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Poem: "Apple Season in a Time of War" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Apple Season in a Time of War

The children are terrible
in their innocence,
and the frightened parents
can neither scold nor protect them

as the leaves continue to fall
like tiny portents
from the ancestral trees.
Weather is all

that remains unchanged,
with its accidental
almost merciful cruelties,
its winds, its falling temperatures.

But I can hear the children
whose laughter rings
like small but dangerous
hammers on an anvil.

I can hear the buzz of radio voices,
persistent as insects
on all the frequencies
of madness.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1860 that Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was elected for his first term as president of the United States. Before that, Lincoln's only experience in national politics had been a single term as a congressional representative and two unsuccessful runs for senator. There were three other men who might have gotten the Republican nomination that year, all of whom were better known, better educated, and more experienced than Lincoln. Lincoln only had the upper hand because he was from the swing state of Illinois. It also helped that the Republican convention was held in Chicago that year. Lincoln's campaign operatives arranged it so that Illinois railroads would offer special rates for train rides to the convention, thereby flooding it with Lincoln supporters.

Once he got the nomination, Lincoln basically laid low until the election. His campaign distributed printed transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Lincoln only attended one campaign rally, in Springfield, and he didn't even make a speech. His strategy was to let the opposition tear itself apart without stirring up any controversy of his own. And the strategy worked. Lincoln wound up winning only 40 percent of the popular vote, but he won in the Electoral College, even though he didn't receive a single electoral vote from a Southern state.

Most commentators at the time thought Lincoln had won the presidency by a stroke of luck, and they expected little of him. The Harvard professor James Russell Lowell wrote in 1863, "All that was known of him was that he was a good stump-speaker, nominated for his availability ... [and that] he had no history."

It's the birthday of the man who founded The New Yorker magazine, Harold Ross, (books by this author) born in Aspen, Colorado (1892). He was gap-toothed, his hair was always a mess, and he spoke with a Western twang. He wore ill-fitting dark suits, and James Thurber said, "[He looked like a] carelessly carried umbrella." But he became friends with people like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber, and his group of friends helped him form an idea of the kind of wit and energy his magazine should capture.

He brought out the first issue of The New Yorker on February 21, 1925, and it took off after he hired writers E.B. White and James Thurber, who developed a distinctive style for the magazine.

Harold Ross once had his office soundproofed because he couldn't stand distractions, but then he was distracted by the silence. He hired most of his staff himself, but whenever someone had to be fired, he either left the building or hid in a coat closet.

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), about a soldier's life in the years leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

It's the birthday of the novelist Michael Cunningham, (books by this author) born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1952). Growing up, he wasn't particularly interested in literature until he got a crush on a girl who encouraged him to read Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway, and it made him want to become a writer.

He went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop and published a few stories, but then went for years without publishing anything. He said, "I was working either as a waiter, a bartender, moving around a lot, falling in love a lot and going wherever it took me." But very slowly he began writing a new novel. A friend kept encouraging him to send a chapter out for publication, so just to shut the guy up, he sent the chapter into The New Yorker as a short story, assuming it would come right back. Cunningham couldn't believe it when the magazine published the story, which became the first chapter of his first successful novel, A Home at the End of the World (1990).

He's best known for his novel The Hours (1999), which tells three interwoven stories: one about Virginia Woolf on the day she begins thinking about Mrs. Dalloway; a second about a 1950s housewife in Los Angeles, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway; and a third about a modern woman in New York City whose life resembles Mrs. Dalloway. It won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1999. It was made into a movie in 2002. His most recent book is Specimen Days (2005).

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Poem: "Breathes There the Man with Soul So Dead" from The Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott. Public domain. New words: Garrison Keillor, © Garrison Keillor. (buy now)

Breathes There the Man with Soul So Dead

Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
           Who never to himself hath said,
           This is my day, election day!
Who heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As toward the polling place he turned
           And there to promptly made his way—
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung.
                                from The Lay of the Last Minstrel

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Election Day. Millions of people across the country will be going to the polls today to elect new legislators, judges, sheriffs, and school board members. For the first 50 years of American elections, only 15 percent of the adult population was eligible to vote. To be eligible to vote at the time, you had to be a white male property owner. In Connecticut, you had to be a white male property owner of a "quiet and peaceable behavior and civil conversation."

