August 22:  Fahrenheit 451 Day

Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school he educated himself, spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.

Cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a paper fireman's hat while his left arm is wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. Beside the title and author's name in large text, there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of his short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).

On October 19, 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He begins to become curious about the books he’s burning. However, Montag’s curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.

Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.

Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stories are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.

Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called “The Fireman” published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury’s publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. (He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft).

When he wasn’t typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library:

There I strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of the libraries. What a place, don’t you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the Future.

Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him they were the backbone of civilization as illustrated by a statement he made in an interview published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451:

Let’s imagine there’s an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization (2).

It’s no wonder that one of Bradbury’s most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

Today’s Challenge: On Fire for a Book
Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, the main character Montag finds himself among a group of people who each memorize a forbidden book.  Each person becomes the keeper of the book, preserving the book for future generations.  If you found yourself in a society that banned books, what single book would you select to memorize, and what makes that book so special?  Brainstorm some titles of important books that should always remain alive in the hearts and minds of readers.  Select a single book that you would commit to memory, and write an explanation of what the book is about and what makes that book important and special? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. –Ray Bradbury

Answers: 1. teem 2. cacophony 3. tactile 4. litterateur 5. oblivion 6. verbiage 7. filigree 8. cadence 9. scythe 10. olfactory

1- About Ray Bradbury

2 – Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House.

 

August 9:  Walden Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Two thousand copies were printed and put on sale for $1 each on August 9, 1854.

It took five years to sell those first thousand copies, but today Walden is one of the all-time best sellers in American literary history. It has also sold well overseas and has been translated into over 20 languages.

File:Walden Thoreau.jpgIn his essay “Five Ways of Looking at Walden,” Professor Walter Harding (1917-1996) talks about the different reasons that Walden has appealed to readers through the years. Below Harding’s five points are summarized.

  1. Walden’s first appeal was as a nature book. In an age of American progress and expansion, Thoreau left the city to live in the woods for two years and commune with nature. In today’s modern age Thoreau reminds us that nature provides us with infinite metaphors for understanding our own existence. He reminds us to watch for signs of the changing of the season. In his own famous words from Walden, he explains why returning to nature is so important:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

  1. The second appeal of Walden is its lessons on how to live life more simply. This aspect of Thoreau’s work is especially relevant to the modern reader who is mired in possessions and the fast pace of the consumer culture.

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three , and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and refuse other things in proportion.

  1. The third appeal of Walden is its satire. Thoreau doesn’t just observe life in the woods; he reflects on the life he has left in the city, and his biting commentary pokes fun at progress. Here are samples of his views on the transatlantic telegraph cable and French fashion:

We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

  1. The fourth appeal of Walden is simply the pleasure of reading great writing. Thoreau is a master of the abstract and the particular. Think of how many times you have seen Thoreau quoted. The clarity of his sentences and the exactness of his word choice make Thoreau’s prose eminently quotable.

Here is one example from Walden. It’s a 351 word sentence from the “House-Warming” section. It would be considered long even by 19th century standards. With Thoreau at the pen though, even an average reader can follow the sentence’s path from beginning to end:

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head, — useful to keep off rain and snow, where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage, when you have done reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill; a cavernous house, wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the roof; where some may live in the fireplace, some in the recess of a window, and some on settles, some at one end of the hall, some at another, and some aloft on rafters with the spiders, if they choose; a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; where the weary traveler may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, without further journey; such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and nothing for housekeeping; where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view, and everything hangs upon its peg that man should use; at once kitchen, pantry, parlor, chamber, storehouse, and garret; where you can see so necessary a thing as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner, and the oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornament where the washing is not put out. nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trapdoor, when the cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath without stamping.

Certainly not every sentence in Walden is this long, but whether writing a 2-word sentence or a 350-word sentence, Thoreau’s syntax is precise and clear. Thoreau is a master of every tool of the writer’s trade, including sentence variety.

  1. The fifth appeal of Walden, as Professor Harding explains below, is its spiritual content:

It is a major thesis of Walden that the time has come for a spiritual rebirth — a renewal and rededication of our lives to higher things. It is true that we have progressed a long way from the status of the caveman. But our progress has been for the most part material rather than spiritual. We have improved our means, but not our ends. We can unquestionably travel faster than our ancestors, but we continue to waste our time in trivial pursuits when we get there. We have cut down the number hours of labor required to keep ourselves alive, but we have not learned what to do with the time thus saved. We devote the major part of our national energy to devising new ways of blowing up the rest of the world and ignore attempts to make better men of ourselves.

Thoreau is sometimes mislabeled as a misanthrope. Although he does at times lament man’s state, he nevertheless sees man’s potential for better things. At the conclusion of Walden, for example, his words sound like a sermon from a pastor who is full of hope for his congregation:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them (1).

Walden rewards the reader in many ways. One of these rewards is Thoreau’s word choice. Professor Harding says the following about Thoreau’s diction:

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of Thoreau’s word choice is the size of his vocabulary. Walden is guaranteed to send the conscientious student to the dictionary. In a random sampling we find such words as integument, umbrageous, deliquium, aliment, fluviatile, and periplus. Yet Thoreau cannot be termed ostentatious in his word-usage. He simply searches for and uses the best possible word for each situation (1).

Today’s Challenge: Why Henry’s Words Are Worth It
What is it that makes Walden, published in 1854, still relevant today.  What did Thoreau say in the 19th century that has meaning to people living in the 21st century?  Read some excerpts from Walden.  Then, write a brief promo for Walden that provides both a little bit of background on the book and some details on why it is still relevant today.

Quote of the Day: I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. –Henry David Thoreau.

 

1- Harding, Walter. Five Ways of Looking at Walden. Massachusetts Review (Autumn 1962) ca. 1986.

 

July 22:  Syntax Sorcery Day

Today is the birthday of author Tom Robbins.  Born in North Carolina in 1932, Robbins attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Washington.  Including service in the U. S. Air Force as a meteorologist, he also worked as a journalist, radio host, and art critic. Robbins moved to La Conner, Washington, in 1970 and since that time has written eight novels.

Robbins’ best known novel is his first, Another Roadside Attraction (1971).  As explained by reviewer and Robbins fan Mike Stone, this novel, and just about everything Robbins writes, defies easy description:

Most of the people I know who are now avid Robbins readers began that life baffled and confused by his prose. I include myself in that group. But after trying and giving up and trying and giving up several times, all of the sudden something clicks and you realize that he is a literary samurai (1).

Tom Robbins.jpgProbably Robbins’ most admired gift is his ability to craft sentences.  As critic Jason Sheehan put it, other writers look up to Robbins, both literally and metaphorically:  “He’s the mountain every working writer surveys when they’re trying to put a sentence together that’s more complicated than subject-verb-predicate” (2).

As Robbins explained in an interview in 2012, when combined with care, words, phrases, and clauses can create something magical:

Certain individual words do possess more pitch, more radiance, more shazam! than others, but it’s the way words are juxtaposed with other words in a phrase or sentence that can create magic.  Perhaps literally.  The word “grammar,” like its sister word “glamour,” is actually derived from an old Scottish word that meant “sorcery.”  When we were made to diagram sentences in high school, we were unwittingly being instructed in syntax sorcery, in wizardry.  We were all enrolled at Hogwarts.  Who knew? (3)

Special insight into Robbins’ sorcery is provided by Michael Dare:

When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period (4).

Today’s Challenge:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
What are some examples of three-word combinations that form complete simple sentences, such as “The sun rose”?  How might you expand such a kernel sentence to make it exactly twenty words long?  Try your hand at some syntax sorcery by taking a three-word kernel sentence and expanding it in a variety of ways so that it has exactly twenty words.  Working within these constraints will force you, like Robbins, to pay careful attention to every word, phrase, and clause.  In Robbins’ words, “Challenge every single sentence for lucidity, accuracy, originality, and cadence. If it doesn’t meet the challenge, work on it until it does.”  Write at least three different 20-word expansions of your three-word kernel.

Example:

Three-word kernel:  The sun rose.

Twenty-word Sentences:

The sun, a blazing ball of fire in the sky, rose triumphantly into the welcoming arms of the patient morning.

As a single ripple glided across the lake, the run rose, bathing the scenery in hues of pink and orange.

Even though yesterday Mary dumped him and he failed both his English and math tests, today the sun still rose.

