harold Ross looked for staff for the new magazine among his coterie of the Algonquin Round Table, a group that met for lunch daily during the 1920s and engaged in witty repartee between mouthfuls. They first met at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel under the pretense of a practical joke and called themselves "the Board." They decided to continue having lunch together there, and after they got a waiter named Luigi, called themselves the "Luigi Board." Finally, they settled on referring to themselves as "The Vicious Circle."

This Vicious Circle helped launch The New Yorker magazine, which first hit newsstands on February 21, 1925. It lost a lot of money that first year, and Ross's poker game losses were a liability as well. But the magazine's prospects improved when E.B. White and James Thurber joined the New Yorker staff.

Thurber first joined as an editor, but soon was contributing cartoons and writings for the magazine. His association with the magazine lasted for many years, and in 1957 he published a biographical memoir called The Years with Ross. In the introduction, Thurber goes on at great length about Ross's use of profanity.

Other accounts describe how Harold Ross revered Fowler's Modern English Usage (a 1926 style manual to British English) out of a desire to compensate for his own lack of education. He was known as notorious overuser of commas and a man who scrawled into the margins "Who he?" on his writers' manuscripts.

Thurber wrote: "No one, I think, would have picked him out of a line-up as the editor of The New Yorker. Even in a dinner jacket he looked loosely informal, like a carelessly carried umbrella. He was meticulous to the point of obsession about the appearance of his magazine, but he gave no thought to himself. He was usually dressed in a dark suit, with a plain dark tie, as if for protective coloration."

A new edition of James Thurber's The Years with Ross (replete with Thurber's illustrations) was released in 2001. The new edition has a foreword by longtime New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnick, who has written for every single editor of the magazine since (but not including) Harold Ross.

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

 









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