Wednesday, October 31, 2012

John Evelyn, diarist, bibliophile, and more

John Evelyn
It is the birthday of English writer John Evelyn (1620), an important 17-century diarist, one of the England's first conservationists, a prolific author, a bibliophile extraordinaire, and the inspiration for a modern-day retail skin care chain.

Evelyn's 1861 pamphlet, Fumiguium, or, The Inconvenience of the Aer and Smoak of London, was one of the earliest works on air pollution. In it, Evelyn suggested some solutions to improve the air in London, among them, burning aromatic woods and moving polluting industries like brewing and lime burning outside of the city. His 1664 paper, Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest Trees, urged English landowners to plant trees to support the king's ship building operations.The nation's glass factories and iron furnaces were rapidly depleting wood and no effort was being made to replace it. No doubt, the trees helped clear the air as well.

Evelyn also kept diaries, which provide scholars with a detailed look at 17th-century life in England. Along with the diaries of Samuel Pepys, they are considered vast treasures of insight into the politics, arts, and culture of the era. Evelyn saw such events as the deaths of Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell in 1658 as well as the last epidemic of bubonic plague in London in 1665 and Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Diary of John Evelyn was first published in 1818, more than a century after his death. It was titled Memoirs Illustrative of the Life and Writings of John Evelyn. Revised editions appeared in 1827, 1879, and 1906. A modern scholarly edition in six volumes appeared in 1955, a project that took more than two decades to complete.

Evelyn also wrote books on architecture, horticulture, numismatics, politics, theology, and vegetarianism. Among them was a book on salads in which he introduced to Europe the first salad dressing made with olive oil. He was also an avid book collector who amassed some 3,859 books and 822 pamphlets in his lifetime. Christie's, the international auction house, sold much of his library in 1977 and 1978, many pieces to private collectors. The British Library has the manuscript to his Diary as well as other personal papers. The Victoria and Albert Museum has Evelyn's cabinet where he kept his diaries.

Evelyn traveled extensively in Europe and built magnificent gardens at his London estate, Sayes Court. In its time, it was one of the most famous and revolutionary gardens in Europe. His interest in gardening and the natural environment inspired the name for the skin care products retailer Crabtree & Evelyn. The crabtree part of the name comes from the native British tree, the ancestor of cultivated apple trees.  Massachusetts entrepreneur Cyrus Harvey founded the enterprise in 1972 as a small, family-run business specializing in fine soaps from around the world. It has grown into an international company known for its original fragrances, luxurious toiletries, and gourmet foods.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy birthday, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
It is the birthday of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821), whose book Crime and Punishment (1866), made him one of the most celebrated writers in Russia. Among his best known works are The Idiot (1869), Demons (1872), and The Brothers Karamazov (1880), all written in the last years of his life. 

He wrote his first novel, Poor Folk (1846), out of financial desperation because of his gambling addiction. The book tells the story of a clerk and his relationship with an upper class woman through letters between them. Critics gave it high marks, some finding touches of parody and satire.

Dostoyevsky's classic, Crime and Punishment, examines the psychology of a poor ex-student who plots to kill a dishonest pawnbroker and take her money. He reasons he can do good deeds with her cash to offset the crime.

In The Idiot, a naive young Russian prince is torn between a materialistic beautiful woman and a virtuous and innocent pretty young girl. The young man's trusting nature brings disaster.

Dostoyevsky leaves no part of the political spectrum unscathed in Demons, a critical look at life in Russia in the late 19th century.

The author's last book, The Brothers Karamazov, is considered his masterpiece. At more than 800 pages, it is also his longest. It is the story of a father and his relationships with his three adult sons by two different wives. It explores morality, free will, and God, and is told not only by a narrator who practically becomes a character in the story but also other characters, who narrate their own sections.

Dostoyevsky's work influenced such writers as Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Any Rand and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maxim Gorky, Hermann Hesse, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Virginia Woolf praised him. Sigmund Freud didn't like most of Dostoyevsky's work but thought The Brothers Karamazov was great literature.

Dostoyevsky wrote 11 novels, three novellas, and 17 short stories. He died in 1881, less than four months after The Brothers Karamazov was published.

