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Archive for the ‘Favorite Authors and Books’ Category

Dorothy Parker/American Writer

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019

A wonderful story about a wonderful writer. It is amazing how she overcame so many obstacles that stood in her way of reaching the top of the literary world

 

August 22 was the birth date of writer Dorothy Parker , born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1893. Her mother died when she was young, and her father remarried a devout Catholic woman whom Parker despised. Parker dropped out of high school when she was 14 and never went back, although she rarely admitted later in life that she had never graduated from high school. She told one reporter: “Because of circumstances, I didn’t finish high school. But, by God, I read.”

After Parker’s stepmother died, she lived alone with her father for many years, taking care of him as his health failed. After he died, she wasn’t sure what to do. She found a job playing piano at a dance academy, and decided to try writing some light verse. She sold a poem to Vanity Fair, and the editor liked her so much that he got her a job writing captions at Vogue, which was also owned by Condé Nast. For an underwear layout, she wrote the caption: “From these foundations of the autumn wardrobe, one may learn that brevity is the soul of lingerie, as the Petticoat said to the Chemise.” She didn’t fit in well with the proper and stylish culture of Vogue, so she went back to Vanity Fair. She worked as the drama critic there while P.G. Wodehouse was on vacation, and she wrote poems and stories for the magazine. She and two of her coworkers  Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood  started the Algonquin Round Table, a group that met daily over lunch at the Algonquin Hotel to play games, write funny poems, and make witty remarks. Their verbal escapades were recorded and printed in the newspaper, and Parker became famous for her witticisms. Members of the Algonquin Round Table were allowed in by invitation only.

Throughout the 1920s, she published poems and reviews and she wrote book reviews for The New Yorker in a column called “Constant Reader.” About Beauty and the Beast by Kathleen Norris, she wrote: “I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash Beauty and the Beast made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.”

In 1934, Parker married her second husband, Alan Campbell, and they moved to Hollywood to work as screenwriters, which they were successful at. At a time when the average screenwriter made about $40 a week, Parker made $2,000 a week. She and her husband were nominated for an Academy Award for the film A Star is Born (1937), recently remade staring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Parker was nominated again with a co-writer for Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman (1947). She became active in left-wing politics, especially labor unions and the Spanish Civil War. In 1949, she was put on the Hollywood blacklist, and her screenwriting days were over. Parker stopped writing much at all. She wrote bits for radio and occasional pieces for Esquire.

Toward the end of her life, Parker said of the Algonquin Round Table members: “These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days: Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them. It was not legendary. I don’t mean that,  but it wasn’t all that good. There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth.”

She died at the age of 73 and left her estate to Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

 

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019

T.S. Eliot opened his magnum opus, The Wasteland” with the following words: ”April Is the cruelest month . . . .” Well, perhaps. But I believe April is a wonderful month ­­­­––– Shakespeare, Immanuel Kant, and Ella Fitzgerald were all  born in April. And, often overlooked is the freeing of Dachau, that pit of evil, by the American army, on April 29, 1945. So, in the next 4 posts are a few words about all four of these April miracles.

April 23,1564, was probably the actual birthday of William Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language, who was baptized on April 26, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. Unfortunately, he left behind no personal papers; so much of what we know, or think we know, about him comes to us from public and court documents, with a fair measure of inference and speculation. We do know that his father, John, was a glove maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. William’s extensive knowledge of Latin and Greek likely came from his education at the well-respected local grammar school. That was the extent of his formal education, which has led to hundreds of years of conspiracy theories disputing the authorship of his plays, since many found it unbelievable that he could have written so knowledgeably about history, politics, royalty, and foreign lands on a grammar school education. Various figures, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, the 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I, have been put forward as possible — though unproven — ghost writers.

We know that he married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26, and she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that, and son Hamnet died at age 11. It’s speculated that his son’s death hit Shakespeare hard, because he began to write Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 — possibly to escape deer-poaching charges in Stratford — and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. He was popular in his lifetime, but his popularity didn’t rise to the level that George Bernard Shaw referred to as “bardolatry” until the 19th century.

