Jan. 12, 2014

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
     The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
     Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
     And cups o'erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
     With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
     Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
     Sleep's leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
     With lovers' long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
     Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
     Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
     Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
     And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
     They shorten tedious nights.

"Now Winter Nights Enlarge" by Thomas Campion, from Poems. © Greville Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the novelist Jack London (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1876). He is best known as the author of over fifty books, including The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906). His best known short story is "To Build a Fire."

London was mostly self-educated. He worked on a sealing schooner off the coast of Japan in 1893, and when he returned to America there were no jobs and he became a vagrant. In his memoir The Road (1907), London wrote about those days, including the tricks he used to evade train crews when he stowed away, and how he convinced strangers to buy meals for him. He even spent thirty days in jail in Buffalo, New York, before returning to California. Then he met a librarian named Ina Coolbrith at the Oakland Public Library. London called her his "literary mother."

London graduated from high school in Oakland and then spent a year at the University of California before poverty forced him again to seek his living through adventure. He sailed to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush, and when this did not make him rich, London turned to writing and began seriously to seek publication for his stories.

He came close to abandoning a career in writing when The Overland Monthly was slow to pay for a story they had accepted. But he was saved, both "literally and literarily," when The Black Cat accepted his story "A Thousand Deaths" and paid him forty dollars to publish it. In 1900, London's short story "An Odyssey of the North" appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.

Around this time, London also became vocal as a socialist. In 1896, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a story about London, giving speeches on socialism in Oakland's City Hall Park. He was arrested for this practice in 1897. He ran for mayor of Oakland as a socialist in 1901 and 1905, and published several essays on socialism, including Revolution, and Other Essays (1910).

It's the birthday of the novelist Haruki Murakami (books by this author), born in Kyoto, Japan (1949). He is best known in America as the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995).

Murakami is the child of Japanese literature teachers, but he was more interested in American literature as a boy. He studied literature and drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, and after graduation, Murakami operated a jazz bar called the "Peter Cat" in Tokyo for eight years. During this time, he became familiar with Western music, and that is why so many of his novels have musical themes.

Murakami did not write at all until after age 30. He claims that he was inspired to write his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing (1979), while watching a baseball game. He worked on the novel for many months, usually after finishing his workdays at the jazz club, and the finished book had short chapters and a fragmented style. Murakami sent the novel to a writing contest and won first prize.

He published Norwegian Wood (1987), which sold millions of copies in Japan and made Murakami a literary sensation. To escape the fame, he and his wife lived abroad for several years, in Europe and in the United States, where Murakami taught at Princeton University. They returned to Japan in 1995. In 2002, he published Kafka on the Shore, a novel John Updike called "a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender." It's about a teenager named Kafka Tamura, a "cool, tall, 15-year-old boy lugging a backpack and a bunch of obsessions."

Haruki Murakami said: "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. [...] I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at 10, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. [...] But when I write, I write weird."

It's the birthday of the man who has given us the novels of Easy Rawlins and Fearless Jones, Walter Mosley (books by this author), born in Los Angeles (1952). His father was black and his mother came from a family of Russian Jews. When he was growing up, Mosley loved to listen to the stories his relatives told on both sides of the family. His mother's relatives talked about life in Russia, and his father's relatives talked about life in the South.

After riots erupted in his neighborhood, while he was still in high school, Mosley decided that he wanted to get as far away from Watts as he could. So he went to a small college in Vermont. He bounced around in a variety of jobs for a while, selling pottery and then working as a computer programmer. Then, in 1982, he read Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple. He later said: "I'd read a lot of the French [novelists] — Camus and all that — and I love their writing. But I couldn't write like that. Then, when I read Walker, I thought, 'Oh, I could do this.'"

He began writing a novel about a character named Easy Rawlins, living in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, and the result was his book Devil in a Blue Dress (1990). It's the story of a black World War II veteran who's just been laid off from his job when a white man hires him to find a white woman who's known to frequent the black community. It became a best-seller, and Mosley has written several more novels featuring Easy Rawlins.

It's the birthday of John Winthrop (books by this author), born in Suffolk, England (1588). He is best known as the Puritan governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the leader of The Winthrop Fleet of 1630, the largest fleet of Englishmen ever to depart for the New World.

Winthrop was a deeply religious man, and he believed that the Anglican Church needed to rid itself of Catholic ceremonies. He and his followers decided to leave England because they thought that God would punish their country for this heresy, and they thought they would be safe in the New World.

He was elected governor of the colony before their departure in 1630, and he was re-elected several times after they had arrived in the New World. As governor, he tried to keep the number of executions for heresy to a minimum, and he opposed the veiling of women, which many colonists supported.

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