Tuesday Jan. 17, 2017

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English Class

Twelfth grade reading lists stretched out
as endless as the sentences we diagrammed,
as orderly as the outlines for our senior essays—
“Humanism in England in the Fourteenth Century”
I think I wrote about, cobbling facts together
about Erasmus and the Church, forgetting
those were plague years, and Henry David
Thoreau’s pithy quotes, marching to a different
drummer, hooked me for a solitary ramble
of Walden, not knowing he’d dined every night
with Emerson and Alcott; and our teacher
always turned to us with hope, searching
for some sign that we’d found a spark,
an engaged liveliness, in all those endless
marching words—her eyes lit up, her thin hair
frizzed, her faith in us fixed, misplaced,
stirring fugitive regret in our adolescent gaze,
preoccupied with who to ask to the Swankette Ball
and who to sit with at the Friday football game
(whom, she’d certainly have made us say).

“English Class” by Robin Chapman from Six True Things. © Tebot Bach Books, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

It’s the birthday of Benjamin Franklin (books by this author), born in Boston (1706). After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove — called the Franklin stove — which he never patented because he created it for the good of society. He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance.

When he grew tired of taking off and putting on his glasses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame, now called bifocals. His brother was plagued with kidney stones, so Franklin created a flexible urinary catheter to help him feel better. Among Franklin’s other inventions are swim fins, the odometer, and the lightning rod.

And as the author, printer, and publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac, he circulated adages such as “Little strokes fell great oaks” and “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Today is the birthday of Sebastian Junger (books by this author), born in Belmont, Massachusetts (1962).

He wanted to be a journalist, but in 1991 he was working as a tree trimmer to make a living. He cut his leg badly with a chainsaw and was recovering when he got the idea to write about people who do dangerous things for a living. It was about this time that he heard media reports of a commercial swordfishing boat out of Gloucester, the Andrea Gail, which had gone missing in the north Atlantic. The boat and her crew were casualties of the “Halloween Nor’easter,” an especially violent storm that collided and combined with Hurricane Grace, which had moved up from the southwest. Junger started researching the story of Captain Billy Tyne and his crew, and it became his first book, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea (1997). He made a name for himself with that book, and was able to pursue his journalism career after all. He also formed the Perfect Storm Foundation to provide grants to kids whose parents work in the commercial fishing industry.

Today is the birthday of American poet and pacifist William Stafford (books by this author) born in Hutchinson, Kansas (1914).  When he was asked if he felt accomplished, William Stafford answered: “This may sound brutal, but I don’t cherish the poems that are done. I cherish the poems that are coming. I’d sacrifice all of the poems of the past for whatever is coming up.”

It’s the birthday of Luis López Nieves (books by this author) born in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1950). He’s been called “the great novelist of Puerto Rico” by a Colombian newspaper, “the first novelist of Puerto Rico” by one of Spain’s papers, and a Chilean said that “he has created urban legends that Puerto Ricans assume as historical truths.” His books The True Death of Juan Ponce de León (2000) and Voltaire’s Heart (2005) each won the National Literature Prize, Puerto Rico’s highest literary award.

It’s the birthday of Anne Brontë (books by this author), born in Yorkshire (1820). Anne Brontë has been remembered primarily as the third Brontë sister. She was meek and more religious-minded than Charlotte or Emily and little is known about her life compared to the lives of her sisters

Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848), was an immediate success. The heroine, Helen Huntingdon, leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting while living in hiding. In doing so, she violates social conventions and English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence apart from her husband. It was later said that the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.

In the second printing of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë responded to critics who said her portrayal of the husband was graphic and disturbing. She wrote: “Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts — this whispering “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace — there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.”

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