This Week in Literary History: America is Born!
As a Scorpio growing up in the frigid New England winter, America always had the birthday I wished I could have had: barbeques, pool parties, drunk friends tying fireworks to my leg. Our founding fathers knew what they were doing when they gave birth to this love child called the USA; they knew that July 4 was prime party time nationwide, and so this week in history they wrote what is arguably the most famous piece of American literature - the Declaration of Independence - and set-up America to be sure it always has the best birthday parties ever. I wish my parents had thought of that.
On America's 69th birthday, Henry David Thoreau walked into the woods behind his buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson's house and built a small cabin where he would live for the next two years, two months and two days before deciding he'd had enough and that he had "several more lives to lead", which to me translates as "living in the woods is cool for a while, but trust me, it gets really boring." He of course wrote his memoir/spiritual journey titled Walden about his stay in the cabin and it has since become the Bible for hippies and vagabonds worldwide as well as a runner-up to the Declaration of Independence for "Most Famous Piece of American Literature Ever".
Ten years later, on America's 79th birthday, a virtually unknown poet by the name of Walt Whitman self-published 795 copies of a little book of 12 poems he titled Leaves of Grass. Ya heard of it? Another famous vagabond, another super important piece of American lit. America shares its birthday with the beginning of Thoreau's Walden and Whitman's Leaves of Grass, I share my birthday with Whoopi Goldberg.
July 6 may rival the 4th as the most patriotic day of the year though, mainly because it is the birthday of two of America's greatest leaders: Nancy Reagan and George "Dubya" Bush. And they are both writers. Move over Leaves of Grass, take a seat Walden, Decision Points - a.k.a How To Run a Country into the Ground in Ten Easy Steps - comes out November 9th.
If your 4th of July weekend has inspired you to get all political, Volume 10 Number 1 of Tin House might be a good read. Titled "The Political Future", the issue takes a look at the direction politics is moving both nationally and globally. There is plenty of criticism of King George within, including a great poem by Mary Syzbist about the relationship between G.W.B and Senator Robert Byrd (who died last month), as well as a funny set of comic strips by David Rees called Get Your War On. Check out Rees's comic strip here, and pick up the new Summer Reading issue of Tin House here.