Monday, October 29, 2012

He wrote The Madwoman of Chaillot

Jean Giraudoux
It is the birthday of post-World War i French novelist and playwright Jean Giraudoux (1882), who is credited with creating an impressionistic form of drama that emphasizes dialogue and style rather than realism.  Among his best known works are the plays Siegfried (1928), Intermezzo (1933), The Trojan War Will Not Take Place (1935), Ondine (1939), and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1945). His work is known in the English-speaking countries mainly because of the translations by English playwright Christopher Fry.

Giraudoux adapted Siegfried from his novel Siegfried et le Limousin (1922), his first novel. The play concerns Germany's new national hero, a World War I survivor who doesn't remember his past. It turns out he is really a French writer and soldier. The play and book are considered satirical commentary of the status of Germany and France after World War I.

Intermezzo is an interlude of sorts in which reality leaves a small village as a benign and timid ghost takes power. A young school teacher in the village is the only one who can see the ghost. In the ghost's fantasy world, abused children leave their parents, poor people win the lottery and death comes to greedy and cantankerous old people.

In The Trojan War Will Not Take Place,  Giraudoux draws on Greek mythology to make a point about the jingoism of European leaders. In the play, Hector, the fiercest fighter of Troy, makes an attempt to forestall the war with Sparta.

Ondine was inspired by a German story from 1811  and tells the heartwarming, comic, and ultimately tragic story of a knight who falls  in love with a water sprite while he is on quest.

The Madwoman of Chaillot is a political satire about an eccentric Parisian noblewoman who naively views the world as happy and beautiful and a group of corrupt businessmen who frequent the Cafe de l'Alma. The men plan to excavate Paris to find the oil beneath its streets. They represent wealth and power and greed. One businessman exclaims, "what would you rather have in your backyard: an almond tree or an oil well?" The noble madwoman eventually realizes the evil of the developers.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy birthday, Dylan Thomas

It is the birthday of Welsh writer Dylan Thomas (1914), whose 1954 radio drama Under Milk Wood was inspired early one morning when he walked about the small town where he was living and wondered about its inhabitants. that led him to write a short story, Quite Early One Morning, which was recorded for BBC Wales in 1944. Ten years later he expanded the idea and his Under Milk Wood was broadcast. Famed Welsh actor Richard Burton reads from Under Milk Wood the character of Rev. Eli Jenkins. Enjoy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rare Book Moment: Guides to old Florida

Here's the latest edition of Rare Book Moment. Tourists have been visiting the Sunshine State for a long time and almost since the beginning there have been guide books. Mike discusses a few of them.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Happy birthday, Georges Bizet

It is the birthday of French composer Georges Bizet (1838), whose greatest claim to fame was his opera, Carmen, the last work that he composed. He died at age 36. Here is Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci singing the title role at The Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy birthday, Moss Hart

Moss Hart
It is the birthday of playwright Moss Hart (1904), who is best remembered for teaming with George S. Kaufman for a string of hit Broadway plays, including You Can't Take It With You (1936), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1937. It tells the story of a warm, wacky family's impending marriage to an young man from a stiff, cold and distant wealthy family. It is set during the Depression.

The two also wrote The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939), which is about a caustic man who injures himself on a ice and must remain in a wealthy Midwestern family's home for six weeks, much to their consternation. It is based on the playwrights' friend, Alexander Woollcott, who was a commentator for The New Yorker magazine.

Hart's first Broadway hit was Once in a Lifetime (1930), which he wrote with Kaufman. It deals with the arrival of talking pictures in the movie industry, and is packed with a cast of zany characters. How he came to work with Kaufman is a fascinating tale in theater lore.

In 1929, 25-year-old Hart was an aspiring playwright with a stack of scripts and no productions. He attracted the attention of high-powered theater producer Sam Harris, who offered to have Hart's play about the talkies adapted as a musical. Hart declined but Harris told him he'd produce his play if he'd work with established playwright Kaufman, then 40, to polish it. They wrote and rewrote until it was right. The play was a success and one of Broadway's legendary writing teams was born.

The two only worked together for 10 years. Their other plays together were Merrily We Roll Along (1934), I'd Rather Be Right (1937), The Fabulous Invalid (1938), The American Way (1939), and George Washington Slept Here (1940).

