LitBirthdays August 14 – 20, 2011

August is

Admit You’re Happy!


August 14

Bryce Courtenay
Bryce Courtenay (b. 1933) – South African/Australian novelist – The Potato Factory (1995)

Read about Bryce Courtenay here and here

Read the transcript of an ABC1 (TV) interview of Bryce Courtenay, done by Peter Thompson, here

BRYCE COURTENAY: When I was in the orphanage the only people who were really kind to me were the African people. So you seek out those people who at least are kind to you. So I was educated largely in Afrikaans, but always as the English child in an Afrikaans school. And then, enormously fortuitously, a temporary teacher came down to this small town from Johannesburg. And she recognised that there was a possibility in this small boy and sent me books and coached me.

It’s very interesting, you know, people read my first book ‘The Power of One’ and they think it’s all about the individual character discovering this wonderful mantra ‘the power of one’. But when I named it, it was named after this teacher, the power of one teacher to lift a small child out of an impossible environment and allow him to have an education. And therefore escape and become whatever he was capable of becoming.

*   *   *   *

PETER THOMPSON: When it came to writing about Damon’s experience in ‘April Fools Day’, was that the most painful period of your life?

BRYCE COURTENAY: You just don’t go through that kind of writing pain, if there is a category called ‘writing pain’. I would never have written ‘April Fools Day’ had Damon not begged me to do it. And not for reasons that had anything to do with him. He was so appalled at the way the gay community was being treated at that time with AIDS. He said, “Dad, you’re a writer. You have GOT to tell people that it’s not a punishment from God, it’s a virus.” And I said, “I can’t, Damon, my life is very private and I don’t want the world to know about it and our family is very private and I’ve kept,” He said, “Dad, it has nothing to do with us. It’s got to do with something that’s far more important.” And the day he died I held him in my arms and just, Damon was about 5ft 11 inches and he weighed 47 pounds, a little simian creature. And I had him in my arms like this and he looked up at me, he said, “Dad, thank you for a wonderful life but, please, write the book.” He died in my arms, there and then. So I had no choice, and it was without question, Peter, the single most difficult thing I have ever done. And if I ever had to do that again I wouldn’t write another word, it was just too hard.

Bryce Courtenay expresses his appreciation and support for the environmental conservation organization, Thin Green Line


Born August 14

Steve Martin (b. 1945) – U.S. stand-up comedian, screenwriter, novelist – The Pleasure of My Company

Danielle Steel (b. 1947) – U.S. novelist – The Ghost

Gary Larson (b. 1950) – U.S. cartoonist – The Far Side


August 15

Happy Ferragosto!

I Love Julia! - photo by Rakka

photo by Rakka

Julia Child (b. 1912) – U.S. chef, cookbook author – The French Chef Cookbook (1968)

Read about Julia Child here and here

It turned out that on screen Child, from a rich family and married to a diplomat, was “a natural ham” as she described herself. Occasionally she dropped food on the floor, upset liquid, or her soufflé subsided – but it happens to everyone, and as she slyly observed: “Remember you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see.”

Two years before her show debut, she had written a major culinary work, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Volume 1, which took 10 years to complete with the help of two French colleagues, was regarded as the definitive work for English language readers. Yet it was not technical, and Child said it could be regarded as French cooking from a supermarket.

[U.K. Guardian, August 16, 2004]

Read excerpts of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child

“How like autumn’s warmth is Julia’s face.”

Paul Child, August 15, 1945

Perched on the railing of a veranda in Kunming. China, Julia McWilliams was aware only of the uniformed man beside her, reading the poem he wrote for her thirty-third birthday. She stretched her very long legs out in front of her, crossing them at her ankles, so Paul Child could see what he would later call “my beloved Julia’s magnificent gams.” She barely noticed the formal gardens beyond the porch or the miles of rice paddies stretching toward Kunming Lake. Nor did her gaze settle on the mist-shrouded Shangri-La of temples carved into the rock of West Mountain. It was his voice that captured her, each word he read a note weaving a melody through her heart: ‘The summer’s heat of your embrace … melts my frozen earth.”

The cotton dress clung to her slim, six-feet-two-inch body. Here she was in China, a privileged girl, seeking adventure, even danger, in the civilian opportunities of World War II and she had found it, not in the Registry of the Office of Strategic Services, nor in the backwoods refugee city of Kunming at the end of the Burma Road, but in the urbane, sophisticated, multilingual presence of forty-three-year-old Paul Child.

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child,  by Noel Riley Fitch

Watch Julia lecture about failure here.

