On This Day – March 14th

The last few posts I know I have stuck to one event from the date, mainly because that was the topic that spoke to me. March 14th however has a couple of things that I want to talk about.

The year 1879 brought us one of the greatest minds on earth.
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Albert Einstein. A man so brilliant and dedicated to science that we often call people we think of geniuses as “Einstein”. His research led to nuclear fission, the founding of the Manhattan Project. He condemned its use as a weapon despite his support of the Allies during World War II. Luckily for us all, he was visiting the United States when Hitler came to power. Given that Einstein was Jewish, he wisely stayed in the US instead of returning to his teaching post in Berlin.

This day also saw the release by Putnam of Max Brand’s first western novel, The Untamed, in 1919. Max Brand, a pen name employed by Frederick Faust, is considered the most prolific writer of Westerns to date. Faust was known for applying his keen writing style without geographical, and sometimes historical, accuracy. To his readers it didn’t matter that the locations didn’t exist or the conditions works of fantasy, the story was compelling enough to drag you in and force you to turn the page. It is estimated that upon Faust’s death in 1944, he had penned over 30 million words amongst his more than 500 Western serials and short stories.
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My last entry for today was actually my first pick for this post. I wanted to save it until last to be my closing remarks. Sylvia Beach, was born on this day in 1887, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. When she was 14, her family moved to Paris. Sylvia was in love with the city. She stayed and, in 1919, opened her soon to be famous bookstore Shakespeare and Co. Her store would become a haunt of great literary giants in the 1920s like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Sylvia was a strong advocate of James Joyce. When Joyce’s serial publication of Ulysses was cut short in the Americas, Sylvia published it completely herself in 1922. The book caused great controversy and was banned from US distribution until 1933. If it were not for Sylvia’s tenacious love for the written word, this work may be something that never saw the light of day.
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Thank you Sylvia for your tireless efforts on behalf of readers everywhere. You are an inspiration to speak up against censorship just because it may make a few people uncomfortable. Be brave and tenacious my Gentle Readers. There are always going to be critics. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 12th

The year is 1922. Léo-Alcide Kéroack and Gabrielle-Ange Lévesque had no idea that the baby boy they welcomed into the world would become an icon of the Beat Generation.
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Jack Kerouac was a man of many talents. In high school he was a football star, earning scholarships to Columbia University, among others. His football career would be cut short by a broken leg. Before he became the poet and author we all learned about, he was a Navy man in World War II. His service however was cut short due to personality problems attributed to mental illness. Jack would continue his adventures on the seas as a merchant seaman for a couple of years. By the late 1940s he would begin his wandering journey that would later become fuel for his story, On the Road. Jack rubbed elbows with the likes of Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs. Marijuana smoke and alcohol turning into creative flourishes of poetry that people still pattern themselves after today in dark coffee shops.
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Excerpt from On the Road “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”

I say take today to go be like the “mad ones” Jack wrote about my Gentle Readers. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

On This Day – March 11th 2016

Today in 1818, a legendary icon of literature and horror was born. Mary Shelley, just 21 at the time, published her masterpiece, Frankenstein.
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To think, at 21 she created a work of fiction that will surely last well beyond its 200 year anniversary that is coming up in 2018. Countless printings and cinema editions have been produced from this single piece of literature. The number of appearances by her creation in television is testament to its enduring appeal to the masses.

I have always been familiar with the book, having read it multiple times in my youth. I never realized then that she was only 21 at the time of publication. It seems unreal. She had to have been a truly amazing young woman. I have trouble picturing myself at 21 being ready to put forth anything of its like.

I wonder what she would tell today’s youth about success and having dreams. When most youth here in the states are thinking about the day they can legally buy alcohol (I know not all but it was something we all thought about), she was publishing her first, and greatest novel. Not only was she young, but she was a woman in the 1800s. Women had fewer rights in those days. They were often viewed as little more than property to the patriarch of their family. Property to be sold off to the highest bidder, or for the most political gain. Then they would be treated as property by their new husband. Mary seemed lucky in that regard to have truly married for love.

Fortune did not come easily in her lifetime. Tragedy also struck as most of her children did not survive into adulthood. She lived most of her life on a small stipend from her father-in-law, until her one surviving son came into his inheritance and title.

What we should take from Mary’s story my Gentle Readers is to never give up. If a young woman in the 1800s could create such an enduring classic piece of literary history, then there is hope for us to eke out a space on the shelf nearby. Until next time. Live well, write well, be well.

Happy Birthday J.R.R. Tolkien

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Today would be the 124 birthday of the Father of High Fantasy, JRR Tolkien. That’s something Bilbo and Frodo would be proud to claim. I think about the first time I opened the pages of The Hobbit. I was spellbound. The words curled up in my head and stayed there, fostering a love of reading and adventure that led me on so many journeys over my life thus far.

When Hollywood decided to turn these wonderful works into movies, I was excited, and scared. To see the characters brought to life on the big screen was a dream come true. However, would it live up to the images in my mind? Would it disappoint like so many movie adaptations have? While not perfect, I would hope that Tolkien would be pleased with the finished product.

I have enjoyed watching the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies with my son. When he can sit still long enough to finally read the books in their entirety, I hope he is as captivated as I was with them. I cannot wait to share all the entirety of the journey with him.

I salute you J.R.R. Tolkien, may your words continue to inspire and enrich the lives of readers everywhere.

