Today in Literary History – May 31, 1669 – Samuel Pepys stops writing his diary

On May 31, 1669 Samuel Pepys made his last entry in the diary that he had kept since January 1, 1660. He wrote that he was concerned about damaging his eyesight by writing by candlelight. Pepys diary is one of the most fascinating and multi-faceted written undertakings, providing a portrait of its author and his …

Today in Literary History – May 26, 1897 – Bram Stoker’s Dracula is published

Bram Stoker's Gothic horror novel, Dracula, was published in London on May 26, 1897. Stoker was the business manager for the Lyceum Theatre but he also wrote horror and supernatural books on the side. Dracula came out of his long interest in folktales about vampires in Eastern Europe. Stoker researched accounts of vampires and shapeshifters, …

Today in Literary History – May 25, 1938 – Raymond Carver is born

Raymond Carver, the masterful short story writer and poet, was born on May 25, 1938. Carver was born in Oregon and raised in the state of Washington. He married at the age of 19 (to his pregnant 16 year-old girlfriend) and moved to California. He attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop but left before graduating. He …

Book Review – SLAVE OLD MAN by PATRICK CHAMOISEAU (translated by Linda Coverdale) – A Heart Pounding Tale of a Runaway Slave and a Monstrous Hound

Patrick Chamoiseau is a French writer from the Caribbean island of Martinique, which is an "overseas region" of France. His novel Texaco won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1992. His 1997 novel, L'Esclave vieil homme et le molosse, has just been translated into English as Slave Old Man (in the UK it is called The …

Today in Literary History – May 24, 1941 – Bob Dylan is born

Bob Dylan, singer, songwriter, musician and winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for literature, was born in Duluth, Minnesota on May 24, 1941, as Robert Zimmerman. I have been listening to, enjoying, admiring, obsessing over and being confounded by Dylan for half a century. When I was nine years old, in 1966, …

Book Review – TANGERINE by CHRISTINE MANGAN – A Poised But Flawed Psychological Thriller in 1950s Tangier

On the cover of Christine Mangan's heavily hyped debut novel Joyce Carol Oates compares her to Donna Tart, Gillian Flynn and Patricia Highsmith. Unfortunately those comparisons are a little overripe. Tangerine is a very assured first novel but it has enough faults and lack of depth to keep it out of the ranks of really …

Today in Literary History – May 22, 1859 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is born

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the immortal Sherlock Holmes, was born on May 22, 1859. Doyle was raised as a Catholic and received a Jesuit education, although he later rejected Christianity and became a believer in spiritualism and supernaturalism, including communicating with the dead. Doyle originally trained as a doctor, but was not …

Today in Literary History – May 21, 1688 – Poet Alexander Pope is born

Alexander Pope, the great satiric poet, was born on May 21, 1688. Pope suffered from many physical ailments including Pott's disease, a form of tuberculosis affecting the spine. He was hunchbacked and stood at only four feet six inches. In addition he had severe respiratory difficulties and abdominal pains. Pope came from a Catholic family …

Thought of the Day

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” ― Thomas Szasz

Book Review – TIN MAN by SARAH WINMAN – A Moving Novel of Love, Life and Regret

Tin Man, British author Sarah Winman’s third novel (after A Year of Marvellous Ways and When God Was a Rabbit) is a beautifully written, often heartbreaking look at love, loss and regret. It is pervaded by doubts over risks not taken and by the loss of loved ones -- to estrangement or death. This theme expands in …

Today in Literary History – May 19, 1935 – T.E. Lawrence dies after a motorcycle accident

T. E. Lawrence, known to history as "Lawrence of Arabia" and the author of the classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, died on May 19, 1935, at the age of forty-six. He had resigned from the RAF just a few months earlier and had moved permanently into his holiday cottage in Dorset. Lawrence was an avid …

Thought of the Day

"Creation destroys as it goes, throws down one tree for the rise of another. But ideal mankind would abolish death, multiply itself million upon million, rear up city upon city, save every parasite alive, until the accumulation of mere existence is swollen to a horror." --D. H. Lawrence

Today in Literary History – May 17, 1873 – World War I novelist Henri Barbusse is born

Henri Barbusse, the French novelist who was a war hero turned pacifist, was born on May 17, 1873. His father was French and his mother was English. He was a poet and journalist well known in Paris literary circles before World War I, publishing a novel L'enfer in 1908. Barbusse was 41 and in poor …

Today in Literary History – May 16, 1912 – Studs Terkel is born

Studs Terkel, the longtime radio host and Pulitzer Prize-winning oral historian, was born on May 16, 1912. His parents ran a "men's hotel," a rooming house in Chicago during the depression. Terkel later credited his upbringing with making him interested in people's stories and comfortable with asking questions. Terkel earned a law degree from The …

Today in Literary History – May 15, 1886 – Emily Dickinson dies

Emily Dickinson, who is now considered one of the most important American poets, died on May 15, 1886, in almost complete obscurity. She was 55 years old and had spent most of her life living in her family mansion in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her neighbours considered her to be an eccentric recluse. In her later years …

Book Review – THE MARS ROOM by RACHEL KUSHNER – A Harrowing Novel of Life in Prison

Rachel Kushner's two previous novels, both of which were finalists for the National Book Award, relied heavily on research, which she used skillfully to give her novels an air of authority. Telex From Cuba (2008) centred on a group of Americans in Cuba on the brink of the Castro revolution in the 1950s and The …