“This awful American syndrome of fear of failure. And if you’re going to have a sense of fear of failure, you’re just never going to learn how to cook, because cooking is one failure after another. And that’s how you finally learn.”

Watch Julia Child and David Letterman together at their comic best

Letterman: Have you ever cooked something, Julia, that just turned out awful?

Child: Oh, all the time.

Letterman: Well, what do you do then?

Child: I give it to my husband.

Julia Paul Child Valentine

Mikao Usui Mikao Usui (b. 1865) – Japanese founder of Reiki healing practice – The Original Reiki Handbook of Dr. Mikao Usui

Read about Mikao Usui here


Born August 15

Sri Aurobindo – (b. 1872) – Indian philosopher, mystic, poet – Savitri

August 16

Diana Wynne Jones (b. 1934) – U.K. fantasy novelist – Howl’s Moving Castle (1986)

Read about Diana Wynne Jones here and here

From the U.K. Guardian March 27, 2011, obituary for
Diana Wynne Jones:

Rather than a deliberately cruel stepmother, a Jones protagonist might have a real mother far more wrapped up in her own career than in the discoveries and feelings of her child. The child protagonist would realise this, but get on with the adventure anyway. Jones wrote from experience: her parents were neglectful of her needs, and those of her two younger sisters. The sisters often went hungry, and for years were banished to sleep in an unheated lean-to shed, to make room in case of visitors. Both parents were intellectuals and progressive educators, but were stingy not only with money but also with warmth and attention.

When the second world war broke out Jones and her family were evacuated to the Lake District, … Diana’s younger sister and a friend had their faces slapped by a second Lakeland author who hated children but who was rich and famous because of them: Beatrix Potter.  Jones’s distinctive scepticism about conventional children’s fiction must have started to set in early.

Later, when she went to St Anne’s college, Oxford, two of her lecturers were JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Years later, just as she was starting to write and publish professionally, and was taking bed-rest because of pregnancy, Jones read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings for the first time. This made her realise that a fantasy novel could be not only long, but seriously intended too.

As she became more certain of her own writing, she also grew more sceptical of the conventional tropes of fantasy, including those of Tolkien. This questioning became overt with the publication of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996). Presenting her book as a tourist guide to a foreign land, Jones, with affectionate but deadly effect, spoofed or parodied the numerous cliches that riddle those hordes of three-volume sagas about elves and quests.

Read Diana Wynne Jones’ autobiography essay here, where she recalls that in 1940 Beatrix Potter slapped her 4-year old sister Isobel for swinging on Potter’s garden gate.

“Isobel and another four-year-old girl were so tired that, when they found a nice gate, they hooked their feet on it and had a restful swing. An old woman with a sack over her shoulders stormed out of the house and hit both of them for swinging on her gate. This was Beatrix Potter. She hated children, too. I remember the two of them running back to us, bawling with shock. Fate, I always think, seemed determined to thrust a very odd view of authorship on me.”

I put some of the foregoing facts in The Time of the Ghost, but what I think I failed to get over in that book was how close we three sisters were. We spent not many hours delightedly discussing one another’s ideas and looked after one another strenuously. For example, when I was fourteen, Isobel was told by the Royal Ballet School that she could never, ever make it as a ballet dancer. Her life fell to pieces. She had been told so firmly that she was a ballerina born that she did not know what she was any longer. She cried one entire night. After five hours, when we still could not calm her, I crossed the yard in my pyjamas – it was raining – to get parental help. A mistake. My mother jumped violently and clutched her heart when I appeared. My father ordered me back to bed, despite my explanation and despite the fact that we had been ringing our recently installed emergency bell before I went over. I trudged back through the rain, belatedly remembering that my mother hated giving sympathy. “It damages me,” she had explained over my appendix. Ursula and I sat up the rest of the night convincing Isobel that she had a brain as well as a body. We were close because we had to be.

She is now one of the few women professors in England. Ursula and I always think we did a good job of persuading her she had a brain.”

Diana Wynne Jones comments on Hayao Miyazaki’s film adaptation of her novel Howl’s Moving Castle

Neil Gaiman’s tribute to Diana Wynne Jones

As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she’d do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians.But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did). The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.

(She’s a wonderful author to read aloud, by the way, as I discovered when reading her books to my kids. Not only does she read aloud beautifully, but denouments which seemed baffling read alone are obvious and elegantly set up and constructed when read aloud. “Children are much more careful readers than adults,” she’d say. “You don’t have to repeat everything for children. You do with adults, because they aren’t paying full attention.”)

