One of the worst parts of the pandemic-induced lockdown is not being able to travel. Of course, there isn’t a hard-and-fast no-travel rule here, but we are encouraged to stay close to home. And besides, travel just doesn’t feel safe right now. But I am desperate to get away. That’s why I was thinking about spending time somewhere quiet and charming and beautiful, where I could also keep apart from other people. And I remembered this cottage I rented for eight days in 2016, on a lake in the Adirondacks. I had to be up there to drop my son at a music program at Colgate University. Instead of driving 10 hours home and then driving back at the end, I spent part of the time holding my own solo writing retreat in this adorable cottage.
1802 – Alexandre Dumas, French adventure novelist whose famous works include The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo his son, also named Alexandre Dumas, was also a historical novelist and playwright.
1842 – Ambrose Bierce, American editorialist, journalist, short-story writer, fabulist, and satirist, best known for his short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”; he also wrote a satirical reference book called The Devil’s Dictionary.
1857 – Henrik Pontoppidan, Nobel Prize-winning Danish realist writer of novels and short stories.
1878 – Edward Plunkett (Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany), Irish novelist, essayist, short-story writer, and playwright who sometimes wrote under the pseudonym Lord Dunsany; many of his works are fantasies, set in a land called Pegāna; he was also the chess and pistol-shooting champion of Ireland.
1886 – Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, popular novelist who was a major figure in modern Japanese literature.
1895 – Robert Graves, English poet, novelist, mythographer, critic, historican, and classical translator, best known for his historical novel I, Claudius, which has been adapted to film, radio, and theater.
1899 – Chief Dan George, chief of the Salish Band in Burrard Inlet, British Columbia who was also an author, poet, spokesman for native rights, and Oscar-nominated actor; as a writer, he is best known for the book My Heart Soars.
1900 – Zelda Fitzgerald, best known as the wife of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, she published a novel of her own, Save Me the Waltz, and has been called the Muse of the Jazz Age.
1916 – John D. McDonald, American crime and suspense novelist whose best known works include the Travis McGee series and The Executioners (which was adapted into the film Cape Fear); he also wrote under various pen names, including John Wade Farrel, Robert Henry, John Lane, Scott O’Hara, Peter Reed, and Henry Reiser.
1935 – Aaron Elkins, American author of mysteries featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver; he is married to romance novelist Charlotte Elkins, who writes under the pen name Emily Spenser.
1935 – Patrick Bruce (Pat) Oliphant, Pulitzer Prize-winning Australian editorial cartoonist.
1936 – Albert Marrin, National Book Award-winning American historian and prolific author of children’s nonfiction books.
1939 – Barry N. Malzberg, American science-fiction author who published in other genres under various pseudonyms, including Nathan Herbert and K.M. O’Donnell.
1950 – Arliss Ryan, American novelist of historical fiction.
1955 – Brad Watson, American novelist and short-story writer who was a finalist for the National Book Award.
While typing something about my son’s attempt to find a college roommate, I made a typo that turned it into doommate. With College in the Time of Coronavirus, that seems appropriate.
The university’s system for choosing roommates and assigning dorms puts so much responsibility on students to navigate a sometimes murky, misleading, and constantly changing system, during a time when they’d be stressed out about starting college even without a worldwide pandemic complicating things and making them wonder if they’ll even be able to move onto campus.
When we paid our deposit to ensure his space in the Class of 2020-21, we were told that students would be given appointment times to choose their dorm buildings and rooms based on the date they paid the deposit. We paid reasonably early, so we thought he’d be able to choose earlier than later in the process. The overall selection time window is July 20-31.
Then the policy was changed to give priority to students who set themselves up as roommates by forming a “roommate group” on the website and each joining it. Students in roommate groups would receive the earlier dates, and students who did not choose roommates but were going into the system alone would have to select dorms and rooms at the very end of the month, when there was less likelihood of getting into their preferred buildings.
Then there was another change (or clarification) that said blocks of rooms would be held back to be opened to students at different times throughout the month, to give students with late selection dates a better chance of getting their choice of dorms.
