Mar. 8, 2004


by Daniel Hoffman

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Poem: "Saturday," by Daniel Hoffman, from Beyond Silence: Selected Shorter Poems 1948-2003 (Louisiana State University Press).


An experiment results in the transmutation
     of a fly and a man. When
the old castle of a vampire baron is restored
     the baron returns and goes
on a killing spree. A mad scientist transplants his
     insane assistant's brain in
another human. After a baby sea-monster
     is captured off the coast of
Ireland and placed in a London circus, its angry
     father makes a shambles of
the city. Suffering from exhaustion, a pop singer
     comes to a bee farm for rest
only to find her life endangered by the insane
     beekeeper. A vampire must
prey upon living humans to sustain its own life.
     The life of a young woman
is irrevocably changed when she moves into a
     sinister house. A public
opinion analyst, stumbling on a hillbilly
     family, becomes involved
in murder. A successful songwriter decides to
     pursue the girl of his dreams.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer John McPhee, born in Princeton, New Jersey (1931). He's the author of over twenty books, and he's been a staff writer for many years for The New Yorker magazine. In his book Oranges (1967), about the orange growing business, he wrote: "An orange grown in Florida usually has a thin and tightly fitting skin, and it is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first. California oranges are light in weight and have thick skins that break easily and come off in hunks. The flesh inside is marvelously sweet, and the segments almost separate themselves. In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement."

It's the birthday of chemist Otto Hahn, born in Frankfurt, Germany (1879). In 1944, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the fission of heavy nuclei, which made the atomic bomb possible.

It's the birthday of essayist and children's author Kenneth Grahame, born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1859). He's the author of The Wind in the Willows (1908), one of the best-known children's classics in the English language. When he was five years old his mother died of scarlet fever, and Kenneth, delirious and near death from the disease himself, couldn't understand his mother's failure to be near him. That spring he and his siblings went to live with their grandmother in her big, run-down house on the Thames, and he played in the meadow and on the river bank, withdrawing into an imaginary world. When he returned at age forty-six to the rural area where he had lived as a child, and began exploring it with his small son, he found he remembered every detail. He developed the idea that children need a "secret kingdom" in their minds where they can go when upset or bored by the rest of the world.

Grahame helped steer children's literature away from stories about how children should behave, trying instead to appeal to their imaginations. He wrote his most famous book almost by accident. He was working at a bank at the time, and publishing essays on the side. Every night he came home to his son, whom he'd nicknamed Mouse, and told him bedtime stories about the adventures of a badger, a mole, a toad, and a water rat. In May 1907, Grahame's son went with his governess on a holiday, and Grahame continued telling his son bedtime stories in letters. These letters became the first draft of The Wind In the Willows.

Grahame wrote, "There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. . . . In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do."

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