Each went on to write successful plays separately and with other collaborators. and to direct other hits. They remained good friends, and Hart's 1959 autobiography  was widely considered a tribute to his writing partner. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

She wrote Our Hearts Were Young and Gay

Emily Kimbrough
It is the birthday of writer Emily Kimbrough (1899), who for many years was managing editor at Ladies' Home Journal but is best remembered for her witty book Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1942) written with her college classmate, actress and screenwriter Cornelia Otis Skinner. It was on The New York Times bestseller list for five weeks, and has sold more than two million copies.

The book is the hilarious account of a dream trip to London and Paris the two women took in the 1920s when they were fresh out of Bryn Mawr College. Their misadventures included their ship running aground, an error-riddled shipboard tennis game, a case of the measles hidden to avoid quarantine, being stranded at the top of Notre Dame Cathedral at midnight, and unwittingly seeking accommodations in a brothel.

When Hollywood wanted to adapt the book into a film, the two friends went to California to act as consultants. That trip provided fodder for Kimbrough's We Followed Our Hearts to Hollywood (1943). Reviews of the era suggest that the film remained pretty true to the book, though some episodes had to be left out for length.

Before Kimbrough became managing editor at Ladies' Home Journal, she served as fashion editor of the magazine and as editor of the periodical Fashions of the Hour. She wrote articles for The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, House & Garden, Country Life, Readers' Digest, Travel, and Saturday Review of Literature, among others.

Kimbrough also wrote How Dear to My Heart (1944), It Gives Me Great Pleasure (1948), The Innocents from Indiana (1950), Through Charley's Door (1952), Forty Plus and Fancy Free (1954), So Near and Yet So Far (1955), Water, Water Everywhere (1956), And A Right Good Crew (1958), Pleasure by the Busload (1961), Forever Old, Forever New (1964) and Floating Island (1968).

Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy birthday, Franz Liszt

It is the birthday of Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt (1811), who is considered to be one of the greatest pianists of all time and perhaps the most prominent composer of the New German School. Here is his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, one of his best known pieces.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dannay, cousin created Ellery Queen

Frederic Dannay
It is the birthday of writer Daniel Nathan (1905), half of the writing team that created the fictional amateur detective Ellery Queen, one of the most well known crime fiction heroes in the 1930s and 1940s. Nathan used an alias, Frederic Dannay, and his cousin Manford Emanuel Lepofsky used Manfred Bennington Lee. So here were two writers each using pseudonyms and collaborating on a project in which they not only created a fictional character but also used that character's name as a pseudonym as well.

The first Ellery Queen novel, The Roman Hat Mystery, was published in 1929. The cousins had entered a writing contest the year before and their entry had won but the magazine closed before the story was published. That didn't stop Dannay and Lee, though. They took their work to other publishers. The cousins based their character on a prominent detective of the era, Philo Vance, who was created by S.S. Van Dine (also a pseudonym).

Like Vance, Ellery Queen is something of a snob. He is Harvard-educated and remained aloof from the people in the cases he investigated. His deceased father was a street-tough New York Irishman but his mother was from a family of New York aristocrats. In later novels, though, Queen is depicted as somewhat more empathetic.

Queen was the hero and the "author" of more than 30 novels and several short story collections. A distinguishing feature of the novels was the Challenge to the Reader page that appeared near the end of the novel. It stated that the reader had seen all the same clues that Ellery Queen had seen and that there was only one correct conclusion. Could the reader solve the mystery?

Queen also was the "editor" of his own mystery magazine, and featured on radio, television, in the movies, in comic books and graphic novels, and in board games and jigsaw puzzles. The last Ellery Queen novel, A Fne and Private Place, was published in 1971.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fannie Hurst befriended Zora Hurston

Fannie Hurst
It is the birthday of novelist Fannie Hurst (1889), who is best remembered for Imitation of Life (1933), her book on race relations in the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and for sponsoring writer Zora Neale Hurston's first year at Barnard College and hiring Hurston as her executive secretary. By all accounts, Hurston was a terrible secretary but the two remained friends for years.

