MONDAY, 16 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "The List of Good Names" by Robert Fanning, from The Seed Thieves. © Marick Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The List of Good Names

Tonight, in the family style
pizzeria, we speak of having a child
some day. On a napkin smudged red
where the leaky felt tip lingered,
I watch meteors, sperm and tadpoles
cross the paper sky, as you
draw up a list of good names.

Looking at the list, I'm a substitute
teacher practicing attendance
before the class arrives:
Isabella, Gabriel, Rose. Who will be
the bookworm, the athlete, the clown?

Around us, the families finish
dinner, pack into minivans and leave.
The pimpled waiter picks up
broken crayons, wipes sauce
from a plastic high chair,
unplugs the video game.

Soon the room's as silent
as a doll shop after hours.
When I'm ready to speak, above
the ticking of the clock, my rubber
lips click. Whispering the list's
first name, I hear the voice

I used when I spoke your name
the first time—that voice I've used
when I try the name of an unknown
plant, or when I'm scared, or when
I pray, or when I know a stranger
now listens in the next booth,
the one I thought was vacant.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Anatole France, (books by this author) born in Paris (1844). He wrote poems, plays, essays, short stories, and more than 20 novels, including At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque (1893), Penguin Island (1908), and The Gods Are Athirst (1912). He went on to become one of the most successful novelists in France, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921.

Anatole France said, "Lovers who love truly do not write down their happiness."

It's the birthday of playwright John Millington Synge, (books by this author) born in a village just south of Dublin, Ireland (1871). He was living in Paris, writing literary criticism for magazines and newspapers. Then, in 1896, he met the poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats told him that instead of trying to work his way into literary circles in Paris, he should go to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and write about the Irish-speaking peasants who lived there. Yeats said, "Live there as if you were one of the people themselves. Express a life that has never found expression." So, in 1898, Synge went the Aran Islands, and the material he gathered formed the basis for his two most successful plays, Riders to the Sea (1903) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907).

It was on this day in 1926 that the Book-of-the-Month Club shipped out its first selection, Lolly Willows, or, The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner (books by this author), to just about 5,000 members. Within a few decades, the Book-of-the-Month Club would become one of the most influential publishing forces in the history of American literature.

The Book-of-the-Month Club let customers sign up to buy one book a month at $3 apiece. The books were selected by an independent panel of experts, but if members didn't like the book chosen each month, they could choose an alternate.

Numerous literary critics thought the book club was a terrible idea, that it would result in a standardization of literature, and that readers would lose their ability to think or make decisions. But the Book-of-the-Month Club was being launched at a time when there were very few bookstores outside of big cities. Buying new books through the mail was the only way that most Americans could get their hands on those books.

In just its first 25 years, the Book-of-the-Month Club shipped more than 100 million books, averaging about 200,000 copies of each selection. Among the authors whose careers were launched in part by the Book-of-the-Month Club were Margaret Mitchell with Gone with the Wind (1936), John Steinbeck with Of Mice and Men (1937), Richard Wright with Native Son (1940), J.D. Salinger with The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Harper Lee with To Kill a Mocking Bird (1960), and Toni Morrison with Song of Solomon (1977).

It's the birthday of the comic novelist Kingsley Amis, (books by this author) born in London (1922). He was a student at Oxford when he met Philip Larkin who would become his closest friend for the rest of his life. At first, it was Philip Larkin who wanted to be a novelist, and Amis wanted to be a poet. But after Amis moved to Wales and got a job as a professor, he began sending comic descriptions of his campus life to Larkin, and Larkin helped him turn those sketches his first novel: Lucky Jim (1954). It was one of the first modern "campus novels," and is generally considered one of the funniest novels in British literature.

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Poem: "It's all I have to bring today (26)" by Emily Dickinson. Public Domain. (buy now)

It's all I have to bring today (26)

It's all I have to bring today—
This, and my heart beside—
This, and my heart, and all the fields—
And all the meadows wide—
Be sure you count—should I forget—
Some one the sum could tell—
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the most successful British novelists of his generation, Nick Hornby, (books by this author) born in Maidenhead, England (1957). His parents got divorced when he was a kid, and he only managed to have a relationship with his father when his father began to take Hornby to football (soccer) games. Hornby later wrote of the first football match. He said, "I remember the overwhelming maleness of it all—cigar and pipe smoke, foul language (words I had heard before, but not from adults, not at that volume). ... [But] what impressed me most was just how much most of the men around me hated, really hated, being there." Hornby eventually realized that the reason so many men looked so miserable that day was that their team was in the middle of a long losing streak, and he was impressed by how all these men refused to give up on the team, despite their losses.