In 1611, he retired to Stratford and made out his will, leaving to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616, and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust enclosed here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Though biographical details may be sketchy, his literary legacy is certain. He wrote 38 plays: including the great tragedies Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello. He also wrote 154 sonnets, and several epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and shifted effortlessly between formal court language and coarse vernacular. The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining 3,000 new words, and has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. His idioms have woven themselves so snugly into our daily conversations that we aren’t even aware of them most of the time, phrases such as “a fool’s paradise,” “a sorry sight,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “slept a wink,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”

Though we have no way of knowing whether the Bard of Avon was writing of his own impending retirement when he wrote Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest in about 1610, it’s satisfying to think so:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 

C.S.Lewis/Great Anglo-Irish Writer

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

C.S. Lewis was born on November 29,1898 in Belfast, Ireland. He was a great novelist and Christian apologist. His full name was Clive Staples Lewis. He grew up in a big house out in the country. He said: “I am the product of long corridors, empty sunlit rooms, upstairs indoor silences, attics explored in solitude, distant noises of gurgling cisterns and pipes, and the noise of wind under the tiles. Also, of endless books.” He was particularly fascinated by Norse myths and old Scandinavian epics.

Lewis became an atheist after his mother died, and his atheism deepened after he fought on the front lines in France during WWI. He studied at Oxford University, and then became a professor there. After he had been teaching for about a year, he went to an Oxford faculty meeting and met a young professor of Anglo-Saxon named J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis described Tolkien in his diary: “He is a smooth, pale, fluent little chap […] thinks all literature is written for the amusement of men between 30 and 40 […] No harm in him: only needs a smack or two.” Despite his initial misgivings, Lewis and Tolkien became good friends when Lewis joined Tolkien’s newly formed Icelandic Society. Lewis wrote to his best friend from childhood: “You will be able to imagine what a delight this is to me, and how, even in turning over the pages of my Icelandic Dictionary, the mere name of a god or giant catching my eye will sometimes throw me back 15 years into a wild dream of northern skies and Valkyrie music.”

In 1929, Lewis converted from atheism to theism (but still not to Christianity). He described how for months he felt God’s presence in his room each night, and finally, he gave in. He described himself as “perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” Two years later, he invited Tolkien and another friend to dinner, and afterward they spent hours walking along the river on the Oxford campus and discussing Christianity and myth. A few days later, Lewis officially converted to Christianity, riding on a motorcycle on the way to the Whipsnade zoo with his brother. He said, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

It was around that time that Lewis and Tolkien began meeting regularly with a group of friends who became known as “The Inklings.” The Inklings met for 16 years. Each week they gathered midday in a back room at the Eagle and Child pub (which they called the Bird and Baby) for food, cider, and informal conversation. The serious literary events occurred each Thursday evening in Lewis’s apartment, which was not particularly clean. Lewis flicked his cigarette ashes directly on the carpet, and as one member pointed out, it was impossible to tell whether his gray chairs and sofa were gray originally or were just dirty. The Inklings would arrive slowly between 9 and 10:30 p.m., someone would make a pot of strong black tea, and they would take turns reading aloud from whatever they were writing. Over the years, Tolkien read The Lord of the Rings, and Lewis The Screwtape Letters (1942)his book of fictional advice letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood.

One day Lewis sat down to write a story for his goddaughter, Lucy. He said it “began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. The picture had been in my mind since I was about 16. Then one day when I was about 40, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.'” That was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), which Lewis followed with six sequels, known collectively as The Chronicles of Narnia.

Among Lewis’s many other books, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, The Screwtape Letters, and The Magicians Nephew were the most popular.

Ernest Hemingway/Giant of 20th Century Literature

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

On November 19, 1956, Ernest Hemingway recovered a trunk from the Hôtel Ritz Paris. The trunk contained, among other things, the notebooks that would become Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast (1964).

Hemingway was having lunch at the Ritz with his friend A.E. Hotchner. Charles Ritz, the chairman of the hotel, joined them. In the course of conversation, Ritz mentioned that there was a trunk in the hotel storage room that the author had left there in 1930. Hemingway didn’t remember leaving it there, but he did remember having a custom-made Louis Vuitton trunk at one time. He had lost track of the trunk and suspected that this was it. Hotchner recalled in 2009: “Charley had the trunk brought up to his office, and after lunch Ernest opened it. It was filled with a ragtag collection of clothes, menus, receipts, memos, hunting and fishing paraphernalia, skiing equipment, racing forms, correspondence and, on the bottom, something that elicited a joyful reaction from Ernest: ‘The notebooks! So that’s where they were! Enfin!’”

