Icon, £10.99, 519pp. £9.89 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Love, Sex, Death & Words, By John Sutherland & Stephen Fender
Friday 24 June 2011
In the introduction to this quirky literary almanac, the authors proclaim, "they have between them a hundred years of scholarship... What they know is like two crammed attics, full of interesting junk. But that junk is worth having." An exploration of the 366 entries (The Beggar's Opera was premiered on 29 February 1728) does not entirely substantiate the latter assertion.
Of course, 16 June celebrates James Joyce's first date with Nora Barnacle in 1904, which inspired him to use the day for Ulysses. 15 March (the Ides) was another literary red-letter day – Caesar's assassination occurred in 44BC according to Plutarch and, later, Shakespeare. Other entries are, however, more tenuous. 27 February recalls a brief encounter in 1972 between Stephen Spender and Ringo Starr. No greater literary event ever seems to have happened on 14 January than AS Byatt's 2001 campaign to save the Adam & Eve pub in Lincoln.
Unfortunately, the authors appear to have expended so much energy in filling their daily slots that a number of errors crept into their entries. On 20 February in 1909, Marinetti published his Futurist Manifesto in Le Figaro. Sutherland and Fender conclude that nothing of Futurism "would survive the First World War". They seem unaware that Marinetti's Futurist Cookbook, by far the best-known production of the movement, was published in 1932.
1 September is marked by the Somerset Maugham Prize, first awarded on that date in 1947. Maugham, the authors note, "was obliged to stay in the UK... during the Second World War. The alternative was to suffer the indignities visited on that other pre-war south of France resident PG Wodehouse." Wodehouse was living in Le Touquet, almost 600 miles north of Maugham's home on Cap d'Antibes, when he was interned in 1940.
"Norman Mailer, uxoricide" is the heading for 21 November. The New York Times headline of that day in 1960 announced that Mailer had stabbed his wife Adele. She survived though Sutherland and Fender note that the protagonist of Mailer's An American Dream strangles his wife. They overegg the pudding by stating, "Mailer, six times married, kept none of his wives long." In fact, Mailer's final marriage to Norris Church Mailer, in 1980, continued for 27 years and was only curtailed by Mailer's death. Despite their joint century at university, the authors appear to need a spot of extra tuition.
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