Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This Week in Reading January 27 - February 2

We're getting into some of the most populated weeks for author births with some fascinating names this week and in the next two. Does it mean some of the best selling authors are Aquarians? Probably not as popular writers are spread all over the calendar but it does make you wonder what was happening nine months prior that so many with wide appeal appear in the last weeks of January and most of February. Oh, that's right, it was Spring, where thoughts run to ...

There are authors and others with wide appeal in several fields like Norman Mailer, Zane Grey, Paddy Chayevsky, Oprah Winfrey, S. J. Perelman, John O'Hara, Barbara Tuchman, Langston Hughes, and James Dickey. There are those who appeal to more specialized literary tastes like James Joyce, playwright Anton Chekhov, and science fiction writer Yevgeny Zamyatin. For politicos there is Thomas Paine and even commentator Keith Olbermann this week. And there are a lot more names than even these. (This week links currently only to January 27 - January 31 as we're relinking starting on February 1 to just four static weeks a month. You can find Feb. 1 and 2 on the Past Weeks pull down menu above. We're updating and correcting as we go, however.)

This Week's Question: In August of 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops burned the Capitol building in Washington, DC, that housed the original Library of Congress. Immediately thereafter, Ex-President Thomas Jefferson, who had spent fifty years collecting books, offered his personal collection to Congress to begin a new library. On January 30, 1815, after much debate about whether his wide-ranging interests suited a legislative library, Congress accepted them. Jefferson wrote "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." That universality of interest lies behind the Library of Congress still today and it has become the world's largest library with over 130 million items in over 460 languages. How many books did Jefferson give to the library to start it up again?

Answer to last week's question: What was the Bloomsbury group? In the early years of the twentieth century America had its Algonquin Roundtable of cosmopolitan wits in New York who quipped with little more than incidental social consciousness, and Paris had its disillusioned Lost Generation of expatriates who tried to acheive a European sophistication beyond simple morality and social standing. London at the time, however, had its own earlier intellectual community of upper class writers, artists and thinkers called the Bloomsbury circle or group. Very much influenced by the impressionist painters, belle epoque arts, and critical of war and capitalism, the group began as a clique of upper class collegiate classmates moved into the Bloomsbury section of London and lived a bohemian lifestyle devoted to art and ethics. This was decades before American beatniks and hippies began to channel them. The names of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster and economist John Maynard Keynes were current among American intellectuals of the 1960s when Edward Albee entitled his play about academic relationships Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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