Today in Literary History – October 19, 1745 – Jonathan Swift dies

Jonathan Swift, the great Irish clergyman and satirist died on October 19, 1745, just short of his 78th birthday. He is best remembered today for his fantastical adventure Gulliver's Travels, a book I have loved for years, and for his black satire A Modest Proposal, where he matter-of-factly proposed that poverty in Ireland could be …

Today in Literary History – October 18, 1865 – Logan Pearsall Smith is born

Logan Pearsall Smith, the aphorist and memoirist, was born on October 18, 1865. I have been a fan of his odd, pithy, perfectly shaped little prose pieces for years, but he seems mostly to be forgotten today. He was enchanted by words, both as a reader and a writer. “Yes there is a meaning; at …

Book Review – HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by CARMEN MARIA MACHADO – Luminous and Weird Short Stories

Carmen Maria Machado's debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is often terrifying and always terrifyingly good. Machado blends elements of horror, magical realism, fairy tales, speculative fiction, queer fiction and urban myths into a subtly unnerving mix. The book has just been nominated for The National Book Award in the United States. …

Today in Literary History – October 17, 1979 – S.J. Perelman dies

One of my favourite writers, S.J. Perelman, died on October 17, 1979, at the age of 75. He wrote short humorous sketches -mostly for The New Yorker - as well as plays, movies and travel books. He had an ornate, convoluted style that mixed high diction with slang and Yiddish phrases. Most of his pieces …

Today in Literary History – October 16, 1847 – Jayne Eyre is published

Charlotte Bronte's first and finest book was published on October 16, 1847 as Jayne Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell in three volumes. Bronte felt the need to hide behind a male pseudonym. Jayne Eyre sold slowly at the start and some critics considered the novel to be "immoral." Perhaps, the denunciations helped boost …

Today in Literary History – October 15, 70 BCE – the birth of Virgil

The Roman poet Virgil was born on October 15th, 70 BCE. He is considered to be the "Poet of Rome" for his most famous work, the epic poem the Aeneid, which tells the mythical story of Rome's founding by the family of the Trojan prince Aeneas. Virgil was traditionally believed to have come from a …

Today in Literary History – October 14, 1926 – Winnie-the-Pooh is published

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne, with illustrations by E.H. Shepard, was first published on October 14, 1926. Pooh had already appeared in a magazine story by Milne called "The Wrong Sort of Bees" in 1925 but this was the first real fleshing out of Pooh's world in the Hundred Acre Wood. Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, …

Book Review – We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been writing about race for a long time. His big breakthrough was his slender but solid Between the World and Me. It is a long essay addressed to his then 15-year-old son on the subject of blackness and was much lauded, winning the National Book Award in 2015. His new book, We …

Today in Literary History – October 13, 1958 – first appearance of Paddington Bear

The beloved children's literature character Paddington Bear made his first appearance in Michael Bond's A Bear Called Paddington on October 13, 1958. Bond (who died earlier this year at the age of 91) has said that he saw a single stuffed toy bear left on a store shelf on Christmas Eve, 1956. He bought the …

Book Review – RECKLESS DAUGHTER: A PORTRAIT OF JONI MITCHELL by DAVID YAFFE

“I’m frightened by the devil,” sings Joni Mitchell in “A Case of You” (a song she wrote about her then lover Leonard Cohen). “And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid.” Those lines kept coming back to me while reading David Yaffe's engrossing and comprehensive new biography Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell. …

Today in Literary History – October 12, 1908 – Ann Petry is born

Ann Petry, the first black American woman novelist to sell over a million copies of a book was born on October 11, 1908 (or 1911, accounts vary). She died in 1998. Petry was born in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, into a middle-class black family. She later recounted the many instances of racism she faced growing up …

Today in Literary History – October 11, 1926 – the birth of Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist and author of more than 100 books on spiritual teachings was born on October 11, 1926. He now lives in a meditation centre in southern France. Hahn's books, 40 of which he wrote in English, are immensely popular across many spectrums of the spiritual and mindfulness …

Today in Literary History – October 10, 1957 – Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged published

I would hesitate to call it literature but Ayn Rand's 1168 page opus Atlas Shrugged, which was published on October 10, 1957, has certainly had an impact as out-sized as its physical bulk. It has influenced generations of conservatives, libertarians, "Objectivists" and various cranks. It debuted at #13 on the New York Times bestseller list …

Today in Literary History – Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee”

Edgar Allan Poe's final poem "Annabel Lee" was first published on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe's death at the age of forty. It was published in The New York Daily Tribune as part of an obituary by Poe's literary executor Rufus Griswold. Poe's death still remains a mystery, but it seems most likely …