Sunday Sep. 3, 2017

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The Sound of It

Just a piano playing plainly, not even for long,
and yet I suddenly think of fields of timothy
and how a cow and I once studied each other over a fence
while the car ticked and cooled behind me.
When I turned around I was surprised that it had not
sprouted tall grass from its hood, I had been gone
so long. Time passes in crooked ways in some tales,
and though the cow and I were relatively young
when we started our watching, we looked
a bit younger when I left. The cow had downed a good
steady meal and was full of milk for the barn.
I drove away convinced of nothing I had been
so sure of before, with arms full of splinters
from leaning on the fence. There was no music—
I was not even humming—but just now the piano
played the exact sound of that drive.

“The Sound of It” by Annie Lighthart from Iron String. © Airlie Press, 2013. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

On this day in 1947, the classic children's bedtime story Goodnight, Moon was published. Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author) had already published several children's books when she woke up one morning and began listing the items in her house, and saying goodnight to each of them. She thought the poem-like list might make a good story, and she sent it to her editor. The tale of a little rabbit who wanders about his room, saying goodnight to, among other things, his comb, his brush, and his bowl full of mush, is now a soothing bedtime anthem for millions of children worldwide.

Life magazine once asked Brown, known as "Brownie" to her friends, about her penchant for hunting rabbits. Brownie answered, "Well, I don't especially like children, either. At least not as a group. I won't let anybody get away with anything just because he is little."

Today is the birthday of American novelist Alison Lurie (books by this author), born in Chicago (1926). She is the author of The Truth About Lorin Jones (1989) and Foreign Affairs (1984), which won the Pulitzer Prize (1985).

About her characters, Lurie said: "I want them all to have happy endings although I do realize this is not true to life. But I get attached to my characters and I don't really want to do them in. And I think it is significant that the only book of mine that got a big literary award [the Pulitzer for Foreign Affairs] was the only one in which I've killed off a major character. Somehow tragedy attracts awards and comedy doesn't."

It's the birthday of the man who said, "Form follows function." That's American architect Louis Henry Sullivan, born in Boston (1856). He worked in Chicago in the 1880s and '90s, when the city was teeming with immigrants, grain trading, and railroads. Sullivan designed more than 100 buildings for the city, including its early steel-frame skyscrapers — innovations in their day for using a kind of experimental skeleton construction on the inside and intricate, subtle ornamentation outside.

It's the birthday of anthropologist and author Loren Eiseley (books by this author), born in Lincoln, Nebraska (1907). He spent most of his long academic career as a professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1947 to 1977. He was interested in the dating of fossils and in extinctions during the Ice Age. But he's remembered today as a writer of popular and poetic books about anthropology and evolution — books like The Immense Journey (1957), The Unexpected Universe (1969), The Night Country (1971), and The Star Thrower (1979). About the evolution of the brain and the development of consciousness in humans, he wrote: "For the first time in 4 billion years a living creature had contemplated himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of wind in the night reeds."

It's the birthday of writer Sarah Orne Jewett (books by this author), born in South Berwick, Maine (1849). Her father was a country doctor, and she thought about becoming a doctor herself. Instead, she turned to writing and had her first story published in The Atlantic when she was just 20 years old. She wrote about the people of Maine and about the old country ways that were quickly dying out around her, and earned a reputation as one of the finest writers in the "local color" tradition. Her first collection of stories, Deephaven, came out in 1877. Her most famous work was the collection The Country of the Pointed Firs, which was published in 1896.

Jewett said, "You must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that."

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