Monday, 29 March 2010

Kiwi Steady in award win...

New Zealander CK Stead has become the first author to win the Sunday Times Short Story Award. The 77 -year-old was honoured for his work 'Last Season's Man', and said he was 'immensely grateful and pleased' to have won the prize. The judges, including A.S. Byatt and Nick Hornby, said that Stead's book was 'a fine example of how a short story should be constructed and written'. Stead wins £25,000.

On this day...

It is said that Jane Austen completed 'Emma' in 1815; a novel published in December of the same year. The last work to be published in her lifetime, 'Emma' features lively protagonist Emma Woodhouse, and follows her as she leaves a trail of matchmaking disasters in her wake. She appears somewhat different from a typical Austen heroine, as she has not the romantic entaglements of a Marianne Dashwood, nor the amorous dramas of an Elizabeth Bennet. Yet she still remains an ever popular presence, indeed the BBC recently aired a successful adaptation starring Romola Garai. At his insistance, the novel was dedicated to HRH Prince Regent.   

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Lark Rise to Candleford ends on a high...

Today has seen the end of popular BBC series 'Lark Rise to Candleford'. Based on the Flora Thompson trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels, the drama features a sparkling cast, including, of course, Julia Sawalha. Although set in the latter half of the 19th century, the programme features several anachronisms, including misdated artefacts and misplaced institutions. Ever popular, the series this year has seen audience peaks of 7.49 million, and has consistently raked in an average of 6 million. Series 4 is said to be in the making, yet after cuts to BBC period dramas, it will only be six episodes. The latest and last episode of the current series can be seen here

On this day...

English novelist Virginia Woolf died in 1941, at the age of 59. Born to the model of Pre-Raphaelite painters, and an eminent critic, Woolf was immersed in a literary environment from a young age. Yet despite a promising classical education, Woolf's early life was blighted by a spate of nervous breakdowns, following the death of her mother, sister and later, her father. Many have speculated that she was also abused by her half brothers, and such depressive mood swings and subsequent institutionalisation led eventually to her suicide.

Yet during her lifetime, Woolf was held in high regard. A member of the Bloomsbury group, which included husband Leonard, Woolf is especially noted for feminist themes and is considered one of the foremost modernist writers. Her best known works include 'Mrs Dalloway', 'To the Lighthouse', 'Orlando' and 'A Room of One's Own'.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Avast ye! Andrew Motion writes Treasure Island sequel...

Former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion is set to write a sequel to 'Treasure Island'. The Robert Louis Stevenson original was published in 1883, and feature characters, such as Long John Silver, who are now household names. The perhaps predictably named 'Return to Treasure Island', will be full of the same 'adventure, excitement and pathos', and is due for release in 2012. Following several attempts at both prequels and sequels over the years, Motion's publisher believes this will be the best yet, calling it a work 'literary ventriloquism'. 'Anyone who loved Stevenson's original will fall on this book with cries of delight'

On this day...

Today is World Theatre Day. Created in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Daystates its aims to be: 'to promote international exchange of knowledge and practice in theatre arts in order to consolidate peace and solidarity between peoples, to deepen mutual understanding and increase creative co-operation between all people in the theatre arts'.

Each year, a famous personality in the field, is invited to give a message and 2010 was the turn of Dame Judi Dench. She claimed theatre to have 'the ability to make us smile, to make us cry, but should also make us think and reflect'. Her full message can be read here. In a year when Hollywood stars have graced the stage and West End theatre has undergone a near revival, it is all the more important to use theatre to help inspire those throughout the globe.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes...

It is, of course, the literary prize we have all been waiting for. The 'Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year' has gone to 'Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes'. Facing stiff competition from the likes of 'Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich' and 'What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?', the novel was written by Latvian mathematician Daina Taimina. The book's win, in an prize awarded by popular vote, was proclaimed to demonstrate, 'the public proclivity towards non-Euclidian needlework'.

On this day...

American poet Walt Whitman, the 'Father of free verse', died in 1892, at the age of 72. Born into a family struggling with economic difficulties, Whitman was forced to finish formal education at 11 and seek work. Starting as a lawyer's office boy, Whitman later became a printer's apprentice, learning both about the press and typesetting. He could be said that it was from here that his literary career began, for soon afterwards, having worked for another printer, he became the editor of a weekly-published newspaper.

