I had an odd experience while reading The Entertainer, Margaret Talbot’s wry, wonderful new book about her irrepressible actor father, Lyle, and American entertainment over the course of the 20th century. Every time I opened it, an accompanying soundtrack began to play in my head.
On Alice Kessler-Harris’s A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman
Barnes and Noble Review
“Lillian’s Hellman’s body may have been in her grave,” writes biographer Alice Kessler-Harris of her subject’s funeral in 1984, long after Hellman’s rise to fame — and then infamy — as, among other things, a playwright, a would-be patriot who refused to name names during the fever of McCarthyism, a defender of the USSR, a bestselling memoirist, a mink coat model, and Dashiell Hammett’s longtime lover. “But quickly it became apparent that she would find no rest there.”
On Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Slate Book Review
When did you know you weren’t going to like Eat, Pray, Love? For me, it was the moment when Elizabeth Gilbert—weeping on the bathroom floor of the perfect house she shared with the lovely man she no longer wanted to be married to for reasons she couldn’t really explain—looked in desperation to God, asking for help. What he told her, gently, in his beneficent Godlike way, was to go back to bed. And just like that, she knew everything would work out.
On William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education
Barnes and Noble Review
It's spring, and as such, love is in the air—perhaps nowhere more so than in A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz’s encomium to the humor, wisdom, and perennial appeal of his main literary squeeze. Also the author of an academic tome called Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets, he’s now taken a less formal look at Austen as a kind of guru on the subject of—to borrow the title of another recent book in the same vein—how to live, and he casts his story first and foremost as anaffair for the ages. To wit, his opening gambit: “I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six year old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life.”
On Lyndall Gordon’s Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family’s Feuds
Barnes and Noble Review
n the one hundred and twenty years that have elapsed since the first publication of Emily Dickinson’s poems, no description of their effect has yet bested the exclamation of an early reader who found them to be “a shaft of light sunk instantaneously into the dark abysm.” Sly and diamond-brilliant in their capacity for revealing the human condition in the fewest words, the nearly two thousand poems Dickinson wrote in her upstairs bedroom in Amherst, Massachusetts remain shocking in their incisiveness even now.
On Looking For Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L.M. Montgomery and Her Literary Classic
When asked why she had decided to give red hair to her famous heroine, Anne Shirley (better known as Anne of Green Gables to legions of little girls the world over), author Maud Montgomery replied, “I didn’t. It was red.”
On John Donne: The Reformed Soul
Most startling in the wealth of John Stubbs's new life of John Donne is that the subject of the biographer's attentions spent a very long time trying to escape his poetic fate. Even late in his life, according to Stubbs, Donne was fending off his literary inclinations like so many pesky acquaintances. He complained about having "this itch of writing" and told a friend that he wanted to follow "a graver course than of a Poet, into which (that I may also keep my dignity) I would not seem to relapse."
THE SECRET WORLD OF EMILY DICKINSON
In the 120 years that have elapsed since the first publication of Emily Dickinson's poems, no description of their effect has yet bested the exclamation of an early reader who found them to be "a shaft of light sunk instantaneously into the dark abysm." Sly and diamond-brilliant in their capacity for revealing the human condition in the fewest words, the nearly 2,000 poems Dickinson wrote in her upstairs bedroom in Amherst, Mass., remain shocking in their incisiveness even now. Her life, in marked contrast, has always been shrouded in silence, misinformation and speculation. As one mourner recorded in her journal upon Dickinson's death in 1886, "Rare Emily Dickinson died -- went back into a little deeper mystery than that she has always lived in."
GEORGE SAND: A WOMAN'S LIFE WRIT LARGE
hat a brave man she was," Ivan Turgenev once said about George Sand, "and what a good woman." It's a perfect characterization of a person who, while she was certainly both brave and good, also spent her life preoccupied with the ways in which men and women -- and society's notions about what each should be -- both complement and harm each other. Famed for cross-dressing, the scandalous novels that made her name and innumerable love affairs, most notably with Fridiric Chopin, Sand wrote what she lived and lived what she wrote.
CLEAR SPRINGS: A MEMOIR
Bobbie Ann Mason left Kentucky for New York City, but the writer in her stayed home on the farm.