Hurst's involvement during the Harlem Renaissance and her support of African Americans seem to eclipse her literary career among scholars today, though in her heyday she was popular and widely read. By 1925, she became one of the highest paid writers in America. Imitation of Life was adapted for a 1934 film starring Claudette Colbert, and it was remade in 1959 starring Lana Turner.

She is widely considered to have been a mediocre writer, given to clunky metaphors like "The days were transmission belts under her feet, moving her along." In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald criticized Hurst as being among several writers "not producing among 'em one story or novel that will last 20 years." She was the butt of a joke in a 1970 Mel Brooks comedy The Twelve Chairs: "Hope for the best, expect the worst. You could be Tolstoy or Fannie Hurst."

Hurst was at her best with short stories. Once called the female O. Henry, she was lauded for stories like "Hattie Turner versus Hattie Turner," a story published in Cosmopolitan in 1935 that has an abused wife debating with herself over whether or not she has killed her no-good husband. In her time, she was called Queen of the Sob Sisters and admired for her accessible and sympathetic prose. Today critics say her grammar and style were abysmal.

Despite the criticism, Hurst was nothing if not persistent. Her career spanned half a century, and she produced 17 novels, nine short story collections, an autobiography, and three plays. She wrote many magazine articles, was in demand for speaking engagements and, for a year, hosted a television talk show in New York.

Among Hurst's books are Stardust: The Story of an American Girl (1921), Lummox (1923), Mannequin (1926), A President is Born (1928), Five and Ten (1929), Back Street (1931), Hallelujah (1944), Anywoman (1950), The Man with One Head (1951), God Must Be Sad (1961) and Fool, Be Still (1964). Her autobiography, Anatomy of Me: A Wonderer in Search of Herself was published in 1958. Nearly 30 films were produced from her works.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

H.L. Davis wrote of the great Northwest

H.L. Davis
It is the birthday of writer H.L. Davis (1894), who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for his epic novel Honey in the Horn (1935), a coming of age tale about an orphaned youth in Oregon's homesteading days.

Davis is the only Oregon-born writer to receive a Pulitzer Prize. He has been called the Northwest's Mark Twain. Davis' father was a teacher and moved around the state frequently. After he graduated from high school, Davis worked at several jobs, including as a typesetter, cowboy, surveyor, and at a local bank.

Davis' first poems were published when he was 24 years old. A group of 11 was published in Poetry magazine under the title Primapara. The work attracted the praise of Carl Sandburg and won the young writer a $200 prize. Davis wrote more for the magazine and also for H.L. Mencken's The American Mercury. Mencken's praise may have encouraged him to write prose as well.

His first prose appeared in The American Mercury in 1929. By then, Davis had married and moved to Seattle. It was probably a good thing since one of his pieces was a less than complimentary article on his wife's hometown in Oregon, which caused a local stir. Davis captured the magic of the Northwest landscape and wrote honestly of the region's frontier days, eschewing the heroic western stereotypes. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1932, moved to Mexico and completed the novel Honey in the Horn.

The book won the $7,500 Harper Prize for best novel in 1935 and the Pulitzer the next year. With his winnings, Davis and his wife bought a small ranch near Napa, California, where Davis wrote magazine articles and more novels, though none of them ever achieved the success of his first one.

Among his books are Harp of a Thousand Strings (1941), Proud Riders and Other Poems (1942), Beulah Land (1949), Winds of Morning (1952), Team Bells Woke Me and Other Stories (1953), The Distant Music (1957), Kettle of Fire (1957), and The Selected Poems of H.L. Davis (1978).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jupiter Hammon, African-American poet

It is the birthday of poet Jupiter Hammon (1711), who was the first African-American writer to be published in America. His broadside, An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries (1760) was published in Hartford, Connecticut. It reflects his deeply held religious beliefs.

Hammon was a slave all his life, and apparently was content though he longed for emancipation for younger blacks in America. He lived with the Henry Lloyd family in the manor house at Lloyd Neck, Long island, New York, and was educated in the household with the Lloyd children.

Evidently his education went well beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Hammon was respected for his prowess as a negotiator and for his honesty. He was frequently dispatched to New York City to negotiate deals in the family's mercantile business. When the patriarch died in 1763, Hammon went to live with the son, Joseph Lloyd, a patriot during the Revolutionary War.