For the next 15 years, Whitman worked intermittently as teacher, editor, typesetter, and freelance writer, struggling to find solace and financial security. It was then that his most famous work was written and published, 'The Leaves of Grass'; a collection of poetry, first paid for with his own money, which he continuously revised throughout his lifetime. During the civil war, affected by scenes of death and wounded soldiers, Whitman became a volunteer nurse. Whitman's lifetime remains a series of unanswered questions; his faith, beliefs and sexuality are still, for the large part unknown, yet he is referenced in a famous quotation by one Oscar Wilde, 'I have the kiss of Walt Whitman still on my lips'.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

George Orwell far from Down and Out...

Joining the recent spate of literary auctions, a rare signed first edition of George Orwell's first full-length work, has sold for £86,000. An autobiographical work, 'Down and Out in Paris and London' was first published in 1933. This particular copy comes complete with dust jacket, and the note, 'with the author's kind regards, to Mr LP Moore without whose kind assistance this book would never have been published. Eric Blair, 24.12.32'.

The lot was originally estimated to sell at between £2,500 and £3,500, and Aaron Dean, a book specialist at the auction house, was astounded at the final bid, saying, 'I would be shocked if it isn't a record...I was absolutely stunned'.

On this day...

Greece revolts against the Ottoman Empire, leading to the start of the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Although, obviously an event of national, even global significance, it also has a noteworthy literary link. Romantic poet Lord Byron, was part of a group known as the Philhellenes.

A western intellectual movement, the Philhellenes were wealthly European and Americans aristocrats, who, having grown up with Greece's classical heritage, financed the revolution and took up arms. Byron, now often regarded as a Greek national hero, both publicised and funded the cause, spending £4,000 of his own money to refit the Greek fleet and writing poetry such as 'The Isles of Greece'. True to the cause until the end, Byron died in Greece of a fever, six years before the war's conclusion.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

There is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats...

A rare edition of 'The Wind in the Willows', has been sold at auction for more than £30,000. Noted inside as 'to Foy Felicia Quiller Couch from her affectionate friend Kenneth Grahame, Oct. 1908', the book was given to a Cornish schoolgirl, whose father, Arthur Quiller Couch, is said to have been the model for the character Ratty. Indeed, it was whilst staying with Couch, that Grahame was inspired to write the novel, which originally took the form of letters to his son. Auctioned at Bonhams in London, the book vastly exceeded its £5,000 estimate.

On this day...

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow died in 1882, at the age of 75. By the age of three, Longfellow was enrolled in full-time private education, and such a privilege ensured that he enquired a reputation for being very studious, and he also became fluent in Latin. Yet most importantly, he acquired a real passion for literature. Introduced by his mother at a young age to the likes of 'Robinson Crusoe' and 'Don Quixote', at the age of 13 he began to submit poetry and articles to various newspapers and magazines.

Longfellow pursued a mainly academic career, gaining professorships at first Bowdoin and subsequently Harvard; at the latter, he himself studied German, Dutch, Danish, Finnish, Swedish and Icelandic. Perhaps the greatest influence on his work, was the death of two wives, the first from a miscarriage, the second from a fire. Afriad that he was 'inwardly bleeding to death' from the loss, Longfellow often resorted to opium as a means of escape. Praised highly by Edagr Allan Poe, Longfellow is frequently described as America's most distinguished poet, and by 1868, his annual income was more than $48,000. His most famous works include, 'The Song of Hiawatha', 'Paul Revere's Ride' and 'Evangeline'.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Ted Hughes to enter Poets' Corner...

After much debate, wrangling and controversy, it has been announced that Ted Hughes will join those honoured in Poets' Corner. Westminster Abbey commerates literary greats from Shakespeare to Shelley, from the Brontes to Blake, with Hughes set to become the latest name. Although his ashes will not be re-interred, the former Poet Laureate's achievements, which include such works as 'Crow' and 'Birthday Letters', will be marked by a plaque from early next year.

However, the decision has not been without its protests. Critics cite the dark subject matter of much of his poetry, and the suicide of wife Sylvia Path and mistress Assia Wevill as reason enough to not see him sit aside perhaps slightly 'cleaner' writers. Yet you only have to examine each writer within their context to discover that few were what you may call 'ideal'. Perhaps it is only the rawness of Plath's death that still hangs over many. Whatever the reason, in centuries to come, all that will matter is that Hughes will be seated alongside Chaucer and Dickens, in the halls of literary greats.

On this day...

Virginia and Leonard Woolf purchased a small handpress in 1917. Delivered a month later to their house in Richmond, the item was to become known as the Hogarth Press, which. over the next three decades would go on to publish 525 titles. 1917 saw Virginia Woolf emerging from a third bout of depression, and Leonard, with the belief that book publishing might prove a theraputic hobby, purchased for her the printing press.