For those looking for a little more in-depth reading on this great author, I direct you to the following links.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._R._R._Tolkien

https://www.tolkiensociety.org/

On This Day in Literary History – Nov 10th

Gentle Readers, I usually stay away from controversial topics like religion and politics, but November 10th is a day I cannot ignore. The year was 1483, and in the town of Eisleben, Saxony, part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Father of Reformation was born.

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Portrait of Martin Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was the eldest child and his father had big plans for his heir. After following his father’s plan all the way up to enrolling in Law school in 1505, but quickly dropped out. He began a philosophical journey that led eventually to the clergy. He was a vehement about questioning the Pope’s role and authority, treating the Bible itself as the only true guidance from God. He also denied that Heaven is obtained by performing good deeds. Luther taught that salvation is a free gift from God, through Jesus Christ, that one only has to accept. His criticism of the Catholic Church led to his excommunication. He was also branded an outlaw of the empire.

Though I am not particular religious, some of Luther’s teachings ring true with me. His principle of “Justification by Faith Alone”, to me, is something so many people could be served to think about. I don’t feel that one can “buy” their way into any sort of heaven, paradise, nirvana, etc. The afterlife, which sometimes I question myself still, is either there or it isn’t. I don’t claim to have the answers, which I don’t think Luther thought he had all the answers either. I just am not sure that where anything divine is concerned, mere mortals can get it 100% correct. IF there is a great architect to this universe, I don’t think we would be able to comprehend the intellect that orchestrated all that is, was, or ever will be.

When I was younger I questioned a Southern Baptist preacher on the interpretation of a passage in the Bible. I was looking at the section in its entirety, where only a small verse was used as part of the sermon. I had not intended to offend the older man, I simply had questions. His denial to engage in any sort of debate and subsequent shunning sparked my jaded view of Christianity. I want to be clear that I believe very much in many of the teachings of Christianity. There are great morals and lessons to be learned. I just abhor the way the Bible has been disassembled and twisted to serve whatever “righteous” cause is trying to wield oversight over another person’s life. The hypocrisy has caused my own break with organized religion in many ways as I have grown older.

On this Day in Literary History – Nov 9th

November 9th was not a terribly full day of literary success, but there was an event that is connected to my life in a small way.

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Dylan Marlais Thomas (27 October 1914 – 9 November 1953)

Dylan Thomas was not a poet I knew much about, except that I read his poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” in high school English class. I have also seen many of the numerous references to it in popular culture since. In researching Thomas’s life, I found a tragic story of near poverty and alcoholism that led to an early death in smog filled New York.

You can read his poem here, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” This link is hosted by Poets.org, who received permission to post the work.

In looking over more of his work, it is a shame that Thomas was not able to overcome his vices as he could very well have gone on to greater heights. I wonder about the connection between alcoholism and the creative mind. Are creative types more susceptible to addiction of any kind but in particular alcohol? Greats such as Faulkner, Poe and Hemingway all battled with alcohol during their lifetimes. Something to ponder on a rainy day with a blank notebook and a few fingers of good whiskey I think.

On this Day in Literary History – Nov. 8th

Gentle readers, indulge me if you will. I am going to attempt a new series of posts to keep things lively. I am calling them, On this Day in Literary History. I am hoping to find something of consequence each day that holds some personal meaning to me and share with you a bit of history, a bit of myself, and generally just revel in the lush history that is the written word. So, to begin, here is a writer who has written a book I have read multiple times, whose birthday just happens to be today.

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I imagine it was a chilly day in Dublin Ireland the morning of November 8th, 1847. This day would see a literary giant born the third child of a well to do family. Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) would spend much of the first 7 years of his life bedridden. When he recovered, he was enrolled in private school. It is said he attributed his long years of illness beneficial to his thought development. Even excelling at athletics later in life, Bram found early success as a theatre critic with the Dublin Evening Mail. His review of a production of Hamlet garnered him a dinner with the great Henry Irving.

He continued to write short stories, and as a clerk in Dublin wrote a manual on the profession. He also was a founder of the Dublin Sketching Club.

After marrying Florence, much to the chagrin of his friend Oscar Wilde, Bram relocated to London and would embark on a 27 year journey in the employ of Henry Irving, first as the acting manager, and later business manager, at Lyceum Theatre. His journey’s took him through much of Europe and even to the United States where he met two presidents, and one of his idol’s, Walt Whitman (a personal favorite of mine as well). During his time in London’s high society, Bram would also become friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (another favorite of mine). Quite lucky of him I think to have hobnobbed with such famous personages.

His only child, Irving Noel Thornley Stoker, was born during his time in London. Father and son were both cremated upon their deaths, son being added to father some 50 years later. Their final resting place, Golders Green Crematorium, is a tourist destination where visitors are escorted to see the urn containing this literary legends ashes.

There is a festival I would love to attend held in late October to celebrate the life and work of Bram Stoker. If you are ever in Dublin around this time, I suggest you check it out.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was probably the first “horror” novel I ever got my hands on. I devoured it quickly. I have watched both the “unauthorized” adaptation (according to Bram’s wife, Florence), titled “Nosferatu”, and the authorized version starring Bela Lugosi. The story of Dracula is so permeated in popular culture that many purists have resented the recent “sparkly” vampires. I have read many vampire stories, including Twilight, but I always come back to Stoker’s excellent tale. Hopefully one day soon I will be able to share this book with my son. I don’t this would particular scare him or anything, but just that he doesn’t quite sit still long enough for longer books yet. For anyone reading this who hasn’t read Dracula. I suggest you add it to your To Be Read list asap.