Hammon also became a spiritual leader in the African American community. At the age of 76, he delivered his An Address to the Negroes of the State of New York (1786), in which he said, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves." Though he said he had no wish to be free, he wished for younger blacks to be free. Hammon advocated gradual emancipation to end slavery. Abolitionist groups reprinted his speech and widely distributed it.

Hammon also wrote An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatly (1778), An Essay on the Ten Virgins (1779), A Winter Piece (1782), and An Evenings Improvement (circa 1806). Scholars believe he also wrote some verses about the visit of Prince William Henry to the Lloyd Manor House in 1782 but they have never been found.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Webster created dictionary, speller, Bible

Noah Webster
It is the birthday of lexicographer Noah Webster (1758), who is best known for compiling the first American dictionary and the blue-back speller textbook, both of which advanced the American spelling of words in the English language. Webster also created his own translation of the Bible in 1833.

Webster wrote the speller (1783) as part of a three-volume textbook called A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which also included a grammar book (1784) and a reader (1785). He was motivated by a belief that the fledgling American nation should have a language and culture that was uniquely American, and to that end he changed the common English spelling of words and included some uniquely American words.

The speller had 385 editions during Webster's lifetime. It was originally titled The First Part of the Grammatical Institute of the English Language. but was changed to The American Spelling Book (1786) and The Elementary Spelling Book (1829). Popularly it was called the "blue-backed speller" because of its blue cover. It was the textbook standard for a century before it was pushed out by The McGuffey Eclectic Readers in the 1840s.

Webster was in his late 40s when he published his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806). He spent the next 18 years revising and expanding it, learning 26 languages (including Arabic and Sanskrit) to correctly identify the origins of words, and, of course, changing spelling to simplify. An American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. It contained 70,000 words, 12,000 of which had never appeared in a dictionary before. Many scholars thought that it exceed Samuel Johnson's 1755 English dictionary in both scope and authority.

Webster, the spelling reformer, managed to get many of his alternative spellings into general usage but not all of them. Colour became color, gaol became jail, centre became center, publick became public but Americans rejected soop for soup, sley for sleigh, tung for tongue, and wimmen for women.

Webster's early educational texts largely secularized instruction, a distinct departure from the highly religious bent of such material before his. However, late in life, Webster became a Calvinist and was convinced of the need to Christianize America. His 1828 dictionary contained more Biblical definitions than had ever been included in a reference book. In 1833, Webster published his own edition of the Bible. It was based on the King James Version but he corrected grammar, replaced archaic words and edited it for content.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Happy birthday, Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
It is the birthday of historian and author Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1917), who won Pulitzer Prizes for his books The Age of Jackson (1945) and A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965). The Kennedy book also won the National Book Award in 1966.

Schlesinger served in the Kennedy White House as special assistant to the President. He took notes during that time for Kennedy to use in writing his own history of his time in office but after the assassination they became material for Schlesinger's book.

Schlesinger was an early supporter of Kennedy, backing the Massachusetts senator to be Adlai Stevenson's running mate in the 1956 election but Kennedy lost out to Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Schlesinger had known Kennedy since they attended Harvard University together. He socialized with Jack and Jacqueline in the 1950s.

The New York Times said Schlesinger "saw life as a walk through history. He wrote that he could not stroll down Fifth Avenue without wondering how the street and the people on it would have looked a hundred years ago."

He was a fierce liberal partisan who denounced Richard Nixon and led anti-Communist liberals in the McCarthy era. During the 1960 campaign he published a book Kennedy or Nixon: Does it Make Any Difference? It was an unabashedly political piece in which he praised Kennedy's abilities and criticized Nixon for having "no ideas, only methods … He cares about winning."

Schlesinger vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq, calling it "a ghastly mess" and challenging the basis of President George W. Bush's foreign policy in his last book, War and the American Presidency (2004). Schlesinger died in 2007 at the age of 89.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Happy birthday, Conrad Richter

Conrad Richter
It is the birthday of writer Conrad Richter (1890) whose book The Town (1950) won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1951. The book was part of his The Awakening Land trilogy, a series that included The Sea of Grass (1936) and The Light in the Forest (1953). The series tells the stories of pioneers settling in the Ohio Valley and Pennsylvania after the American Revolution. All were adapted for film.

