Thursday

Jun. 10, 2010

Judges in Summer

by Barry Spacks

Sometimes people who judge and judge
turn lovely in summer, with gin & tonics.

They shop at little roadside stands;
brood in a trance over silks of corn.

Lounging around, still starched from swimming,
they speak mild words in the evening air

and leave the work of keeping up standards
to bickering children, questions of worth

to the waves. In town, in handkerchief dresses,
rumpled white suits, they smile, they visit—

they water the garden; hum with the cat.
In shirt and jeans they climb the rocks

with wine in a thermos, a bag of bread
to throw to those ravenous muscles the gulls—

and there they offer a round of applause
(of the gentle sort once used watching tennis)

to see the fat sun dip away
through its showy orange time.

"Judges in Summer" by Barry Spacks, from Spacks Street: New and Selected Poems. © The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It was on this day in 1935 that the most successful self-help organization of the 20th century was founded: Alcoholics Anonymous. It's 75 years old today. It began in Akron, Ohio, started by a stockbroker named Bill Wilson and a surgeon named Bob Smith. Bill Wilson had gone to Akron on a business trip in May of 1935. He had been trying to give up drinking for years, and he'd always found that the best way to keep from drinking was to spend time with other men who were trying to keep from drinking. But on his business trip to Akron, he was alone, and he felt tempted to go to the local bar.

Instead, he went to a church group meeting, looking for someone else who was struggling with the drink. It was there that he met the surgeon Bob Smith. The two men became friends and promised to help keep each other sober.

Wilson decided to write a book about his ideas to help spread the message, called Alcoholics Anonymous (1939). The group began to get coverage in local newspapers. Then in 1941, a journalist for The Saturday Evening Post heard about the organization and wrote an article about it. Suddenly, requests for literature and membership soared. By the end of the year, there were more than 6,000 members.

It's the birthday of Saul Bellow, (books by this author) born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec (1915). His father couldn't keep a job, and he grew up poor in a crowded neighborhood of Montreal, filled with other immigrants — his parents had moved there from Russia two years before he was born. He was the youngest of four, his mother's favorite, and she wanted him to be a rabbi or a concert violinist. But when he was eight years old, he got a respiratory infection and he spent six months in the hospital, where he read constantly — Uncle Tom's Cabin and many more books.And he decided that he would be a writer.

The next year, the family moved to Chicago, where Saul's dad found work delivering coal and working in a bakery. He went to college at the University of Chicago and Northwestern, and he wanted to study English, but the department chair told him, "No Jew could really grasp the tradition of English literature." So he studied anthropology and sociology. But when he tried to do graduate work in anthropology, every time he worked on his thesis he turned it into a story instead.

So he dropped out of school and devoted himself to writing, published a couple of novels, and then his first big breakthrough, The Adventures of Augie March (1953).

He went on to write short stories, plays, and 13 novels, including Henderson the Rain King (1959), Herzog (1954), The Dean's December (1982), and his final novel, Ravelstein (2000), published when he was 84 years old. During his lifetime, he won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award (three times), and the Nobel Prize.

It's the birthday of the biologist E.O. Wilson, (books by this author) born Edward Osborne Wilson in Birmingham, Alabama (1929).

He studied biology at the University of Tennessee and Harvard, and then spent years traveling and studying ants. He started teaching at Harvard, and he published The Theory of Island Biogeography (1967), which was very influential in the fields of ecology and conservation biology.

In 1975, he wrote Sociobiology. The basic concept of sociobiology is that there is a biological foundation for behavior, in everything from ants to humans. The book was extremely controversial; some people were concerned that it justified racism and sexism. Wilson was attacked for it. So he wrote a rebuttal, On Human Nature (1978), explaining how the concepts of sociobiology could help lead us to a more fair and just society, not the opposite. It was a best-seller and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Wilson has continued to publish books, include Biophilia (1984), The Ants (1990), all about ants; an autobiography, Naturalist (1995); and most recently, his 22nd book and first novel: Anthill (2010).

Wilson said, "Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal."

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

 









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