Hemingway had kept a meticulous journal when he and his first wife, Hadley Richardson, lived in Paris in the 1920s. He was a young, struggling writer at that point, and didn’t have much money, but he met many other expat artists and writers during that time, people like Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, James Joyce and Ford Madox Ford. Hemingway recorded it all in his notebooks, and didn’t spare the less flattering details about his fellow artists.

Hemingway had his secretary type up the journals in 1957, and he worked on what he called his “Paris book” over the next few years. It was his last book, as it turned out. His health was in decline, many of his friends had died, and he was deeply depressed. He committed suicide in 1961, and his widow, Mary, arranged to have the memoir published posthumously. The publisher wanted to call the book Paris Sketches, but Mary Hemingway didn’t think that was a very catchy title. She asked Hotchner, Hemingway’s friend, if he would come up with a better one. Hotchner recalled that Hemingway had once referred to Paris as “a moveable feast,” and that became the book’s official title.

In 2009, Scribner published a revised version of A Moveable Feast that was edited by Seán Hemingway, the author’s grandson from his marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer. Seán Hemingway disagreed with some of the changes Mary Hemingway had made to the manuscript, in her capacity as literary executor. The book has also had a resurgence in popularity in Paris, after the November 2015 terrorist attack. Its French title is Paris est une fête; the publisher reported selling as many as 500 copies a day. Mourners left copies of the memoir along with flowers at informal memorials all around the Bataclan concert hall.

Ernest Hemingway was clearly one of the great writers of the 20th Century. His novels and short stories were among the most read in his time.

In her biography, Influencing Hemingway: The People and Places That Shaped His Life and Work, Nancy W. Sindelar (2014)introduces the reader to the individuals who played significant roles in Hemingway’s development as both a man and as an artist. Sindelar ranks the fiction works of Hemingway:

 

  1. The Sun Also Rises – Hemingway’s first novel is at the top of the list because it reflects his reliance on his traditional Midwestern values as he encountered new experiences and values in post-World War I Europe. Using friends and acquaintances that populated the cafes along Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris, he reveals his concern about the valueless life of these Lost Generation characters and begins his personal and literary search for meaning in what appears to be a godless world. In the midst of their heavy drinking and meaningless revelry during a fiesta in Spain, Pedro Romero, the matador, becomes a hero. He conducts himself with honor and courage, and it is here we see the beginnings of what will become the Hemingway Code.

The book also tops the list because it reveals Hemingway’s courageous attempt to write in a new and different way by portraying the bad and the ugly as well as the beautiful. Though The Sun Also Rises was well received by the critics, it was not well received by Hemingway’s acquaintances who saw themselves portrayed as self-indulgent, alcoholic and sexually promiscuous in his unflattering, but honest, characterizations. Nor was it well received by his mother, who said he had produced “one of the filthiest books of the year.”

  1. A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway’s second novel is a high on the list because it is the fictional account of events that changed and informed his world view. When Hemingway left the security of the Midwest and went to Italy looking for adventure as an ambulance driver in World War I, he got more than he had bargained for. The idealistic Midwesterner joined the war to end all wars, ready to display honor and courage, but was blown up in a trench. Then he fell in love, contemplated marriage and was rejected by the woman he loved. His confrontation with death, his subsequent wound, and his first experience with love all became catalysts for developing a code of behavior for facing life’s challenges.

A Farewell to Arms was the fictional result of Hemingway’s experiences in Italy and initiates what would become one of the most dominant themes in his novels, the confrontation of death. Though Catherine Barkley’s character seems dated to contemporary female readers, the book still demonstrates that Hemingway used what he learned in Italy to show that war brings out the best and worst in men and women.

  1. The Old Man and the Sea – After the unsuccessful reception to Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel to defend his reputation as a writer. Based on his experiences in Cuba, he created a character of an old fisherman. Alone in a skiff, the old man catches a great marlin, only to have it destroyed by sharks. The old man, who had been a champion arm-wrestler and a successful fisherman, was, like Hemingway, trying for a comeback.