Richter was born in a small Pennsylvania town and grew up in the region. He became editor of a weekly newspaper there when he was 19 years old. Later he worked as the private secretary for a wealthy manufacturing family in Cleveland. And still later, he founded a magazine for youths. Richter wrote stories for pulp magazines in the1930s.

Tales of pioneer descendants and a chance meeting inspired him to write the novels about his homeland. In 1928, he moved to New Mexico because of his wife's health. A neighbor who was originally from Ohio lent him a couple of thick books that contained first-hand accounts of Ohio pioneers. Richter was fascinated and became absorbed in them. Eventually, he traded with the neighbor two of his own books for the history books.

His main character, Sayward Luckett Wheeler, is considered one of the best depictions of pioneer women in literature. His portraits of frontier America are regarded as among the most accurate ever published.

Richter had a special connection with the people in his novels. "My father, grandfather, uncle, and great uncles were preachers," he once wrote, "Their fathers, however, had been tradesmen, soldiers, country squires, blacksmiths, and farmers, and I think that in my passion for early American life and people I am a throwback to these."

Friday, October 12, 2012

Happy birthday, Luciano Pavarotti

It is the birthday of Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935), one of the most beloved opera stars of all time. Here is his performance of Ave Maria during the Three Tenors concert in 1994. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Happy birthday, Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
It is the birthday of writer Elmore Leonard (1925), whose career has spanned more than half a century. One of the most popular and prolific modern day writers, he is best known today for his thrillers and crime fiction, among them bestsellers such as Mr. Majestyk (1974), Get Shorty (1990), Rum Punch (1992), and Out of Sight (1996). However, he began his career in the 1950s writing westerns.

Leonard is acclaimed for his ear for dialogue and his gritty realism. Leonard counts Ernest Hemingway among his influences, though he said Hemingway didn't have a sense of humor. British novelist Martin Amis once told Leonard, "Your prose makes Raymond Chandler look clumsy."

Leonard's 10 rules for good writing are as succinct as his prose: 1) Never open a book with weather. 2) Avoid prologues. 3) Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. 4) Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" … he admonished gravely. 5) Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 6) Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." 7) Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 9) Don't go into great detail describing places or things. 10.) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

His most important rule, Leonard says, sums up the 10. "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

Leonard sold his first short story, Trail of the Apache, to Argosy magazine in 1951. It is set in Arizona in the 1880s, the days of U.S. Cavalry vs. the Apaches.  It was published as the title piece in a collection of short stories in 2007. The title piece in another collection of short stories, Three-Ten to Yuma, was adapted as a film in 1957 and remade in 2007. Leonard's first novel was The Bounty Hunters (1953), also set in Arizona Territory.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happy birthday, Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter -- Photo: BBC
It is the birthday of English playwright Harold Pinter (1930), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2008 for his work, including The Birthday Party (1957), The Homecoming (1964), and Betrayal (1978). Pinter also wrote screenplays for The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Trial (1983), and Sleuth (2007).

He wrote 29 plays and 21 screenplays, and directed  27 theater productions, and received more than 50 awards throughout his professional career, including the French Legion d'Honneur and Moliere D'Honneur, The Laurence Olivier Award, the Shakespeare Prize, the European Prize for Literature, and a Tony Award for The Homecoming in 1967.

He wrote his first play in three days at the request of an actor friend while he was a student at the University of Bristol. His second play, The Birthday Party, remains one of best known works even though it bombed on its opening. An influential drama critic wrote glowingly of it and of Pinter's talents in The Sunday Times the weekend after it had closed and is credited by scholars with saving Pinter's young career.

The play concerns a young piano player who is a lodger at a boarding house in a seaside town. Two men come to stay at the house and turn a planned birthday party for the piano player into a nightmare. The truth about any of the characters is quite ambiguous, a hallmark of Pinter's plays. Pinter based some of the characters in the play on people he met when he was on tour with a theatrical production.

Pinter was an outspoken opponent of the 1991 Gulf War, The 1999 NATO bombing during the Kosovo War, the 2001 war in Afghanistan, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was fined as a conscientious objector for refusing National Service during the Cold War. He helped campaign for nuclear disarmament and against apartheid in South Africa. However, he has said he would  have fought against Nazi Germany had he been old enough during World War II.

