Dec. 5, 2003


by Christina Rossetti

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Poem: "Remember," by Christina Rossetti, from The Complete Poems (Penguin).


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer John Berendt, born in Syracuse, New York (1939). He was an editor at Esquire magazine when he took a trip to Savannah, Georgia on a whim. He fell in love with the place, and decided he wanted to write a book about it. He didn't begin working on it for three years, and then he started doing intense research and interviewing as many people in Savannah as he could. It took him seven years to finish the book. In 1994, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published, and it became a huge bestseller. It follows the murder case of an antiques dealer, but it's also full of portraits of miscellaneous Savannah residents. It's a nonfiction book that reads like a novel. In 1998 it broke the record for consecutive weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Tourism in Savannah increased by almost 50 percent.

It's the birthday of novelist James Lee Burke, born in Houston, Texas (1936). He's best known for his series of detective novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, an ex-New Orleans policeman, Vietnam veteran, and recovering alcoholic. Burke's novels have been compared to those by master crime novelists like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Burke started writing stories when he was in fourth grade, published his first story when he was 19, and wrote his first novel when he was 23. Half of Paradise (1965) was published just after he finished graduate school, and it got great reviews. Burke wrote a few more novels, but none of them sold well. He fell into depression and alcoholism. He had finished a book called The Lost Get-Back Boogie, but he couldn't find anyone to publish it. He collected ninety-three rejection slips for the book over a period of ten years. He worked as a newspaper reporter, a land surveyor, a social worker, a forest ranger, a teacher, and a truck driver. He later said, "I reached a point . . . where I didn't care whether I lived or died." Finally, in 1985, The Lost Get-Back Boogie was published by Louisiana State University Press. The novel is about a released prisoner who goes to live on a Montana ranch with the family of one of his friends from prison. It was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Burke's novels have been doing well ever since.

Burke said, "I believe that whatever degree of talent I possess is a gift and must be treated as such. To misuse one's talent, to be cavalier about it, to set it aside because of fear or sloth is unpardonable."

It's the birthday of American writer Joan Didion, born in Sacramento, California (1934). In 1968, Didion's first collection of essays, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, was published, and it was a big success. It includes essays about Joan Baez, Vegas brides, John Wayne, and the hippies in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. She's gone on to write five novels, including A Book of Common Prayer (1977) and Democracy (1984), as well as several more nonfiction books. Her latest book, Where I Was From (2003), was published in September. It's a history of California that's full of family portraits and personal anecdotes. Didion wrote, "The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past."

Didion said, "My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests. And it always does. . . . Writers are always selling somebody out."

It's the birthday of English poet Christina Rossetti, born in London (1830) to Italian parents. She grew up in a family that loved literature. She and her sister and two brothers wrote sonnets together as children, and all four of them grew up to be writers. One brother, the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, helped Christina get her first poems published in a London magazine.

Christina was home-schooled and lived with her mother her entire life. She was a deeply devout Protestant. She gave up chess because she was worried that she enjoyed winning too much. She broke off an engagement to the artist James Collison in 1848, after he joined the Catholic Church. Later, she fell in love with a man named Charles Cayley but wouldn't marry him because he wasn't religious enough. She stayed at home and read religious texts, and occasionally, in bursts of inspiration, wrote the poetry for which she is known. She's best known for her poem "Goblin Market" (1862), a dark fairy tale in which a girl is attacked by a pack of goblins after refusing to buy their fruit.

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