Thomas Dorr was one of the first politicians to argue that poor people should be given voting rights. As a member of the Rhode Island legislature, Dorr argued that all white adult men should have the vote, regardless of their wealth. He incited a riot to protest the governor's election of 1842 and went to prison for treason, but most states began to let poor white men vote soon after. Women were given the right to vote in 1920, and many African Americans were prevented from voting in the South until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Today, the only group of adult American citizens who are regularly prevented from voting are convicted felons.

Gore Vidal said, "Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for president. One hopes it is the same half."

W.C. Fields said, "I never vote for anyone. I always vote against."

It's the birthday of one of the most influential literary critics alive today, Stephen Greenblatt, (books by this author) born in Boston (1943). His grandparents were Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, and growing up in the suburbs, he was always aware of the history of his family. He said, "My maternal grandparents escaped from the Russian authorities by hiding in the bottom of a hay wagon; in this country they had a small hardware shop. My paternal grandfather was a rag-picker, complete with horse and wagon. My father chose not to take up the reins but went to law school instead."

It was a high school English teacher who taught Greenblatt to love literature and especially Shakespeare. Greenblatt went on to study literature at a time when most literary critics believed that to study a work of literature you should only examine the work of literature itself. You should only care about the words on the page. But Greenblatt came up with a style of criticism called New Historicism, which was the idea that in order to examine a work of literature, or any work of art, the critic should examine everything that was going on in the world of the artist at the time the work of art was created.

For most of his career, Greenblatt was famous only among academics. But he put his theory to work in a book for a general audience. And that was Will in the World, a book about Shakespeare. It came out in 2004, and it was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Stephen Greenblatt said, "I am constantly struck by the strangeness of reading works that seem addressed, personally and intimately, to me, and yet were written by people who crumbled to dust long ago."

It's the birthday of writer Albert Camus (books by this author) born in Mondovi, Algeria (1913). He's the author of The Stranger (1942), as well as The Plague (1947) and many other books.

It was on this day in 1917 that the Russian Revolution took place. Vladimir Lenin gave the order for the workers' militia to seize government buildings, and the coup met almost no resistance. Then next day, Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of the new Soviet government.

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Poem: "Swear It" by Marge Piercy, from The Crooked Inheritance. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Swear It

                        for Eva

My mother swore ripely, inventively
a flashing storm of American and Yiddish
thundering onto my head and shoulders.
My father swore briefly, like an ax
descending on the nape of a sinner.

But all the relatives on my father's
side, gosh, they said, goldarnit.
What happened to those purveyors
of soft putty cussing, go to heck,
they would mutter, you son of a gun.

They had limbs instead of legs.
Privates encompassed everything
from bow to stern. They did
number one and number two
and eventually, perhaps, it.

It has always amazed me there are
words too potent to say to those
whose ears are tender as baby
lettuces—often those who label
us into narrow jars with salt and

vinegar, saying, People like them,
meaning me and mine. Never say
the K or N word, just quietly shut
and bolt the door. Just politely
insert your foot in the Other's face.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, (books by this author) born in Nagasaki, Japan (1954). His family moved from Japan to Great Britain when he was six years old. He had a typical English upbringing except for the fact that his family spoke Japanese at home. And every month, a package of books would arrive from Japan, which he had to read and learn, so that he could keep up with Japanese history and culture. He was 15 before his parents told him that they were never going to return to Japan.

After high school, he tried to make a living as a musician. But he eventually began writing novels, the first two of which took place in Japan, even though he hadn't seen the country since he was six years old. But Ishiguro quickly grew tired of being labeled as a Japanese writer. Book reviewers recommended his books as a window onto the East, and it made him feel like a fraud. So he set out to write an entirely English novel about a butler named Stevens working for a man named Lord Darlington in the years before World War II. The novel, called The Remains of the Day, was a huge success when it came out in 1989. It went on to win the Booker Prize and was made into a movie in 1993.

Ishiguro's most recent book is Never Let Me Go (2005).

It's the birthday of Bram Stoker, (books by this author) born in Dublin, Ireland (1847). He was working as a clerk for the civil service when he saw an unknown actor named Henry Irving in a play that changed his life. He became obsessed with Irving's acting career, and eventually, Stoker became the devoted servant of Henry Irving, writing his speeches, ordering his lunches, and planning his every appointment.

Then one night, in 1890, he dreamt that a woman was trying to kiss him on the throat, and an elderly count interrupted her shouting, "This man belongs to me!" Stoker woke up and immediately wrote about the dream in his diary. He couldn't get it out of his mind for weeks, and kept wondering who the count might be. He eventually wrote a novel, inspired by the dream, called Dracula. It came out in 1897 and got mixed reviews. It only became a minor best-seller in Stoker's lifetime. When he died in 1912, the obituaries about Stoker focused on his career in theater, and not a single one mentioned his authorship of Dracula. It wasn't until 1922, when Dracula movies started to appear that Bram Stoker's novel became widely known.

It was on this day in 1864 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his second term as president of the United States, an election that helped ensure the preservation of the Union. It was one of the only times in history that an election was held by a nation in the middle of a civil war. Lincoln might have tried to cancel or postpone the election until the war was over, but he never considered doing so.

He had a lot of reasons to worry the election might not go his way. The summer before the election, most Americans were weary of war, and calls to end the conflict were becoming louder and louder. But on September 4th, General Tecumseh Sherman announced that his army had captured Atlanta. At the same time, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut announced that he had captured Mobile, Alabama, the last major Gulf port in Confederate hands. In the end, Lincoln carried every state in the Union except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.

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Poem: "Mindful" by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press.

(Text not published due to copyright restrictions)

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the poet Anne Sexton, (books by this author) born Anne Harvey in Newton, Massachusetts (1928). She never went to college, eloped when she was 19, and became a suburban 1950s housewife. She was 28 when she had her first nervous breakdown. After a suicide attempt, her psychiatrist advised her to try to writing poetry as therapy. She did, and within a few years of having written her first poems, she had published her work in more than 40 magazines, including The New Yorker.

For the rest of her life, she was in and out of mental institutions, on and off psychiatric drugs, and she said that poetry was the only thing that kept her alive. She said, "My fans think I got well, but I didn't: I just became a poet."

Anne Sexton said, "Poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face."

It's the birthday of the astronomer Carl Sagan, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1934). As a young astronomer, he was hired by NASA to consult on a mission to send a remote-controlled spacecrafts to Venus. In preparation for the mission, Sagan was shocked to learn that there would be no cameras on the robotic spacecrafts, called Mariner I and Mariner II. The other scientists wanted to measure things like temperature and magnetism. They thought cameras would be a waste of valuable space and equipment. Sagan couldn't believe they would give up the chance to see an alien planet up close. He said, "Cameras are important precisely because they could answer questions we are too stupid to ask."

Sagan contributed to the Viking, Voyager, and Galileo planetary exploration missions, and his insistence on the use of cameras helped us get the first close-up photographs of the outer planets and their moons.

It's the birthday of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, (books by this author) born in Orel, Russia (1818), best known for his novel Fathers and Sons (1862). He grew up near Moscow, where his mother was a wealthy landowner, but as a young man he went away to study in Berlin. The experience of leaving Russia changed his life. He said, "I threw myself head first into the 'German Sea,' in which I was ... cleansed and reborn, and when I finally surfaced from its waves, I was a 'Westernist' and remained one forever." From a distance, he began to think of Russia as a barbarous place where serfs were kept as slaves and treated as animals. He would devote the rest of his life to exposing the inhumanity of serfdom.

Turgenev's masterpiece, Fathers and Sons, was published in 1862. It's about the conflict between two generations, the conservative elder generation and the radical youths who want to do away with tradition and create a new social order.

It was on this day in 1906 that Teddy Roosevelt (books by this author) went against more than a century of tradition and became the first American president ever to leave the country while in office. He went to view the construction site of the Panama Canal.

Roosevelt thought it was time for American presidents to become actors on the global stage. The Panama Canal was his pet project, because he believed it would give the United States naval supremacy in the Western Hemisphere, and so it was a natural choice as the first foreign destination of a U.S. president.

When he arrived at the construction site, Roosevelt saw a 95-ton steam shovel. He ordered that the train be stopped so that he could hike through the mud to see the steam shovel up close. It was a new invention at the time, and Roosevelt spent a half an hour asking about its operation. He then took a turn at the controls.

Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 when German Nazis coordinated a nationwide attack on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues. It's generally considered the official beginning of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis had killed people secretly and individually. After Kristallnacht, the Nazis felt free to persecute the Jews openly, because they knew no one would stop them.

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Poem: "Cinderella's Diary" by Ron Koertge, from Fever. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Cinderella's Diary

I miss my stepmother. What a thing to say
but it's true. The prince is so boring: four
hours to dress and then the cheering throngs.
Again. The page who holds the door is cute
enough to eat. Where is he once Mr. Charming
kisses my forehead goodnight?

Every morning I gaze out a casement window
at the hunters, dark men with blood on their
boots who joke and mount, their black trousers
straining, rough beards, callused hands, selfish,
abrupt ...

Oh, dear diary—I am lost in ever after:
Those insufferable birds, someone in every
room with a lute, the queen calling me to look
at another painting of her son, this time
holding the transparent slipper I wish
I'd never seen.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Neil Gaiman, (books by this author) born in Portchester, England (1960). He was one of the people who helped make comic books into respectable works of literature in the late 1980s. He once said, "The most important dreams, the most manipulable of cultural icons, are those that we received when we were too young to judge or analyze."

Gaiman wasn't exposed to American comic books and American superheroes until a friend of his father gave him a box of old DC and Marvel comic books and he fell in love with them. He stayed up late every night, reading them by the light from the hallway. He later said, "[In England], American comics were like postcards from Oz. They had fire hydrants, pizza parlours and skyscrapers in them. For us fire hydrants and skyscrapers were every bit as strange as superheroes flying through the air. For us that world remained strange."

Gaiman started out a freelance journalist. His first book was a biography of the pop group Duran Duran. But he eventually began contributing scripts for comic books at DC Comics. In 1987, his editors let Gaiman pick one of their old, failed comic book characters and revive him. Gaiman chose a character called the Sandman, who used sleeping gas to catch criminals. Gaiman kept the name Sandman, but changed everything else, turning the character into the god of both dreams and stories.

The Sandman series, with references to literature and mythology, became one of the first modern series of comic books to get a lot of attention from critics, and one of the first to be popular among women. The 75 issues were collected and published in 10 volumes, the first of which was The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes (1991).

Neil Gaiman's work attracted a huge cult following, but he didn't really break into the mainstream until he began writing children's books. He published the terrifying children's book Coraline in 2002, and it debuted at number six on the New York Times best-seller list. It was Gaiman's first real mainstream success.

His most recent book is the collection of short stories Fragile Things (2006).

It's the birthday of American novelist John Phillips Marquand, (books by this author) born in Wilmington, Delaware (1893). His most popular novels of the 1930s were those featuring a Japanese agent named Mr. Moto. But Marquand also wrote a series of satirical novels about upper-class New England society, including The Late George Apley (1937), Wickford Point (1939), and Point of No Return (1949).

It's the birthday of the poet Vachel Lindsey, born in Springfield, Illinois (1879). His parents wanted him to become a doctor, but he dropped out of medical school after three years and tried to make a living drawing pictures and writing poetry. After struggling for several years and working for a time in the toy department of Marshall Fields, he decided to walk across the United States, trading his poems and pictures for food and shelter along the way.

Then in 1913, Poetry magazine published Lindsay's poem "General William Booth Enters into Heaven," and it was a big hit. He became one of the leaders of the movement to revive poetry as an oral rather than a written art form, and he spent much of the rest of his life traveling around the country, reciting his work for audiences.

