Joan Rivers’s Remarkable Rise to (and Devastating Fall from) Comedy’s Highest Ranks: "In the new biography Last Girl Before Freeway, writer Leslie Bennetts explores the peerless career of comedian Joan Rivers. Here, Bennetts revisits Rivers’s darkest hour, along with her shining moments in the high-flying 1960s and 1970s." (SL Vanity Fair)
The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin - "Ursula Kroeber was born in Berkeley, in 1929, into a family busy with the reading, recording, telling, and inventing of stories. She grew up listening to her aunt Betsy’s memories of a pioneer childhood and to California Indian legends retold by her father. One legend of the Yurok people says that, far out in the Pacific Ocean but not farther than a canoe can paddle, the rim of the sky makes waves by beating on the surface of the water. On every twelfth upswing, the sky moves a little more slowly, so that a skilled navigator has enough time to slip beneath its rim, reach the outer ocean, and dance all night on the shore of another world."
Porta Polonica is a site (courtesy of the Westphalian State Museum of Industrial Heritage) devoted to the culture and history of Poles in Germany. Some examples of the dozens of articles therein: an account of the novelist Witold Gombrowicz’s year in Berlin; a biography of the pioneering harpsichordist, pianist and composer Wanda Landowska; a piece about Jan Łukasiewicz, who devised what was once known as ‘Reverse Polish Notation’; a brief account of Rosa Luxemburg’s career; an article about star of stage & (silent) screen Pola Negri; and a piece about the letter ‘P’ worn by the millions of Polish forced labourers in wartime Germany.
Grace's Guide to British Industrial History ‘is a free-content not-for-profit project dedicated to publishing the history of industry in the UK and elsewhere. Its aim is to provide a brief history of the companies, products and people who were instrumental in industry, commencing with the birth of the Industrial Revolution and continuing up to recent times.’ It ‘contains 115,164 pages of information and 163,140 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.’ Browse by Archived Publications, Biographies (‘over 35,000 pages of biographical notes on individuals’), Industries, Locations or Timelines. There is also a blog.
'Marty Was Always My Best Friend': Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Love Story, an excerpt in Jezebel from the new book Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. [Don't read this unless you're ready to sob like a baby.]
You’ve seen a painting of Norbert Grupe. A heavy, creased brow and shoulder-length hair framing a frightening scowl, the massive work hung in the fictional Manhattan Museum of Art in Ghostbusters II. [...] Most people will only ever know Norbert Grupe as Vigo the Carpathian. But Norbert Grupe—a Nazi soldier's son, boxer, professional wrestler, failed actor, criminal, and miserable human being who was never so happy as when he could make someone hate him—was once a man so beautiful that other men wanted to paint him.
Over a hundred years after his death (it was supposed to be a hundred but you know how people can be), The Autobiography of Mark Twain has been released in its entirety (Volume One previously). [more inside]
Fans of Richard Pryor (previously) may be interested in a new, free online archive devoted to providing a peek at the Illinois town where the comedian spent his first two decades. “Richard Pryor’s Peoria,” a collaboration between biographer Scott Saul and Stanford University’s Spatial History Project, "digitally unites 200 primary sources—from aerial maps of Pryor’s hometown to his elementary school report cards—for anyone with an internet connection to explore. The site ... presents one of the first full-fledged extensions of a traditional biography onto the web—an affirmation of historian Edward L. Ayers’s suggestion that “history may be better suited to digital technology than any other humanistic discipline.”
[F. Scott] Fitzgerald saw homosexuality as a weakness—less a sexual predilection than something one undergoes in times of emotional distress. [Ernest] Hemingway used fiction to broadcast his virility after a sexually confusing childhood. Both were more sexually fluid than their contemporary reputations suggest. Cody C. Delistraty in The Paris Review
In honor of Winnie-the-Pooh Day, here is a webpage with horrible formatting but lots of great photos of Christopher Robin, and an old CNN story about Ashdown Forest.