Yet he equally had a restless mind that he needed to satisfy, and many of the press's early titles were published at his urging, including numerous political commentaries. Perhaps interestingly, considering his wife's own mental position, Leonard was one of the first Englishmen to publish translations of Sigmund Freud's work, so bringing the world of pscyhoanalytic theory to British readers. Yet the bulk of publication was the works of the Bloomsbury Group, of which both Woolfs were members. This included names such as Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, and, undoubtedly the press's most famous work, 'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot.

Monday, 22 March 2010

This above all: to thine own self be true...

April 1st will see the release of a new book, sure to rouse literary discussion. James Shapiro's 'Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?', attempts to answer the century old question as to the 'real' identity of the mysterious bard. Advocates of the 'anti-Stratfordian' theory have included Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and Charlie Chaplin, yet those whom they believe instead to be the playwright are an even more bizarre collection of people.

Christopher Marlowe, Sir Francis Bacon, Edward De Vere, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne, and, in quarters Elizabeth I, are all mentioned as possible writers, yet evidence is tenuous to say the least. Although all options are neatly summarised in Shapiro's latest contribution, perhaps it is best summed up by the name of one of the most prominent anti-Stratfordians - John Thomas Looney.

On this day...

American thriller writer James Patterson was born in 1947. Up until 1996, Patterson's life was fairly non-descript, but it was at this time, at the age of 49, that Patterson retired from his advertising career to concentrate on writing. Since then, Patterson's literary career has simply exploded. Having sold over 170 million copies worldwide, Patterson holds the New York Times record for most Hardcover Fiction bestselling titles by a single author, 46, which is also a Guinness World Record.

Such accolades are partly due to his profligacy - he has written 65 novels in his 33 year career - and his most famous works include the 'Alex Cross' and 'Women's Murder Club' series. Patterson has also contributed to literature on a wider scale. He has founded the James Patterson PageTurner Awards, to personal cost of over $850,000, to reward 'people, companies, schools, and other institutions who find original and effective ways to spread the excitement of books and reading'. He has also set up '' to help parents and children find the best books to read. 

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Rachel and Ruth triumph again...

It is the day of the Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards. The usual suspects were all nominated, including, of course, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law. Yet while Weisz won Best Actress, Law, perhaps surprisingly, lost out to Mark Rylance for his performance in 'Jerusalem'. 'A Streetcar Named Desire' continued its success as Ruth Wilson pipped Keira Knightley to win Best Supporting Actress for the Donmar Warehouse production. 'War Horse' unfortunately was beaten in the Audience Award for the Most Popular Show, as 'Wicked' swept the people's vote after four failed nominations in 2007.

On this day...

World Poetry Day is celebrated. Declared by UNESCO in 1999, the aim of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world - in other words, to 'give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements'. For many years, the event had been celebrated in October.

Indeed, the latter half of the 20th century saw October 15th as the earmarked day, to coincide with the birthday of epic Roman poet Virgil. As such, many national poetry days are still celebrated in October, such as that of the UK on October 8th. In conjunction with 2010 as the year of biodiversity, this year's theme for World Poetry Day is,  'The Words of Nature, the Nature of Words'.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

McEwan atones for operatic oversight...

Box office hit and Ian McEwan novel 'Atonement' is set to become an opera. The 2007 film, starring Keira Knightey and James McAvoy, won an Oscar and rejuvinated interest in McEwan's works. Now, the author revealed, it will take to the stage as an opera, with Radio 3 presenter Michael Berkeley writing the music and poet Craig Raine, the libretto. McEwan, currently working on a film version of 'On Chesil Beach', will have a 'creative input'. The opera, although sung in English, is likely to have its premiere in Germany, set for 2013.

On this day...

Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, better known simply as Ovid, was born in 43 B.C. The son of a rich family, Ovid was destined to practice law. Yet in his rhetoric training, Ovid, according to Seneca the Elder, instead dwelt on the emotions, and he renounced law in pursuit of poetry. Married three times and divorced twice by the age of 30, much of Ovid's poetry was centred on the theme of love. Indeed, one such collection of poetry, 'Ars Amatoria', a manual on seduction, is thought to have contributed to Ovid's exile in 8 A.D by the Emperor Augustus.

Ovid himself, gave the reasons to be a 'carmen et error', 'a poem and a mistake', yet what these are is not made clear. Conjecture centres around Augustus' daughter Julia, and her husband, both banished at the same time as Ovid, perhaps for indiscretions which he may have been party to. Ovid died in modern-day Romania 10 years after his exile, at the age of approximately 60. His best known work is epic poem, the 'Metamorphoses', written in hexameter in 15 books. Ovid's influence has entered many works of subsequent literary greats. Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare and Milton are just a few of the names to have honoured the poet and surely many more will follow.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Hilary Mantel just keeps going...

Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel has been longlisted for yet another literary award for her novel 'Wolf Hall'. The Orange Prize for Fiction, established 15 years ago, celebrates excellence in women's writing. The longlist, described as 'muscular and pleasurable', by the chair of the judging panel, includes Andrea Levy and Sarah Waters, will be cut down to a shortlist on April 20th, and the winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced on June 9th.

On this day...

American novelist Philip Roth was born in 1933. The son of first generation American parents, Roth studied English at Bucknell, then Chicago, universities. Indeed, the majority of his career has been spent in education, teaching at Ivy League Princeton and Pennsylvania until his academic retirement in 1991. Roth found immediate literary success with his own writing, his first work 'Goodbye, Columbus' winning a National Book Award. Roth continued to win many awards over his career, including the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award and the National Books Critics Circle.

Yet Roth's most famous creation is that of the character Nathan Zuckerman, the protagnoist in many of his fictional works, such as 'The American Pastoral'. His fiction is known for its autobiographical traits, especially those concerned with his ex-wives. His first, Margaret Martinson, died in a car crash 3 years after their seperation, and his second, Claire Bloom, produced the memoirs 'Leaving a Doll's House', reproducing the unflattering details of their marriage. Four of Roth's novels and short stories have been made into films.  

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Carol Ann Duffy meets David Beckham...

Carol Ann Duffy is well known for choosing perhaps more unusual subjects for her poetry. Yet this time, she has gone even further, straying into the nation's favourite pastime with observations about their favourite hero. Yes, it is David Beckham, scarcely out of the tabloid headlines, who has made it into Duffy's latest poem. As the footballing community weeps over his latest injury, a torn achilles that will keep him out of the World Cup, Duffy explores both the mythological background of the achilles, and its current association. Here is 'Achilles' by Carol Ann Duffy:

Myth's river - where his mother 
dipped him, fished him, a 
slippery golden boy flowed on,
his name on its lips. 
Without him, it was prophesied,
they would not take Troy.

Women hid him, concealed him
in girls' sarongs; days of
sweetmeats, spices, silver

But when Odysseus came, with
an athlete's build, a sword and a
shield, he followed him to the
battlefield, the crowd's roar,

And it was sport, not war, his
charmed foot on the ball...

But then his heel, his heel, his heel...

On this day...

Anthony Minghella, British director and playwright, died in 2008 at the age of 54. Born on the Isle of Wight to ice cream factory owners, Minghella produced his first work at the age of 21. Many of his most famous directorial works, naturally, have a literary bent.

Critically acclaimed, 'The English Patient', winner of 9 Oscars and 6 BAFTAs, is based on novel Michael Ondaatje and his second best known work, 'Cold Mountain' which stars Jude Law, is similarly based on a novel by Charles Frazier. Most recently, in a drama produced just prior to his untimely death, it was Alexander McCall Smith, author of 'The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency', that provided his inspiration. Perhaps, when looking back over his career, it is no surprise that it is those productions based on true literary foundations, that have made the best films.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

People never give your message to anybody...

Aspects of J.D. Salinger's intensely private life have been revealed with the opening of a new exhibition. A previously unseen collection of the author's letters have gone on show in New York. Although the Morgan Museum and Library has been in possession of these letters since 1998, it had chosen not to make them public, on account of Salinger's own wish for privacy.

Yet following his death at the age of 91 earlier this year, the museum has ended the wait, and believes that the letters portray Salinger positively; 'They show that he wasn't this weirdo, reclusive, bizarre man that many people have come to think of him as'. The letters, dated from 1951 to 1993, include popular culture references, deatils of his ongoing, yet unpublished, works and even contain a Holdenesque idiolect discernable in addresses such as, 'old orange' and 'buddyroo'. Overall, the audience is able to see 'a much more attractive, fully human side of Salinger'. The exhibition will last from March 16th until May 9th.

On this day...

As today is, of course, St. Patrick's day, it seems appropriate to have a look at some of the great literature Ireland has produced. Bursting forth with the dual force of playwrights Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, Irish literature really found its feet in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.Of course there had been notable writers before, such as Jonathan Swift and Oliver Goldsmith, yet none had, or possibly ever will, hit the heights that both Wilde and Shaw achieved. 'The Importance of Being Earnest', 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', 'Pygmalion', 'Mrs. Warren's Profession' - all caused scandal, reality, shock or acceptance, yet above all, they are alll regarded as some of the finest examples of literature.

