Jan. 1, 2011

You still love the ones you loved
back when you loved them—books.
Records, and people.
Nothing much changes in the glittering rooms of the heart,
Only the dark spaces half-reclaimed.
And then not much,
An image, a line. sometimes a song.

Car doors slam, and slam again, next door.
Snow nibbles away at the edges of the dark ground.
The sudden memory of fur coats,
erotic and pungent,
On college girls in the backseats of cars, at Christmas,
Bourgeois Americana, the middle 1950s,
Appalachia downtown.

And where were we going? Nowhere.
Someone's house, the club, a movie?
See the pyramids along the Nile,
WKPT, I'm itching like a man on a fizzy tree.
It didn't matter.
Martin Karant was spinning them out,
and the fur was so soft.

"15" by Charles Wright, from Littlefoot. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It’s on this day in 1975 that Zadie Smith’s (books by this author) epic novel White Teeth (2000) begins. It’s the saga of two friends --- one a middle-aged, middle-class Englishman named Archie Jones and the other a Bengali Muslim immigrant named Samad Iqbal --- and about their families in London. Zadie Smith was just 25 years old when she published the novel, and critics from around the world raved at her ambitious subject matter and lyrical prose. She won the Whitbread Book Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the James Tait Black Prize. Time magazine later put her book on its list of 100 Best English-Language Novels.

In White Teeth, Zadie Smith wrote: “The thinnest covering of luck was on him like fresh dew. While he slipped in and out of consciousness , the position of the planets, the music of the spheres, the flap of a tiger moth's diaphanous wings in Central Africa, and a whole bunch of other stuff . . . had decided it was second-chance time for Archie.”

And, “The more blessed she felt on earth, the more rarely she turned to heaven.”

It’s the birthday of the writer who said, “Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.” That’s English novelist and essayist E. M. Forster, (books by this author) born in London on this day in 1879. When he was 8 years old, he inherited from a great aunt eight thousand pounds – the equivalent of about a million dollars in today’s money -- and he devoted his life to writing.

He went to Cambridge, became friends with Virginia Woolf, and hung out with the Bloomsbury Group. He traveled around Greece, Italy and Egypt, and in five years wrote four novels: Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room With a View (1908) and Howards End (1910). After that he wrote some short stories and books of history, but it was 14 years before he published another novel. That fifth and final novel, A Passage to India (1924), is considered his masterpiece. In it, he wrote: “All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt.”

He worked for the BBC and wrote many short stories and essays, a couple biographies, and some books of literary criticism and of travel writing. He also wrote an opera based on Melville’s unfinished novella Billy Budd. Most of Forster’s own novels were adapted into films in the 1980s and 1990s.

He never married, and he lived to be 91 years old. He once said, “Death destroys a man, but the idea of death saves him.”

In his essay “Two Cheers for Democracy” he wrote, “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

And he said, “The people I respect most behave as if they were immortal and as if society was eternal.”

From the archives:

Today is New Year's Day. Various New Year traditions have been celebrated for a long time — the earliest recorded celebration was in about 2000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, where the new year was celebrated in mid-March, around the time of the vernal equinox. Iranians and Balinese still celebrate the new year with the spring equinox. The Chinese New Year is based around the lunar cycles, and it can fall between late January and late February. In Europe, the Celtic New Year began on November 1st, after the harvest.

The first time that New Year's Day was celebrated on January 1st was in 45 B.C., when Caesar redid the Roman calendar. He based it on the sun instead of the moon (like the Egyptians), added some days to the year, and declared every January 1st the start of the new year. But Caesar had subtly miscalculated the length of the solar year, and declared an extra day in February every four years, which turned out to be slightly too often, so that by the Middle Ages the calendar was about 10 days off. It wasn't until the 1570s that the calendar was finally refined with leap years in the correct places, and since then, January 1st has been celebrated as New Year's Day.

It's the birthday of J.D. Salinger, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1919. He wanted to be a writer, and his dream was to publish his fiction in The New Yorker, which rejected his work over and over. In November of 1941, he finally got an acceptance letter from The New Yorker for a short story called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," about a teenager named Holden Caulfield. It was set to come out in the Christmas issue, but then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the story was put on hold. Salinger was drafted into the Army, deployed in the ground force invasion of Normandy, and he was part of the Battle of the Bulge and some of the worst fighting of WWII. When the war ended, Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg, suffering from shell shock. In 1946, The New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison." Salinger took the character of Holden Caulfield, and he wrote an entire novel about him. And even though it got mixed reviews and Salinger refused to help with publicity at all, it was a best seller: The Catcher in the Rye (1951). And Salinger became a celebrity, which he hated, so he became a recluse. He died just this past January (2010), at the age of 91.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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