My son meant to choose a roommate and set up a group, but teenage procrastination took over, and he bungled it completely. He kept putting us off when his dad and I started suggesting, weeks early, that he put his profile into the roommate selection website and look at other profiles to see if he could identify a few people he might want to contact and speak with online, to figure out who was compatible. He waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, with only a week left before the deadline, he created a profile and started reading other profiles, and noted seven other boys he might consider as roommates. (The ones who described themselves as “chill dudes” — a strangely common self-description — did not make his list.)
And then he did not contact any of them. I think he was uncertain about what to say, and afraid of putting himself out there (in addition to his usual propensity for preferring video games to anything that sounds less than fun). Finally, someone saw his profile and contacted him. He was quite slow to respond, but finally did. They exchanged a few texts (or Instagram posts, or whatever) and seemed to have a lot in common. The other boy is also planning to major in music. The day before the deadline, I asked my son if they’d decided to room together. He said they had only exchanged a few messages, so it was too early to make that decision. I pointed out that, too early or not, the deadline was at noon the next day, so he’d have to decide what he’d prefer:
- To try to room with someone who seemed like a good match, even if he didn’t feel they knew each other well enough to be sure.
- Or to live with someone who happened to slot himself into the same room because few other choices were available at the end of the dorm-selection process.
He reluctantly admitted that the first was better, but still felt nervous about committing. I suggested that he write to the other boy again and ask if he’d like to room together, and that he set up a roommate group and invite him to join it.
Finally, that evening, he wrote to him again, but did not ask for a commitment or even an opinion on rooming together. And when I asked him before he went to bed that night if he’d set up a roommate group, he said he’d do it in the morning.
This was a bad idea. The deadline for having two students registered in a roommate group was noon the next day. Lately, my son is usually in bed at noon. And once he set up the group, he’d still have to contact the other boy, tell him the name of the group, and ask him to join it by noon if he wanted to room together.
As I feared, he woke up at 11:30, spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, and finally set up the roommate group at about 11:57. And all the while, he wasted more time arguing about whether they knew each other well enough to room together, and whether the other boy would get the notification in time to add himself to the group. The boy did not, and my son is going into dorm selection without a roommate group. He received a time slot on July 30.
I’m still not sure how time slots were assigned. His girlfriend Kat is attending the same school, and she went into the process with a roommate selected. And she got July 31. Maybe the date is determined by a combination of roommate group status and date of acceptance deposit.
Then there is the whole issue of trying to get a spot in the Visual & Performing Arts Learning Community. But that’s a topic for another day….
1823 – Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore, English poet and critic who was the son of novelist and editor Peter George Patmore.
1879 – Simeon Strunsky, American essayist, encyclopedia editor, editorial writer, and columnist who was born in Vitebsk, Russia (present-day Belarus).
1888 – Raymond Chandler, American author of detective fiction who helped develop the genre of the hard-boiled detective; he created the character Philip Marlowe, who was played on screen by such actors as Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Elliott Gould, and Robert Mitchum.
1907 – Elspeth Huxley, English writer, memoirist, journalist, broadcaster, magistrate, environmentalist, farmer, and government advisor; she wrote 30 books but is best known for The Flame Trees of Thika, a memoir about her experiences growing up on a coffee farm in Colonial Kenya; her husband, Gervas Huxley, was a grandson of biologist Thomas Huxley and a cousin of writer Aldous Huxley.
1912 – M.H. Abrams, American literary critic and author; editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the standard text for undergraduate literature courses!
1928 – Hubert Selby Jr., controversial American novelist, best known for his books Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream; the latter was the subject of obscenity charges in Britain; a highly publicized court trial resulted in a guilty verdict, which was overturned on appeal, paving the way for the end of censorship in Britain.
1929 – Robert Quackenbush, American author and illustrator of children’s books.
1947 – Gardner Dozois, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning American science-fiction author and editor.
1978 – Lauren Groff, American novelist and short-story writer.
1978 – Milisav Popović, Montenegrin essayist, fantasy novelist, and politician; he was elected director of the National Library of Montenegro.