For an added challenge, try to write using some rhetorical flourishes, such as metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, parallelism, adjectives out of order, or hyphenated modifiers.  Also try a variety of phrases, clauses, and sentence forms.  Here’s a menu from which to mix and match:

Appositive Phrase

Participial Phrase

Absolute Phrase

Adverb Clause

Adjective Clause

Periodic Sentence

Cumulative Sentence

Quotation of the day:  I love mayonnaise! I eat so much they’re gonna send me to the Mayo Clinic. I think it’s definitely a watershed food. People who don’t go for it are destined for a Miracle Whip. They don’t know what they’re missing. Actually, people ought to be aware that Miracle Whip, which isn’t real mayonnaise at all, is a crutch for people who aren’t strong enough to handle the real thing. Mayonnaise is the one product that’s better than homemade. This is an unsolicited testimonial. I always thought Cinco de Mayo was for mayonnaise. I celebrate it every year. -Tom Robbins

 

1-Stone, Mike.  Review of “Another Roadside Attraction

2-http://www.npr.org/2014/05/27/314614799/tom-robbins-takes-a-bite-out-of-life-in-peach-pie

3-http://realitysandwich.com/150587/syntax_sorcery_interview_tom_robbins/

4- Michael Dare, in “How to Write Like Tom Robbins” in The Spirit Of Writing : Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life (2001) edited by Mark Robert Waldman, p. 41.

 

July 12: Thoreau Day

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of American writer, philosopher, and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. Born in 1817, Thoreau graduated from Harvard in 1837, where he studied classics and languages.

After college, he taught and traveled, but he eventually returned to his home in Concord, Massachusetts, to live with his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, the founder and leader of the Transcendental movement.

In 1845, Henry bought a small patch of land from Emerson on Walden Pond and built a cabin. On July 4, 1845 he declared his own independence and began living there in the woods; he stayed for two years, two months, and two days.

In his classic work Walden (1854), Thoreau recounts his life in the wild and his observations about nature and about simple living:

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life . . . .

In 1847 Thoreau spend one night in jail after refusing to pay his poll tax in protest against the war with Mexico (1846-1848). Based on this experience, he wrote his essay “Civil Disobedience” where he explains that individual conscience must trump governmental dictates: “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Clearly Thoreau’s thoughts and words were way ahead of his time; both Walden and “Civil Disobedience” influenced future generations in both the conservation and civil rights movements. For example, in his autobiography Martin Luther King credits Thoreau:

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.

Another disciple of Thoreau was Gandhi, who put Thoreau’s ideas regarding nonviolent resistance into action as he led India to independence (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Thorough Thinking with Thoreau
One of the prominent themes of Thoreau’s writing is the individual’s role in society.  What would you say is the key to maintaining your individuality and unique character, while at the same time living productively as a member of a society made up of groups – family, friends, and co-workers? Write your own statement on this question; then, reflect on the statements below by Thoreau.  Pick the one you agree with or disagree with the most, and explain how Thoreau’s words align or conflict with your personal philosophy:

  • Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.
  • You cannot dream yourself into a character: you must hammer and forge yourself into one.
  • . . . if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours
  • The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.
  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

Quotation of the Day:  It still seems to me the best youth’s companion yet written by an American, for it carries a solemn warning against the loss of one’s valuables, it advances a good argument for traveling light and trying new adventures, it rings with the power of positive adoration, it contains religious feelings without religious images, and it steadfastly refused to record bad news. –E. B. White on Walden

1 – Seymour-Smith, Martin. The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 1998.

 

 

September 24:  Vivid Verb Day

Today is the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), known for his novel The Great Gatsby as well as numerous other short stories and novels.

In a 1938 letter to his daughter, Fitzgerald presented his powerful case for what he felt was the English language’s most potent part of speech:

. . . all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ “Eve of Saint Agnes.” A line like “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,” is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement–the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your own eyes (1).

Verbs are the engines of every sentence.  They create movement and action as well as images that your reader can see and hear.  Because verbs are so important, you should learn to select your verbs with care and learn to differentiate between imprecise, passive verbs that suck the life out of your sentences and precise, action verbs that enliven your sentences.

Like Fitzgerald, writer Constance Hale argues confident writers know the importance of vivid verbs:   “More than any other part of speech, it is the verb that determines whether the writer is a wimp or a wizard.“  Hale believes so strongly about verbs, in fact, that she wrote on entire book on them called,  Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch.

In her book, Hale talks about a “cheat” she employed as a magazine editor to determine whether or not a writer was up to snuff.  She would begin by circling every verb in the first two or three paragraphs of a submitted story.  Then she would study each verb:

Did the writer rely on wimp verbs?  Or did he craft sentences with dynamic verbs — ‘linger,’ maybe, or ‘melt,’ or ‘throttle’? If ‘is,’ ‘was,’ or ‘were’ filled most of the circles, the story idea was declined.  If the writer relied on dynamic verbs, and in doing so made every sentence jump, he got a phone call (2).