Although Wilde did write one novel, Ireland's best prose writers are found in the form of Bram Stoker, creator of 'Dracula', and later modernist James Joyce, whose best known work is 'Ulysses'. Finally, so as not to exclude any genre, Ireland has a history of great poets. William Butler Yeats is arguably the most recognisable, courtesy of such works of 'The Tower'. Yet, of course, Ireland still has a poet very much in the spotlight, in Seamus Heaney, creator of such collections as 'The Spirit Level'. Ireland has been the recepient of 4 Nobel Prizes for Literature, and can boast about having one of the oldest literary traditions, after Greek and Latin.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The play's the thing...

A new Shakespeare  play has been discovered. 'Double Falsehood', thought to be based on long-lost work 'Cardenio', is believed to have been a collaboration between Shakespeare and dramatist John Fletcher. Professor Hammond, editor of the latest Arden collection, says that 'Shakespeare's hand can be discerned in Act One, Act Two and probably the first two scenes in Act Three of the play'. Fletcher is already established as the co-author of two later Shakesspearian plays, 'Henry VIII', and 'The Two Noble Kinsman'. This particular play is thought to have been written in 1612, and performed twice in 1613. Yet this new discovery begs the question, how many more might there be?

On this day...

Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter', was published in 1850. The book was originally intended to be a novelette as part of the collection 'Old Time Legends', yet on the advice of his publisher, Hawthorne expanded the work. Many of Hawthorne's more puritan ancestors presided over the Salem witch trials, and indeed the guilt of this association appears to influence the novel's overwhelming theme of sin.

The book is thought to be one of America's first mass-produced books, and the 2,500 copies from its first print sold out within ten days.Although the book was a instant bestseller, it only made its author $1,500 during the course of fourteen years. Hawthorne's 'magnus opus' was described by Henry James as  'beautiful, admirable, extraordinary; it has in the highest degree that merit'.

Monday, 15 March 2010

New book Solar out of this world...

Thursday sees the release of Ian McEwan's new novel 'Solar'. His first work since 'For You: A Liberetto' in 2008, 'Solar' shows a 'fresh side' to McEwan as a 'comic writer of genius'. This latest book surrounds the theory of climate change and is partly based on McEwan's experiences on his own trip to the North Pole. To publicise the novel, McEwan appeared on Andrew Marr's program on Sunday. A clip can be seen here

On this day...


Julius Caesar was famously killed on the Ides of March in 44 B.C on the senate floor. Led by Brutus, a group of conspirators, uneasy with Caesar's supremacy and possible assent to monarchy, devised a plot to kill him. Such powerful political and ancient history is perhaps best captured in the writings of Shakespeare, and his 1599 play, 'Julius Caesar'.  However although the title of the play, Caesar himself only appears in three scenes. Thus the majority of the drama is focused instead on the psychologically turmoils of Marcus Brutus, as he struggles to reconcile his patriotic duty for Rome, with his close friendship with Caesar.

Cited as one of the first of Shakespeare's plays to be staged in the Globe Theatre, 'Julius Caesar' is often thought to reflect the contemporary political events of that time, as monarch Queen Elizabeth I declined to name a successor, leading to fears of a civil war. The drama is perhaps most famous for two of its lines; 'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears' and, of course, 'Et tu, Brute?'

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Hardy Player takes to stage at 104...

A centenarian has taken to the stage, all for the sake of some old documents. Norrie Woodhall, 104, is the last remaining original member of the 'Hardy Players', a group cast and directed by author Thomas Hardy himself. Appearing as Tess's sister Liza Lu in the stage version of his novel in 1928, Woodhall, 82 years on, has reprised her role to raise money for the Hardy Players Manuscript Fund. The campaign, based in Dorset, aims to retain a collection of Hardy's works in the county for future generations. The collection of work for sale includes scripts, some with handwritten production notes, programmes, posters and stage set models. Including all the prospective funds from Ms. Woodhall's performance, the campaign aims to raise £58,000. A video about the story can be found here

On this day...

John Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath', was published in 1939. The novel, like several of Steinbeck's works, is set in the Great Depression, and chartered the life of protagonist Tom Joad, who sets out for California in an attempt to find wealth and prosperity. Steinbeck had previously published a series of short stories, including of course, 'Of Mice and Men', yet this latest endevour was said to be 'a very grave attempt to do a first-rate piece of work'.

Yet while writing this 'first-rate piece of work' Steinbeck struggled to come up with a title, and indeed it was his wife who supplied him with 'The Grapes of Wrath', itself taken from a passage from Revelation 14:19. The novel's strong social and political subtext ensured that it was a 'phenomenon on the scale of a national event'. Indeed, the book was criticised across the country, yet was later cited as one of the major reasons for Steinbeck's 1962 Nobel Prize win. It is now one of the most frequently read novels in the American school system.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Does crime pay?...

