May 20, 2002


by Lawrence Raab

MONDAY, 20 MAY 2002
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Poem: "Marriage," by Lawrence Raab from What We Don't Know About Each Other (Penguin).


Years later they find themselves talking
about chances, moments when their lives
might have swerved off
for the smallest reason.
What if
I hadn't phoned, he says, that morning?
What if you'd been out,
as you were when I tried three times
the night before?
Then she tells him a secret.
She'd been there all evening, and she knew
he was the one calling, which was why
she hadn't answered.
Because she felt-
because she was certain-her life would change
if she picked up the phone, said hello,
said, I was just thinking
of you.
I was afraid,
she tells him. And in the morning
I also knew it was you, but I just
answered the phone
the way anyone
answers a phone when it starts to ring,
not thinking you have a choice.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Samuel Dickson Selvon, born in Trinidad, West Indies (1923). In 1950, he emigrated to England, where he wrote his first novel, A Brighter Sun (1952), the story of racial tension between black Africans and Indians living in the West Indies. It established him as a writer who employed evocative descriptions and authentic language and dialect, and explored the subjects of poverty and discrimination. These themes were continued in his 1956 novel, The Lonely Londoners, about black West Indians living in London after World War Two.

It's the birthday of detective-story writer Margery (Louise) Allingham born in London, England (1904), who is best known as the creator of the witty, bespectacled, aristocratic detective Albert Campion.

It's the birthday of historian and biographer Allan Nevins, born near Camp Point, Illinois (1890), who gained his love of history from his father, a man who did not believe in frivolous reading but had a library of more than five hundred books of economics, science, and world affairs. During his lifetime, Nevins wrote hundreds of essays and book reviews, edited seventy-five books, and wrote fifty books of his own, two of which won Pulitzer Prizes: Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (1933) and Hamilton Fish: The Inner Story of the Grant Administration (1937).

It's the birthday of political economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill, born in London, England (1806). He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a strict disciplinarian, and who, at the age of eight, was reading Aesop's Fables in the original Greek. He is best known for his defense of empiricism in his 1843 book, System of Logic, which espoused that all knowledge is based on information received through the senses and experience of the world, rather than on rational thinking. His two other famous books are On Liberty (1859), which argued for the importance of the individual, and Utilitarianism (1861). He said: "One person with a belief is equal to a force of ninety-nine who have only interests."

It's the birthday of writer Honor de Balzac (sometimes Honore), born in Tours, France (1799), who is often credited with creating realism in the novel. In 1830, he published a work under his own name that brought him fame. It was Scenes from Private Life, a series of stories about girls in conflict with parental authority. In 1835, he published one of his best works, Le Pere Goriot. His most famous work was The Human Comedy, which appeared in sixteen volumes over a period of six years. The work included thousands of different characters. The entire series contains a total of two thousand, four hundred and seventy characters who have names, and five hundred sixty-six without names.

It's the birthday of English rebel Henry Percy, born in Shropshire, England (1403). He participated in a major battle against the Scots, and because of his diligence was given the nickname of Hotspur by his Scottish enemies. Ten years later, he played a crucial part in helping Henry Bolingbroke overthrow King Richard the Second. He is still famous today as a major character in William Shakespeare's play, Henry IV.

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