A Weekly Literary Celebration: LitBash 2

Writers who were born, or died, this coming week. Read books, and meet the fascinating people who wrote them. Above all read, because, as Charles Eliot said: "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers."

Born this week:

Stephen Leacock, Writer.
"I detest life-insurance agents: they always argue that I shall some day die, which is not so."

Paul Bowles, Writer.
"I think we all really thrive on hostility, because it's the most intense kind of massage the ego can undergo."

Horacio Quiroga, Writer.
He wrote stories which, in their jungle settings, use the supernatural and the bizarre to show the struggle of man and animal to survive. He also excelled in portraying mental illness and hallucinatory states. His influence can be seen in the Latin American magic realism of Gabriel García Márquez and the postmodern surrealism of Julio Cortázar.

Fumiko Hayashi, Writer.
Many of her works revolve around themes of free spirited women and troubled relationships.

Veijo Meri, Writer.
Author of a series of anti-war novels.

Mariano Azuela, Writer.
A follower of Pancho Villa, he wrote a novel, first-hand description of combat during the Mexican revolution.

J.D. Salinger, Writer.
"There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. ... It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure. ... I don't necessarily intend to publish posthumously, but I do like to write for myself. ... I pay for this kind of attitude. I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work."

Isaak Asimov, Writer.
"The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers."

Died this week:

Theodore Dreiser, Writer.
"The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions — none more so than the most capable."

Susan Sontag, Writer.
"The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is."

Romain Rolland, Writer.
"Be reverent before the dawning day. Do not think of what will be in a year, or in ten years. Think of to-day. Leave your theories. All theories, you see, even those of virtue, are bad, foolish, mischievous. Do not abuse life. Live in to-day. Be reverent towards each day."

Aleksis Kivi, Writer.
Noted for the first significant novel written in Finnish and by a Finnish-speaking author.

Paul Adam, Writer.
Wrote a series of historical novels that dealt with the period of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath.


What you read is what you are

"Eating anything you come across does not contribute to good health; the content of what we eat is of vital importance. The same is true of reading. ...

It is less the act of reading that reaps benefits and rather the content of what is read. Beyond a basic grasp of grammar, reading baseball reports is fundamentally different from reading Jane Austen.

And too often teachers and librarians are unwilling to assume their core responsibility — to guide young people to acquire knowledge. Too often books recommended to students today have limited value and are incapable of helping young minds navigate today’s social complexities. In fact, they make the passage through adolescence, a time when identity is being developed, even tougher.

Certain authors may need to aim at the most commercially viable, lowest common denominator of modern society. What is dispiriting is that librarians and educators largely acquiesce..." SOURCE

A writer writes what readers read, and what publishers publish.


A Weekly Literary Celebration: LitBash 1

Celebrate literature: fascinating people and writers who were born, or died, this coming week. Buy or download their books, or books about them. Read, because, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. He who has once known its satisfactions is provided with a resource against calamity."

Born this week:

Rene Bazin, Writer.
Author of "novels of great charm and delicacy"

Yevgenia Ginzburg, Writer.
Upon sentencing to 10 years, and loss of property: "To live! Without property, but what was that to me? Let them confiscate it -- they were brigands anyway, confiscating was their business. They wouldn't get much good out of mine, a few books and clothes -- why, we didn't even have a radio. My husband was a loyal Communist of the old stamp, not the kind who had to have a Buick or a Mercedes... Ten years! ...Do you [the judges], with your codfish faces, really think you can go on robbing and murdering for another ten years, that there aren't people in the Party who will stop you sooner or later?"

John Cowper Powys, Writer.
Author of Wolf Solent, "the only book in the English languiage to rival Tolstoy."
"Man is the animal who weeps and laughs — and writes. If the first Prometheus brought fire from heaven in a fennel-stalk, the last will take it back — in a book."

Jean Baptiste Racine, Writer.
"Today, let us make haste to enjoy life. Who knows if we will be tomorrow?"

Heinrich Boll, Writer.
"One ought to go too far, in order to know how far one can go."

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Writer.
"When a peasant gives me his bit of cheese he's making me a bigger present than the Prince of Làscari when he invites me to dinner. That's obvious. The difficulty is that the cheese is nauseating. So all that remains is the heart's gratitude which can't be seen and the nose wrinkled in disgust which can be seen only too well."

Julien Benda, Writer.
In The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, Benda argued that French and German intellectuals in the 19th and 20th century had often lost the ability to reason dispassionately about political and military matters, instead becoming apologists for crass nationalism, warmongering and racism.

Henry Miller, Writer.
"This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will"

Alejo Carpentier, Writer.
Travel, Music and Writing... my dream.

Jesus Christ
Makes the list for having inspired plenty of works of literature ;)

Died this week:

Yury Tynianow, Writer.
Author of historical novels and biographies.

F. Scott Firzgerald, Writer.
"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."

James Hilton, Writer.
Hilton found literary success at an early age. His first novel, Catherine Herself, was published in 1920, when he was 20. Several of his books were international bestsellers and inspired successful film adaptations, notably Lost Horizon (1933), which won a Hawthornden Prize; Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1934); and Random Harvest (1941). Lost Horizon, which sold briskly in the 1930s as one of the first Pocket Books (it in fact bore the serial number "1"), is sometimes referred to as the book that began the paperback revolution.

John Steinbeck, Writer.
"The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty."

Carl Sagan, Writer.
"I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking."

Giovanni Boccaccio, Writer.
"I have always been given to understand…that whereas a single cock is quite sufficient for ten hens, ten men are hard put to satisfy one woman."

Kurt Tucholsky, Writer.
"For four years, there were whole square miles of land where murder was obligatory, while it was strictly forbidden half an hour away. Did I say: murder? Of course murder. Soldiers are murderers."

Lion Feuchtwanger, Writer.
Feuchtwanger served in the German Army during World War I, an experience that contributed to a leftist tilt in his writings. After studying a variety of subjects, he became a theater critic and founded the culture magazine, "Der Spiegel", in 1908. He soon became a figure in the literary world, and was sought out by the young Bertolt Brecht, with whom he collaborated on drafts of Brecht's early work, The Life of Edward II of England, in 1923-24. According to Feuchtwanger's widow, Marta, Feuchtwanger was a possible source for the titles of two other Brecht works, including Drums in the Night (first called Spartakus by Brecht).

George Eliot, Writer.
"My own experience and development deepen everyday my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy."

Nikolay Ostrowski, Writer.
"Man's dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world- the fight for the Liberation of Mankind."

Benito Lynch, Writer.
An eccentric, Lynch's quirky short stories, (he wrote more than a hundred) in a neo-gauchoesque manner that sometimes evokes magic realism, have been often filmed and dramatized. He also strikes a genuinely and authentically popular vein.

Samuel Beckett, Writer.
"I think the next little bit of excitement is flying. I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously, nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot. I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read. It is not as though I wanted to write them."

Anatoly Rybakov, Writer.
His most popular novel Children of the Arbat was written and distributed via samizdat in the 1960s, but was not published until 1987 despite having been officially announced for publication in 1966 and 1978 (in both cases publication was canceled at the very last moment by the Soviet government). The eventual publication of the novel and its sequels - 1935 and Other Years («Тридцать пятый и другие годы», 1989), Fear («Страх», 1990) and Dust & Ashes («Прах и пепел», 1994) - were considered a landmark of the nascent glasnost, as the first in the trilogy was one of the earliest publications of previously forbidden anti-Stalin literature.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Writer.
"Dare, and the world always yields: or, if it beat you sometimes, dare again, and it will succumb."

