Booky Birthdays

The literary stars have aligned… This is the week for major literary birthdays.

Here’s a couple to keep in mind:

Today:

Charles Dickens celebrates his 199th birthday, with a major international bicentennial just around the corner. Dickens is one of those authors people associate with terrible high school teachers or college professors and tend to ignore for large periods of time. Prevent that mistake now.

First, Robert Gottlieb, via the New York Review of Books, offers a podcast on Dickens’ enduring legacy.

Now, where to start?

Harold Bloom reads Dickens’ first novel, The Pickwick Papers, once a year. A richly funny and warm comic novel detailing the bumbling journey of 4 close friends throughout the English countryside. Very much worth reading.

Oliver Twist seems to have entered the cultural conversation via the musical. It’s enjoyable, but doesn’t remotely grasp the magnitude of the book . A darkly glittering jewel that perfectly captures the underbelly of city life.

Bleak House, also a fantastic and recommended BBC miniseries, is a masterpiece. A complex, mysterious, socially aware chronicle of London capturing all of its people,varieties and ambiguities. You’ll never look at fog the same way.

In a total 180, today also marks the 143rd birthday of prarie chronicler Laura Ingalls Wilder. This one-time Danbury resident’s much-celebrated series of childhood tales remains just as popular as it did over seventy years ago. Excellent for little ones to read by themselves, or with a little assistance.

In between the city and the prairie lies Main Street, which brings us to the 125th birthday of its most ardent chronicler, Sinclair Lewis. A much-forgotten Nobel Prize Winner, Lewis explored the milieu of capitalism throughout all of his work, which also yielded celebrated film versions of Babbitt Elmer Gantry.

And finally, Gay Talese celebrates his 78th birthday today. Whether it’s the mafia, sexuality, or sports, Talese approaches all subjects with the same intelligence and snappy style.

Tomorrow is Elizabeth Bishop’s 100th birthday! THIS IS MAJOR. Often overshadowed by close friend Robert Lowell(just as Edith Wharton was by Henry James), Bishop’s poetry, prose, and correspondence with the New Yorker have all been published in sharp, new editions by FSG. She’s very much worth it, ladies and gentlemen. Start Reading.

Tomorrow’s birthdays also include such notables as Robert Burton, Jules Verne, Kate Chopin and John Ruskin. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

The most important part of February reading is, in fact, the entire month. February is Black History Month. Stay tuned for a lengthy list of recommendations.

–Josh

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