They would ask me what actors I saw in the roles. I would tell them, and they’d say “Oh that’s interesting.” And that would be the end of it. --Elmore Leonard, in 2000, on the extent of his input for Hollywood's adaptation of his novels For authorial input on film adaptation, try My Book The Movie, by Marshall Zeringue, also of The Campaign for the American Reader, the page 69 test (previously), and the page 99 test. [more inside]
I have come to the conclusion that anyone who thinks about Kafka for long enough inevitably develops a few singular, unassimilable and slightly silly convictions. (The graph may be parabolic, with the highest incidence of convictions – and the legal resonance is invited – found among those who have spent the most time thinking and those who have spent next to no time thinking.) My own such amateur conviction is that the life of Franz Kafka reads like a truly great comedy. I mean this (of course) in large part because of the tragedies in and around his life, and I mean it in the tradition of comedies like the final episode of Richard Curtis and Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder, which, after episode upon episode of darlings and foilings and cross-dressings, ends in 1917 with our not exactly heroes climbing out of their trench and running towards the enemy lines.—What kind of funny is he? is an essay by Rivka Galchen on Franz Kafka's life, based on the recently translated three-volume biography by Reiner Stach.
How might President Obama's leadership style be rooted in his psychology? Psychoanalysts Nasir Ghaemi, Samuel Barondes, and Justin Frank venture opinions, and writer Robert Merry applies a framework from political psychology. (psychoanalyst Drew Westen, previously)
Friends, family, and co-workers reminisce before the camera in the biographic documentary I Don't Know Jack [~1h30m], about the life and career and character of Jack Nance, best known for playing Henry Spencer in Eraserhead and Pete Martell in Twin Peaks.
"Galaga" is an excerpt from Michael Kimball's book of the same name about the classic arcade game of the same name. Kimball is also the author of the heartbreaking novel Us and the experimental non-fiction Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard), his selected favorites from which are 45, 46, 51, 52, 54, 66, 70, 75, 86, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 112, 114, 118, 128, 129, 131, 133, 160, 165, 167, 171, 192, 195, 199, 209, 216, 221, 225 and 240. Postcards 54, 75, 98, 114, and 225 feature non-human subjects. 131 is Tao Lin, and 128 is Kimball himself. [Via.]
...if it felt like an author had already come into your life, already seen some aspect of your experience then it would be natural to want to extend this intimacy into conversation. The impulse to contact a confessional writer – whose writing has already revealed something private – is something else. Perhaps it is still a desire to translate one kind of intimacy into another, but the terms are different. With confessional writing, the disclosure has already happened – now the reader wants to confess something back, make a reciprocal exchange. So whenever people talk about confessional writing as navel-gazing or self-involved, I think about those voices, and their offerings.Author Leslie Jamison (previously, previouslier) explains why confessional writing is not self-indulgent. [more inside]
Holt, Reinhart, and Winston published Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League in the fall of 1980 ... In over-the-top comically implausible prose, [Cleo] Birdwell, a twenty-three-year-old from Badger, Ohio, narrates her inaugural season with the New York Rangers. She has a Midwestern practicality and straight-forwardness, a sly humor, and an unusually subversive sexual candor and agency, chronicling—sans any standard female shame or hesitancy—her plentiful sexual liaisons with a gamut of neurotic men. The dialogue is masterful and playful and the humor unremitting. Yet beneath Birdwell’s narration, a foreboding lurks—a tinge of sadness and an existential-like searching-ness. That’s because Cleo Birdwell is a pseudonym for Don Delillo.
Since his death from cancer at age 32, comedian Bill Hicks's (very previously) legend and stature have only grown; American: The Bill Hicks Story (previously) fills in the details of a life cut tragically short, blending live footage and animation, and is narrated by the 10 people who knew Bill best. A comic's comic and unflagging critic of hypocrisy and cultural emptiness, American: The Bill Hicks Story is now streaming for free on Snag Films.
Fuck Yeah, Thoreau is a Tumblr dispensing Thoreau quotes and Thoreau-themed art - "Everything Henry David Thoreau". A good place to begin is Ralph Waldo Emerson's powerhouse biographical essay, the conclusion of which perhaps still rings true more than 150 years after Thoreau's death: "The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how great a son it has lost."