1733 – Mikhailo Mikhailovich Shcherbatov, Russian prince who was a statesman, historian, writer, and philosopher.
1807 – Karolina Pavlova, Russian poet, novelist, and translator known for her unusual use of rhyme and imagery; she was a friend of Tolstoy and translated his works into German.
1849 – Emma Lazarus, American poet, novelist, and playwright, best known for her sonnet “The New Colossus,” which appears on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”)
1881 – Margery Williams Bianco, Newbery Medal-winning English/American author of children books who began writing professionally when she was still in her teens and is best known for the classic book The Velveteen Rabbit.
1884 – Odell Shepard, Pulitzer Prize-winning American professor, poet, and biographer who was also Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut.
1886 – Hella Wuolijoki, Estonian-born Finnish novelist and playwright, often known by her pen name Juhani Tervapää; she was imprisoned for allegedly being a Soviet spy but released after a year; later she became a member of the Finnish Parliament.
1898 – Stephen Vincent Benét, Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, best known for John Brown’s Body, a book-length poem about the Civil War.
1900 – Edward Dahlberg, American novelist, biographer, and essayist who was nominated for a National Book Award.
1902 – Daniel Mainwaring, American mystery novelist and screenwriter who sometimes used the pen name Geoffrey Homes; before he became a writer, he worked as a journalist and a private detective.
1908 – Amy Vanderbilt, bestselling American author, journalist, and television host who was best known as an authority on etiquette.
1915 – Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah, Indian-born Pakistani author, translator, and politician who was ambassador to Morocco and the first female representative in the First Constituent Assembly of Pakistan; she wrote a biography of her uncle, Pakistani Prime Minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, and other works dealing with Pakistani history, women in Islam, and literary criticism.
1925 – Jack Matthews, American professor who was also a novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and playwright.
1931 – Patricia Calvert, American author of fiction and nonfiction books for children.
1936 – Tom Robbins, American author, essayist, art reviewer, and journalist whose poetic, irreverent novels have been a counterculture favorite; Writer’s Digest named him one of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century. His novel-writing process has been described 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.”
1941 – David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian and author.
1947 – Albert Brooks, American comedian, novelist, screenwriter, actor, and director.
1948 – S.E. (Susan Eloise) Hinton, American author and screenwriter whose work includes novels for children, adults, and teenagers; she is best known for her young-adult novel The Outsiders, written when she was still in her teens.
1971 – Akhil Sharma, Indian-born American professor, novelist, and short-story writer.
You may have read my post a few days ago about a fruitless attempt to see Comet Neowise last Wednesday. We were too close to the city, the sky was too light, and trees were in the way. The next two days were too cloudy. But on Saturday, we headed well away from the Washington area, to Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia, a little more than an hour west of Alexandria.
We allowed plenty of time, after the rushed debacle of a few nights earlier, and arrived at the park while it was still light — only to find that social distancing rules meant only 100 people were allowed in the park at the same time, and we were too late. We drove back out to the road leading into the park, where a lot of groups were parked along the edge of an open field with a nice view of the northwest sky. We claimed a spot, set out our camp chairs, and prepared for sunset.
And then a police officer came by and told us all that no parking was allowed along that road, so we all climbed back into our cars to scout out another location.
Not far away, some of those same cars were parking along a main road. We pulled up too, and walked around looking for another viewing spot. Some groups were heading along a path to the right. We liked the look of the area across the street better, so we headed off to the left and set up our chairs along the edge of a large pond, surrounded by fields, with mountains in the background.
The people nearest to us, a young couple, also turned out to be from Alexandria. We talked a bit (from more than 10 feet away, with all of us wearing masks), but mostly we all just waited for dark.
The comet was to appear in the northwest sky, and of course the area behind us grew dark sooner. But as the stars came out to the east and began to spread across the sky, we knew we were in a much better place than the side of the GW Parkway, where we’d tried on Wednesday and could hardly see any stars at all, let alone the comet.