A 1992 interview of Diana Wynne Jones

I was shaken completely to my socks about 5 years ago now; I went to a fantasy convention and I was suddenly accosted by this very interesting Canadian writer whose things I’d admired. His name’s Charles de Lint, and he said he wanted to tell me that he wouldn’t be writing now as he does had he not read my books when he was a teenager. He said they completely revolutionised his way of thinking.

Q: What did he get from you?
This blending of the fantasy very closely with normal everyday life, he’s very good on that, he being Canadian sets it in Ontario, so you have this sense of a city, and then things get weirder and weirder and you move out to another world. Since then, I realised, My God, you can actually influence people really rather profoundly, and of course, this feeds back into your duty to the book, and if you’re not careful it completely hamstrings you, because you go backwards and forwards between these two things. This does make me very very careful, particularly in the second draft, to get it right, because you do feel that somebody in the future who may be extremely important for everybody, is going to have me behind them, and this is a responsibility, a huge one.


Born August 16

Charles Bukowski (b. 1920) – German-American poet, novelist

August 17

Herta Mueller

Herta Müller (b. 1953)- German-Romanian novelist, poet; winner, 2009 Nobel Prize, Literature – Everything I Possess I Carry With Me / Atemschaukel (2009)

Read about Herta Müller here and here

Read a blog post about Everything I Possess…

It’s based on the memories of Oskar Pastior, a friend of Müller. They met regularly to talk about that time; the idea was to create a book together. Then Pastior died, and Müller preserved the memory that otherwise would have been lost in this novel, which takes the reader into the cold, harsh, yet also human place. From the books i read from her, this is the one that is easiest to access, but also most painful to read.

The novel was published in 2009, the same year Müller was awarded the Nobel Prize. and then, in 2010, life came up with a bitter twist. A historian discovered that Pastior was a Securitate informant, and spied on colleagues and friends. It was shocking news for all his friends, especially for Herta Müller. She described her reaction …

Born August 17

Gene (Geneva) Stratton-Porter (b. 1863) – U.S. novelist, essayist, naturalist – Freckles (1904)


August 18

Mika (Michael Holbrook Penniman, Jr.) (b. 1983) – U.K. singer/songwriter – “We Are Golden” (The Boy Who Knew Too Much, 2009)

Read about Mika here and here

Mika was born Michael Holbrook Penniman jnr in 1983 to a Lebanese dressmaker mother and American banker father. Two months after his birth, the HQs of the French and the United States forces were attacked, killing 299. Not long after, his parents decided to evacuate the family. The Pennimans escaped, via Cyprus, to Paris on a US warship. They lived in the French capital until Mika was nine, at which point they moved to Britain.

In Paris and London, Lebanese culture was ‘everything. It was assimilated into our new lives; a transplanted culture.’ He remembers the food, his mother playing Lebanese diva Fairuz in the kitchen and smoking the priest’s pipe twice a week from the age of four.

‘Our household was eclectic. Things were always being made.’ His mother had a ‘tiny [clothing] label that ran at a loss, so the studio was in our dining room and living room. It was very normal to make stuff – if you want something you make it. You don’t buy it. So that became our culture. And music was our culture. Eclecticism became a replacement for culture – it was totally normal to listen to French music next to Shabba Ranks and Nina Simone and Fairuz. It didn’t matter. If anything, it was encouraged.’

[Craig McLean, U.K. Telegraph, Aug. 18, 2010]

Watch the music video of “We Are Golden”


Born August 18

Elsa Morante (b. 1912) – Italian novelist, poet, short story writer – La Storia / History: A Novel (1974)

Brian Aldiss (b. 1925) – U.K. science fiction writer – Helliconia Spring (Volume 1 of the Helliconia Trilogy)

August 19

Eamonn Fingleton

Eamonn Fingleton (b. 1948) – Irish economist, financial journalist – In the Jaws of the Dragon: America’s Fate in the Coming Era of Chinese Dominance

Read about Eamonn Fingleton here and here

Watch an interview of Eamonn Fingleton comparing Japanese to U.S. economy

Read a review of Fingleton’s Jaws of the Dragon

China is unique because it combines standard-issue (if exceptionally cynical) mercantilism with other policies, like forced savings and systematic technology acquisition, made possible by its despotic ex-Marxist political system. For example, it has, by deliberate state fiat, a savings rate close to 50%, while America’s is close to zero. This gives China a tidal wave of investment capital to put into everything from factories to freeways. (It is also enabling China to accumulate ownership of American government securities and private-sector assets.)

Japan never took over the world, so some people dismiss the Chinese threat as yet another big wolf-cry. But China has ten times Japan’s population, nuclear weapons, and a hard-authoritarian rather than soft-authoritarian political system. This time, it’s different.