It's the birthday of theologian Martin Luther, (books by this author) born in Eisleben, Saxony (1483), which is now located in Germany. He's best known as the man who sparked the Protestant Reformation, but he was also an extraordinarily productive writer. Toward the end of his life, Luther began to regret how many books he had written. He said, "The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing. ... I wish that all my books were consigned to perpetual oblivion." But he never regretted having translated the Bible into ordinary German.

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Poem: "Clouds" by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press.

(Text not published due to copyright restrictions)

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Veterans Day, honoring Americans who have served in the armed forces.

November 11 was originally called Armistice Day because it was on this day in 1918 that the First World War came to an end. After four years of brutal trench fighting, 9 million soldiers had died and 21 million were wounded. It was called "The War to End All Wars," because it was the bloodiest war in history up to that point, and it made many people so sick of war that they hoped no war would ever break out again.

Many intellectuals and artists were disillusioned by the war. The philosopher Bertrand Russell said, "All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country's pride."

It's the birthday of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, (books by this author) born in Moscow (1821). As a young man, he was arrested and imprisoned for participating in radical political activities. He spent four years in a Siberian prison with murderers and thieves. When he got back to St. Petersberg, his mild epilepsy began to grow worse. He got married, but his wife came down with tuberculosis. She died the same year as his brother. At that point, Dostoyevsky's debts were so great that he had to flee Russia in order to avoid debtor's prison.

He fell into even deeper debt while traveling around Western Europe, because he became an obsessive gambler. Desperate for money, he made a deal with a publisher to get an advance on his next novel, but if he didn't finish the novel by the deadline, the publisher would take possession of the rights to all of Dostoyevsky's work.

A month away from that deadline, Dostoyevsky hadn't made any progress on the book and he began to panic. At the last minute, he hired a stenographer and dictated an entire novel to her in a few weeks, called The Gambler (1866). In the process of writing that novel, he fell in love with the stenographer and he went on to marry her. It was she who finally put his life and finances in order and created stable conditions for his work.

Dostoyevksy's next book was his first great novel, Crime and Punishment (1866). He went on to write many more novels, including The Idiot (1868), The Possessed (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880). In the last few years of his life, his work was so popular that he began to publish an entire magazine of his own writing every month, called The Writer's Diary, which contained essays, journal entries, and fiction.

It's the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut, (books by this author) born in Indianapolis, Indiana (1922). He's the author of many novels, including Cat's Cradle (1963), Hocus Pocus (1990), and Timequake (1997). He served in World War II, and in December of 1944, he was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He was imprisoned in a slaughterhouse in Dresden, and he was there when the city was destroyed by British and American bombers. That experience inspired his novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

Kurt Vonnegut said, "Anti-war books are as likely to stop war as anti-glacier books are to stop glaciers."

It's the birthday of the novelist and short-story writer Mary Gaitskill, (books by this author) born in Lexington Kentucky (1954). She had a difficult childhood. Her parents moved around a lot, and she never felt like she fit in anywhere. When she was 15, she was kicked out of boarding school. A psychiatrist recommended that her parents have her committed to a mental hospital. She ran away from home, but her parents tracked her down and had her hospitalized anyway. She was released after two months, and at the age of 16 she took off to San Francisco to live on her own.

She supported herself as a stripper and occasional prostitute until she had saved enough money to go to college, where she studied journalism. And she began writing short stories. When her first collection Bad Behavior came out in 1988, it got a lot of attention for examining the lives of prostitutes and drug addicts and sadomasochists. She said, "My experience of life as essentially unhappy and uncontrollable taught me to examine the way people, including myself, create survival systems ... for themselves in unorthodox and sometimes apparently self-defeating ways. These inner worlds, although often unworkable and unattractive in social terms, can have a unique beauty and courage."

Her novel Veronica came out in 2005, and many critics have called it a masterpiece.

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Poem: "Unforeseen" by Reid Bush, from What You Know. © Larkspur Press. Reprinted with permission.


