Today in History: May 27

Herman Wouk’s first novel was published in 1941. His last was published in 2012. His most recent book, a memoir, was published in January of this year. Herman Wouk is 101 today.

For four decades, his novels regularly appeared atop the bestseller lists, even as critics just as regularly lambasted his wooden dialogue, wooden characters, and page counts in the high triple digits. (In paperback, some of his titles made almost perfect squares, cuboids of middle-brow literature.) He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1951 for The Caine Mutiny, a novel with a story so compelling one can be excused for not noticing that it is largely absent any action: it is testimony given in a military courtroom.

His last novel, 2012’s The Lawgiver, utilizes the oldest of novel forms: epistolary, but the letters include emails, transcriptions of Skype teleconferences, some PowerPoint presentations, handwritten notes. One character reluctant to participate is “Herman Wouk,” showing that the real Herman Wouk at 97 had a desire to try new tricks in a trade he once was considered a master of. At one point, a female character is rejected by a lover with a curt, “Good riddance, Marjorie Morningstar!” It reads clunky on the page, and it is, until one remembers that once upon a time, Marjorie Morningstar was a very famous character, so famous she was a type—and her name could be used as an insult—and that her creator back in 1955 was Herman Wouk. He has the right.

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The Chrysler Building opened 86 years ago today. It was the tallest building in the world for less than a year.

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Christopher Reeve was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident during an equestrian event on this date in 1995.

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Gil Scott-Heron died five years ago today. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”:

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Dashiell Hammett was born on this date in 1894. Rachel Carson was born in 1907 on this date. Hubert Humphrey, Vincent Price, and Teddy Kollek were each born on this date in 1911. John Cheever and Sam Snead were both born in 1912 on this date. The late Sir Christopher Lee, icon of heavy metal at the end of his long career, was born on this date in 1922.

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Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone is 98. Henry Kissinger is 93. Sumner Redstone is 93. John Barth is 86. (His most recent novel was published in 2011.) Harlan Ellison is 82. Lee Meriwether is 81. Louis Gossett, Jr. is 80 today. Richard Schiff is 61. Eric Bischoff is 61. Siouxsie Sioux is 59. Neil Finn is 58. “Better Be Home Soon,” by Neil Finn and Crowded House:

Adam Carolla is 52. André 3000 is 41.

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Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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