May 8, 2012
Drops of water
of Russian sage
on crossed paws
of locust tree
just like this
you would have said
Today is the birthday of the literary critic Edmund Wilson (books by this author), born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He didn't like to be called a critic; preferring to think of himself as a journalist. Wilson could be very opinionated and frank in his reviews, writing that "The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since being shot by Booth was to have fallen into the hands of Carl Sandburg," and once summarizing Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as "juvenile trash."
He wasn't interested in literary criticism for its own sake — especially objecting to academics and their "close readings" — but he was an influential literary critic all the same. He wrote criticism from the point of view of a writer, and his essays on writers like Dickens, Kipling, and Flaubert changed public perception of their work.
It's the birthday of poet Gary Snyder (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1930). He's associated with the Beat Generation and read at the famous Six Gallery Reading in 1955, when Allen Ginsberg read "Howl" for the first time. Most of the Beats were city kids, and they found Snyder fascinating because he grew up in the woods of Washington and Oregon, was interested in nature, and had worked as a logger, a seaman, and a fire lookout. He was a student of anthropology and Asian culture, a dedicated Zen Buddhist, and an ecological poet. Lawrence Ferlinghetti called him "The Thoreau of the Beat Generation."
Snyder has lived in the same house since 1970. The house was built by hand on a 100-acre plot of land in California's Sierra Nevada. "We built it with a crew of boys and girls who were almost all in their first year out of college, without any construction experience of any kind, all with hand tools and no electricity," Snyder said. "Everyone was working, cleaning, cooking, and learning equally. The subtext is that the '60s sometimes worked."
It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Pynchon (books by this author), born in Glen Cove on Long Island (1937). He's considered one of the 20th century's most gifted and elusive writers. There are few photos of him in circulation, and much about him comes by way of rumor or anecdote. According to an account written by his college friend, Pynchon was obsessive about his teeth, and he studied with Nabokov at Cornell but couldn't understand what he was saying. It's been rumored at various times that Pynchon is living in Mexico, has died, or is really J.D. Salinger. He's the author of several novels, including V. (1963), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), and Against the Day (2006). His most recent book is Inherent Vice (2009).
Last year, longtime friend of the author, Phyllis Gebauer, donated the only known collection of signed first editions of Pynchon's work to the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Pynchon didn't attend the collection's debut, but he did send Gebauer a fax with instructions to read it at the ceremony. "I was planning to skydive into the middle of these proceedings," he joked. "Thank you for your teaching. Good work and good vibes to everybody there."
Today is the birthday of the Irish novelist Roddy Doyle (books by this author), born in Dublin (1958). He's the author of the Barrytown Trilogy: The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990), and The Van (1991). He was also the first Irish novelist to win the Booker Prize, for his 1993 book Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.
It was on this date in 1970 that the Beatles released their last album. The band had recorded Let It Be in January 1969 under the title Get Back, but they weren't happy with the way the album had been mixed, so they lost interest in the project. Phil Spector took on the project in early 1970, and the album was released a month after Paul McCartney announced he was leaving the band.
In 2003, a new version of the album was released that undid most of Phil Spector's work. McCartney had never been satisfied with Spector's version, so he pushed for the release of Let It Be — Naked.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®