From simple detective stories to complex psychological thrillers, crime fiction is a wide-ranging, and ever expanding, genre. Arguably established in the Victorian era, the genre has its roots in authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous protagonist Sherlock Holmes. As it progressed into the early 20th century, names like Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet became phenomenally successful, helping to shape the crime fiction of today. In modern times, authors such as C.J. Sansom have developed a sub-genre of historical crime fiction. Here is a podcast on the genre

On this day...

Harvard College is named after clergyman John Harvard in 1639. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the college is Harvard University's oldest school, and is run by the Faculty of Arts and Science. As such, the institution boasts a number of famous literary alumni. William S. Burroughs, T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, Norman Mailer, Erich Segal, Michael Crichton and John Updike all received their education at the esteemed college and, alongside several Presidents, have contributed much to its reputation.

Harvard is also famous for its well known publications. The 'Harvard Advocate' is the oldest continuously published college literary magazine, and the 'Harvard International Review', is one of the most widely-distributed undergraduate journals in the world with 35,000 readers in more than 70 countries.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Books on video...

Today I have discovered a new site. Books videos features reviews of the latest publications from a large variety of genres. From fantasy to health, biographies to graphic novels, it covers it all, collating titles from over 30 different publishers. Yet better than that, the site contains behind-the-story videos for each title, charting the book's rise to fame and the thoughts of the author - well worth a look!

On this day...

American novelist, and pioneer of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac was born in 1922. The son of French-Canadian parents, Kerouac did not learn English until the age of six, and later, he even started to write some of his best known works in his native French tongue. Yet Kerouac's skill as a young man, was in sport. His prowess on the football field led to him being offered scholarships for both Notre Dame and Columbia, the latter which he accepted. Yet after rows with his coach, and early injuries, Kerouac became disenchanted, and dropped out of university.

 Then followed a similarly soured career as Kerouac joined the U.S. navy, only to be discharged a year later for a 'schizoid personality'.  Kerouac spent the next few years constantly writing, producing several poor-selling works. Suffering from bouts of depression and heavy drug and alcohol use, Kerouac travelled extensively across the U.S. and Mexico, and in 1957 had his first real breakthrough with, 'On The Road'. This bought him instant fame, yet it was a status that Kerouac did not feel comfortable with. He died in 1969, at the age of 47, as a result of his excessive drinking.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Israeli sweeps top prize...

Israeli novel 'The Confessions of Noa Weber' has won the Best Translated Book Award. The book, about a middle-aged writer and her marraige, was written by Gail Harevens and translated from Hebrew into English by Dalya Bilu. The potery prize, was won by Elena Fanailova, for her work 'The Russian Version', translated from Russian by Genya Turovskaya and Stephanie Sandler. Created in 2007, the award was established to draw attention to titles, which would otherwise have little recognition. In order to be considered for the 2010 prize, books must have been published in the United States in English translation between December 1, 2008 and November 30, 2009.

On this day...

British writer Douglas Adams was born in 1952. Six foot in height by the age of 12, Adams always 'stood out of the crowd', yet it was his ability to write 'first-class stories' that really differentiated him from the others. Using school as a platform, Adams began a writing career in earnest, including religious poetry, article writing and short stories. Such early success was enough to earn him a place at Cambridge, and the year he graduated, Adams was already producing material for both BBC2, and 'Monty Python'.

Yet despite this apparent rise in status, limited sales forced Adams to take jobs such as hospital porter, barn builder, chicken shed cleaner, and even the bodyguard of a Qatari family. However, Adams most famous and enduring work, is that of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. Originally a concept for a sci-fi radio comedy, the series went on to enjoy numerous adaptations and two years later was immortalised in writing, spawning a series of books that included, 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe'. Tragically, Adams died from a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 49.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

There's an app for that...

You can forecast the weather, check the trains and book a restaurant, and now, you can read 'Wolf Hall'. Hilary Mantel's award winning novel, was today released as an app for the iphone. The historical novel, based on the life of Tudor advisor Thomas Cromwell, became the Man Booker Prize winner in 2009, and is fast on the way to becoming the best-selling Booker winner in history. The app features the full text, a 30 minute discussion between Mantel and historian David Starkey, a Tudor family tree and cast of characters, a essay by Mantel on historical fiction, and regular news feeds and podcasts.

On this day...

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, died in 1948, aged 47. Born Zelda Sayre, she met her future husband at a country club in Alabama, where the then 21 year old first lieutenant was posted. Meetings become almost daily between the two, and were only interputed briefly, when Fitzgerald was summoned North. Yet a year later, Fitzgerald was discharged, and following a disrupted engagement, the two were married in 1920, just days after Fitzgerald published his first book, 'This Side of Paradise'.

