We are pleased to introduce a new column on No Shelf Required: This Week in Literature and Arts. The idea is simple: each week, writer Michael Rogers (with a long history of book reviewing and reporting) highlights what happened in the world of literature, publishing, and the arts that week. It’s a trip down memory lane of sorts, and it’s meant to both inform and entertain.
Since NSR is the portal that celebrates all things related to human creativity in digital format (and this includes books and various media) and since it’s also become an advocate for free access to all forms of human creativity online, it is only fitting that we embrace a column which celebrates literary and cultural accomplishments through the ages. It’s a great way for us all to refresh our memory and learn something new. And when Michael is writing, we are sure to learn. We are also sure to laugh. Enjoy this week’s compilation (and do follow Michael’s phenomenal ‘it happened today’ daily updates on Facebook).—Ed
November 13, 1850 — Birthday wishes to novelist, poet, traveler, and musician Robert Louis Stevenson, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, this day in 1850. In addition to his literary endeavors, Stevenson was an accomplished musician, playing numerous instruments and composing more than 100 scores. Too brief a life; he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 44 while living in Samoa.
If it’s been a few years since you read Stevenson, take a break from the cookie-cutter mysteries and NY Times bestseller-list crap and reread Kidnapped or Treasure Island. Read them aloud to your kids; you’ll have as much fun as they do.
November 14, 1851 — Moby Dick is published in America after debuting in Britain several months earlier. The book mostly was panned by critics (like Ahab, they found the narrative didn’t have a leg to stand on—NyukX3!), but in the ensuing now 165 years, controversy has arisen over whether those who lambasted the work at the time actually had read it or simply cribbed from British reviews.
If the critics indeed based their opinions on previous criticisms without reading the book it’s all the more sad because Moby Dick‘s financial failure in large part lead to Melville’s demise as an author, forcing him to find employment as an inspector of ship cargoes at South Street and other locales around New York harbor.
Since the novel’s renaissance in the 1920s, oceans of ink have been spilled on it’s true meaning, blah, blah, blah, and while the symbolism is there, books like it and Ulysses tend to be so over-dissected that their intrinsic beauty becomes a casualty, and instead of being read with great joy, people become afraid and avoid them. Silly. Moby Dick is beautiful.
November 17, 1942 — Happy birthday to New York’s own Martin Scorsese, born in Queens this day in 1942. His parents relocated to Manhattan’s Little Italy when Marty was a kid. I think everybody has a favorite Scorsese movie or two. Hopefully, he’ll get that last gangster picture with De Niro and Pesci up and running. Have a great one, Marty!
November 17, 1919 — The great Sylvia Beach opens Shakespeare and Company at 12 Rue de l’Odéon in Paris. The combination bookstore and lending library was frequented by James Joyce, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Andre Gide, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Janet Flanner, Kay Boyle, and other artistic Olympians.
Beach adored Joyce and published Ulysses when no one else would touch it. Writer or not, she is a hero of 20th century literature.
November 18, 1928 — An empire is born as the fledgling Walt Disney Studios releases “Steamboat Willy,” the first synchronized sound cartoon (technically, the initial talkie toon) featuring early incarnations of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Decades later, Disney would be the invisible force behind the Copyright Term Extension Act, which added generations of time before copyrighted works entered the public domain. At the time, industry insiders referred to the legislation proposed by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and signed into law by President Clinton as the “Steamboat Willy Law.”
Michael Rogers is a Jesse H. Neal Gold Award-winning freelance writer, editor, reviewer, and photographer. He was also Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal.