Jul. 9, 2009

The Place I Want To Get Back To

by Mary Oliver

The text of this poem is no longer available.

"The Place I Want To Get Back To" by Mary Oliver, from Thirst. © Beacon Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of two British Gothic novelists.

The first is Ann Radcliffe, (books by this author) born in London (1764). Her most famous novel was The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), which is probably best remembered today because it is the book that Jane Austen satirized in Northanger Abbey (1818). Austen's heroine, Catherine Morland, is so caught up in The Mysteries of Udolpho that she starts to think of herself as a Gothic heroine, and imagines villains and intrigue all around her.

The other Gothic novelist is Matthew Lewis, (books by this author) born in London (1775). He was 19 years old, newly graduated from Oxford, working at the British Embassy. But he wanted to be a writer, so he set out to write a novel. He wrote to his mother: "What do you think of my having written, in the space of 10 weeks, a romance of between three and four hundred pages octavo? I have even written out half of it fair. It is called The Monk, and I am myself so pleased with it, that, if the booksellers will not buy it, I shall publish it myself. " The Monk became a huge sensation and went through many editions, and from there on out, Matthew Lewis was called "Monk" Lewis.

It's the birthday of the "Queen of Romance," a woman who wrote more than 700 books: Barbara Cartland, (books by this author) born in Birmingham, England (1901). She started working as a gossip columnist, became a society belle, and then started publishing romance novels. She always wore pink dresses, and she even launched a home decorating line, complete with pink, frilly home items.

She was famous for following the same formula for every novel. She said: "The story is always going to be very much the same, because the girl is pure and the man is not. The man will go to bed with any woman who takes his fancy, so I have got to keep him from going to bed with the heroine until page two hundred, when she has a wedding ring on her finger. I tried writing modern books, but I found it very difficult to create convincing virgins in modern dress, so my stories are always set between approximately 1790 and 1890. As the plots are always similar, I must vary the situations, and I must have exciting and real backgrounds, absolutely authentic. This is the part that interests me most."

She dictated all her novels. She claimed that his was one of the secrets to her success. She said, "When you dictate, you tend to tell your story in nice short paragraphs. My readers detest long paragraphs." She would dictate from a chaise longue, with a rug at her feet and her pet Pekinese curled up next to her. It took her an average of one week to complete a novel. By the time she died in 2000 at the age of 98, she had sold more than 1 billion books.

It's the birthday of the man called "the poet laureate of medicine," neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, (books by this author) born in London in 1933. He has devoted his career to studying people with unusual neurological disorders, and writing about them so that they seem like real people and not just case studies. His first book was Migraine (1970), about migraine headaches, and it got good reviews. In the 1960s, he started working with survivors of the sleeping sickness epidemic that occurred between 1916 and 1927. These people had been in institutions ever since, still alive but in unresponsive bodies. Sacks noticed that many people had similar reactions as people suffering from Parkinson's disease, so he decided to treat them with the drug levodopa. Many of them woke up and were cognizant for the first time in 40 years. But it was extremely stressful for many of them to have lost so much time like that, and most of them went back to sleep. Sacks wrote a book about it, Awakenings (1973). In 1990, it was made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

He went on to write several more books in the same vein, including Seeing Voices (1989), The Island of the Colorblind (1997), and the best-selling book of essays The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), about people living with a variety of neurological disorders. His most recent book is Musicophilia (2007), about the sometimes bizarre connections between music and the brain, and the ways in which music operates on everyone from people with severe neurological disorders to ordinary people who can't get a tune out of their heads.

It's the birthday of anthropologist Franz Boas, born in Minden, Germany, in 1858. He went to live in an Inuit community on Baffin Island in the Arctic, and he decided to devote his life to observing cultural groups. He helped pioneer anthropology as we think of it today — he was one of the first people to do fieldwork and apply the scientific method to studying groups of people, instead of just speculating based on anecdotal evidence. He established the first Department of Anthropology in 1896, at Columbia University.

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