Fish jumped, bullfrogs croaked, and fireflies began blinking around us as stars began to appear in the western sky too, including two shooting stars that I spotted. And finally, first only with binoculars, we saw the comet, faint at first, and gradually growing brighter and stronger as the sky darkened.
Without the binoculars, it was never more than faint. But that didn’t matter. We could see it, a point of white light with a long, hazy tale streaming behind it, like jewelry for the night sky. And with the binoculars, the second tail was visible. I could have gazed at it for hours. I’d hoped to photograph it but lacked the right equipment. I didn’t mind that much. Instead of spending my time worried about exposures and composition, I could just watch. Something so far away brought such a feeling of awe, and of serenity. It will be visible again in 6800 years. So I’m thrilled that we had the chance to see it.
1885 – Frances Parkinson Keyes, American author who wrote novels set in New England, Louisiana, and Europe, as well as books about her life as the wife of a U.S. Senator; her later works frequently featured Roman Catholic themes and beliefs. Her last name rhymes with “skies,” not “keys.”
1899 – Hart Crane, influential American modernist poet who was known for his difficult, highly stylized, and ambitious work and is considered one of the key literary figures of his generation.
1899 – Ernest Hemingway, Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist whose work is known for his sparse prose and gripping narratives; many of his novels, including The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms, are considered literary classics.
1903 – Yrjö Jylhä, Finnish poet and translator whose poems reflected the horrors he witnessed as an officer on the front lines of the Winter War (1939-40). His work, Kiirastuli, is generally considered the best lyrical poetry from this period in Finnish history.
1911 – Marshall McLuhan, Canadian founder of the study of media theory; he is especially ja,meremembered for his expressions “the global village” and “the media is the message.”
1914 – Suso Cecchi d’Amico, influential, award-winning Italian screenwriter and librettist.
1920 – Mohammed Dib, Algerian novelist and poet.
1921 – James Cooke Brown, American sociologist, science-fiction author, civil-rights activist, and board-game creator; he also invented the artificial language Loglan.
1933 – John Gardner, American novelist, essayist, literary critic, and professor, known for his nurturing of beginning writers and for his book Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view. (Not to be confused with the British John Gardner, author of spy and mystery stories.)
1943 – Tess Gallagher, American poet, essayist, and short-story writer.
1944 – Buchi Emecheta, pioneering Nigerian novelist and children’s author who divorced her husband after he read and burned her first novel; her work often drew on her own life to champion the rights of girls and women.
1955 – Véronique Tadjo, Ivory Coast poet, novelist, children’s author, and artist whose work reflects a pan-African outlook.
1956 – Michael Connelly, American author of detective novels and crime fiction.
1957 – Yū Asagiri, award-winning Japanese novelist, manga writer, and artist; her real name was Takano Yuriko.
1966 – Sarah Waters, Welsh novelist whose Victorian novels usually feature lesbian protagonists.
1966 – Tsering Woeser, Tibetan-Chinese writer, blogger, poet, essayist, and activist.
1975 – Christopher Barzak, American novelist and short-story writer whose novel The Love We Share Without Knowing was a 2009 Nebula nominee.
1304 – Petrarch (born Francesco Petrarca), Italian poet and scholar who is considered one of the earliest humanists.
1822 – Gregor Mendel, German-speaking Austrian scientist and monk who is considered the founder of modern genetics; he coined the terms “dominant” and “recessive” genes in his writings about his experiments with pea plants, such as his groundbreaking monograph, Experiments With Plant Hybrids.
1901 – Elizabeth Dilys Powell, British journalist, author, and film critic.
1951 – Paulette Bourgeois, Canadian author and illustrator of children’s books, best known as creator of Franklin the Turtle.
1864 – Eric Axel Karlfeldt, Nobel Prize-winning Swedish symbolist poet, teacher, and journalist.
1924 – Thomas Berger, American author of darkly comic novels, best known for his book Little Big Man.
1927 – Simin Beh’bahāni (Persian: سیمین بهبهانی), Iranian poet who is one of the most prominent figures in modern Persian literature and who was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize.
1930 – William H. Goetzmann, Pulitzer Prize-winning American historian known for his research into exploration and settlement of the American West.
