Today in Literary History – December 20, 1902 – John Steinbeck is born

Nobel Prize winning novelist John Steinbeck was born on December 20, 1902. He was born in rural California and spent most of his life there. During the Depression Steinbeck and his neighbours suffered severe hardship, which became the subject of many of his books, especially The Grapes of Wrath, his masterpiece about Dust Bowl migration. …

Today in Literary History – December 18, 1870 – Saki (H.H. Munro) is born

H.H (Hector Hugh) Munro, who wrote comic novels and short stories under the pen-name Saki, was born on December 18, 1870. His father was an Inspector General for the Indian Imperial Police and Munro was born in Burma which was then part of the British Raj. Munro was educated in England and began his writing career …

Today in Literary History – December 17, 1796 – Thomas Chandler Haliburton is born

The early Canadian humorist and politician Thomas Chandler Haliburton was born in Windsor, in pre-confederation Nova Scotia, on December 17, 1796. He was the son of a judge and he himself became a judge and a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. His fame, though, rests on his fictional creation Sam Slick, a …

Today in Literary History – December 16, 1899 – Noel Coward is born

Sir Noel Coward was born on December 16, 1899. He was a playwright, composer and actor famous for his wit and elegance. In 1969, in a feature celebrating Coward's 70th birthday, Time magazine declared that "Coward's greatest single gift has not been writing or composing, not acting or directing, but projecting a sense of personal …

Today in Literary History – December 15, 1913 – Muriel Rukeyser is born

The poet Muriel Rukeyser was born on December 15, 1913, into a wealthy Jewish family in New York. She took a very different path than her parents expected. She was a socialist radical, a single mother, openly bisexual and a daring poet. She died in 1980 at the age of sixty-six. Today, Rukeyser is celebrated …

Book Review – HOME FIRE by KAMILA SHAMSIE – A Moving Story of Modern Muslim Family Based on a Greek Tragedy

Kamila Shamsie's seventh novel, Home Fire, was shortlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize and is on the shortlist for the Costa Book Award, which will be announced January 2, 2018. It is a very loose adaptation of Sophocles' ancient Greek drama Antigone. To me it is less a retelling and more of a modern …

Today in Literary History – December 13, 1784, Samuel Johnson dies

Samuel Johnson, essayist, novelist, critic and great lexicographer, died on December 13, 1784, at the age of seventy-five. Johnson had never been in good health. He had had very poor eyesight (he was said to be completely blind in one eye) and was very hard of hearing and long suffered from gout. As a child …

Thpught of the Day

"Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes to make bears dance when what we really want is to move the stars." – Gustave Flaubert

Today in Literary History – December 12, 1999 – Joseph Heller dies

The novelist Joseph Heller died of a heart attack on December 12, 1999, at the age of seventy-six. He had been diagnosed in 1981 with Guillain–Barré syndrome. He made a partial recovery, described in his memoir No Laughing Matter, but remained in poor health. Heller is best known for his wartime satire, Catch-22, his first …

Book Review – WOMEN AND POWER: A Manifesto by MARY BEARD

Mary Beard, the Cambridge Classics professor and author of 2015's massive history of Rome, SPQR, has just published a slim illustrated volume based on two lectures she gave under the auspices of The British Museum and The London Review of Books, one in 2014, the other in 2017. Her subject is the continued silencing of …

Today in Literary History – December 10, 1968 – Thomas Merton dies

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and prolific author of books on spirituality, died on December 10, 1968, at the age of fifty-three. Merton had become increasingly interested in Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and was at an ecumenical conference of Catholic and Buddhist monks in Thailand when he died. He was accidentally electrocuted by a …

Today in Literary History – December 9, 1854 – “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is published

Alfred Lord Tennyson's narrative poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was first published on December 9, 1854, less than six weeks after the Battle of Balaclava that is its subject. The battle was part of the Crimean War and was a defeat for the British Light Cavalry Brigade at the hands of the Russians. …

Book Review – Christopher Hitchens: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Melville House has been publishing a popular series of books called The Last Interview and Other Conversations which bundles the final interviews of various writers along with selected earlier interviews. The series includes books on David Foster Wallace, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Hannah Arendt, Philip K. Dick, and Kurt Vonnegut among …

Thought of the Day

"No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it. Collective thought is stupid because it's collective. Nothing passes into the realm of the collective without leaving at the border -like a toll- most of the intelligence it contained." --Fernando Pessoa