Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Week in Reading January 13 - 19

This week is full of very well known names with just a few literary standouts. Everyone's heard about Horatio Alger stories, but it's doubtful anyone these days has read one. Everyone knows about Ben Franklin as printer and founding father but how many of his essays have you read? How about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, whose name was nearly synonymous with anything underdone as a humanitarian effort, and for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize? Even though you've heard about it for years, when was the last time you used Roget's Thesaurus?

At least it's likely you read stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, maybe because you had to for school. If you're like us, you enjoyed them, too. And maybe, when you were six, you learned to read A.A. Milne's stories of Christopher and Pooh by having them read to you before that. If you haven't read John Dos Passos, who wrote before and during the Great Depression, perhaps you should before and during the one that's coming.

This week's question: Just what is an Horatio Alger story anyway?

Answer to last week's question: Ina Coolbrith was the librarian of the Oakland Public Library in 1895 when she became a mentor to an adolescent who hung out there after school. His name was Jack London, and she helped him learn to write stories by showing him good ones to read. Coolbrith, by the way, was also a writer and poet who helped others, and was honored as California's first Poet Laureate in 1915. (That position, however, fell into political abuse and for years many of California poets laureate were not literary types but instead were politicians or friends of politicians. Finally in 2001 a law was passed to establish the California Arts Council as the recommending body for the governor's two year appointment. From 2005 - 2007 the first new California Poet Laureate was the jazz poet Al Young, but no appointment has been made since.)

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