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A Week to Remember: Happy Birthday, Ian McEwan!

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
English novelist and short story literary writer, Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan was born on May 21,1948. McEwan is an English novelist and short story writer literary enough to please the critics, but with enough mass appeal that most of his novels have been adapted as films.

McEwan's father was a major in the British Army, so he spent his childhood moving around the world, living in places as far-flung as Singapore and Libya. His family returned to England to stay when McEwan was 12, and he was educated in private school and at the University of Sussex.

3 books by Ian McEwan

His writing career began in the mid-1970s with two collections of short stories, First Love, Last Rites (e-book | print) and In Between the Sheets (e-book | print). His first two novels, The Cement Garden (e-book | print) and The Comfort of Strangers (e-book | print), were stories of dark romantic and sexual relationships. The disturbing elements in his early writing earned McEwan the nickname "Ian Macabre."

McEwan won the Whitbread Book Award for his 1987 novel The Child in Time (e-book | print), about a father's reaction to the kidnapping of his young daughter. He has been frequently honored by British book awards, making the shortlist for the Booker Prize five times, and winning for the 1998 novel Amsterdam (e-book | e-audio | print | audio), in which three former lovers of the same woman meet at her funeral.

In the 1990s, McEwan moved away from the darkness of his early writing. His readership grew, and his novels began to appear routinely on best-seller lists in England and the United States.

3 books by Ian McEwan

McEwan faced plagiarism charges in 2006 surrounding his novel Atonement (e-book | e-audio | print | audio). After the death of romance novelist Lucilla Andrews, there were accusations that passages from Atonement strongly resembled passages from Andrews's memoir No Time for Romance. McEwan had acknowledged Andrews' memoir as one of his historical sources in an author's note at the end of Atonement, but denied any plagiarism.

Film directors have often been drawn to McEwan's stories. Three movies based on his books were released in 2017 alone—The Child in Time (DVD); On Chesil Beach (e-book | e-audio | print | audio | DVD | streaming), the tale of an unhappy marriage and its consequences; and The Children Act (e-book | print | audio | DVD | streaming), in which a family court judge must rule on a child's refusal to accept medical treatment.

McEwan's most recent novels are Nutshell (e-book | e-audio | print | audio), a modern retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of a fetus, and Machines Like Me (e-book | print | audio), about the love triangle created when a young couple purchases a synthetic human.

Also This Week

May 20, 1609

William Shakespeare's 154 sonnets (e-book | e-audio | print | audio) were published in a single volume for the first time. The sonnets are, in some ways, very traditional; they follow the rhyme scheme and meter that English sonnets had used for more than a century, and they are about romance, as many sonnets had been. But Shakespeare's sonnets are not poems of adoration for an almost perfect woman; as a group, they tell a tale of the complicated romantic relationships among the speaker, a "fair youth," and a "dark lady."

May 25, 1944

Frank Oz was born. Oz began his career as a puppeteer, performing a wide range of Muppet characters, including Grover, Bert, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. He is also the puppeteer and voice of Yoda in the Star Wars franchise. In the 1980s, Oz turned to directing, and made several successful comedies. Steve Martin and Michael Caine star as dueling con men in Oz's 1988 movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

May 26, 1949

Pam Grier was born. Grier was one of the major stars of blaxploitation films in the 1970s. In Coffy, she plays a nurse who turns to violence to get revenge on the men responsible for her sister's drug addiction. After blaxploitation went out of style, Grier played mostly supporting roles until making a comeback in Quentin Tarantino's 1997 homage to the genre, Jackie Brown.

May 25 is National Tap Dance Day

Tap dance is a style in which the rhythm of the shoes hitting the floor serves as a form of percussion. It derives from a variety of percussive dances—Irish jigs, African tribal dance, Spanish flamenco—and first became popular in the United States as part of 19th-century minstrel shows. In the early 20th century, tap was frequently featured as part of vaudeville shows. Brian Siebert's What the Eye Hears (e-book | print) is a history of tap dancing.