Richard Pryor moved to New York City in 1963, where he performed regularly in clubs alongside performers such as Bob Dylan and Woody Allen. He even opened for singer and pianist Nina Simone, who talked of his early nervousness, when she put her "arms around him there in the dark and rocked him like a baby until he calmed down." You can see something of that young man in this clip of Pryor singing a bit of jazzy blues in 1966. The performance is also available on YouTube with slightly better quality, but faded in from different scene. [more inside]
"We can go to science fiction for its sense of wonder, its power to take us to far-off places and future times. We can go to political fiction to understand injustice in our own time, to see what should change. We may go to poetry — epic or lyric, old or new — for what cannot change, for a sense of human limits, as well as for the music in its words. And if we want all those things at once — a sense of escape, a sense of injustice, a sense of mortality and an ear for language — we can read the stories of James Tiptree, Jr.," the reclusive, award-winning author whose vague biography started out in the Congo, routed through a period as a painter, then service as a photo intelligence officer in WWII, and finally a researcher and teacher of "soft" sciences before getting to writing science fiction. There was another facet that was only guessed at by some, dismissed by others: the fact that "Uncle Tip," and his reclusive friend, the former school teacher Racoona Sheldon, were the same person. And they were Alice Bradley Sheldon. [more inside]
William T. Vollmann: The Self Images of a Cross-Dresser [New York Times] From a profile on William T. Vollmann, in The New York Times. The profile centers around Vollmann’s latest book, The Book of Dolores.
Salinger Betrayed: despite their show-stopping if unattributed revelation of a publication schedule and descriptions for the author's posthumous works, Shane Salerno's tabloid-style documentary film (now recut), and the accompanying biography co-written by David Shields, have been very poorly received. [more inside]
Alexander Trocchi—A Life in Pieces is a short biographical film about the once notorious Scottish writer, provocateur and ‘ungentlemanly junkie,’ including reminiscences from William S. Burroughs and Leonard Cohen. [more inside]
"During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Dr. Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five-foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. Publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to compile and edit the right collection of works. The result: a 51-volume series of classic works from world literature published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf, which would later be called The Harvard Classics." (Via) [more inside]
“With a $100,000-plus salary from newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, beginning in 1929, followed by endorsement deals, speaking engagements, and earnings from his best-selling books, radio shows, movies, and museums, he was earning well over half a million dollars a year during the height of the Depression. By 1936, a newspaper poll found, Ripley was more popular than James Cagney, President Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey, and even Lindbergh.” – Vanity Fair features an excerpt adapted from Neal Thompson’s new book, A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. [more inside]
What Does D-Day, MLK JR and Tennessee Williams have in common? NO, not that D-Day. The other D-Day. [more inside]
Spitalfields Life is a blog about an East London neighbourhood. Sometimes it's about the dogs of Spitalfields. Sometimes it's about the wallpapers of Spitalfields. Or the leather shops of Spitalfields. Or people in Spitalfields who collect pictures of dogs. [more inside]
In which a Slate writer decides to fact-check Bob Woodward and discovers how he manages to be wrong without being wrong: The troubling things I learned when I re-reported Bob Woodward’s book on John Belushi.
"Outcasts are my kind, they try harder. From strip joints to Burlesque theaters, I went on a quest and met the 'Legends', these dominating characters of the quintessential American art of strip tease. Hours of confidence on tapes, intimate photo sessions, they peel off and reveal the hidden layers of their life with throaty emotion. Their memories reflecting the memories of the land. Vietnam vets and bikers are their loyal patrons..." The Living Art Of Risqué, a photo essay from Marie Baronnet, features portraits of former strippers aged 60 to 95, accompanied by short bio-vignettes in their own words. [NSFW; nudity] [more inside]
Journalism and Revolution is a review from Dissent Magazine about the biography of Ryszard Kapuściński. This was Neal Ascherson in LRB.
Both of which are very different from Jack Shafer´s take down obituary piece in Slate.
Both of which are very different from Jack Shafer´s take down obituary piece in Slate.
Beate Sirota Gordon, Long-Unsung Heroine of Japanese Women’s Rights, Dies at 89: a NYT obituary relates the fascinating story of a young woman who was just the right person in just the right place at just the right time and managed to strike a blow for gender equality. [more inside]
Tweedland has some interesting stories and characters. Here's two to get you started:
Robert de Montesquiou - "Tall, black-haired, rouged, Kaiser-moustached, he cackled and screamed in weird attitudes, giggling in high soprano, hiding his little black teeth behind an exquisitely gloved hand – the poseur absolute. He was said to have slept with Sarah Bernhardt and vomited for a week afterwards."
Lord Berners - "As a child, having heard that if you throw a dog into water it will learn how to swim, he threw his mother's canine companion out of the window on the grounds that if one applies the same logic it should learn how to fly. (The dog was unharmed, and he was "thrashed" by his mother.)"
William Manchester was an American author who wrote the celebrated Winston Churchill biographies: The Last Lion: Visions of Glory 1874–1932 and The Last Lion: Alone 1932–1940. After having a stroke in 1998 and suffering from writer’s block, on Oct. 9, 2003, Manchester asked Palm Beach Post writer, Paul Reid, to complete the third volume of Churchill’s biography. In October 2012, after nine years of writing, and 24 years after Alone, Paul Reid completed the third volume and The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 was published. [more inside]
Perhaps to compensate for his not-so imposing physique, lack of good looks, and plebeian background, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) embraced excess in everything he did. And he did many things: novelist, playwright, poet, aviator and sailor, a genuine war hero, a narcissist, a drug addict, a gifted rabble-rouser, debt-evader, and a noted womanizer.
Johnny Cash once called 1968 the happiest year of his life. It was the year his masterpiece At Folsom Prison came out, the year he was named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, and the year he married the love of his life, June Carter. So it was a fortunate time for a young filmmaker named Robert Elfstrom to meet up with Cash for the making of a documentary. Elfstrom traveled with Cash for several months in late 1968 and early 1969. The resulting film, Johnny Cash: The Man, His World, His Music, is a revealing look at Cash, his creative process and his ties to family. [via]
The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure: poignant tales of the justly obscure. The entry on Hans Kafka is a good starting point.
A perceptive audio interview with biographer David Maraniss on the life of Barack Obama, including detailed research on his friends and relatives. Pulitzer-prize winning biographer and associate editor of the Washington Post David Maraniss ...collected so much detailed information about the life of Barack Obama and his forbears that when he submitted his introduction and chapter titles to the White House to request an interview, the President himself was intrigued and surprised.
Not every fund manager has a comic book made about them. Mark Mobius, the legendary emerging markets investor, has.
Frida Kahlo produced art that was self-reflecting — 55 of her 143 known paintings were self-portraits. A cache of her 6,500 personal photographs was unsealed in 2007, and a small selection of those -- 259 total images -- are now on display in an exhibition entitled "Frida Kahlo: Her Photos," at the Artisphere in Arlington, VA until March 25th. Images: Washington Post, WJLA and NPR. PBS: Interview with exhibit curator Pablo Ortiz Monasterio. [more inside]
Pages from Beckett's wartime manuscripts - from Watt, written in ink and colored crayons between 1940 and 1945, numbers 945 pages in six notebooks and loose sheets. More from Watt, part of a larger 2006 Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition, Fathoms from Anywhere.
Former Black Panther patches together purpose in Africa exile. 'Most of O'Neal's big dreams have faded over the years, or come to feel silly. Like beating the 42-year-old federal gun charges that caused him to flee the United States. Like the global socialist revolution that he was supposed to help lead. Like returning home to the streets of his Midwestern childhood. Like winning citizenship in his adopted African country, and the prize that's eluded him on two continents: the feeling of belonging somewhere.' [more inside]
A Portrait in Postcards. Twenty years after her death, Angela Carter's literary executor and friend, Susannah Clapp, remembers Carter through the cards she sent, "These cards make a paper trail, a zigzag path through the 80s. They are casually dispatched – some messages are barely more than a signature – but are often the more telling for that: they catch Angela on the wing, shooting her mouth off. She would have hated the idea of a soundbite, but she had a gift for a capsule phrase, for a story in a word. " The postcard gallery.