After college, Hornby began writing book reviews and music reviews for various London newspapers. But he wanted to write something bigger. And then he got the idea to write a memoir about his life, except that it would be about his life through the lens of his obsession with football, full of his memories of specific football matches and how they made him feel at specific moments in his life.

The book was called Fever Pitch (1992), and it came out at a time when football fans were generally looked down upon by the British upper class. But the book became something of a phenomenon in Great Britain, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, making it one of the best-selling books about sport ever published in the English language. Part of what made the book so popular was that it captured the way people can rely on a sports team to give their lives drama and meaning. Hornby wrote, "The natural state of the football fan is bitter disappointment, no matter what the score."

Hornby's next book, the novel High Fidelity (1995), was even more successful. It's the story of an obsessive record collector and record store owner who copes with the failures of his life by creating numerous lists: his top 5 favorite albums, top 5 TV shows, top 5 ex-girlfriends, and so on. The book was made into a movie in 2000.

His most recent novel is Long Way Down (2005), about four people who meet on New Year's Eve, when each of them climbs up to the top of a building to commit suicide.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Cynthia Ozick, (books by this author) born in New York City (1928). She's the author of several novels, including The Messiah of Stockholm (1987) and The Puttermesser Papers (1997), but she's perhaps best known for her essays, collected in Art and Ardor (1983), Metaphor and Memory (1989), and Quarrel and Quandary (2000).

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder, (books by this author) born in Madison, Wisconsin (1897). As a boy, he lived near a university theater where they performed Greek dramas, and his mother let him participate as a member of the chorus. He never forgot the experience, and he decided then that he would try to write for the theater someday. He got a job at the University of Chicago and began to write a series of experimental one-act plays that used a minimum of scenery and props, and often included an all-knowing character called the Stage Manager. Then, in 1938, he produced the play for which he is best known, Our Town, one of the first major Broadway plays to use almost no stage scenery, so that the audience had to imagine the world in which the characters lived.

Our Town is about the New England village of Grover's Corners, where the characters George Gibbs and Emily Webb grow up, fall in love at the soda fountain, and get married. When Emily dies in childbirth, she gets to relive the day of her 12th birthday and realizes how little she cherished life while she was alive.

It's the birthday of Isak Dinesen, (books by this author) born Karen Dinesen on a rural estate called Rungsted near Copenhagen, Denmark (1885). As a young woman, she and her husband moved to Kenya, where they started a coffee plantation. But the couple did not get along, and they separated in 1925. Alone and unhappy on the coffee plantation, Dinesen said, "I began in the evenings to write stories, fairy-tales and romances, that would take my mind a long way off, to other countries and times." The plantation grew less and less profitable, and she struggled to stay in business. After a swarm of locusts and a drought, she finally had to sell the farm to a local developer.

But just as she was leaving Africa for good, Dinesen sent some of her stories to a publisher, and they were published as the collection Seven Gothic Tales (1934). The book was a big success, and her American publisher wanted her to write a new book as soon as possible, so she wrote memoir about her time in Africa called Out of Africa (1937).

Isak Dinesen said, "All sorrows can be borne, if you put them into a story."

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Poem: "Characters" by Kevin FitzPatrick, from Down on the Corner. © Midwest Villages and Voices. Reprinted with permission.


Aunt Duly is here wallpapering our kitchen.
She is seventy-one years old
but still paints silos and moves pianos.
If I bet her, she will touch her palms
to the floor without bending her knees.

When she first sees me, long hair and beard,
she comes down the ladder waving her brush:
"Judas Priest, Kev, when I was a girl,
they used to beat guys like you with chairs."

She has been going up and down this last hour
as if her ladder is an escalator,
telling me about drunken gravediggers
or the grocer who wouldn't serve lawyers.
I'm afraid she'll slip or faint,

but she is coming down the ladder,
telling me about Barney Ruckle in the back pew
quietly mocking each bead during the rosary:
"Gimme a nickel, Mary. Gimme a nickel, Mary.
Gimme a nickel ..."

