Sunday August 9, 2015

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Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as
two or three, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail …

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time.
To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome
and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the
companion that was so companionable as solitude …

If one advances confidently in the direction of his
dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has
imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in
common hour …

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener.
So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.
We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and
took advantage of every accident that befell us. Sometimes, in
a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my
sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the
pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and
stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through
the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the
noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was
reminded of the lapse of time.

“Simplicity” by Henry David Thoreau from Walden. Public Domain.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of biographer Izaak Walton (books by this author), born in Stafford, England (1593). As a boy, he was apprenticed to an ironmonger, and he spent his career as a shopkeeper. In his spare time, he wrote biographies of John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Wotton, and several others. Many of Walton's subjects shared his main passion in life: fishing. In 1653, Walton published The Compleat Angler; or, The Contemplative Man's Recreation, an extended ode to fishing, complete with tips, funny anecdotes, technical instructions, dialogues, poems, and commentary about what makes fishing so special. Walton continued to update The Compleat Angler until his death in 1683 at the age of 90. It has been in print for more than 350 years.

It’s the birthday of the poet who once wrote “Nothing, like something, happens everywhere.” Philip Larkin (books by this author) was born in Coventry, England (1922). His father was a Nazi enthusiast and disillusioned country treasurer; his mother was pathologically anxious and schooled Larkin at home until he was eight. He developed a stammer that lasted until his early 30s. He began to write feverishly, which eased his shyness. He said, “I didn’t choose poetry; poetry chose me.”

Though Larkin’s output was small, just four slender volumes (his first collection, The North Ship, appeared in 1945, his last High Windows, in 1974), his trademark dreary outlook proved immensely popular in England. He cultivated a curmudgeonly persona, refusing most interviews and turning down the position of poet laureate. Shunning travel, he preferred to stay in the remote environs of Hull, where he bicycled to his job as University of Hull librarian for more than 40 years. He said, “Novelists need to travel, poets re-create the familiar.”

Larkin said: “I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any. Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth.”

It’s the birthday of best-selling mystery writer Jonathan Kellerman (1949) (books by this author), born in New York City’s Lower East Side. His family moved to Los Angeles when Kellerman was nine, which is when he began writing fiction obsessively. He didn’t stop. He wrote all through high school and then college, working his way through UCLA as a cartoonist and guitar teacher. He completed eight unpublished novels on the way to becoming a child psychologist.

Kellerman says, “It took 13 years of typing away in an unheated garage from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.,” until his first novel, When the Bough Breaks (1985), was published. It became a best-seller and a popular made-for-television movie starring Ted Danson. The novel was the first to feature empathetic forensic psychologist Alex Delaware, who appears in 28 of Kellerman’s mysteries. Kellerman says: “I tried to create Alex as a good psychologist. He’s much more sensitive than I am.”

His novels are intricately plotted and sometimes criticized for being too intellectual, but Kellerman doesn’t mind. “All good fiction involves an element of mystery. Crime novels use extreme events — matters of life and death — to catalyze the story. That kind of intensity appeals to me.”

On this day in 1854, Henry David Thoreau (books by this author) published Walden; or, Life in the Woods. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said he saw a “tremble of great expectation” in Thoreau just before publication day. Thoreau’s previous book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), sold fewer than 300 copies. On the day he got his 706 unsold copies back from the publisher, he wrote in his diary: “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself ...” Walden didn’t do much better. It took five years to sell off the first edition of 2,000 copies, and Thoreau did not live to see a second edition. He managed to arrange a nationwide lecture tour, but only one city made an offer, and so Thoreau kept his lectures to the Concord area. Since then, millions of copies of Walden have been sold.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®