 Labelled the 'first American Flapper' by her husband, Zelda's witty review of his work led to her publishing some of her own short stories and articles. By 1930, Fitzgerald has become severly alcoholic, and Zelda's mental and physical health suffered. She was admitted to a sanatorium in France, and shortly after was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Eight years after Fitzgerald's own death in 1940, Zelda was killed by a fire which spread through the hospital in which she was staying. Nine other women also died.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Spring is here...

Autumn, Winter, Summer. All seasons have been represented in literature, but perhaps none more so than Spring. The birth of nature has inspired numerous writers throughout the centuries, arguably feauring most prevalently in poetry, especially that of the Romantics. Here is a quiz about Spring in literature.

On this day...

American writer Charles Bukowski died in 1994 at the age of 73. Born in Germany as Heinrich Karl, Bukowski and his family moved to the U.S. in 1923, eventually settling in South Los Angeles. His Germanic appearance and name led to bullying when he was a child and he became socially withdrawn, only breaking this mould when he turned to alocholism.

At the age of 24, Bukowski failed a psychological exam for World War Two service, and turned instead to writing. Thus followed a period of ten years in which Bukowski refused to write, a practice he only resumed having been hospitalised with an almost fatal bleeding ulcer.Yet he went on to produce many famous works, several of which were autobiographical. 'Ham on the Rye', 'Post Office' and 'Women' are perhaps his most well-known novels, and he also wrote the script for film 'Barfly'.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sandra Bullock takes the Oscars by storm...

Last night saw the great and good of the film industry walking down the red carpet to a tumultous reception. The 82nd Academy Awards dominated the news, but there was perhaps little surprise in the winners of the Oscars. One of the less surprising awards came in form of Sandra Bullock picking up Best Actress, only a day after having received, in person, a Golden Raspberry. She was honoured for her role in 'The Blind Side', one of the many film scripts at the ceremony to have its roots in a novel. 'The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game', was written in 2006 by author Michael Lewis, a non-fiction author currently writing for 'Vanity Fair'. Although the book features two parallel storylines, the film primarily concentrates on one, following a footballer from impoverished upbringings through to his current high status. Accepting her award, Bullock asked the audience, 'Did I really earn this, or did I just wear you all down?'

On this day...

British writer, Kenneth Grahame was born in 1859. Although most famous for producing children's literature, Grahame himself had an unhappy childhood, and indeed led a fairly depressing life. After only a few years, his mother had died, and his father began to drink heavily, forcing the young  Grahame to move in with his grandmother. Despite promising an excellent academic future, Grahame was denied an Oxbridge education due to money difficulties, and instead set out on a career with the Bank of England.

The position was a successful one, and Grahame steadily rose through the ranks to secretary. However, in a strange, and possibly politically motivated act, Grahame was shot three times, leading to his eventual retirement. To cap it all, Grahame's son, born blind in one eye, committed suicide on a railway track at the age of 19, a demise recorded as an 'accidental death' out of respect to the author. Of course, Grahame's most famous work is 'The Wind in the Willows', which has been heavily adapted for stage and screen. His lesser known story, 'The Reluctant Dragon', was also made into a Disney film.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Beam me up Scotty...

Quirk Classics just keep publishing titles. Following the planned release of 'Android Karenina' later this year, and hot on the heels of success 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies', 'Night of the Living Trekkies', is the latest planned novel. This newest combination is said to be 'mixing a zombie apocalypse with the enduring mythology of Star Trek'. Indeed, it 'follows a rag-tag group of 'Trekkies' en route to an annual Star Trek convention...when aliens release a zombie plague upon the Earth, all of this 'Starfleet training' suddenly becomes a lot more relevant'. 'Night of the Living Trekkies' will hit our shelves in September this year.

On this day...

Arguably the greatest philosopher to have lived, Aristotle, is said to have died in 322 BC, at the age of 62. A student of Plato, who in turn was a pupil of Socrates, Aristotle is considered one of the most important figures in Western philosophy. His writings encompass areas of morality, theology, ethics, logic, politics, poetry - the list goes on. Aristotle's father was the personal physician to King Amyntas of Macedon, and as such, Aristotle was educated as a member of the aristocracy.