Put Hale’s “Verb Check” to the test by examining the two sentences below.  Notice how how a wimpy verb only tells, while a vivid verb shows, providing both sight and sound:

Sentence 1:  Mary was angry.

Sentence 2:  Mary slammed her fist on the desk, lowered her eyebrows into an indignant glare, and stomped out of the room (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Parts of Speech on Parade
What would you say is the most important single part of speech in the English language, and why should writers pay careful attention to how they use it?  Make your case using sentences from great writers as examples. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Verbs act.  Verbs move.  Verbs do. Verbs strike, soothe, grin, cry, exasperate, decline, fly, hurt, and heal.  Verbs make writing go, and they matter more to our language than any other part of speech. -Donald Hall

1- http://www.openculture.com/2013/02/seven_tips_from_f_scott_fitzgerald_on_how_to_write_fiction.html

2- Hale, Constance.  Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch:  Let Verbs Power Your Writing.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.

3-  Backman, Brian.  Persuasion Points:  82 Strategic Exercises for Writing High-Scoring Persuasive Essays.  Gainesville, Florida:  Maupin House Publishing, Inc., 2010.

 

August 23:  Invictus Day

On this day in 1849, poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Hendley was born. Suffering from tuberculosis since he was 12, Henley was frequently hospitalized.  In 1875 his leg was amputated due to complications from the disease.  That same year as he recovered from his surgery, he wrote his best known poem Invictus (Latin for “unconquerable”) (1).

The poem’s brilliance revolves around its expression of the indomitable human spirit.  Also, the poem’s generalized statements of human anguish –“bludgeonings of chance,” “fell clutch of circumstance” — make it applicable to all manner of human struggles.

One example of the poem’s influence comes from the life of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  While imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, Mandela frequently recited the poem to buoy the spirits of his fellow prisoners.  

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,   
 Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
 For my unconquerable soul.   
  
In the fell clutch of circumstance
 I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
 My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
  
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
 Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years   
 Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
  
It matters not how strait the gate,   
 How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
 I am the captain of my soul.

A short poem like Invictus is perfect for memorization.  As Mandela demonstrated, it is the kind of poem that can lift your spirits or the spirits of your compatriots when courage is needed to face what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

In his essay “Why We Should Memorize,” Novelist and poet Brad Leithauer talks about a bygone era (from 1875 to 1950) when the memorization and recitation of poetry was a staple of the curriculums of both Britain and the United States:

The rationales for verse recitation were many and sometimes mutually contradictory: to foster a lifelong love of literature; to preserve the finest accomplishments in the language down the generations; to boost self-confidence through a mastery of elocution; to help purge the idioms and accents of lower-class speech; to strengthen the brain through exercise; and so forth.

Leithaurer hopes for a revival of memorization, a process where students literally learn poems “by heart”:

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. [N.Y.U Professor Catherine] Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.” (2)

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Master of the Poem
What are the keys to effective memorization and recitation of poetry?  What process would you use to learn a poem by heart?  Begin the process of memorizing Invictus.  Read and reread the poem.  Read it aloud.  Write the poem down.  Break the poem down into smaller parts.  Then, memorize it line by line and stanza by stanza.  Decide what key words you want to emphasize and experiment with reciting it using different tones.  Finally, use the words of the poem to inspire your goal of memorizing the poem.  Don’t give up!

Quotation of the Day:  Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. -Winston Churchill

 

1-http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-ernest-henley

2- Leithauer, Brad.  “Why We Should Memorize.”  The New Yorker.  25 Jan. 2013.

September 1: Author Perseverance Day

Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig who received 121 rejections for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Pirsig persevered, and the book he first wrote in 1968 was finally published in 1974.  Not only was the book published, it achieved cult status, selling more than four million copies.

Pirsig is not the only author to experience rejection.  J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book, and Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.

Today’s Challenge:  The Write Stuff
Writing is hard work, and most writers must persevere through rejection before getting their writing published.  What’s your favorite book?  Write an acceptance letter to the author explaining why you love it so much and thanking them for all of his/her hard work.