Going up the ladder
because she really does have work to do,
she pauses halfway and says,
"You know, they're all dead now,
all those characters who used to make us laugh."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of publisher Clifton Keith Hillegass, born in Rising City, Nebraska (1918), the man behind CliffsNotes, the black- and yellow-striped pamphlets that students have used for literary study guides or substitutes for the real thing since 1958.

It's the birthday of famous lawyer and writer Clarence (Seward) Darrow, (books by this author) born in Kinsman, Ohio (1857). He once said, "I never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with a lot of pleasure."

On this day in 1906, an earthquake struck San Francisco. The earthquake began near dawn, at 5:12 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and lasted for a little over a minute. Scientists later determined that the San Andreas Fault had moved about 23 feet. A policeman said, "[The streets] began to dance and rear and roll in waves like a rough sea in a squall, [then] sank in places and vomited up car tracks and the tunnels that carried the cable." A fire broke out that raged for three days and most of the city was burned to the ground.

On this day in 1775, Paul Revere made the famous ride that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote about in the poem that begins,

"Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Paul Revere was 40 years old at the time, a respected craftsman, husband, and father of 16 children. But by warning revolutionary forces of a British attack, he was committing an act of high treason against the crown. He'd learned to hate the British when he served as an officer during the French and Indian War. Though he was fighting on the side of the British, he was treated as a second-class citizen by British officers, simply because he was a colonist.

During the winter of 1757, he waited with a group of colonial soldiers at Fort William Henry on Lake George for the British to show up with food and supplies. The British didn't arrive until spring. The 2,500 men spent most of that winter living on starvation rations, and 154 men died of disease and malnourishment. Revere never forgot the incident, and he never forgave the British.

On the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere heard the British troops were planning to march into Lexington and Concord to seize munitions and round up colonial rebels. So he set out for Lexington to warn of the British plans. He had to begin his journey in a rowboat across Boston Harbor, under the threat of a British warship, and then he borrowed a horse to ride all the way to Lexington, where he warned Adams and Hancock that the British were coming.

Longfellow fictionalized some aspects of the story to make it more dramatic. In the poem, Revere is the only messenger warning that the British are coming, when in fact there were several. Revere also never shouted, "The British are coming!" What he shouted was, "The Regulars are out! The Regulars are out!"

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Poem: "Parent" by Brenda Shaw from Poems of Maine in the Ninteen Thirties and Forties: by one who lived through them. © Moon Pie Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Father, I know more about Mother
than I do about you,
and she died when I was a baby.
I lived with you for eighteen years.

In all that time you seldom spoke.
Your favorite words were "Oh my gosh!"
said in three different tones
for three different sorts of occasion:

In surprise
at an unexpected pleasant happening.

In anxiety if I were proposing
some crazy stunt and you were worried.

In despair if the worst
that could possibly happen had happened.

I wonder—is that what you said
when Mother died without warning,
without saying goodbye?

Somewhere along the way
I asked you questions—very few.
One was, "What was Mother like?"
but you couldn't find the words.

Another was "Which of your two wives
did you like the best?"
You said "The one who gave me you,"
and choked up.

Later I asked
"Do you believe in God?"
You said "No, I guess I don't."
On that, at least, we agreed.

We knew each other on a level
beyond words.
There were no divided loyalties.
I knew you'd stand behind me or beside me
whatever happened.

There was one question I never had to ask.
The one sure thing in a nightmare world
was the knowledge that you loved me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1943 that an uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto began. It was the largest ghetto uprising of World War II. Hitler's army had invaded Poland in September of 1939. Warsaw was the last city in Poland to submit to the Nazis, but on September 27, after three weeks of resistance, the city finally surrendered. On October 3, 1940, about a year after the invasion, the Nazis built a wall around a section of the city measuring about 20 blocks by six blocks. Jews were given a month to move into the ghetto, and all non-Jews were ordered to leave. Almost all of the Jews in Warsaw lost their jobs, and many of them went around collecting rags, bones, tin, and paper to sell to the Germans.

Eventually, small resistance groups began to pop up in the ghetto. The Nazis had confiscated almost all of the printing presses in the city, but people reconstructed presses from discarded machinery and printed the newspapers on paper they found in the trash. Underground newspapers were published in both Polish and Yiddish. Secret schools were formed in basements and abandoned buildings.