Pinter died from liver cancer in 2008.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jill Ker Conway, women's historian

Jill Ker Conway
It is the birthday of historian and author Jill Ker Conway (1934), who lived with her family on a farm in the Australian outback and eventually became the first woman president of Smith College in Massachusetts. Her memoir, The Road from Coorain (1989), tells her story of tending sheep in the wilds of New South Wales in the 1940s.

Her father drowned while trying to improve the family's water supply and her mother struggled for three years more but eventually moved the family to Sydney where Jill eventually attended a private girls school and the University of Sydney.

After graduation, she traveled with her mother in Europe . She eventually moved to the United States and entered the history program at Harvard University, where she assisted John Conway, a Canadian professor whom she married. John Conway died in 1995.

Jill Ker Conway now serves as a visiting professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has written 21 books, among them The Female Experience in 18th and 19th Century America: A Guide to the History of American Women (1982); The First Generation of American Women Graduates (1987), her doctoral thesis in American History at Harvard; True North (1994), a memoir of her life from Harvard to Smith College; and Written By Herself (1995), an anthology of the changing status of women throughout history.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Rare Book Moment: Collecting ephemera

No. 10: Mike discusses collecting ephemera. Michael Slicker's Rare Book Moment is recorded at Lighthouse Books, ABAA in St. Petersburg, Florida. Music by Jack Payne: Back to Those Happy Days

Lighthouse Books, ABAA specializes in antiquarian books, serving St. Petersburg, Tampa, the Tampa Bay area and all of Florida. In addition to rare books, Lighthouse Books, ABAA also offers expert antiquarian book appraisals. Visit us at

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Happy birthday, Thor Heyerdahl

It is the birthday of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (1914), who sailed his raft Kon-Tiki 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to the Polynesian islands to prove his theory that pre-Columbian people from South America could have settled the islands. Heyerdahl wrote a book about the 1947 adventure, and later an Academy Award-winning documentary film was made. The original raft is on display in Oslo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happy birthday, Stetson Kennedy

It is the birthday of author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who died last year at the age of 94. "He was Florida's Homer," wrote Jeff Klinkenberg of the then-St. Petersburg Times, "a talking history book, a troublemaker, a scamp, a radical, and a shameless promoter of everything Stetson." Here is our playlist of YouTube videos devoted to Stetson Kennedy. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Edward Stratemeyer created The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins

Edward Stratemeyer
It is the birthday of  writer and publisher Edward Stratemeyer (1862), who created numerous juvenile fiction series, including The Rover Boys (1899), The Bobbsey Twins (1904), Tom Swift (1910), The Hardy Boys (1927), and Nancy Drew (1930).

For 78 years, Stratemeyer's organization, Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate, produced these enormously popular adventure books. In 1978, Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate was sold to Simon and Schuster, which continues to publish several of the series.

Inspired by the books of Horatio Alger, Jr. that he had read through childhood, young Edward started writing his own stories as a youngster. He even gained access to a small printing press and printed off a few copies of his stories following the format of the popular children's story papers of the era.

Even as he worked in the family tobacco shop after high school, Edward wrote out stories on store wrapping paper. His father didn't think much of the endeavor and suggested his time could be spent more profitably. Edward submitted his story to Golden Days, a weekly Philadelphia story paper, and when he showed his father a check for $75 he had received for it, his father exclaimed, "Well, you'd better write a lot more of them."

Edward Stratemeyer did but he quickly learned that in the publishing business the owner of the copyright was the one who made the real money. He began contracting with publishers for numerous titles in a series then hiring writers to write books under pseudonyms based on his outlines. He, of course, retained the copyrights.

In the process, he established one of the first "book packaging" businesses, a practice that still exists today. In his heyday, Stratemeyer was dreaming up the ideas for story series, contracting with writers and illustrators to produce them and delivering them complete to publishers. Then he would develop the marketing to promote them.