The old man embraces the code for living that Hemingway first developed based on his experiences in World War I—the experiences in which a man confronts an unconquerable element. In fighting the sharks, the old man exhibits courage and grace under pressure, believing “a man can be destroyed, but not defeated.”The reviews and success of the book were nothing less than phenomenal. Appropriately, Hemingway was aboard his boat and out on the GulfStream when he heard via the ship’s radio that the book had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

  1. To Have and Have Not – Hemingway’s growing awareness of financial and social strata are reflected in To Have and Have Not. The characters are based on people the now famous author met in Key West—the working class he encountered on the docks and at Sloppy Joe’s, the rich who moored their boats in Key West harbor, and the illegal Chinese immigrants who were being smuggled from Cuba to Key West to promote tourism in newly formed Chinatowns.

In this Depression-era novel Hemingway comes close to arguing for social and political changes needed to help the working man. However, Hemingway does not see the New Deal remedies as the solution. As a result, the fate of the novel’s main character, Harry Morgan, outlines the limits of personal freedom, self-reliance and the absence of grace under pressure, and the closest Hemingway comes to a solution is for Harry to say, “No matter how a man alone ain’t got no f—— chance.”

 

  1. The Nick Adams Stories – This collection of short stories is a favorite because it provides insight into the life of the young Hemingway. As a child Ernest would accompany his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway, as he provided pro bono medical services and attended to injured Indians, women in child-birth, and individuals in a variety of life-threatening situations in the Indian camps of northern Michigan. The memory of one of these trips appears in “Indian Camp.” Young Nick is with his father on a medical mission to deliver a baby. A Native American woman’s been in labor for two days, and Nick observes his father perform a Caesarian with a jackknife sterilized in a basin of boiled water.

Similarly, the reader gains insight into the relationship of Hemingway’s parents in “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife” and understands Hemingway’s feelings of separation from his family and life in Oak Park after returning from World War I in “A Soldier’s Home.”

  1. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Based on his experiences as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, this novel contains the classic Hemingway elements—a main character demonstrating grace under pressure and a plot that combines the interest and conflicts associated with love and war. As with his other works, Hemingway uses his friendships and personal experiences. Robert Jordan is modeled after Robert Merriman, an American professor who left his research on collective farming in Russia to become a commander in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and was killed during the final assault on Belchite. Maria is based on a young nurse of the same name who was gang raped by Nationalist soldiers early in the war. The novel’s three days of conflict takes place near the El Tajo gorge that cuts through the Andalusian town of Rondo, where a political massacre like the one led by Pablo occurred early in the Spanish Civil War.

 

Margaret Atwood/A Leading Writer of 20th & 21st Centuries

Saturday, January 5th, 2019

November 18, 1939 is the birthday of Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, best known for her searing explorations of feminism, sexuality, and politics in books like The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), a dystopian novel that takes place in a United States, which has become a fundamentalist theocracy where women are forced to have children. She started writing the book on a battered, rented typewriter while on a fellowship in West Berlin. The book became an international best-seller. Atwood’s daughter was nine when it was published; by the time she was in high school, The Handmaid’s Tale was required reading. Atwood once said, “Men often ask me, ‘Why are your female characters so paranoid?’ It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario. Her father was an entomologist and the family lived for a long time in insect-research stations in the wilderness. She was 11 before she attended a full year of school. About growing up in near isolation, Atwood said: “There were no films or theatres in the North, and the radio didn’t work very well. But there were always books. I learned to read early, was an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on — no one ever told me I couldn’t read a book. My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet.”

One day she was walking across a football field on her way home and began writing a poem in her head and decided to write it down. She says: “After that, writing was the only thing I wanted to do. I didn’t know that this poem of mine wasn’t at all good, and if I had known, I probably wouldn’t have cared.”

Her first novel was The Edible Woman (1969), about a woman who cannot eat and feels that she is being eaten. Atwood likes to write in longhand, preferably with a Rollerball pen, and is even the co-inventor of the LongPen, a remote signing device that allows a person to write in ink anywhere in the world using a tablet and the internet. Her books include Alias Grace (1996), Handmaid’s Tale(1985), The Blind Assassin( 2000), Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the flood(2009), MaddAddam(2013), and The Heart Goes Last (2015).

About the writing life, Margaret Atwood says: “You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.”

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