Today in Literary History – November 3, 1871 – Walt Whitman turns down a marriage proposal

On November 3, 1871, the American poet Walt Whitman replied for the first time to his British admirer, Anne Gilchrist, tactfully declining her offer of marriage. Gilchrist was the widow of a British literary critic. She had completed her late husband's biography of William Blake and was friends with Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane …

Today in Literary History – November 2, 1938 – the setting for Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano

Today is All Souls Day in the Christian tradition. In Mexico it is celebrated as Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. One of my favourite novels, Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano is set in the Mexican town of Quauhnahuac on a single day, November 2, 1938, the Day of the Dead. The …

Book Review – SNARE by LILJA SIGURÐARDÓTTIR – A Chilly Icelandic Crime Caper Novel

For a remote island with a small population (340,000 people) and a miniscule crime rate, Iceland punches above its weight when it comes to crime fiction. Ragnar Jónasson, Arnaldur Indriðason, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir have all done very well with mystery novels translated into English. A new addition to their ranks is Lilja Sigurðardóttir, …

Today in Literary History – November 1, 1895 – Jude the Obscure is published

Thomas Hardy's final novel, Jude the Obscure, was first published on November 1, 1895. When Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles had been published four years earlier it was denounced by critics and clergy as immoral and irreligious. Jude the Obscure fared no better in some quarters. One reviewer called it "Jude the Obscene." Another wrote, …

Today in Literary History – October 31, 1880 – Julia Peterkin is born

Another undeservedly forgotten writer for "Today in Literary History." Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Julia Peterkin was born into a wealthy South Carolina family on October 31, 1880. She earned a Masters degree and taught school before marrying, William Peterkin, a cotton plantation owner. She lived with her husband on the 2,000 acre plantation that he …

Today in Literary History – October 30, 1938 – Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast

On October 30, 1938, one day before Halloween, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre of the Air actors broadcast an adaptation of War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells' science fiction novel about aliens invading the Earth. Welles' adaptation was played as a real time radio broadcast of increasingly frightening news bulletins interrupting a program of …

Thought of the Day

“Believe me, every heart has its secret sorrows, which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today in Literary History – October 29, 1740 – James Boswell is born

James Boswell, the unflagging diarist and biographer, was born on October 29, 1740, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Boswell kept a journal of his various travels and his friendship with the great lexicographer and man of letters Samuel Johnson. In 1791 Boswell published his Life of Samuel Johnson, based in large part on his journals and quoting …

Today in Literary History – October 28, 1958 – first performance of Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett's one-act play "Krapp's Last Tape" was performed for the first time on October 28, 1958, at The Royal Court Theatre in London. In the play a man named Krapp is sitting in his den with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He has a long tradition of recording a message on each of his birthdays …

Book Review – THE MISFIT’S MANIFESTO by LIDIA YUKNAVITCH

I have read Lidia Yuknavitch's memoir The Chronology of Water which is ostensibly about her career as a competitive swimmer but is even more about the physical and sexual abuse she suffered from her father. I haven't read her three highly acclaimed novels (which are often described as "transgressive") although they have long been on …

Today in Literary History – October 27, 1950 – Fran Lebowitz is born

Fran Lebowitz, a writer famous for not writing, was born on October 27, 1950. Lebowitz started her writing career as a columnist in Andy Warhol's Interview magazine in the late 1970s. I used to buy Interview sometimes when I was in high school and always read her column "I Cover the Waterfront" even though I …

Today in Literary History – October 26, 1945 – birth of Pat Conroy

The writer Pat Conroy (four of whose novels were turned into successful Hollywood movies) was born on October 26, 1945, in Atlanta, Georgia. His father, Colonel Donald Conroy, was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and the family moved from base to base frequently in Conroy's youth. He attended 11 schools in 12 years. His father …

Today in Literary History – October 25, 1984 – Richard Brautigan’s body discovered

On October 25, 1984, the badly decomposed body of the novelist, poet and short story writer Richard Brautigan was found in the living room of his house in Bolinas, California. By then Brautigan had become almost completely reclusive and police speculated that he had been dead for at least a month. The cause of death …

Today in Literary History – October 24, 1788 -Sarah Josepha Hale is born

Sarah Joseph Hale, the magazine editor, novelist and poet was born on October 24, 1788. A truly remarkable woman, she is not well remembered today (except as the author of the children's rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb") but she was an extraordinarily influential trendsetter in her day, described as the "Oprah and Martha Stewart …

Book Review – She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

Jordan Harper's heart-pounding debut novel, She Rides Shotgun, opens with a chilling introduction to "Crazy Craig" Hollington, a lifer in solitary confinement in California's Supermax Pelican State Prison, where he is held in a specially built cell “where the lights were on for twenty-four hours a day (and) he couldn’t own anything firmer than a …