Stratemeyer died in 1930 and his two daughters, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier, continued to run the business. In 1942, Edna moved with her family to St. Petersburg but continued a role as a silent partner in the company, involved in major decisions. Edna made a substantial donation to the Pinellas Child Guidance Clinic (now Suncoast Center) and the clinic building at 4032 Central Avenue was dedicated as the Edward Stratemeyer Memorial, in memory of her father.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy birthday, Vladimir Horowitz

It is the birthday of pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1903), who is regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Horowitz began performing in 1925. His career spanned 50 years. His repertorie included works of the greatest composers, among them Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Schumann, and Tchaikovsky. Here is Chopin's Black Key Étude, so called because the right hand plays exclusively on the black keys.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When Stevens hit Hemingway in Key West

Wallace Stevens
It is the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens (1879), who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955 for his Collected Poems. For many years, Stevens was a frequent visitor to Key West, beginning in 1922. In 1936, he encountered Ernest Hemingway there, and there hangs a tale.

Hemingway told the story in a letter to a friend. His sister, Ursula, was at a cocktail party, where she was forced the endure an apparently intoxicated Stevens' insults to her brother. Ursula came home crying. It wasn't the first time offensive remarks from Stevens had reached Hemingway, and this time, he decided to confront the poet.

Hemingway charged out into the rainy evening and found Stevens just leaving the party. Hemingway wrote, later, that he was told Stevens had just said, "By God I wish I had that Hemingway here now; I'd knock him out with a single punch."

The 50-something hard-drinking poet and the 30-something hard-drinking novelist took the confrontation out onto Waddell Avenue. Stevens swung first and missed. Hemingway (still wearing his glasses) then knocked Stevens down three times, into a puddle in the middle of the muddy street.

Bystanders wanted Hemingway to remove his glasses, and when he did, Stevens popped him on the jaw. The punch didn't hurt Hem's jaw at all, but Stevens broke his hand in two places. Hem pummeled him again, and Stevens spent five days in his room, attended by a doctor and nurse.

A week or so later, Stevens went over to Hemingway's house and the two made up. Still, in his letter, Hemingway wrote, "But on mature reflection I don't know anybody needed to be hit worse than Mr. S." Hemingway also reported that he hadn't realized, in the heat of the moment, how big a man Stevens was. He wrote that he was sure he wouldn't have felt up to hitting Stevens if he had gotten a good look at him.

When he returned home to Hartford, Connecticut, several weeks later, Stevens still had a puffy eye and a broken hand. He is said to have told his own versions of the story of the fist fight with Ernest Hemingway for the rest of his life.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Faith Baldwin wrote romance novels

Faith Baldwin
It is the birthday of Faith Baldwin (1893), who was among the highest paid women writers in the country at the height of her popularity in the 1930s. Her romance novels and fiction were never literary masterpieces but they were popular among working women who enjoyed reading about her wealthy, glamorous characters.

She began writing serials for women's magazines, and published her first novel, Mavis of Green Hill, in 1920. In Baldwin's books, a reader will not find sex, poverty, depravity or evil. It doesn't matter what obstacles they face, the hero and the heroine always find happiness together at the end. Goodness and honor always triumph. It was a highly simplified version of life among the rich that especially appealed to the working girl and the housewife.

In 1936, Baldwin published three books that had earlier been serialized in magazines, along with five new magazine serials. The same year four of her novels were adapted for film. She made more than $315,000 that year.

For seven years, Baldwin also wrote a column called "The Open Door" for Women's Day magazine. She also served as host for Faith Baldwin Romance Theater, a weekly Saturday afternoon anthology series on ABC television.

When Random House publisher Bennett Cerf decided to start the Famous Writers School in the 1960s, he asked Baldwin to be one of the dozen "guiding faculty members," which also included Bruce Catton, Max Shulman, Red Smith, and Rod Serling. It was a heavily advertised correspondence school that returned its "faculty" stockholders handsome dividends at its height of $48 million a year in revenue. The school's fortunes subsided when it was revealed that a staff of 50 (none of them teachers) graded the assignments, not the famous writers themselves.

Baldwin continued to write until she died in 1978. Her last published novel was Adam's Eden (1977). She produced some 100 novels, among them Those Difficult Years (1925), The Office Wife (1930), Babs and Mary Lou (1931), District Nurse (1932), Manhattan Nights (1937), and He Married a Doctor (1944).

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