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A week of Florida writers – Part 4

John D. MacDonald was a Pennsylvanian by birth and a Floridian by choice . . .plus he was the best of the modern thriller writers. His start as a writer, though, was as humble as could be. In World War II, he worked for the OSS in China-India-Burma Theater, perhaps as a spy. He came [...]

A week of Florida writers – Part 3

Someone over on the London Observer staff said Carl Hiaasen is America’s finest satirical novelist, rating him right up there with Preston Sturges, Woody Allen, and S.J. Perelman. High praise. Hiaasen graduated from the University of Florida, where he wrote for the Independent Florida Alligator – love that name for a student newspaper – in [...]

A week of Florida writers – Part 2

Florida writer Harry Crews led a hard life. He was born in Alma, Georgia, at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in 1935, the son of a sharecropper. At age 17, he joined the Marines and fought in the Korean War. After Crews came home, he drifted south to Florida and enrolled in University of [...]

The Lion’s Head Tavern

Frank McCourt came from a family of drinkers. It was what men in Limerick – in all of Ireland – did. And so did he. He had his first beer in Limerick at age 16. At age 19, when he arrived in New York in 1949, he and an Irish priest, who came over on [...]

“My Life” essays save a teacher

High school students are masters at fobbing off teachers, to get out of doing any work – get out of reading an assignment, get out of discussing an assignment, get out of taking a test. Frank McCourt’s students at his first teaching job at McKee Vocational and Technical High School on New York’s Staten Island [...]

Libraries, where anyone can read

In one section of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt tells how the librarians in Limerick, Ireland, where he grew up, jealously guarded the few books that had been placed in their charge. If you were a poor kid in dirty clothes, the librarians were likely to throw you out. These books weren’t for you. When he [...]

A week of Hal Holbrook – Part 1

For Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a gift certificate good at our local bookstore, so I went down and bought Hal Holbrook’s 2011 autobiography, Harold, The Boy Who Became Mark Twain. A superb read. I don’t remember when I first saw Holbrook perform his one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight.” It may well have been on [...]

A week of Tolkien – Part 5

When Allen & Unwin, J.R.R. Tolkien’s publisher, asked Tolkien to write a sequel to The Hobbit, they wanted another book for children about hobbits. And Tolkien started out on that track. He set out to write a novel about Bilbo Baggins having used up the treasure he had brought home in The Hobbit and now [...]

A week of Tolkien – Part 4

J.R.R. Tolkien – John Ronald Reuel if you want to know what the initials stand for – was first and foremost a teacher. Writing fantasies for children and adults was a hobby. Tolkien was the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford’s Pembroke College from 1925 to 1945 and the Merton Professor of English [...]

A week of Tolkien – Part 3

When Tolkien’s publisher, Allen & Unwin, bought The Hobbit, they got a bonus they never expected – an illustrator for the book. Tolkien said children won’t be able to fully follow the action if we don’t provide them maps of this fantasy land – Wilderland – they’ve never seen before. Stanley Unwin agreed. Tolkien suggested [...]