Before we buried him, no one thought
to trace around his hand.

It would have been an easy thing to do
if you could stand his fingers cold, stiff:
just a piece of paper underneath
and pen or pencil.

I don't think there's anybody
could half imagine in a million years
how much since he died we've argued
over just how big his hands were.

It's hard to know when you need to
what it is you're going to want.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of journalist and short-story writer Tracy Kidder, (books by this author) born in New York City (1945). He served in the Vietnam War and came back to write the short story "The Death of Major Great" (1974), about a group of soldiers who kill their commanding officer. The story was published in The Atlantic Monthly and launched his career as a writer. But instead of continuing to write stories, he decided that the best use of his talent would be to describe the real world in nonfiction. After a book about a murder trial that he considered a failure, he focused his attention on the growing industry of computers.

He spent eight months living in the basement of Data General Corporation, watching the engineers at work on a new microcomputer, which they said would revolutionize the world. His book The Soul of a New Machine was published in 1981. It was one of the first non-technical books about the computer industry, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Kidder went on to write many more books, including House (1985), about the world of carpenters and house building, and Among Schoolchildren (1989), about the education industry.

It's the birthday of the founder of Reader's Digest, DeWitt Wallace, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1889). His father was a professor of Greek and Old English at Macalester College, but Wallace rebelled against his father's example and fell in love with business. As a young man, he was always trying to make a buck, raising chickens, selling vegetables from his garden, and operating an electrical repair service.

After college, he worked for a publishing house that specialized in agricultural textbooks. While working there, he learned that the federal government had all kinds of free informational pamphlets that were available to farmers, but most farmers didn't even know these pamphlets existed. So he decided to publish and sell a condensed collection of the free pamphlets to farmers, called Getting the Most out of Farming. It was a huge success, and Wallace decided that making information easily available was the secret to the publishing industry.

He was still trying to figure out what to do next when World War I broke out, and he enlisted in the army. He was seriously wounded in 1918. During his recovery, he read hundreds of magazines, and he suddenly realized that a pocket-sized magazine full of condensed general-interest articles from other magazines could be a big hit. He compiled a sample issue of the first Reader's Digest and spent years trying to sell the idea to publishers in New York, but they all turned him down. He would have given up, but he was fired from his job and figured he didn't have anything to lose.

The first issue came out in February 1922. People didn't think it would last, because it was just a reprint journal, but Wallace had a talent for finding those stories that appealed to the widest number of people. By the end of the decade, Reader's Digest was one of the most profitable magazines in the country, and it is now one of the most widely read magazines in the world.

It's the birthday of philosopher and literary critic Roland Barthes, born in Cherbourg, France (1915). He was one of the first literary critics to apply sophisticated literary theory to things like movies, stripteases, toys, and wrestling matches.

It was on this day in 1969 that the reporter Seymour Hersh (books by this author) broke the story of the My Lai massacre, the most notorious war crime ever committed by American soldiers. One witness to the incident was helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson. Then he watched as an American shot a wounded woman lying defenseless on the ground. He saw several elderly adults and children running for shelter, chased by Americans. He was the first person to report the incident to his superiors, and he assumed that an investigation would follow. But nothing happened. It was another soldier, named Ron Ridenhour, who heard about the incident and vowed to make it public. He interviewed as many men who'd been there that day as he could, and when he got back to the United States he wrote a description of the massacre and sent it to 30 people, including his congressman.

The Pentagon initiated an investigation and it charged Lieutenant William Calley with the murder of unknown civilians. But there was no media coverage until freelance reporter Seymour Hersh heard about the incident from a lawyer who had been working with military deserters. He interviewed as many people involved as he could find, and wrote the first article about the incident. But no major magazine would publish it.

So Hersh turned to a tiny news syndicate called the Dispatch News Service, which offered the article to 50 newspapers around the United States and Europe for the price of $100. Thirty-six of the newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle, chose to run the article on this day in 1969. Hersh went on to write a total of five articles about the massacre and its aftermath, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage.



  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
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