James Joyce Celebrates His Birthday

February 2, 2017, is the 135th anniversary of the birth of James Joyce (above).

In his huge biography, Richard Ellmann notes in several places that Joyce found his own birthday to be a topic most fascinating (he made certain that his novel Ulysses was published on his 40th, in 1922) and he tells how this affected his relationship with another writer, James Stephens.
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C.S.I.: North Pole

Who wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas”? Who invented Santa Claus?

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Sometimes all a story needs for it to be spread widely is an authoritative manner behind its delivery. Like all characters in great folklore, the character of Santa Claus “feels” like something ancient, a figure who has always been around, and not something that a human being could have conceived of merely to sell, well, anything.

What we know about the jolly old elf, including that very phrase, mostly comes from Old New York of the beginning of the 19th Century. New York City in the early 1800s was already the melting pot it remains to this day, but mostly it was two cultures that were mixing together then: English and Dutch. During the period of Dutch dominance, in commerce and population, the city was called New Amsterdam, and many place names still in use in the city and parts north to Albany are Dutch in origin (Spuyten Duyvil or Catskill Mountains, for example).
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Zombies to Help Love

Aston Parsons’ 2015 novel 28 Grams Later is a zombie apocalypse horror-comedy in which the only defense against the zombie infection is … cannabis. It is tightly plotted, stays one step ahead of its readers, and has many laugh-out-loud comic moments.

Among its great insights are that even in the middle of an apocalypse, bureaucratic types will emerge to run the remains of the bureaucracy, military types will offer to shoot first, and stoners will quite probably save the world. Parsons keeps the novel’s attitude on the tongue-in-cheek side, which is, of course, an awkward compliment for a zombie novel.

Parsons has also pledged that all proceeds from sales of the novel from December 1 on will be donated to the Courage Foundation’s defense fund for Lauri Love. In November, Amber Rudd, the United Kingdom’s Home Secretary, signed the order to approve Lauri Love’s extradition to the United States to face charges of data theft.

More than 100 members of Parliament, across party lines, signed a letter in October on behalf of Love that is to be sent to President Obama to request that he withdraw the extradition requests. People around the world are fighting for Love’s freedom. Parsons’ book is one more way.

The title is available through all the E-Book retailers. Hardcover, the book is available for around £3.00. Through Amazon UK, the title is £0.49, and though Amazon in America, the title is 99 cents. Buy a copy, and then spread the word.

28 Grams Later is also available through iTunes.

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The Ghostly Writer

The French writer Guy de Maupassant was famous for approximately two things: one, his brief yet incredibly prolific writing career; and two, his claim that one of his many stories just happened to have been dictated to him by his ghost-double, his doppelganger.

M. de Maupassant was dying of syphilis for the last several years of his life (perhaps we have three things he was famous for), and insanity is one symptom of that terrible disease. In “The Horla,” which he published in 1887, a few years before his death, the narrator is tormented by a demon he can not see, can not prove exists, but who comes to him every night and drinks the water off his night table and makes him ransack his own house, to the consternation of his servants. (I might write a parody of this and call it, “The Santa.”)
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Sentimental Journeys

Laurence Sterne was dying of consumption, the polite yet dramatic term that people used to employ for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis. He had contracted it by 1740, when he was still in his 20s, and he fought for his every breath for his remaining three decades of life.

In 1765, he left England in search of better breathing, and he traveled abroad to France and Italy. He was a surprise best-selling author by this point, a clergyman who had decided on a whim to start telling the life story of a character but by not telling it in a straightforward manner, to comically digress his way through The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. One of the earliest novels in English or any language, “Shandy” was an instant success when its first two volumes started appearing in 1759.

The genre we call “travel writing” was not as common in the 1760s as it is now, and most works in that genre at that time were quite unsentimental: verbal pictures of natural phenomena and wonders of the man-made world and warnings-slash-complaints about the foreignness of foreigners on their strange home turf. In his 1765 journey, Sterne encountered fellow novelist Tobias Smollett, and the stern, dry Smollett left such an impression on the always amused Sterne that in his book, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, he based a character named “Smelfungus” on Smollett. Nice revenge.
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On an Island

Daniel Defoe is officially credited as the author of 28 titles, but it is likely that he was the author of twice that, if one counts the pamphlets, essays, and other works he published under pseudonyms.

One of his titles keeps his name famous almost three centuries after he published it: Robinson Crusoe. Its full title on its publication in 1719 was longer (ahem): The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.
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A Sentimental Journey Through …

Laurence Sterne was dying of consumption, the polite yet dramatic term that people used to employ for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis. He had contracted it by 1740, when he was still in his 20s, and he fought for his every breath for his remaining three decades of life.

In 1765, he left England in search of better breathing, and he traveled abroad to France and Italy. He was a surprise best-selling author by this point, a clergyman who had decided on a whim to start telling the life story of a character but by not telling it in a straightforward manner, to comically digress his way through “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” One of the earliest novels in English or any language, “Shandy” was an instant success when its first two volumes started appearing in 1759.

The genre we call “travel writing” was not as common in the 1760s as it is now, and most works in that genre at that time were quite unsentimental: verbal pictures of natural phenomena and wonders of the man-made world and warnings-slash-complaints about the foreignness of foreigners on their strange home turf. In his 1765 journey, Sterne encountered fellow novelist Tobias Smollett, and the stern, dry Smollett left such an impression on the always amused Sterne that in his book, “A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy,” he based a character named “Smelfungus” on Smollett. Nice revenge.
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No Mystery

We are speaking of the summer of 1976, when I was a seven-year-old hidden from myself, a summer I remember for being the Bicentennial, for being sunny every single day, and for the work of Leslie McFarlane, who around that time had published a book revealing he was the author of my favorite books. That book landed with a thud that did not reverberate into my world: as far as I was concerned, “Franklin W. Dixon” and not Leslie McFarlane was my favorite writer, and The Hardy Boys were the older brothers I did not have.

Books 1 through 22 of The Hardy Boys series were written between 1927 and 1947 by a Canadian writer who was desperate for income, Leslie McFarlane, and even though Grosset & Dunlap only paid him $85 per book with no royalties, he discovered that this was $85 per book that he could count on as long as he kept typing. He wrote the first eight in just over two years, just as the Great Depression was consuming all it could.
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