Read Fingleton’s 2002 essay “The Other Deficit

One thing is undeniable: the deficits are now vastly larger than most of America’s best-informed citizens realize. … In the case of the present trade crisis two sources of error have played a decisive role—the foreign-trade lobby and the Wall Street securities industry. The foreign-trade lobby, representing foreign exporters who sell into the American market, has an obvious interest in fudging the long-term consequences of trade deficits. Wall Street’s motivation derives in part from the fact that many U.S. corporations gain a short-term increase in profits by moving jobs to low-wage places like Mexico and China. That increase comes, however, at the expense of America’s fast-dwindling manufacturing work force. Particularly when American workers have no similarly productive new jobs to move to, the result is a serious weakening of the U.S. economy. Another reason Wall Street downplays the trade crisis is that many investment houses benefit from arranging the international transactions needed to finance trade deficits.

Fingleton explains the financial controls in the Chinese economy

Born August 19

Ogden Nash (b. 1902) – U.S. poet – “The Guppy” in Selected Poetry of Ogden Nash

Jerzy Andrzejewski (b. 1909) – Polish novelist – Ashes and Diamonds (1948)

August 20

Musa Geshaev (b. 1940) – Chechnyan poet, culture historian Musa Geshaev

Read about Musa Geshaev here

О горы! Я прикован к вам навеки / Mountaintop! I am chained to you forever.
Цепями нежности, любви и доброты. / Linked by tenderness, love and kindness.
Так непокорны и строптивы ваши реки, / Your disobedient and obstinate river
Так мир прекрасен с вашей высоты! / The world is so beautiful at your height!

Седые главы в снежной тишине, / Gray heads in the snowy silence,
Я преклоняюсь перед мудростью большой, / I bow to wisdom so great,
Еще не все вы рассказали мне, / Not everything have you told me,
Но я вас понял сердцем и душой. / But I understand your heart and soul.

Спокойно с вами дышится, легко, /Calmly, easily you breathe,
И красотой я вашей очарован. / And your beauty charms me.
Пусть я порой бываю далеко, / I am sometimes far away,
Но я навеки сердцем к вам прикован, / But I am forever chained to your heart.

Я приглашаю в горы всех – / I invite you all to the mountains
Здесь так волшебно и прекрасно, / It’s so magical and beautiful,
Их не понять – великий грех, / They do not understand — a great sin
А не видать – прожить напрасно. / To not see them — is to live in vain

Струятся линии хребтов /Streaming through the ridges,
Сквозь нашей жизни быстротечность, / Through our fleeting lives,
Из дикой глубины веков / From the ages of time, wild
Вершины устремляя… в вечность / peaks leading … into eternity.

Я сын твой, милая Чечня, / I am your son, dear Chechnya,
Ты всех дороже для меня. / You are so dear to me.
Ты для меня – вторая мать, / To me you are — a second mother,
Я жизнь готов тебе отдать. / I am ready to give you my life.

Я сын твой, милая Чечня, / I am your son, dear Chechnya,
В сиянье завтрашнего дня / In the radiance of tomorrow
Ты хорошеешь на глазах, / You are prettier in my eyes,
Горжусь тобою, как вайнах. / As a Vainakh, I am proud of you

Я сын твой, милая Чечня, / I am your son, dear Chechnya,
И предков славная земля / And the glorious ancestral land
Мне всех милее и родней, / Dearer and dearer to me,
И с каждым днем любовь сильней. / And every day my love is stronger.

Живи веками, расцветай, / Alive for centuries, flourishing,
Вайнахский мой, кавказский край! / Vainakh, my Caucasian land!
Земля моя, моя Чечня, / My country, my Chechnya,
Ты всех дороже для меня. / You are so dear to me.

Read Musa Geshaev’s 2014 obituary here

From the occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, it’s sad news – our compatriot, the poet, novelist, historian Musa Geshaev has died. Dry phrases give little information about this man, but in his life and in the life of the generation to which he belonged, the tragic message of our history is displayed. He was born in 1940 and already at the age of four was an “enemy of the people.” The author of the works “Frustrate the Sky.” “The Line of Happiness” (1989). “Overturned the Sky” (1998).”Flints” (2001). “Famous Chechens”. “Chechen Trace in the Russian Snow.” “The Ballad of Jihad” (co-author) – 2003 “Anthology of Chechen Poetry” (co-author) – texts to 2003. Author of more than 100 songs.”

Born August 20

Isaac Hayes (b. 1942) – U.S. singer/songwriter/actor –
Soul Man (written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter)

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