1933 – Cormac McCarthy, Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and playwright, known for his books The Road, All the Pretty Horses, and No Country for Old Men.
1936 – Alistair MacLeod, Canadian novelist, short-story writer, and academician;
1953 – Thomas Friedman, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist and author who is known for his books on globalization, climate change, and the Middle East.
1965 – Jess Walter, American author of novels, short stories, and nonfiction; he was a finalist for the National Book Award.
1977 – Timothy Ferriss, American author, public speaker, and entrepreneur.
1875 – Alice Dunbar Nelson, African-American writer, poet, educator, journalist, columnist, short-story writer, playwright, suffragist, and civil-rights activist who was part of the Harlem Renaissance.
1893 – Vladimir Mayakovsky, Russian poet, playwright, and actor.
1896 – A.J. Cronin, Scottish novelist and physician who wrote many books that were later adapted to film; his novel The Citadel is credited with laying the groundwork for the introduction of the National Health System in Britain.
1909 – Nalapat Balamani Amma, prolific, award-winning Indian poet who wrote in Malayalam and was known as the “poetess of motherhood”; she was the mother of the renowned writer Kamala Surayya.
1916 – Eve Merriam, American poet, playwright, children’s writer, director, and lecturer.
1921 – Elizabeth Spencer, novelist, short-story writer, memoirist, and screenwriter whose novella The Light in the Piazza was adapted for the screen and transformed into a Broadway musical. She is a five-time recipient of the O. Henry Award for short fiction.
1922 – George McGovern, American historian, author, and politician.
1923 – Joseph Hansen, American crime writer best known for his series featuring openly gay private eye Dave Brandstetter.
1936 – Norman Manea, U.S.-based Romanian novelist, essayist, short-story writer, and essayist who writes about the Holocaust, daily life under communism, and exile.
1946 – Stephen Coonts, American thriller and suspense novelist who is especially known for his Jake Grafton books.
1953 – Zinovia Dushkova, Moldovan writer of fiction and nonfiction, poet, philosopher, and historian; her work is part of the Theosophical tradition and deals with mysticism and the occult.
1962 – Ava Kitō, Japanese diarist who wrote about her experience suffering from spinocerebellar ataxia. Ichi rittoro no namida (One Litre of Tears) was published two years before her death in 1988.
1963 – Garth Nix, Australian author of young-adult fantasy novels, including the “Keys to the Kingdom” series.
1635 – Robert Hooke, English author, astronomer, professor, physicist, surveyor, and scientist who often argued with Isaac Newton over scientific theories.
1811 – William Makepeace Thackeray, Indian-born English journalist, illustrator, editor, and author, best known for his satirical novel Vanity Fair; as a journalist, he often wrote under such absurd pen names as George Savage Fitz-Boodle, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, Theacuteophile Wagstaff, and C.J. Yellowplush, Esq.; his daughter Anne Thackeray Ritchie, step-aunt to Virginia Woolf, was also a prominent writer.
1900 – Nathalie Sarraute, Russian-born French lawyer, author, and dramatist.
1902 – Jessamyn West, American Quaker novelist and short-story writer, best known for her first novel, The Friendly Persuasion; she was second cousin to U.S. President Richard Nixon.
1906 – Clifford Odets, screenwriter, playwright, stage actor, and theatrical director.
1918 – Nelson Mandela, Nobel Prize-winning South African president, civil-rights activist, and writer.
1926 – Margaret Laurance, influential Canadian novelist and short-story writer who often wrote about Africa, where she once lived.
1932 – Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Soviet and Russian poet, novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor, editor, and film director
1937 – Hunter S. Thompson, American journalist and author, creator of Gonzo Journalism; his topics ranged from sports to politics to cultural commentary.
1943 – Joseph J. Ellis, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning bestselling American historian and biographer.
1951 – Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian whose work often focuses on the American South, African-American history, and the international history of slavery, emancipation, and race.
1958 – Diana Williams, American television journalist.
1969 – Elizabeth Gilbert, American writer best known for her travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.