Quote of the Day:  Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.  –Robert M. Pirsig

 

August 25: Prepositional Phrase Day

On this date in 1984, American author, playwright, and screenwriter Truman Capote died of liver cancer at the age of 59.  Born in 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Capote greatest fame came not from his fiction but from his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood published in 1966.  Capote spent four years researching the book, which is based on the murder of a family on their Kansas farm in 1959.  The book essentially pioneered the true crime genre.

For the title of his acclaimed book, Capote chose a prepositional phraseIn Cold Blood.  This type of phrase is an essential element of English syntax, a phrase that begins with a preposition and ends, most often, with a noun, as in these examples from The Gettysburg Address:  “… government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Of course, Capote is not alone in turning to the prepositional phrase to assist in crafting a title.  Here are a few more examples of titles that contain prepositional phrases:

The Grapes of Wrath

Of Mice and Men

Flowers for Algernon

The Wizard of Oz

The Taming of the Shrew

The House of Seven Gables

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Clan of the Cave Bear

War of the Worlds

Gone With the Wind

The Hunt For Red October

The Red Badge of Courage

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The Prince of Tides

The Call of the Wild

The Man in the Iron Mask

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Today’s Challenge:  Propose With a Prepositional Phrase
Generate a title of your own for a book or movie; make sure, however, that your title contains at least one prepositional phrase.

Quotation of the Day:  A preposition is something never to end a sentence with.  –William Safire

 

August 22: Ray Bradbury Day

Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school he continued learning by educating himself, spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.

He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of his short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).

In 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He begins to become curious about the books he’s burning. However Montag’s curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.

Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.

Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stores are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.

Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called “The Fireman” published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury’s publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. (He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft).

When he wasn’t typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library:

There I strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of the libraries. What a place, don’t you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the Future.

Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him they are the backbone of civilization as illustrated by a statement he made in an interview published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451:

Let’s imagine there’s an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization (2).

It’s no wonder that one of Bradbury’s most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. 

Today’s Challenge: Words on Fire
Every love affair with books begins with a love affair with words. The list of 10 words below are all found in Fahrenheit 451. See if you can match each word with its correct definition.

cacophony
tactile
olfactory
litterateur
scythe
filigree
cadence
oblivion
verbiage
teem

1. To be full of things; to swarm.
2. Harsh, jarring sound; noise.
3. Related to the sense of touch.
4. Someone devoted to the study of literature.
5. The state of being forgotten.
6. Excess words.
7. Delicate, ornamental work made from twisted wire of gold or silver.
8. Rhythmic; expressive.
9. A bladed toll with a long bent handle, used for cutting or mowing.
10. Related to the sense of smell (3).

Quote of the Day: The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. –Ray Bradbury

Answers: 1. teem 2. cacophony 3. tactile 4. litterateur 5. oblivion 6. verbiage 7. filigree 8. cadence 9. scythe 10. olfactory

1- About Ray Bradbury
http://www.raybradbury.com/bio.html

2 – Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House.

3. Fahrenheit 451 Vocabulary List.
http://www.monmouth.com/~literature/f451/fahrenheit_451_vocabulary_list.htm

August 12: Fifty Words Day

On this date in 1960, Green Eggs and Ham was published by Dr. Seuss (pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel).  One of the most popular children’s books of all time, Green Eggs and Ham was written on a $50 bet between Seuss and his editor, Bennett Cerf.  After Seuss wrote his popular book The Cat in the Hat using a mere 225 words, Cerf challenged Seuss to write a book using only 50 words.

In the 1950s debate swirled concerning early childhood literacy and the lack of liveliness in children’s books, such as the traditional Dick and Jane primers. Seuss’ response was to create books that captivated children as they learned to read. Combining his talent for illustration with his talent for writing, Seuss crafted great stories that brought children back the printed page again and again.

Seuss won his bet, using the following 50 words:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you (1).

Today’s Challenge:  One Syllable Story

Can you write with short words?  Try to write your own tale with short, clear words like these.  For an added challenge try some rhyme or alliteration like Dr. Seuss.  Legend has it that before Seuss began writing The Cat in the Hat, he looked at a list of the most common words in English and selected the first two that he saw that rhymed.  You might be able to guess what they were:  cat and hat.  If you need some inspiration, check out a list of the Most Common Words in English.

Quotation of the Day:  When you speak and write, there is no law that says you have to use big words.  Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words — like “sun” and “grass” and “home” — are best of all.  –Richard Lederer

Sources:

1 – http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/01/23/mf.seuss.stories.behind/index.html?iref=24hours

2 -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Most_common_words_in_English