Friday Feb. 3, 2017

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Used Book

What luck—an open bookstore up ahead
as rain lashed awnings over Royal Street,
and then to find the books were secondhand,
with one whole wall assigned to poetry;
and then, as if that wasn’t luck enough,
to find, between Jarrell and Weldon Kees,
the blue-on-cream, familiar backbone of
my chapbook, out of print since ’83—
its cover very slightly coffee-stained,
but aging (all in all) no worse than flesh
through all those cycles of the seasons since
its publication by a London press.
Then, out of luck, I read the name inside:
The man I thought would love me till I died.

“Used Book” by Julie Kane from Jazz Funeral. © Story Line Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Gertrude Stein (books by this author), born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874) and raised in Oakland, California. In 1903, she moved to Paris, where she lived for the rest of her life, apart from brief periods in England and Spain. It was in Paris that she met and fell in love with Alice B. Toklas. They lived together, and Toklas kept the house while Stein wrote. The two women drove an ambulance during World War I, and between the two world wars, they hosted a popular salon in their home. Many luminaries of the Lost Generation — a label coined by Stein — attended, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Ezra Pound.

Stein tried to employ the techniques of Cubism in her books — including Tender Buttons (1914) and The Making of Americans (1925) — which meant that her writing was often so abstract that no one could understand it. She defended her style in a lecture called Composition as Explanation (1926), saying, “The creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic.” She also wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), which is actually her own autobiography, but told from the point of view of Toklas. It was published in installments in Atlantic Monthly, and was the only one of her books to sell well among the general public.

She also wrote: “There ain’t no answer. There ain’t gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That’s the answer.”

Today is the birthday of painter Norman Rockwell (1894), whose illustrations of everyday American life graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post for over 50 years. Rockwell painted soldiers, mooney-eyed teenaged lovers, and doughy policemen. Rockwell’s paintings appeared on the cover of the Post more than 300 times.

Norman Percevel Rockwell was born in New York City and grew up in cramped, shabby apartments. He was sickly, skinny, underweight, bad at math, probably dyslexic, and wore corrective shoes. But he was also a talented drawer from a young age and when he was 14, he began attending the Chase Art School, which is now the Parsons School of Design. He did early work for Boys’ Life magazine and the Boy Scouts of America. About art, he said, “The story is the first thing and the last thing.”

Norman Rockwell was so popular that he endorsed after-shave, wine, and tombstones. He even judged the Miss America pageant twice and played a gambler in the movie Stagecoach (1966). He painted the portraits of several presidents of the United States, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon, and celebrities like Judy Garland and Colonel Sanders. Most of his adult life, he lived at 24 Lord Kitchener Road in New Rochelle, New York. He painted over 4,000 original works in his lifetime.

It is the birthday of Richard Yates (books by this author), American novelist and short-story writer. Yates was born in 1926 in Yonkers, New York. Like many writers in his era, Yates served in combat in the final years of World War II and was influenced by his experiences there. He also survived a bout of tuberculosis.

His best-known work is his debut novel, Revolutionary Road. It was published to great acclaim in 1962, a National Book Award finalist beside Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. The novel explores the failing marriage of 1950s suburban couple Frank and April Wheeler, who struggle to achieve greatness within their dull surroundings.

Though his work received consistently strong reviews, and he was admired widely by his contemporaries, Yates never sold more than 12,000 copies of any one book in hardback.

It is the 70th birthday of the author Paul Auster (books by this author), known for his existentialist and absurdist fiction. Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey, to a Jewish middle-class family.

Though he is primarily known as a fiction writer, Auster’s debut work was his 1982 memoir The Invention of Solitude. In it, he explores the sudden death of his father and in doing so unearths a 60-year-old murder mystery in his family’s past. Auster’s literary career truly got its start, however, three years later with the publication of his widely popular New York Trilogy series.

It’s the birthday of the first woman to graduate from medical school, Elizabeth Blackwell, born on this day in Bristol, England, in 1821. She wanted to become a doctor because she knew that many women would rather discuss their health problems with another woman. She read medical texts and studied with doctors, but she was rejected by all the big medical schools. Finally the Geneva Medical College (which became Hobart College) in upstate New York accepted her. The faculty wasn’t sure what to do with such a qualified candidate, and so they turned the decision over to the students. The male students voted unanimously to accept her. Her classmates and even professors considered many medical subjects too delicate for a woman, and didn’t think she should be allowed to attend lectures on the reproductive system. But she graduated, became a doctor, and opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.

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