In the summer of 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard—the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the concentration camp in Treblinka. From July to September, more than 300,000 Jews were deported, leaving only about 50,000 people in the ghetto. When reports of mass murder leaked back to the ghetto, a group of people, mostly young men, formed a resistance group and began ambushing Nazi officials and stealing their weapons. They organized several underground factories for making grenades, bombs, and mines, and they created a chain of tunnels, trenches, and bunkers for people to hide out in.

On this day, April 19, 1943, the first day of Passover, hundreds of German soldiers entered the ghetto in rows of tanks, planning to destroy the ghetto in three days. But resistance fighters fought back, and the fighting went on for days. When they ran out of grenades, the Jews fought with kitchen knives, chair legs—whatever they could get their hands on. They held out for almost a month.

In the early morning hours on this day in 1775, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War began when about 700 British troops marched into Lexington, Massachusetts, on a mission to capture colonial munitions. There were only 77 militiamen available to defend the area, but they all assembled on Lexington Green.

A shot was fired, which gave the British an excuse to attack. The colonial militiamen were overwhelmed and they went into full retreat. The British continued their march toward Concord. But word had gone out throughout the countryside that the British were attacking, and volunteer militiamen began to flood the area from up to 20 miles away. A group of several hundred militiamen assembled at the North Bridge, above Concord. What resulted was a standoff, with just a few shots fired, but after several hours the British decided to head back to Boston.

And it was on the road back to Boston that the heaviest fighting broke out. The British had to flee 18 miles to get back to Boston. For those entire 18 miles, the colonists followed them and fired upon them from behind trees and rocks and stone walls along the road. It was the first time in the history of the American colonies that colonists had fired upon British soldiers.

FRIDAY, 20 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "Alaska" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Fuel. © Boa Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


The phone rang in the middle of the Fairbanks night and was always a
wrong number for the Klondike Lounge. Not here, I'd say sleepily. Different
place. We're a bunch of people rolled up in quilts
. Then I'd lie awake
wondering, But how is it over there at the Klondike? The stocky building
nestled between parking lots a few blocks from our apartment like some
Yukon explorer's good dream of smoky windows and chow. Surely the
comforting click of pool balls, the scent of old grease, flannel, and steam.
Back home in Texas we got wrong numbers for the local cable TV
company. People were convinced I was a secretary who didn't want to
talk to them. They'd call four times in a row. Sir, I eventually told a
determined gentleman, We've been monitoring your viewing and are sorry to
report you watch entirely too much television. You are currently ineligible for
cable services. Try reading a book or something
. He didn't call back. For the
Klondike Lounge I finally mumbled, Come on over, the beer is on us.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the anniversary of the birth of detective fiction. It was on this day in 1841 that Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author) published his short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." It's the story of the brilliant amateur detective Auguste Dupin and how he solves the crime of two murders that turn out to have been committed by an orangutan. It was the first story to feature a detective solving a crime, and it would spark the entire genre of detective fiction, one of the most popular fiction genres in the history of English literature.

Of course, it wasn't the first mystery story. The mystery story is as old as literature. What made Poe's short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" different was that it was about a man solving a crime by examining and piecing together clues through a process of scientific reasoning. It also introduced many of the elements of mysteries that are still popular today: the genius detective Auguste C. Dupin, the not-so-smart sidekick, the plodding policeman, and the use of the red herring to lead readers off the track. Arthur Conan Doyle borrowed almost all of those elements to create the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, which were what really popularized the detective story. Doyle had actually done some work as a scientist, so he was able to make the investigations in his stories more realistic.

For a few decades after Arthur Conan Doyle, detective novels were written primarily by British authors. They tended to feature clever amateur detectives, and they contained almost no real violence. The most popular murder method was poison. But after World War I, a group of American writers began to create a new kind of detective novel that was grittier and more violent, featuring professional private investigators. One of these writers was Dashiell Hammett, who had worked for a while as a detective himself for the Pinkerton agency. He created the detective Sam Spade in his novel The Maltese Falcon (1930).

The novelist Raymond Chandler said, "[It was Hammett who] took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley. ... [He] gave murder back to the kind of people who do it for a reason, not just to provide a corpse." Raymond Chandler went on to create one of the most popular detectives of all time, Philip Marlowe, in his novel The Big Sleep (1939). Chandler wrote, "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."

Novelists around the world have been inventing new detectives ever since, among them Rex Stout, who created Nero Wolf; Erle Stanley Gardner, who created Perry Mason; John D. McDonald, who created Travis McGee; P.D. James, who created Adam Dalgliesh; and Walter Mosley, who created Easy Rawlins.