Arturo Barea, Writer.
His The Forge (La Forja) tells the story of his childhood and adolescence growing up in Madrid between 1905 and 1914. ( It was reviewed favourably by George Orwell in Horizon, " a fragment of autobiography, and we may hope that others will follow it..if the Fascist powers have done no other good, they have at least enriched the English-speaking world by exiling all their best writers. "

Louis Aragon, Writer.
As a novelist he encompasses the whole ethos of the Twentieth century: surrealist novel, socialist realism, realism, nouveau roman. Indeed he was one of the founding personalities of the novel of his time.

Harold Pinter, Playwright.
"The U.S. is really beyond reason now. It is beyond our imagining to know what they are going to do next and what they are prepared to do. There is only one comparison: Nazi Germany... Nazi Germany wanted total domination of Europe and they nearly did it. The U.S. wants total domination of the world and is about to consolidate that...
Blair sees himself as a representative of moral rectitude. He is actually a mass murderer. But we forget that — we are as much victims of delusions as Americans are."

Vladimir Korolenko, Writer, Activist,
"Violence feeds on submission like fire feeds on dry grass."

Paul Charles Bourget, Writer.
"At certain moments, words are nothing; it is the tone in which they are uttered."

Karel Capek, Writer.
"Much melancholy has devolved upon mankind, and it is detestable to me that might will triumph in the end ... Art must not serve might."

Louis de Vilmerin, Writer.
"Francis Poulenc nearly literally sang her praises, considering her an equal to Paul Éluard and Max Jacob, found in her writing "a sort of sensitive impertinence, libertinage, and appetite which, carried on into song [is] what I tried to express in my extreme youth with Marie Laurencin in Les Biches."


There is fiction, and there is history, and the author in the middle

"There is fiction, and there is history. Certain critics of no discernment have considered that fiction is history which might have taken place, and history is fiction which has taken place. We are, indeed, forced to acknowledge that the novelist's art often compels belief, just as reality sometimes defies it. Alas! there exists an order of minds so sceptical that they deny the possibility of any fact as soon as it diverges from commonplace."

Andre Gide in Caves of the Vatican (also published as Lafcadio's Adventures)


Life without writing, or Death because of writing?

Considering becoming a writer? Health.com lists writers in the category of one of the top 10 "careers" most prone to depression:

"These jobs can bring irregular paychecks, uncertain hours, and isolation.

Creative people may also have higher rates of mood disorders; about 9% reported an episode of major depression in the previous year.

In men, it’s the job category most likely to be associated with an episode of major depression (nearly 7% in full-time workers).

“One thing I see a lot in entertainers and artists is bipolar illness,” says Legge. “There could be undiagnosed or untreated mood disorders in people who are artistic…. Depression is not uncommon to those who are drawn to work in the arts, and then the lifestyle contributes to it.”"

Rainer Maria Rilke suggested:

"No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write."

One must ask what is more painful: living without writing, or knowing that one may die because of writing?

If you are one of those true writers for whom writing is not a choice, you are perhaps in a much better position from one who sets out to write on the premise of building a career. The stress comes from seeking publication and / or income from writing.

When a career is your primary consideration in becoming a writer, you can extend your chances of living to a ripe old age by adopting a pet.


How to reach your life's goals

A University professor to his loving students:

"You may be thinking of me as a man who achieved his life's goals. Yet, I'd be delighted to swap places with you. ...  Man never reaches what he set out to achieve. Behind the goal is a horizon, and behind it another, and another; the closer we get to it, the farther it becomes, it no longer seems quite as alluring from a close range, as it did from afar. Most importantly, the closer you get, the less appealing is the target, it is as though you are seeing it through haze. Yet, it is those vague objectives that are most alluring to individuals, as they are to entire nations too.

More important than reaching the goal, is how we tread the road to the goal. On this road we often lose so much that in the end the goal doesn't seem worth it. Many lose themselves on this road. Why are we in such a hurry to reach the end sooner? Is it not strange? The end of the road is completely different from its beginning, and often when we approach it we no longer know the purpose that sent us out in the first place. Sometimes we no longer need that for which we searched our whole life. It happens to entire nations too."

Grigory Baklanov, The Youngest of the Brothers (my translation.)