Having received training at Plato's academy, Aristotle travelled far and wide, to Asia Minor and the Greek islands, finally ending up in Macedon, where he became tutor to young Alexander the Great, and two other future kings, Ptolemy and Cassander. Returning to Athens, Aristotle established his own school, Lyceum, and here composed many of his most famous treatises, including 'De Anima'. He died amidst accusations of plotting against his former pupil Alexander. Aristotle himself divided his works into the 'exoteric' and 'esoteric', and the traditional 'Corpus Aristotelicum' which survived through to the Middle Ages consists of 45 treatises.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

An appeal has been made to restore a chalet where Charles Dickens wrote some of his most famous works. The small wooden building was a present to the writer from French actor Charles Fechter, and arrived at Higham railway station in 1864, in 58 separate boxes. Although the building used to stand in the writer's home, Gads Hill Place, in now is located in the council gardens of Eastgate House, Rochester and is in desperate need of restoration. Accessed via a specially made tunnel under the main Rochester to London Road at Higham, Dickens wrote works such as , 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'Great Expectations' and partially finished 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' at the chalet. The Rochester and Chatham Dickens Fellowship hopes to raise £100,000 to complete the work by 2012, which will be 200 years since Dickens's birth.

On this day...

English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was born in 1806. One of the most prominent poets of the Victorian Era, Barrett was the eldest of 12 children, whose father had his fortune tied up in the sugar plantations of Jamaica. Throughout Browning's childhood and adolescene, she had an unquenchable desire for knowledge. Tutored in Shakespeare and Milton as a young girl, by the age of twenty, she had read all the notable classical authors in the orginal, read the Old Testament in Hebrew, and had written numerous poems, including an 'epic'.

Yet it was at twenty that she first experienced what was to be a life-long illness, an illness which doctors failed to ever diagnose. She kept publishing however, often on a social theme, and it was one such publication that inspired Robert Browning to write to her, starting a secret courtship that led to their marriage a year later. One of Elizabeth's most famous works is indeed on the subject of her marriage. 'Sonnets From the Portugese' expresses doubts that Robert would ever love such an invalid as herself. Described by Edgar Allan Poe as 'the noblest of her sex', Browning went on to influence numerous poets and her death, in 1861, did nothing to diminsh her legacy.

Friday, 5 March 2010

A pair of star-crossed lovers....

'Romeo and Juliet' is once again set to hit the stage in a radical modern retelling. Set in the 1980s, 'Juliet and Her Romeo' will be shown at the Bristol Old Vic from March 10th to April 24th. Both protagonists will be pensioners, whose love affair is hindered by their children, instead of their parents, due to its imprudent and costly nature. Directed by Tim Morris, who has just finished a stint on West End play 'War Horse', the play stars Sian Phillips as Juliet and Michael Byrne as Romeo. The play, and in particular the role of 76 year-old Phillips, was dicussed in a article on Newsnight yesterday, which can be viewed here

On this day...

Former Russian leader Joseph Stalin died in 1953 at the age of 74. Viewed by most as a cruel and dictactorial leader, Stalin was the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 and leader of the Soviet Party from 1924. His tenure was marred by famines, rumblings of torture and a non-committal response to Nazi Germany. Yet, perhaps, his most far-reaching and long lasting effect in that of the formation of the Eastern Bloc, a group of countries who existed under the 'iron rule' until its dissolution in 1991.

Stalin is undoubtedly best known for his politics, yet authorship and literary works played no small part in his life. Indeed it was the writings of Lenin that persuaded Stalin to become a Marxist revolutionary and join the Bolsheviks. He himself became and author later in his premiership, as he attempted to rewrite history in textbooks and propaganda, namely to increase his own standing in the revolution and subsequent events. Stalin also established 'socialist realism', by which all arts must be approved by the State to be deemed satisfactory. Such works are supposed to be proletarian, typical, realistic and partisan and included writers such as Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Sholokhov. Thus Stalin is an example of how literature can be manipulated and misused to fulfil a political agenda.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

End of decade spells the beginning for Rowling...

'Harry Potter' has yet again topped a nationwide poll, on this occasion winning the accolade of the book that people would most like to hand on to the next generation. Commissioned for World Book Day, more than 1,000 people from the ages of 16-64 were asked to cast a vote for a book in the last decade that they would give to young people. The full list was as follows:
  1. The 'Harry Potter' series  -  J.K. Rowling
  2. 'The Da Vinci Code' - Dan Brown
  3. 'Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze' - The New Scientist
  4. 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' - Bill Bryson
  5. 'Twilight' - Stephenie Meyer
  6. 'The Kite Runner' - Khaled Hosseini
  7. '9/11 Commission Report' - National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States
  8. 'You Are What You Eat' - Gillian McKeith
  9. 'The God Delusion' - Richard Dawkins
  10. 'Dreams From My Father' - Barack Obama