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Poem: "Saturday Matinee" by Mary Crow, from I Have Tasted the Apple. © BOA Editions, Ltd. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Saturday Matinee

Gene Autry galloping hard on his pony,
in black and white, the ground and bushes gray,
toward gray mountains under a gray sky
where white clouds drift, hooves pounding
in the small theater as I sat forward
in my seat, my heart in my mouth with envy,
with longing for freedom, for Gene Autry,
the boy beside me sliding his hand over
for mine, the odor of popcorn in place

of sagebrush, and I saw myself inside
that movie, black hat on my head while
I rushed after him, my pony dapple-gray,
my hair long and blown back by the wind,
galloping so hard but upright western style,
a real cowgirl, and the hand in the theater
like some kind of insect I was brushing away,

my body wanting to rush after my mind—
away from that kid in his button-down shirt,
away from the white clapboard houses,
the dark deciduous forest on the edges
of town, the asphalt, the street lights,
and my father forbidding me to go
to the movie while I sobbed, sobbed
for love of Gene Autry, for love
of the wide open west, of horses
and galloping, for love, for love.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of humorist Josh Billings, (books by this author) born Henry Wheeler Shaw in Lanesboro, Massachusetts (1818). He was a popular newspaper columnist and also published several books, including Josh Billings on Ice (1868) and Josh Billings' Farmers' Allminax (1870).

Billings said, "There are many people who are always anticipating trouble, and in this way they manage to enjoy many sorrows that never really happen to them."

And he said, "Don't take the bull by the horns, take him by the tail; then you can let go when you want to."

It's the birthday of Charlotte Brontë, (books by this author) born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England (1816). After the death of her mother and two older sisters, Charlotte, her brother Branwell and her younger sisters Emily and Anne grew up in extraordinary isolation in the rural moors of England, where her father was a minister. When Charlotte was 10 years old, her father brought home a box of wooden soldiers. She and her siblings used the soldiers to invent an imaginary world that they called Angria, and they began to write poems, plays, and stories about the place.

As a young woman, Charlotte began to take a series of jobs working as a teacher and a governess. She found the work tedious, and often didn't get along with the children, but she kept at it, and as she worked she began to observe the more interesting details of the lives of the families she worked for. She was working at a small private school called Roe Head when she heard a story about a governess who had married a man only to learn that the man was already married. It turned out that his first wife had gone mad, and so he had locked her away on the second floor of his house.

That story stuck in Charlotte's head for years, and when she and her sisters began writing poetry and novels, Charlotte drew on that story for her novel Jane Eyre (1847). It was an immediate success. It went through three printings in less than a year, which was almost unheard of for a book by an unknown author at the time. Charlotte had published under the pseudonym Currer Bell, and the mystery of the author's true identity became the talk of London. Charlotte finally decided to reveal herself to her publishers. When she got to the publisher's office, they asked her what she wanted. Charlotte just showed them a letter they'd written to her pseudonym, Currer Bell. They asked her where she'd gotten the letter, and she said, "From the post office. It was addressed to me."

The novel made Charlotte Brontë rich and famous, but unfortunately it did not fulfill her plan of helping the whole family. Within two years of publishing Jane Eyre, all of Charlotte's siblings had died of consumption. Charlotte died in childbirth a few years later in 1854. Charlotte Brontë once said, "I am neither a man nor a woman but an author."

It's the birthday of writer and naturalist John Muir, (books by this author) born in Dunbar, Scotland (1838). As a young man, he set out on a walking tour of the country, from Indianapolis to the Gulf of Mexico, and then he sailed to Cuba, Panama, and finally California, which would become his home for the rest of his life. He fell in love with the Sierra Mountains in California, and spent much of his time hiking and camping there. He also visited Alaska, South America, Australia, Africa, China, Europe, and Japan, studying plants, animals, rocks, and glaciers. He was largely responsible for the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890, and in 1892, he helped found the Sierra Club. He also published more than 300 articles and 10 books, including The Mountains of California (1894).

SUNDAY, 22 APRIL, 2007
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Poem: "Bicycle Spring" by Kevin FitzPatrick, from Down on the Cornor. © Midwest Villages and Voices. Reprinted with permission.

Bicycle Spring

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.



  • “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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