Jul. 30, 2012

I Could Take

by Hayden Carruth

I could take
two leaves
         and give you one.
Would that not be
a kind of perfection?

But I prefer
one leaf
         torn to give you half

(after these years, simply)
love's complexity in an act,
         the tearing and
              the unique edges —
one leaf (one word) from the two
imperfections that match.

"I Could Take" by Hayden Carruth, from From Snow and Rock, from Chaos: Poems, 1965-1972. © New Directions, 1973. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs. It was the country's first national health insurance program.

It's the birthday of the novelist Emily Brontë (books by this author) born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England (1818). She's known for the only novel she ever wrote, Wuthering Heights (1848), about a boy from the streets of Liverpool named Heathcliff who is adopted into a wealthy family and falls in love with his adopted sister, Catherine Earnshaw. When he realizes he can't have her, he tries to take revenge upon the entire family. It's a passionate, tragic love story written by a woman who apparently never had a romantic relationship with anyone herself. In fact, as far as it is known, she rarely even spoke to anyone other than her immediate family members.

Some scholars think she may have gotten the idea for the novel from her brother's life. He was fired from a job as a tutor after it was rumored that he had an affair with the mother of the children he was supposed to be teaching. He was also suffering from alcoholism and addiction to laudanum after trying — and failing — to become a painter in London. It's possible that Branwell began to tell his sister about all his life experiences — his addictions, his love affairs, and his failed attempt to become a painter.

Just after the novel came out, Emily's brother began to fall ill. She took care of him for the next several months, until he died in September 1848. She came down with the same illness a month later, and she had died before the end of the year. She was only 30 years old.

On this day in 1935, the publisher Penguin released its first paperback books, with the goal of making the classics accessible to the general public like never before. Waiting for a train back to London, publisher Allen Lane was frustrated to realize that the only reading available for sale on the platform was magazines or Victorian novel reprints. At the time, publishers thought that if the public wanted high quality literature, they wanted it to be beautifully bound so that they could keep it forever. Lane realized that more people might want to read good books if they were more affordable. He decided to put his savings into Penguin's first run of paperbacks priced equal to a pack of cigarettes.

The summer of 1935, Penguin released titles by Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. By the following year, the company had set up shop in the basement of a local church, receiving shipments down a playground slide from the street above. Soon they had sold more than 3 million copies and expanded into children's books, nonfiction, and classics. Today, the publisher keeps some 5,000 titles in print at any one time and has offices in more than 15 countries.

It's the birthday of French novelist, Patrick Modiano (books by this author), born in Boulougne-Billancourt (1945). His father, an Italian Jew, and his Belgian mother met in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II. His mother was an actress and was frequently absent, as was his father, who made his living as a black marketer doing business with the Nazis. He lost his only brother to leukemia at the age of 10. At 13, he found himself spending his days alone on the streets of Paris. Modiano managed to stay in school and through a supportive teacher was exposed to the literary world and encouraged to write. At 23, he published his first novel, La Place de l'Étoile (The Place of the Star), about an anti-Semitic Jewish collaborator during the war. He has since published 25 books, almost always dealing with Paris during the Occupation and the struggle for identity. Modiano said: "After each novel, I have the impression that I have cleared it all away, but I know I'll come back over and over again to tiny details, little things that are a part of what I am. In the end, we are all determined by the place and the time in which we are born."

In 2011, Modiano was awarded the Prix de la Biblothèque National de France for his lifetime achievement. His most recent novel is L'Horizon (2010).

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show